Growth Patterns

November 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Growing beings and growing things, whether material

or immaterial, accumulate mass or increase their spreading. Plants grow, black holes grow, a software program grows, economies grow, cities grow, patterns grow, a pile of sand grows, a text grows, the mind grows and even things like self-confidence and love are said to grow. On the other hand, we do not expect that things like cars or buildings “grow.”

Despite the above mentioned initial “definition” might sound fairly trivial, the examples demonstrate that growth itself, or more precisely, the respective language game, is by far not a trivial thing. Nevertheless, when people start to talk about growth or if they invoke the concept of growth implicitly, they mostly imagine a smooth and almost geometrical process, a dilation, a more or less smooth stretching. Urbanists and architects are no exception to this undifferentiated and prosy perspective. Additionally, growth is usually not con- sidered seriously beyond its mere wording, probably due to the hasty prejudgment about the value of biological principles. Yet, if one can’t talk appropriately about growth—which includes differentiation—one also can’t talk about change. As a result of a widely (and wildly) applied simplistic image of growth, there is a huge conceptual gap in many, if not almost all works about urban conditions, in urban planning, and about architecture.1  But why talking about change, for in architecture and urbanism is anyway all about planning…

The imprinting by geometry often entails another prejudice: that of globality. Principles, rules, structures are thought to be necessarily applied to the whole, whatever this “wholeness” is about. This is particularly problematic, if these rules refer more or less directly to mere empirical issues. Such it frequently goes unnoticed that maintaining a particular form or keeping position in a desired region of the parameter space of a forming process requires quite intense interconnected local processes, both for building as well as destroying structures.

It was one of the failures in the idea of Japanese Metabolism not to recognize the necessity for deep integration of this locality. Albeit they followed the intention to (re-)introduce the concept of “life cycle” into architecture and urbanism, they kept aligned to cybernetics. Such, Metabolism failed mainly for two reasons. Firstly, they attempted to combine incommensurable mind sets. It is impossible to amalgamate modernism and the idea of bottom-up processes like self-organization or associativity, and the Metabolists always followed the modernist route. Secondly, the movement has been lacking a proper structural setup: the binding problem remained unresolved. They didn’t develop a structural theory of differentiation that would have been suitable to derive appropriate mechanisms.

This Essay

Here in this piece we just would like to show some possibilities to enlarge the conceptual space and the vocabulary that we could use to describe (the) “growing” (of) things. We will take a special reference to architecture and urbanism, albeit the basics would apply to other fields as well, e.g. to the growth and the differentiation of organizations (as “management”) or social forms, but also of more or even “completely” immaterial entities. In some way, this power is even mandatory, if we are going to address the Urban6, for the Urban definitely exceeds the realm of the empirical.
We won’t do much of philosophical reflection and embedding, albeit it should be clear that these descriptions don’t make sense without proper structural, i.e. theoretical references as we have argued in the previous piece. “As such” they would be just kind of a pictorial commentary, mistaking metaphor as allegory. There are two different kinds of important structural references. One is pointing to the mechanisms2, the abstract machinery with its instantiation on the micro-level or with respect to the generative processes. The other points to the theoretico-structural embedment, which we have been discussing in the previous essay. Here, it is mainly the concept of generic differentiation that provides us the required embedding and the power to overcome the binding problem in theoretical work.

The remainder of this essay comprises the following sections (active links):

1. Space

Growth concerns space, both physical and abstract space. Growth concerns even the quality of space. The fact of growth is incompatible with the conception of space as a container. This becomes obvious in case of the fractals, which got their name due to their “broken” dimensionality. A fractal could be 2.846-dimensional. Or 1.2034101 dimensional. The space established by the “inside” of a fractal is very different from the 3-dimensional space. Astonishingly, the dimensionality even need not be constant at all while traveling through a fractal.

Abstract spaces, on the other hand, can be established by any set of criteria, just by interpreting criteria as dimensions. Such, one gets a space for representing and describing items, their relations and their transformations. In mathematics, a space is essentially defined as the possibility to perform a mapping from one set to another, or in other terms, by the abstract (group-theoretic) symmetry properties of the underlying operations on the relations between any entities.

Strangely enough, in mathematics spaces are almost exclusively conceived as consisting from independent dimensions. Remember that “independence” is the at the core of the modernist metaphysical belief set! Yet, they need neither be Euclidean nor Cartesian as the generalization of the former. The independence of descriptive dimensions can be dropped, as we have argued in an earlier essay. The resulting space is not a dimensional space, but rather an aspectional space, which can be conceived as a generalization of dimensional space.

In order to understand growth we should keep in contact with a concept of space that is as general as possible. It would be really stupid for instance, to situate growth restrictively in a flat 2-dimensional Euclidean space. At least since Descartes’ seminal work “Regulae” (AT X 421-424) it should be clear that any aspect may be taken as a contribution to the cognitive space [8].

The Regulae in its method had even allowed wide latitude to the cognitive use of fictions for imagining artificial dimensions along which things could be grasped in the process of problem solving. Natures in the Meditations, however, are no longer aspects or axes along which things can be compared, evaluated, and arrayed, but natures in the sense that Rule 5 had dismissed: natures as the essences of existing things.

At the same time Descartes also makes clear that these aspects should not be taken as essences of existing things. In other words, Descartes has been ahead of 20ieth century realism and existentialism! Aspects do not represent things in their modes of existence, they represent our mode of talking about the relations we establish to those things. Yet, these relations are more like those threads as String Theory describes them: without fixed endings on either side. All we can say about the outer world is that there is something. Of course, that is far to little to put it as a primacy for human affairs.

The consequence of such a dimensional limitation would be a blind spot (if not a population of them), a gap in the potential to perceive, to recognize, to conceive of and to understand. Unfortunately, the gaps themselves, the blind spots are not visible for those who suffer from them. Nevertheless, any further conceptualization would remain in the state of educated nonsense.

Growth is established as a transformation of (abstract) space. Vice versa, we can conceive of it also as the expression of the transformation of space. The core of this transformation is the modulation of the signal intensity length through the generation of compartments, rendering abstract space into a historical, individual space. Vice versa, each transformation of space under whatsoever perspective can be interpreted as some kind of growth.

The question is not any more to be or not to be, as ontologists tried to proof since the first claim of substance and the primacy of logics and identity. What is more, already Shakespeare demonstrated the pen-ultimate consequences of that question. Hamlet, in his mixture of being realist existentialist (by that very question) and his like of myths and (use) of hidden wizards, guided by the famous misplaced question, went straight into his personal disaster, not without causing a global one. Shakespeare’s masterfully wrapped lesson is that the question about Being leads straight to disaster. (One might add that this holds also for ontology and existentialism: it is consequence of ethical corruption.)

Substance has to be thought of being always and already a posteriori to change, to growth. Setting change as a primacy means to base thought philosophically on difference. While this is almost a completely unexplored area, despite Deleuze’s proposal of the plane of immanence, it is also clear that starting with identity instead causes lots of serious troubles. For instance, we would be forced to acknowledge that the claim of the possibility that a particular interpretation indeed could be universalized. The outcome? A chimaera of Hamlet (the figure in the tragedy!) and Stalin.

Instead, the question is one of growth and the modulation of space: Who could reach whom? It is only through this question that we can integrate the transcendence of difference, its primacy, and to secure the manifold of the human in an uncircumventable manner. Life in all of its forms, with all its immanence,  always precedes logic.3 Not only for biological assemblages, but also for human beings and all its produces, including “cities” and other forms of settlements.

Just to be clear: the question of reaching someone else is not dependent on anything given. The given is a myth, as philosophers from Wittgenstein to Quine until Putnam and McDowell have been proofing. Instead, the question about the possibility to reach someone else, to establish a relation between any two (at least) items is one of activity, design, and invention, targeting the transformation of space. This holds even in particle physics.

2. Modes of Talking

Traditionally spoken, the result of growth is formed matter. More exactly, however, it is transformed space. We may distinguish a particular form, morphos, or with regard to psychology also a “Gestalt,” and form as an abstractum. The result of growth is form. Thus, form actually does not only concern matter, it always concerns the potential relationality.

For instance, growing entities never interact “directly”. They, that is, also: we, always interact through their spaces and the mediality that is possible within them.4 Otherwise it would be completely impossible for a human individual to interact with a city. Before any semiotic interpretive relation it is the individual space that enables incommensurable entities to relate.

If we consider the growth of a plant, for instance, we find a particular morphology. There are different kinds of tissues and also a rather typical habitus, i.e. a general appearance. The underlying processes are of biological nature, spanning from physics and bio-chemistry to information and the “biological integration” of those.

Talking about the growth of a building or the growth of a city we have to spot the appropriate level of abstraction. There is no 1:1 transferability. In a cell we do neither find craftsmen nor top-down-implementations of plans. In contrast, rising a building apparently does not know anything about probabilistic mechanisms. Just by calling something intentionally “metabolism” (Kurokawa) or “fractal” (Jencks), invoking thereby associations of organisms and their power to maintain themselves in physically highly unlikely conditions, we certainly do not approach or even acquire any understanding.

The key for any growth model is the identification of mechanisms (cf. [4]). Biology  is the science that draws most on the concept of mechanism (so far), while physics does so for the least. The level of mechanism is already an abstraction, of course. It needs to be completed, however, by the concept of population, i.e. a dedicated probabilistic perspective, in order to prevent falling back to the realm of trivial machines. In a cross-disciplinary setting we have to generalize the mechanisms into principles, such that these provide a shared differential entity.5

Well, we already said that a building is rarely raised by a probabilistic process. Yet, this is only true if we restrict our considerations to the likewise abstract description of the activities of the craftsmen. Else, the building process starts long before any physical matter is touched.

Secondly, from the perspective of abstraction we never should forget—and many people indeed forget about this—that the space of expressibility and the space of transformation also contains the nil-operator. From the realm of numbers we call it the zero. Note that without the zero many things could not be expressed at all. Similarly, the negative is required for completing the catalog of operations. Both, the nil-operator and the inverse element are basic constituents of any mathematical group structure, which is the most general way to think about the conditions for operations in space.

The same is true for our endeavor here. It would be impossible to construct the possibility for graded expressions, i.e. the possibility for a more or less smooth scale, without the nil and the negative. Ultimately, it is the zero and the nil-operation together with the inverse that allows to talk reflexively at all, to create abstraction, in short to think through.

3. Modes of Growth

Let us start with some instances of growth from “nature”. We may distinguish crystals, plants, animals and swarms. In order to compare even those trivial and quite obviously very different “natural” instances with respect to growth, we need a common denominator. Without that we could not accomplish any kind of reasonable comparison.

Well, initially we said that growth could be considered as accumulation of mass or as an increase of spread. After taking one step back we could say that something gets attached. Since crystals, plants and animals are equipped with different capabilities, and hence mechanisms, to attach further matter, we choose the way of organizing the attachment as the required common denominator.

Given that, we can now change the perspective onto our instances. The performance of comparing implies an abstraction, hence we will not talk about crystals etc. as phenomena, as this would inherit the blindness of phenomenology against its conditions. Instead, we conceive of them as models of growth, inspired by observations that can be classified along the mode of attachment.

Morphogenesis, the creation of new instances of formed matter, or even the creation of new forms, is tightly linked to complexity. Turing titled his famous article the “Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis“. This, however, is not exactly what he invented, for we have to distinguish between patterns and forms, or likewise, between order and organization. Turing described the formal conditions for emergence of order from a noisy flow of entropy. Organization, in contrast, also needs the creation of remnants, partial decay, and it is organization that brings in historicity. Nevertheless, the mechanisms of complexity of which the Turing-patterns and -mechanisms are part of, are indispensable ingredients for the “higher” forms of growth, at least, that is, for anything besides crystals (but probably even for for them in same limited sense). Note that morphogenesis, in neither of its aspects, should not be conceived as something “cybernetical”!

3.1. Crystals

Figure 1a: Crystals are geometric entities out of time.

Crystals are geometrical entities. In the 19th century, the study of crystals and the attempt to classify them inspired mathematicians in their development of the concept of symmetry and group theory. Crystals are also entities that are “structurally flat”. There are no levels of integration, their macroscopic appearance is a true image of their constitution on the microscopic level. A crystal looks exactly the same on the level of atoms up to the scale of centimeters. Finally, crystals are outside of time. For their growth is only dependent on the one or two layers of atoms (“elementary cells”) that had been attached before at the respective site.

There are two important conditions in order to grow a 3-dimensional crystal. The site of precipitation and attachment need to be (1) immersed in a non-depletable solution where (2) particles can move through diffusion in three dimensions. If these conditions are not met, mineral depositions look very different. As far as it concerns the global embedding conditions, the rules have changed. More abstractly, the symmetry of the solution is broken, and so the result of the process is a fractal.

Figure 1b. Growth in the realm of minerals under spatial constraints, particularly the reduction of dimensionality. The image does NOT show petrified plants! It is precipitated mineral from a solution seeped into a nearly 2-dimensional gap between  two layers of (lime) rock. The similarity of shapes points to a similarity of mechanisms.

Both examples are about mineralic growth. We can understand now that the variety of resulting shapes is highly dependent on the dimensional conditions embedding the growth process.

Figure 1c. Crystalline buildings. Note that it is precisely and only this type of building that actualizes a “perfect harmony” between the metaphysics of the architect and the design of social conditions. The believe in independence and the primacy of identity  has been quite effectively delivered into the habit of the everyday housing conditions.

Figure 1d. Crystalline urban layout, instantiated as “parametrism”. The “curvy” shape should not be misinterpreted as “organic”. In this case it is just a little dose of artificial “erosion” imposed as a parametric add-on to the crystalline base. We again meet the theme of the geological. Nothing could be more telling than the claim of a “new global style”: Schumacher is an arch-modernist, a living fossil, mistaking design as religion, who benefits from advanced software technology. Who is Schumacher that he could decree a style globally?

The growth of crystals is a very particular transformation of space. It is the annihilation of any active part of it. The relationality of crystals is completely exhausted by resistance and the spread of said annihilation.

Regarding the Urban6, parametrism must be considered as being deeply malignant. As the label says, it takes place within a predefined space. Yet, who the hell Schumacher (and Hadid, the mathematician) thinks s/he is that s/he is allowed, or even being considered as being able, to define the space of the Urban? For the Urban is a growing “thing,” it creates its own space. Consequently all the rest of the world admits not to “understand” the Urban, yet Hadid and her barking Schumacher even claim to be able to define that space, and thus also claim that this space shall be defined. Not surprisingly, Schumacher is addicted to the mayor of all bureaucrats of theory, Niklas Luhman (see our discussion here), as he proudly announces in his book “The Autopoiesis of Architecture” that is full of pseudo- and anti-theory.

The example of the crystal clearly shows that we have to consider the solution and the deposit together as a conditioned system. The forces that rule their formation are a compound setup. The (electro-chemical) properties of the elementary cell on the microscopic level, precisely where it is in contact with the solution, together with the global, macroscopic conditions of the immersing solution determine the instantiation of the basic mechanism. Regardless the global conditions, basic mechanism for the growth of crystals is the attachment of matter is from the outside.

In crystals, we do not find a separated structural process layer that would be used for regulation of the growth. The deep properties of matter determine their growth. Else, only the outer surface is involved.

3.2. Plants

With plants, we find a class of organisms that grow—just as crystals—almost exclusively at their “surface”. With only a few exceptions, matter is almost exclusively attached at the “outside” of their shape. Yet, matter is also attached from their inside, at precisely defined locations, the meristemes. Else, there is a dedicated mechanism to regulate growth, based on a the diffusion of certain chemical compounds, the phyto-hormones, e.g. auxin. This regulation emancipates the plant in its growth from the properties of the matter it is built from.

Figure 2a. Growth in Plants. The growth cone is called apical meristeme. There are just a handful of largely undifferentiated cells that keep dividing almost infinitely. The shape of the plant is largely determined by a reaction-diffusion-system in the meristem, based on phyto-hormones that determine the cells. Higher plants can build secondary meristemes at particular locations, leading to a characteristic branching pattern.

 

Figure 2b. A pinnately compound leaf of a fern, showing its historical genesis as attachment at the outside (the tip of the meristeme)  from the inside. If you apply this principle to roots, you get a rhizome.

Figure 2c. The basic principle of plant growth can be mapped into L-Grammars, n order to create simulations of plant-like shapes. This makes clear that fractal do not belong to geometry! Note that any form creation that is based on formal grammars is subject to the representational fallacy.

Instead of using L-grammars as a formal reference we could also mention self-affine mapping. Actually, self-affine mapping is the formal operation that leads to perfect self-similarity and scale invariance. Self-affine mapping projects a minor version of the original, often primitive graph onto itself. But let us inspect two examples.

Figure 2d.1. Scheme showing the self-affine mapping that would create a graph that looks like a leaf of a fern (image from wiki).

self-affine Fractal fern scheme
Figure 2d.2. Self-affine fractal (a hexagasket) and its  neighboring graph, which encodes its creation [9].
self-affine fractals hexagasket t

Back to real plants! Nowadays, most plants are able to build branches. Formally, they perform a self-affine mapping. Bio-chemically, the cells in their meristeme(s) are able to respond differentially to the concentration of one (or two) plant hormones, in this case auxine. Note, that for establishing a two component system you won’t necessarily need two hormones! The counteracting “force” might be realized by some process just inside the cells of the meristeme as well.

From this relation between the observable fractal form, e.g. the leaf of the fern, or the shape of the surrounding of a city layout, and the formal representation we can draw a rather important conclusion. The empirical analysis of a shape should never stop with the statement that the respective shape shows scale-invariance, self-similarity or the like. Literally nothing is gained by that! It is just a promising starting point. What one has to do subsequently is to identify the mechanisms leading to the homomorphy between the formal representation and the particular observation. If you like, the chemical traces of pedestrians, the tendency to imitate, or whatever else. Even more important, in each particular case these actual mechanisms could be different, though leading to the same visual shape!!!

In earlier paleobiotic ages, most plants haven’t been able to build branches. Think about tree ferns, or the following living fossile.

Figure 2d. A primitive plant that can’t build secondary meristemes (Welwitschia). Unlike in higher plants, where the meristeme is transported by the growth process to the outer regions of the plant (its virtual borders), here it remains fixed; hence, the leaf is growing only in the center.

Figure 2e. The floor plan of Guggenheim Bilbao strongly reminds to the morphology of Welwitschia. Note that this “reminding” represents a naive transfer on the representational level. Quite in contrast, we have to say that the similarity in shape points to a similarity regarding the generating mechanisms. Jencks, for instance, describes the emanations as petals, but without further explanation, just as metaphor. Gehry himself explained the building by referring to the mythology of the “world-snake”, hence the importance of the singularity of the “origin”. Yet, the mythology does not allow to say anything about the growth pattern.

Figure 2f. Another primitive plant that can’t build secondary apical meristems. common horsetail (Equisetum arvense). Yet, in this case the apical meristeme is transported.

Figure 2g. Patrick Schumacher, Hadid Office, for the master plan of the Istanbul project. Primitive concepts lead to primitive forms and primitive habits.

Many, if not all of the characteristics of growth patterns in plants are due to the fact that they are sessile life forms. Most buildings are also “sessile”. In some way, however, we consider them more as geological formations than as plants. It seems to be “natural” that buildings start to look like those in fig.2g above.

Yet, in such a reasoning there are even two fallacies. First, regarding design there is neither some kind of “naturalness”, nor any kind of necessity. Second, buildings are not necessarily sessile. All depends on the level of the argument. If we talk just about matter, then, yes, we can agree that most buildings do not move, like crystals or plants. Buildings could not be appropriately described, however, just on the physical level of their matter. It is therefore very important to understand that we have to argue on the level of structural principles. Later we will provide an impressive example of an “animal” or “animate” building.7 

As we said, plants are sessile, all through, not only regarding their habitus. In plants, there are no moving cells in the inside. Thus, plants have difficulties to regenerate without dropping large parts. They can’t replace matter “somewhere in between”, as animals can do. The cells in the leafs, for instance, mature as cells do in animals, albeit for different reasons. In plants, it is mainly the accumulation of calcium. Such, even in tropical climates trees drop off their leaves at least once a year, some species all of them at once.

The conclusion for architecture as well as for urbanism is clear. It is just not sufficient to claim “metabolism” (see below) as a model. It is also appropriate to take “metabolism” as a model, not even if we would avoid the representational fallacy to which the “Metabolists” fell prey. Instead, the design of the structure of growth should orient itself in the way animals are organized, at the level of macroscopic structures like organs, if we disregard swarms for the moment, as most of them are not able to maintain persistent form.

This, however, brings immediately the problematics of territorialization to the fore. What we would need for our cities is thus a generalization towards the body without organs (Deleuze), which orients towards capabilities, particularly the capability to choose the mode of growth. Yet, the condition for this choosing is the knowledge about the possibilities. So, let us proceed to the next class of growth modes.

3.3. Swarms

In plants, the growth mechanisms are implemented in a rather deterministic manner. The randomness in their shape is restricted to the induction of branches. In swarms, we find a more relaxed regulation, as there is only little persistent organization. There is just transient order. In some way, many swarms are probabilistic crystals, that is, rather primitive entities. Figures 3a thru 3d provide some examples for swarms.

From the investigation of swarms in birds and fishes it is known that any of the “individual” just looks to the movement vector of its neighbors. There is no deep structure, precisely because there is no persistent organization.

Figure 3a. A flock of birds. Birds take the movement of several neighbors into account, sometimes without much consideration of their distance.

Figure 3b. A swarm of fish, a “school”. It has been demonstrated that some fish not only consider the position or the direction of their neighbors, but also the form of the average vector. A strong straight vector seems to be more “convincing” for the neighbors as a basis for their “decision” than one of unstable direction and scalar.

Figure 3c. The Kaaba in Mekka. Each year several persons die due to panic waves. Swarm physics helped to improve the situation.

Figure 3d. Self-ordering in a pedestrians population at Shibuya, Tokyo. In order to not crash into each other, humans employ two strategies. Either just to follow the person ahead, or to consider the second derivative of the vector, if the first is not applicable. Yet, it requires a certain “culture”, an unspoken agreement to do so (see this for what happens otherwise)

A particularly interesting example for highly developed swarms that are able to establish persistent organization is provided by Dictyostelium (Fig 4a), in common language called a slime-mold. In biological taxonomy, they form a group called Mycetozoa, which indicates their strangeness: Partly, they behave like fungi, partly like primitive animals. Yet, they are neither prototypical fungi nor prototypical animals. in both cases the macroscopic appearance is a consequence of (largely) chemically organized collaborative behavior of a swarm of amoeboids. Under good environmental conditions slime-molds split up into single cells, each feeding on their own (mostly on bacteria). Under stressing conditions, they build astonishing macroscopic structures, which are only partially reversible as parts of the population might be “sacrificed” to meet the purpose of non-local distribution.

Figure 4a. Dictyostelium, “fluid” mode; the microscopic individuals are moving freely, creating a pattern that optimizes logistics. Individuals can smoothly switch roles from moving to feeding. It should be clear that the “arrangement” you see is not a leaf, nor a single organism! It is a population of coordinating individuals. Yet, the millions of organisms in this population can switch “phase”… (continue with 4b…)

Figure 4b. Dictyostelium, in “organized” mode, i.e. the “same” population of individuals now behaving “as if” it would be an organism, even with different organs. Here, individuals organize a macroscopic form, as if they were a single organism. There is irreversible division of labor. Such, the example of Dictyostelium shows that the border between swarms and plants or animals can be blurry.

The concept of swarms has also been applied to crowds of humans, e.g. in urban environments [11]. Here, we can observe an amazing re-orientation. Finally, after 10 years or so of research on swarms and crowds, naïve modernist prejudices are going to be corrected. Independence and reductionist physicism have been dropped, instead, researchers get increasingly aware of relations and behavior [14].

Trouble is, the simulations treat people as independent particles—ignoring our love of sticking in groups and blabbing with friends. Small groups of pedestrians change everything, says Mehdi Moussaid, the study’s leader and a behavioral scientist at the University of Toulouse in France. “We have to rebuild our knowledge about crowds.”

Swarms solve a particular class of challenges: logistics. Whether in plants or slime-molds, it is the transport of something as an adaptive response that provides their framing “purpose”. This something could be the members of the swarm itself, as in fish, or something that is transported by the swarm, as it is the case in ants. Yet, the difference is not that large.

Figure 5: Simulation of foraging raid patterns in army ants Eciton. (from [12]) The hive (they haven’t a nest) is at the bottom, while the food source is towards thr top.  The only difference between A and B is the number of food sources.

When compared to crystals, even simple swarms show important differences. Firstly, in contrast to crystals, swarms are immaterial. What we can observe at the global scale, macroscopically, is an image of rules that are independent of matter. Yet, in simple, “prototypical” swarms the implementation of those rules is still global, just like in crystals. Everywhere in the primitive swarm the same basic rules are active. We have seen that in Dictyostelium, much like in social insects, rules begin to be active in a more localized manner.

The separation of immaterial components from matter is very important. It is the birth of information. We may conceive information itself as a morphological element, as a condition for the probabilistic instantiation. Not by chance we assign the label “fluid” to large flocks of birds, say starlings in autumn. On the molecular level, water itself is organized as a swarm.

As a further possibility, the realm of immaterial rules provides allows also for a differentiation of rules. For in crystals the rule is almost synonymic to the properties of the matter, there is no such differentiation for them. They are what they are, eternally. In contrast to that, in swarms we always find a setup that comprises attractive and repellent forces, which is the reason for their capability to build patterns. This capability is often called self-organization, albeit calling it self-ordering would be more exact.

There is last interesting point with swarms. In order to boot a swarm as swarm, that is, to effectuate the rules, a certain, minimal density is required. From this perspective, we can recognize also a link between swarms and mediality. The appropriate concept to describe swarms is thus the wave of density (or of probability).

Not only in urban research the concept of swarms is often used in agent-based models. Unfortunately, however, only the most naive approaches are taken, conceiving of agents as entities almost without any internal structure, i.e. also without memory. Paradoxically, researchers often invoke the myth of “intelligent swarms”, overlooking that intelligence is nothing that is associated to swarms. In order to find appropriate solutions to a given challenge, we simply need an informational n-body system, where we find emergent patterns and evolutionary principles as well. This system can be realized even in a completely immaterial manner, as a pattern of electrical discharges. Such a process we came to call a “brain”… Actually, swarms without an evolutionary embedding can be extremely malignant and detrimental, since in swarms the purpose is not predefined. Fiction authors (M.Crichton, F.Schätzing) recognized this long ago. Engineers seem to still have difficulties with that.

Such, we can also see that swarms actualize the most seriously penetrating form of growth.

3.4. Animals

So far, we have met three models of growth. In plants and swarms we find different variations of the basic crystalline mode of growth. In animals, the regulation of growth acquired even more degrees of freedom.

The major determinant of the differences between the forms of plants and animals is movement. This not only applies to the organism as a whole. We find it also on the cellular level. Plants do not have blood or an immune system, where cells of a particular type are moving around. Once they settled, they are fixed.

The result of this mobility is a greatly diversified space of possibilities for instantiating compartmentalization. Across the compartments, which we find also in the temporal domain, we may even see different modes of growth. The liver of the vertebrates, for instance, grows more like a plant. It is somehow not surprising that the liver is the organ with the best ability for regeneration. We also find interacting populations of swarms in animals, even in the most primitive ones like sponges.

The important aspects of form in animals are in their interior. While for crystals there is no interiority, plants differ in their external organization, their habitus, with swarms somewhere in between. Animals, however, are different due to their internal organization on the level of macroscopic compartments, which includes their behavioral potential. (later: remark about metabolism, as taking the wrong metaphorical anchor) Note that the cells of animals look quite similar, they are highly standardized, even between flies and humans.

Along with the importance of the dynamics and form of interior compartments, the development of animals in their embryological phase8 is strictly choreographed. Time is not an outer parameter any more. Much more than plants, swarms or even crystals, of course, animals are beings in and of time. They have history, as individual and as population, which is independent of matter. In animals, history is a matter of form and rules, of interior, self-generated conditions.

During the development of animal embryos we find some characteristic operations of form creating, based on the principle of mobility, additionally to the principles that we can describe for swarms, plants and crystals. These are

  • – folding, involution and blastulation;
  • – melting, and finally
  • – inflation and gastrulation;

The mathematics for describing these operations is not geometry any more. We need topology and category theory in order to grasp it, that is the formalization of transformation.

Folding brings compartments together that have been produced separately. It breaks the limitations of signal horizons by initiating a further level of integration. Hence, the role of folding can be understood as a way as a means to overcome or to instantiate dimensional constraints and/or modularity. While inflation is the mee accumulation of mass and amorphous enlargement of a given compartment by attachment from the interior, melting may be conceived as a negative attachment. Abstractly taken, it introduces the concept of negativity, which in turn allows for smooth gradation. Finally, involution, gastrulation and blastulation introduce floating compartments, hence swarm-like capabilities in the interior organization. It blurs the boundaries between structure and movement, introducing probabilism and reversibility into the development and the life form of the being.

Figure 6a. Development in Embryos. Left-hand, a very early phase is shown, emphasizing the melting and inflating, which leads to “segments”, called metamers. (red arrows show sites of apoptosis, blue arrows indicate inflation, i.e. ordinary increase of volume)

Figure 6b. Early development phase of a hand. The space between fingers is melted away in order to shape the fingers.

Figure 6c. Rem Koolhaas [16]. Inverting the treatment of the box, thereby finding (“inventing”?) the embryonic principle of melting tissue in order to generate form. Note that Koolhaas himself never referred to “embryonic principles” (so far). This example demonstrates clearly where we have to look for the principles of morphogenesis in architecture!

In the image 6a above we can not only see the processes of melting and attaching, we also can observe another recipe of nature: repetition. In case of the Bauplan of animal organisms the result is metamery.9 While in lower animals such as worms (Annelidae), metamers are easily observed, in higher animals, such as insects or vertebrates, metamers are often only (clearly) visible in the embryonal phase. Yet, in animals metamers are always created through a combination of movement or melting and compartmentalization in the interior of the body. They are not “added” in the sense of attaching—adding—them to the actual border, as it is the case in plants or crystals. In mathematical terms, the operation in animals’ embryonic phase is multiplication, not addition.

Figure 6d. A vertebrate embryo, showing the metameric organization of the spine (left), which then gets replicated by the somites (right). In animals, metamers are a consequence of melting processes, while in plants it is due to attachment. (image found here)

The principles of melting (apoptosis), folding, inflating and repetition can be used to create artificial forms, of course. The approach is called subdivision. Note that the forms shown below have nothing to do with geometry anymore. The frameworks needed to talk about them are, at least, topology and category theory. Additionally, they require an advanced non-Cartesian conception of space, as we have been outlining one above.

Figure 7. Forms created by subdivision (courtesy Michael Hansmeyer). It is based on a family of procedures, called subdivision, that are directed towards the differentiation of the interior of a body. It can’t be described by geometry any more. Such, it is a non-geometrical, procedural form, which expresses time, not matter and its properties. The series of subdivisions are “breaking” the straightness of edges and can be seen also as a series of nested, yet uncompleted folds (See Deleuze’s work on the Fold and Leibniz). Here, in Hansmeyer’s work, each column is a compound of three “tagmata”, that is, sections that have been grown “physically” independently from each other, related just by a similar dynamics in the set of parameters.

subdivision columns

Creating such figurated forms is not fully automatic, though. There is some contingency, represented by the designer’s choices while establishing a particular history of subdivisions.

Animals employ a wide variety of modes in their growing. They can do so due to the highly developed capability of compartmentalization. They gain almost complete independence from matter10 , regarding their development, their form, and particularly regarding their immaterial setup, which we can observe as learning and the use of rules. Learning, on the other hand, is intimately related to perception, in other words, configurable measurement, and data. Perception, as a principle, is in turn mandatory for the evolution of brains and the capability to handle information. Thus, staffing a building with sensors is not a small step. It could take the form of a jump into another universe, particularly if the sensors are conceived as being separate from the being of the house, for instance in order to facilitate or modify mental or social affairs of their inhabitants.

3.5. Urban Morphing

On the level of urban arrangements, we also can observe different forms of differentiation on the level of morphology.

Figure 8. Urban Sprawl, London (from [1]). The layout looks like a slime-mold. We may conclude that cities grow like slime-molds, by attachment from the inside and directed towards the inside and the outside. Early phases of urban sprawl, particularly in developing countries, grow by attachment form the outside, hence they look more like a dimensionally constrained crystal (see fig.1b).

The concept of the fractal and the related one of self-similarity entered, of course, also the domain of urbanism, particularly an area of interest which is called Urban Morphology. This has been born as a sub-discipline of geography. It is characterized by a salient reductionism of the Urban to the physical appearance of a city and its physical layout, which of course is not quite appropriate.

Given the mechanisms of attachment, whether it is due to interior processes or attachment from the outside (through people migrating to the city), it is not really surprising to find similar fractal shapes as in case of (dimensionally) constrained crystalline growth, or in the case of slime-molds with their branching amoeba highways. In order to understand the city, the question is not whether there is a fractal or not, whether there is a dimensionality of 1.718 or one of 1.86.

The question is about the mechanisms that show up as a particular material habitus, and about the actual instantiation of these mechanisms. Or even shorter: the material habitus must be translated into a growth model. In turn, this would provide the means to shape the conditions of the cities own unfolding and evolution. We already know that dedicated planning and dedicated enforcement of plans will not work in most cities. It is of utmost importance here, not to fall back into representationalist patterns, as for instance Michael Batty sometimes falls prey to [1]. Avoiding representationalist fallacies is possible only if we embed the model about abstract growth into a properly bound compound which comprises theory (methodology and philosophy) and politics as well, much like we proposed in the previous essay.

Figure 9a. In former times, or as a matter of geographical facts, attachment is excluded. Any growth is directed towards the inside and shows up as a differentiation. Here, in this figure we see a planned city, which thus looks much like a crystal.

Figure 9b. A normally grown medieval city. While the outer “shell” looks pretty standardized, though not “crystalline”, the interior shows rich differentiation. In order to describe the interior of such cities we have to use the concept of type.

Figure 10a. Manhattan is the paradigmatic example for congestion due to a severe (in this case: geographical) limitation of the possibility to grow horizontally. In parallel, the overwhelming interior differentiation created a strong connectivity and abundant heterotopias. This could be interpreted as the prototype of the internet, built in steel and glass (see Koolhaas’ “Delirious New York” [15]).

Figure 10b. In the case of former Kowloon (now torn down), it wasn’t geological, but political constraints. It was a political enclave/exclave, where actually no legislative regulations could be set active. In some way it is the chaotic brother of Manhattan. This shows Kowloon in 1973…

Figure 10c. And here the same area in 1994.

Figure 10d. Somewhere in the inside. Kowloon developed more and more into an autonomous city that provided any service to its approx. 40’000 inhabitants. On the roof of the buildings they installed the play grounds for the children.

The medieval city, Manhattan and Kowloon share a particular growth pattern. While the outer shape remains largely constant, their interior develops any kind of compartments, any imaginable kind of flow and a rich vertical structure, both physical and logical. This growth pattern is the same as we can observe in animals. Furthermore, those cities, much like animals, start to build an informational autonomy, they start to behave, to build an informational persistence, to initiate an intense mediality.

3.6. Summary of Growth Modes

The following table provides a brief overview about the main structural differences of growth models, as they can be derived from their natural instantiations.

Table 1: Structural differences of the four basic classes of modes of growth. Note that the class labels are indeed just that: labels of models. Any actual instantiation, particularly in case of real animals, may comprise a variety of compounds made from differently weighted classes.

Aspect \ Class crystal plant swarm animal
Mode of Attachment passive positive active positive active positive and negative active positive and negative
Direction from outside from inside from inside  towards outside or inside from & towards the inside
Morphogenetic Force as a fact by matter explicitly produced inhibiting fields implicit and explicit multi-component fields 11 explicitly produced multi-component fields
Status of Form implicitly templated by existing form beginning independence from matter independence from matter independence from matter
Formal Tools geometric scaling, representative reproduction, constrained randomness Fibonacci patterns, fractal habitus, logistics fractal habitus, logistics metamerism, organs, transformation, strictly a-physical
Causa Finalis(main component) actualization of identity space filling logistics mobile logistics short-term adaptivity

4. Effects of Growth

Growth increases mass, spread or both. Saying that doesn’t add anything, it is an almost syntactical replacement of words. In Aristotelian words, we would get stuck with the causa materialis and the causa formalis. The causa finalis of growth, in other words its purpose and general effect, besides the mere increase of mass, is differentiation12, and we have to focus the conditions for that differentiation in terms of information. For the change of something is accessible only upon interpretation by an observing entity. (Note that this again requires relationality as a primacy)

The very possibility of difference and consequently of differentiation is bound to the separation of signals.13 Hence we can say that growth is all about the creation of a whole bouquet of signal intensity lengths, instantiated on a scale that stretches from as morpho-physical compartments through morpho-functional compartments to morpho-symbolic specializations.14

Inversely we may say that abstract growth is a necessary component for differentiation. Formally, we can cover differentiation as an abstract complexity  of positive and negative growth. Without abstract growth—or differentiation—there is no creation or even shaping of space into an individual space with its own dynamical dimensionality, which in turn would preclude the possibility for interaction. Growth regulates the dimensionality of the space of expressibility.

5. Growth, an(d) Urban Matter

5.1. Koolhaas, History, Heritage and Preservation

From his early days as urbanist and architect, Koolhaas has been fascinated by walls and boxes [16], even with boxes inside boxes. While he conceived the concept of separation first in a more representational manner, he developed it also into a mode of operation later. We now can decode it as a play with informational separation, as an interest in compartments, hence with processes of growth and differentiation. This renders his personal fascinosum clearly visible: the theory and the implementation of differentiation, particularly with respect to human forms of life. It is probably his one and only subject.

All of Koolhaas’ projects fit into this interest. New York, Manhattan, Boxes, Lagos, CCTV, story-telling, Singapore, ramps, Lille, empirism, Casa da Musica, bigness, Metabolism. His exploration(s) of bigness can be interpreted as an exploration of the potential of signal intensity length. How much have we to inflate a structure in order to provoke differentiation through the shifting the signal horizon into the inside of the structure? Remember, that the effective limit of signal intensity length manifests as breaking of symmetry, which in turn gives rise to compartmentalization, opposing forces, paving the way for complexity, emergence, that is nothing else than a dynamic generation of patterns. BIG BAG. BIG BANG. Galaxies, stardust, planets, everything in the mind of those crawling across and inside bigness architecture.  Of course, it appears to be more elegant to modulate the signal intensity length through other means than just by bigness, but we should not forget about it. Another way for provoking differentiation is through introducing elements of complexity, such as contradictory elements and volatility. Already in 1994, Koolhaas wrote [17]15

But in fact, only Bigness instigates the regime of complexity that mobilizes the full intelligence of architecture and its related fields. […] The absence of a theory of Bigness–what is the maximum architecture can do?–is architecture’s most debilitating weakness. […] By randomizing circulation, short-circuiting distance, […] stretching dimensions, the elevator, electricity, air-conditioning,[…] and finally, the new infrastructures […] induced another species of architecture. […] Bigness perplexes; Bigness transforms the city from a summation of certainties into an accumulation of mysteries. […] Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue. It exists; at most, it coexists. Its subtext is fuck context.

The whole first part of this quote is about nothing else than modulating signal intensity length. Consequently, the conclusion in the second part refers directly to complexity that creates novelty. An artifice that is double-creative, that is creative and in each of its instances personalized creative, how should it be perceived other than as a mystery? No wonder, modernists get overcharged…

The only way to get out of (built) context is through dynamically creating novelty., by creating an exhaustively new context outside of built matter, but strongly building on it. Novelty is established just and only by the tandem of complexity and selection (aka interpretation). But, be aware, complexity here is fully defined and not to be mistaken with the crap delivered by cybernetics, systems theory or deconstructivism.

The absence of a theory of Bigness—what is the maximum architecture can do? —is architecture’s most debilitating weakness. Without a theory of Bigness, architects are in the position of Frankenstein’s creators […] Bigness destroys, but it is also a new beginning. It can reassemble what it breaks. […] Because there is no theory of Bigness, we don’t know what to do with it, we don’t know where to put it, we don’t know when to use it, we don’t know how to plan it. Big mistakes are our only connection to Bigness. […] Bigness destroys, but it is also a new beginning. It can reassemble what it breaks. […] programmatic elements react with each other to create new events- Bigness returns to a model of programmatic alchemy.

All this reads like a direct rendering of our conceptualization of complexity. It is, of course, nonsense to think that

[…] ‘old’ architectural principles (composition, scale, proportion, detail) no longer apply when a building acquires Bigness. [18]

Koolhaas sub-contracted Jean Nouvel for caring of large parts of Euro-Lille. Why should he do so, if proportions wouldn’t be important? Bigness and proportions are simply on different levels! Bigness instantiates the conditions for dynamic generation of patterns, and those patters, albeit volatile and completely on the side of the interpreter/observer/user/inhabitant/passer-by, deserve careful thinking about proportions.

Bigness is impersonal: the architect is no longer condemned to stardom.

Here, again, the pass-porting key is the built-in creativity, based on elementarized, positively defined complexity. We thus would like to propose to consider our theory of complexity—at least—as a theory of Bigness. Yet, the role of complexity can be understood only as part of generic differentiation. Koolhaas’ suggestion for Bigness does not only apply for architecture. We already mentioned Euro-Lille. Bigness, and so complexity—positively elementarized—is the key to deal with Urban affairs. What could be BIGGER than the Urban? Koolhaas concludes

Bigness no longer needs the city, it is the city.’ […]

Bigness = urbanism vs. architecture.

Of course, by “architecture” Koolhaas refers to the secretions by the swarm architects’ addiction to points, lines, forms and apriori functions, all these blinkers of modernism. Yet, I think, urbanism and a re-newed architecture (one htat embraces complexity) may be well possible. Yet, probably only if we, architects and their “clients”, contemporary urbanists and their “victims,” start to understand both as parts of a vertical, differential (Deleuzean) Urban Game. Any comprehensive apprehension of {architecture, urbanism} will overcome the antipodic character of the relations between them. Hope is that it also will be a cure for junkspace.

There are many examples from modernism, where architects spent the utmost efforts to prevent the “natural” effect of bigness, though not always successful. Examples include Corbusier as well as Mies van der Rohe.

Koolhaas/OMA not only uses assemblage, bricolage and collage as working techniques, whether as “analytic” tool (Delirious New York) or in projects, they also implement it in actual projects. Think of Euro-Lille, for instance. Implementing the conditions of or for complexity creates a never-ending flux of emergent patterns. Such an architecture not only keeps being interesting, it is also socially sustainable.

Such, it is not really a surprise that Koolhaas started to work on the issue and the role of preservation during the recent decade, culminating in the contribution of OMA/AMO to the Biennale 2010 in Venice.

In an interview given there to Hans Ulrich Obrist [20] (and in a lecture at the American University of Beirut), Koolhaas mentioned some interesting figures about the quantitative consequences of preservation. In 2010, 3-4% of the area of the earths land surface has been declared as heritage site. This amounts to a territory larger than the size of India. The prospects of that have been that soon up to 12% are protected against change. His objection was that this development can lead to kind of a stasis. According to Koolhaas, we need a new vocabulary, a theory that allows to talk about how to get rid of old buildings and to negotiate of which buildings we could get rid of. He says that we can’t talk about preservation without also talking about how to get rid of old stuff.

There is another interesting issue about preservation. The temporal distance marked by the age of the building to be preserved and the attempt to preserve the building constantly decreased across history. In 1800 preservation focused on buildings risen 2000 years before, in 1900 the time distance shrunk to 300 years, and in 2000 it was as little as 30 years. Koolhaas concludes that we obviously are entering a phase of prospective preservation.

There are two interpretations for this tendency. The first one would be, as a pessimistic one, that it will lead to a perfect lock up. As an architect, you couldn’t do anything anymore without being engaged in severely intensified legislation issues and a huge increase in bureaucrazy. The alternative to this pessimistic perspective is, well, let’s call it symbolic (abstract) organicism, based on the concept of (abstract) growth and differentiation as we devised it here. The idea of change as a basis of continuity could be built so deeply into any architectural activity, that the result would not only comprise preservation, it would transcend it. Obviously, the traditional conception of preservation would vanish as well.

This points to an important topic: Developing a theory about a cultural field, such as it is given by the relation between architecture and preservation, can’t be limited to just the “subject”. It inevitably has to include a reflection about the conceptual layer as well. In the case of preservation and heritage, we simply find that the language game is still of an existential character, additionally poisoned by values. Preservation should probably not target the material aspects. Thus, the question whether to get rid of old buildings is inappropriate. Transformation should not be regarded as a question of performing a tabula rasa.

Any well-developed theory of change in architectural or Urban affairs brings a quite important issue to the foreground. The city has to decide what it wants to be. The alternatives are preformed by the modes of growth. It could conceive of itself as an abstract crystal, as a plant, a slime-mold made from amoeboids, or as an abstract animal. Each choice offers particular opportunities and risks. Each of these alternatives will determine the characteristics and the quality of the potential forms of life, which of course have to be supported by the city. Selecting an alternative also selects the appropriate manner of planning, of development. It is not possible to perform the life form of an animal and to plan according to the characteristics of a crystal. The choice will also determine whether the city can enter a regenerative trajectory, whether it will decay to dust, or whether it will be able to maintain its shape, or whether it will behave predatory. All these consequences are, of course, tremendously political. Nevertheless, we should not forget that the political has to be secured against the binding problem as much as conceptual work.

In the cited interview, Koolhaas also gives a hint about that when he refers to the Panopticum project, a commission to renovate a 19th century prison. He mentions that they discovered a rather unexpected property of the building: “a lot of symbolic extra-dimensions”. These symbolic capital allows for “much more and beautiful flexibility” to handle the renovation. Actually, one “can do it in 50 different ways” without exhausting the potential, something, which according to Koolhaas is “not possible for modern architecture”.

Well, again, not really a surprise. Neither function, nor functionalized form, nor functionalized fiction (Hollein) can bear symbolic value except precisely that of the function. Symbolic value can’t be implanted as little as meaning can be defined apriori, something that has not been understood, for instance, by Heinrich Klotz14. Due to the deprivation of the symbolic domain it is hard to re-interpret modernist buildings. Yet, what would be the consequence for preservation? Tearing down all the modernist stuff? Probably not the worst idea, unless the future architects are able to think in terms of growth and differentiation.

Beyond the political aspects the practical question remains, how to decide on which building, or district, or structure to preserve? Koolhaas already recognized that the politicians started to influence or even rule the respective decision-making processes, taking responsibility away from the “professional” city-curators. Since there can’t be a rational answer, his answer is random selection.

Figure 11: Random Selection for Preservation Areas, Bejing. Koolhaas suggested to select preservation areas randomly, since it can’t be decided “which” Bejing should be preserved (there are quite a few very different ones).

Yet, I tend to rate this as a fallback into his former modernist attitudes. I guess, the actual and local way for the design of the decision-making process is a political issue, which in turn is dependent on the type of differentiation that is in charge, either as a matter of fact, or as a subject of political design. For instance, the citizens of the whole city, or just of the respective areas could be asked about their values, as it is a possibility (or a duty) in Switzerland. Actually, there is even a nice and recent example for it. The subject matter is a bus-stop shelter designed by Santiago Calatrava in 1996, making it to one of his first public works.

Figure 12: Santiago Calatrava 1996, bus stop shelter in St.Gallen (CH), at a central place of the city; there are almost no cars, but every 1-2 minutes a bus, thus a lot of people are passing even several times per day. Front view…

…and rear view

In 2011, the city parliament decided to restructure the place and to remove the Calatrava shelter. It was considered by the ‘politicians’ to be too “alien” for the small city, which a few steps away also hosts a medieval district that is a Unesco World Heritage. Yet, many citizen rated the shelter as something that provides a positive differential, a landmark, which could not be found in other cities nearby, not even in whole Northern Switzerland. Thus, a referendum has been enforced by the citizens, and the final result from May 2012 was a clear rejection of the government’s plans. The effect of this recent history is pretty clear: The shelter accumulates even more symbolic capital than before.

Back to the issue of preservation. If it is not the pure matter, what else should be addressed? Again, Koolhaas himself already points to the right direction. The following fig.13 shows a scene from somewhere in Bejing. The materials of the dwelling are bricks, plastic, cardboard. Neither the site nor the matter nor the architecture seems to convey anything worthwhile to be preserved.

Figure 13: When it comes to preservation, the primacy is about the domain of the social, not that of matter.

Yet, what must be preserved mandatorily is the social condition, the rooting of the people in their environment. Koolhaas, however, says that he is not able to provide any answer to solve this challenge. Nevertheless it s pretty clear, that “sustainability” start right here, not in the question of energy consumption (despite the fact that this is an important aspect too).

5.2. Shrinking. Thinning. Growing.

Cities have been performances of congestion. As we have argued repeatedly, densification, or congestion if you like, is mandatory for the emergence of typical Urban mediality. Many kinds of infrastructures are only affordable, let alone be attractive, if there are enough clients for it. Well, the example of China—or Singapore—and its particular practices of implementing plans demonstrate that the question of density can take place also in a plan, in the future, that is, in the domain of time. Else, congestion and densification may actualize more and more in the realm of information, based on the new medially active technologies. Perhaps, our contemporary society does not need the same corporeal density as it was the case in earlier times. There is a certain tendency that the corporeal city and the web amalgamate into something new that could be called the “wurban“. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, some kind of density is needed to ignite the conditions for the Urban.

Such, it seems that the Urban is threatened by the phenomenon of thinning. Thinning is different from shrinking, which appears foremost in some regions of the U.S. (e.g. Detroit) or Europe (Leipzig, Ukrainia) as a consequence of monotonic, or monotopic economic structure. Yet, shrinking can lead to thinning. Thinning describes the fact that there is built matter, which however is inhabited only for a fraction of time. Visually dense, but socially “voided”.

Thinning, according to Koolhaas, considers the form of new cities like Dubai. Yet, as he points out, there is also a tendency in some regions, such as Switzerland, or the Netherlands, that approach the “thinned city” from the other direction. The whole country seems to transform itself into something like an urban garden, neither of rural nor of urban quality. People like Herzog & deMeuron lament about this form, conceiving it as urban sprawl, the loss of distinct structure, i.e. the loss of clearly recognizable rural areas on the one hand, and the surge of “sub-functional” city-fragments on the other. Yet, probably we should turn perspective, away from reactive, negative dialectics, into a positive attitude of design, as it may appear a bit infantile to think that a palmful of sociologists and urbanists could act against a gross cultural tendency.

In his lecture at the American University in Beirut in 2010 [19], Koolhaas asked “What does it [thinning] mean for the ‘Urban Condition’?”

Well, probably nothing interesting, except that it prevents the appearance of the Urban16 or lets it vanish, would it have been present. Probably cities like Dubai are just not yet “urban”, not to speak of the Urban. From the distant, Dubai still looks like a photomontage, a Potemkin village, an absurdity. The layout of the arrangement of the high-rises remembers to the small street villages, just 2 rows of cottages on both sides of  a street, arbitrarily placed somewhere in the nowhere of a grassland plain. The settlement being ruled just by a very basic tendency for social cohesion and a common interest for exploiting the hinterland as a resource. But there is almost no network effect, no commonly organized storage, no deep structure.

Figure 14a: A collage shown by Koolhaas in his Beirut lecture, emphasizing the “absurdity” (his words) of the “international” style. Elsewhere, he called it an element of Junkspace.

The following fig 14b demonstrates the artificiality of Dubai, classifying more as a lined village made from huge buildings than actually as a “city”.

Figure 14b. Photograph “along” Dubai’s  main street taken in late autumn 2012 by Shiva Menon (source). After years of traffic jamming the nomadic Dubai culture finally accepted that something like infrastructure is necessary in a more sessile arrangement. They started to build a metro, which is functional with the first line since Sep 2010.

dubai fog 4 shiva menon

Figure 14c below shows the new “Simplicity ™”. This work of Koolhaas and OMA oscillates between sarcasm, humor pretending to be naive, irony and caricature. Despite a physical reason is given for the ability of the building to turn its orientation such as to minimize insulation, the effect is a quite different one. It is much more a metaphor for the vanity of village people, or maybe the pseudo-religious power of clerks.

Figure 14c-1. A proposal by Koolhaas/OMA for Dubai (not built, and as such, pure fiction). The building, called “Simplicity”, has been thought to be 200m wide, 300m tall and measuring only 21m in depth. It is placed onto a plate that rotates in order to minimize insulation.

Figure 14b-2. The same thing a bit later the same day

Yet, besides the row of high-rises we find the dwellings of the migration workers in a considerable density, forming a multi-national population. However, the layout here remembers more to Los Angeles than to any kind of “city”. Maybe, it simply forms kind of the “rural” hinterland of the high-rise village.

Figure 15. Dubai, “off-town”. Here, the migration workers are housing. In the background the skyscrapers lining the infamous main street.

For they, for instance, also started to invest into a metro, despite the (still) linear, disseminated layout of the city, which means that connectivity, hence network effects are now recognized as a crucial structural element for the success of the city. And this then is not so different anymore from the classical Western conception. Anyway, even the first cities of mankind, risen not in the West, provided certain unique possibilities, which as a bouquet could be considered as urban.

There is still another dimension of thinning, related to the informatization of presence via medially active technologies. Thinning could be considered as an actualization of the very idea of the potentiality of co-presence, much as it is exploited in the so-called “social media”. Of course, the material urban neighborhood, its corporeality, is dependent on physical presence. Certainly, we can expect either strong synchronization effects or negative tipping points, demarcating a threshold towards sub-urbanization. On the other hand, this could give rise to new forms of apartment sharing, supported by urban designers and town officials…

On the other hand, we already mentioned natural structures that show a certain dispersal, such as the blood cells, the immune system in vertebrates, or the slime-molds. These structures are highly developed swarms. Yet, all these swarms are highly dependent on the outer conditions. As such, swarms are hardly persistent. Dubai, the swarm city. Technology, however, particularly in the form of the www and so-called social media could stabilize the swarm-shape.17

From a more formal perspective we may conceive of shrinking and thinning simply as negative growth. By this growth turns, of course, definitely into an abstract concept, leaving the representational and even the metaphorical far behind. Yet, the explication of a formal theory exceeds the indicated size of this text by far. We certainly will do it later, though.

5.3. In Search for Symbols

What turns a building into an entity that may grow into an active source for symbolization processes? At least, we can initially know that symbols can’t be implanted in a direct manner. Of course, one always can draw on exoticism, importing the cliché that already is attached to the entity from abroad. Yet, this is not what we are interested in here.The question is not so dissimilar to the issue of symbolization at large, as it is known from the realm of language. How could a word, a sign, a symbol gain reference, and how could a building get it? We could even take a further step by asking: How could a building acquire generic mediality such that it could be inhabited not only physically, but also in the medial realm? [23] We can’t answer the issues around these questions here, as there is a vast landscape of sources and implications, enough for filling at least a book. Yet, conceiving buildings as agents in story-telling could be a straightforward and not too complicated entry into this landscape.

Probably, story-telling with buildings works like a good joke. If they are too direct, nobody would laugh. Probably, story-telling has a lot to do with behavior and the implied complexities, I mean, the behavior of the building. We interpret pets, not plants. With plants, we interpret just their usage. We laugh about cats, dogs, apes, and elephants, but not about roses and orchids, and even less about crystals. Once you have seen one crystal, you have seen all of them. Being inside a crystal can be frightening, just think about Snow White. While in some way this holds even for plants, that’s certainly not true for animals. Junkspace is made from (medial) crystals. Junkspace is so detrimental due to the fundamental modernist misunderstanding that claims the possibility of implementing meaning and symbols, if these are regarded as relevant at all.

Closely related to the issue of symbols is the issue of identity.

Philosophically, it is definitely highly problematic to refer to identity as a principle. It leads to deep ethical dilemmata. If we are going to drop it, we have to ask immediately about a replacement, since many people indeed feel that they need to “identify” with their neighborhood.

Well, first we could say that identification and “to identify” are probably quite different from the idea of identity. Every citizen in a city could be thought to identify with her or his city, yet, at the same time there need not be such a thing as “identity”. Identity is the abstract idea, imposed by mayors and sociologists, and preferably it should be rejected just for that, while the process of feeling empathy with one’s neighborhood is a private process that respects plurality. It is not too difficult to imagine that there are indeed people that feel so familiar with “their” city, the memories about experiences, the sound, the smell, the way people walk, that they feel so empathic with all of this such that they source a significant part of their personality from it. How to call this inextricable relationship other than “to identify with”?

The example of the Calatrava-bus stop shelter in St.Gallen demonstrates one possible source of identification: Success in collective design decisions. Or more general: successfully finished negotiations about collective design issues, a common history about such successful processes. Even if the collective negotiation happens as a somewhat anonymous process. Yet, the relative preference of participation versus decreed activities depends on the particular distribution of political and ethical values in the population of citizens. Certainly, participatory processes are much more stable than top-down-decrees, not only in the long run, as even the Singaporean government has recognized recently. But anyway, cities have their particular personality, because they behave18 in a particular manner, and any attempt to get clear or to decide about preservation must respect this personality. Of course, it also applies that the decision-making process should be conscious enough to be able to reflect about the metaphysical belief set, the modes of growth and the long-term characteristics of the city.

5.4. The Question of Implementation

This essay tries to provide an explication of the concept of growth in the larger context of a theory of differentiation in architecture and urbanism. There, we positioned growth as one of four principles or schemata that are constitutive for generic differentiation.

In this final section we would like to address the question of implementation, since only little has been said so far about how to deal with the concept of growth. We already described how and why earlier attempts like that of the Metabolists dashed against the binding problem of theoretical work.

If houses do not move physically, how then to make them behaving, say, similar to the way an animal does? How to implement a house that shares structural traits with animals? How to think of a city as a system of plants and animals without falling prey to utter naivity?

We already mentioned that there is no technocratic, or formal, or functionalist solution to the question of growth. At first, the city has to decide what it wants to be, which kind of mix of growth modes should be implemented in which neighborhoods.

Let us first take some visual impressions…

Figure 16a,b,c. The Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe (1929 [1986]).

This pavilion is a very special box. It is non-box, or better, it establishes a volatile collection of virtual boxes. In this building, Mies reached the mastery of boxing. Unfortunately, there are not so much more examples. In some way, the Dutch Embassy by Koolhaas is the closest relative to it, if we consider more recent architecture.

Just at the time the Barcelona pavilion has been built, another important architect followed similar concepts. In his Villa Savoye, built 1928-31, LeCorbusier employed and demonstrated several new elements in his so-called “new architecture,” among others the box and the ramp. Probably the most important principle, however, was to completely separate construction and tectonics from form and design. Such, he achieved a similar “mobility” as Mies in his Pavilion.

Figure 17a: La Villa Savoye, mixing interior and exterior on the top-roof “garden”. The other zone of overlapping spaces is beneath the house (see next figure 17b).

corbusier Villa Savoye int-ext

Figure 17b: A 3d model of Villa Savoye, showing the ramps that serve as “entrance” (from the outside) and “extrance” (towards the top-roof garden). The principle of the ramp creates a new location for the creation and experience of duration in the sense of Henri Bergson’s durée. Both the ramp and the overlapping of spaces creates a “zona extima,” which is central to the “behavioral turn”.

Corbusier Villa Savoye 06 small model

Comparing La Villa Savoye with the Barcelona pavilion regarding the mobility of space, it is quite obvious, that LeCorbusier handled the confluence and mutual penetration of interior and exterior in a more schematic and geometric manner.19

The quality of the Barcelona building derives from the fact that its symbolic value is not directly implemented, it just emerges upon interaction with the visitor, or the inhabitant. It actualizes the principle of “emerging symbolicity by induced negotiation” of compartments. The compartments become mobile. Such, it is one of the roots of the ramp that appeared in many works of Koolhaas. Yet, its working requires a strong precondition: a shared catalog of values, beliefs and basic psychological determinants, in short, a shared form of life.

On the other hand, these values and beliefs are not directly symbolized, shifting them into their volatile phase, too. Walking through the building, or simply being inside of it, instantiates differentiation processes in the realm of the immaterial. All the differentiation takes place in the interior of the building, hence it brings forth animal-like growth, transcending the crystal and the swarm.

Thus the power of the pavilion. It is able to transform and to transcend the values of the inhabitant/visitor. The zen of silent story-telling.

This example demonstrates clearly that morphogenesis in architecture not only starts in the immateriality of thought, it also has to target the immaterial.

It is clear that such a volatile dynamics, such a active, if not living building is hard to comprehend. In 2008, the Japanese office SANAA has been invited for contributing the annual installation in the pavilion. They explained their work with the following words [24].

“We decided to make transparent curtains using acrylic material, since we didn’t want the installation to interfere in any way with the existing space of the Barcelona Pavilion,” says Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA.

Figure 18. The installation of Japanese office SANAA in the Barcelona Pavilion. You have to take a careful look in order to see the non-interaction.

Well, it certainly rates as something between bravery and stupidity to try “not to interfere in any way with the existing space“. And doing so by highly transparent curtains is quite to the opposite of the buildings characteristics, as it removes precisely the potentiality, the volatility, virtual mobility. Nothing is left, beside the air, perhaps. SANAA committed the typical representational fault, as they tried to use a representational symbol. Of course, the walls that are not walls at all have a long tradition in Japan. Yet, the provided justification would still be simply wrong.

Instead of trying to implement a symbol, the architect or the urbanist has to care about the conditions for the possibility of symbol processes and sign processes. These processes may be political or not, they always will refer to the (potential) commonality of shared experiences.

Above we mentioned that the growth of a building has its beginning in the immateriality of thought. Even for the primitive form of mineralic growth we found that we can understand the variety of resulting shapes only through the conditions embedding the growth process. The same holds, of course, for the growth of buildings. For crystals the outer conditions belong to them as well, so the way of generating the form of a building belongs to the building.

Where to look for the outer conditions for creating the form? I suppose we have to search for them in the way the form gets concrete, starting from a vague idea, which includes its social and particularly its metaphysical conditions. Do you believe in independence, identity, relationality, difference?

It would be interesting to map the difference between large famous offices, say OMA and HdM.

According to their own words, HdM seems to treat the question of material very differently from OMA, where the question of material comes in at later stage [25]. HdM seems to work much more “crystallinic”, form is determined by the matter, the material and the respective culture around it. There are many examples for this, from the wine-yard in California, the “Schaulager” in Basel (CH), the railway control center (Basel), up to the “Bird’s Nest” in Bejing (which by the way is an attempt for providing symbols that went wrong). HdM seem to try to rely to the innate symbolicity of the material, of corporeality itself. In case of the Schaulager, the excavated material have been used to raise the building, the stones from the underground have been erected into a building, which insides looks like a Kafkaesque crystal. They even treat the symbols of a culture as material, somehow counterclockwise to their own “matérialisme brut”. Think about their praise of simplicity, the declared intention to avoid any reference beside the “basic form of the house” (Rudin House). In this perspective, their acclaimed “sensitivity” to local cultures is little more than the exploitation of a coal mine, which also requires sensitivity to local conditions.

Figure 18: Rudin House by Herzog & deMeuron

HdM practice a representationalist anti-symbolism, leaning strongly to architecture as a crystal science, a rather weird attitude to architecture. Probably it is this weirdness that quite unintentionally produces the interest in their architecture through a secondary dynamics in the symbolic. Is it, after all, Hegel’s tricky reason @ work? At least this would explain the strange mismatch of their modernist talking and the interest in their buildings.

6. Conclusions

In this essay we have closed a gap with respect to the theoretical structure of generic differentiation. Generic Differentiation may be displayed by the following diagram (but don’t miss the complete argument).

Figure 19: Generic Differentiation is the key element for solving the binding problem of theory works. This structure is to be conceived not as a closed formula, but rather as a module of a fractal that is created through mutual self-affine mappings of all of the three parts into the respective others.

basic module of the fractal relation between concept/conceptual, generic differentiation/difference and operation/operational comprising logistics and politics that describes the active subject

In earlier essays, we proposed abstract models for probabilistic networks, for associativity and for complexity. These models represent a perspective from the outside onto the differentiating entity. All of these have been set up in a reflective manner by composing certain elements, which in turn can be conceived as framing a particular space of expressibility. Yet, we also proposed the trinity of development, evolution and learning (chp.10 here) for the perspective from the inside of the differentiation process(es), describing different qualities of differentiation.

Well, the concept of growth20 is now joining the group of compound elements for approaching the subject of differentiation from the outside. In some way, using a traditional and actually an inappropriate wording, we could say that this perspective is more analytical than synthetical, more scientific than historiographical. This does not mean, of course, that the complementary perspective is less scientific, or that talking about growth or complexity is less aware of the temporal domain. It is just a matter of weights. As we have pointed out in the previous essay, the meta-theoretical conception (as a structural description of the dynamics of theoretical work) is more like a fractal field than a series of activities.

Anyway, the question is what can we do with the newly re-formulated concept of growth?

First of all, it completes the concept of generic differentiation, as we already mentioned just before. Probably the most salient influence is the enlarged and improved vocabulary to talk about change as far as it concerns the “size” of the form of a something, even if these something is something immaterial. For many reasons, we definitely should resist the tendency to limit the concept of growth to issues of morphology.

Only through this vocabulary we can start to compare the entities in the space of change. Different things from different domains or even different forms of life can be compared to each other, yet not as those things, but rather as media of change. Comparing things that change means to investigate the actualization of different modes of change as this passes through the something. This move is by no means eclecticist. It is even mandatory in order to keep aligned to the primacy of interpretation, the Linguistic Turn, and the general choreostemic constitution.

By means of the new and generalized vocabulary we may overcome the infamous empiricist particularism. Bristle counting, as it is called in biology, particularly entomology. Yes, there are around 450’000 different species of beetles… but… Well, overcoming particularism means that we can spell out new questions: about regulative factors, e.g. for continuity, melting and apoptosis. Guided by the meta-theoretical structure in fig.19 above we may ask: How would a politics of apoptosis look like? What about recycling of space? How could infrastructure foster associativity, learning and creativity of the city, rather than creativity in the city? What is epi/genetics of the growth and differentiation processes in a particular city?

Such questions may appear as elitary, abstract, of only little use. Yet, the contrary is true, as precisely such questions directly concern the productivity of a city, the speed of circulation of capital, whether symbolic or monetary (which anyway is almost the same). Understanding the conditions of growth may lead to cities that are indeed self-sustaining, because the power of life would be a feature deeply built into them. A little, perhaps even homeopathic dose of dedetroitismix, a kind of drug to cure the disease that infected the city of Detroit as well as the planners of Detroit or also all the urbanists that are pseudo-reasoning about Detroit in particular and sustainability in general. Just as Paracelsus mentioned that there is not just one kind of stomach, instead there are hundreds of kinds of stomach, we may recognize how to deal with the thousands of different kinds of cities that all spread across thousands of plateaus, if we understand of how to speak and think about growth.

Notes

1. This might appear a bit arrogant, perhaps, at first sight. Yet, at this point I must insist on it, even as I take into account the most advanced attempts, such as those of Michael Batty [1], Luca D’Acci or Karl Kropf [2]. The proclaimed “science of cities” is in a bad state. Either it is still infected by positivist or modernist myths, or the applied methodological foundations are utterly naive. Batty for instance embraces full-heartedly complexity. But how could one use complexity other as a mere label, if he is going to write such weird mess [3], mixing wildly concepts and subjects?

“Complexity: what does it mean? How do we define it? This is an impossible task because complex systems are systems that defy definition. Our science that attempts to understand such systems is incomplete in the sense that a complex system behaves in ways that are unpredictable. Unpredictability does not mean that these systems are disordered or chaotic but that defy complete definition.

Of course, it is not an impossible task to conceptualize complexity in a sound manner. This is even a mandatory precondition to use it as a concept. It is a bit ridiculous to claim the impossibility and then writing a book about its usage. And this conceptualization, whatsoever it would look like, has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that complex systems may behave unpredictable. Actually, in some way they are better predictable than complete random processes. It remains unclear which kind of unpredictability Batty is referring to? He didn’t disclose anything about this question, which is a quite important one if one is going to apply “complexity science”. And what about the concept of risk, and modeling, then, which actually can’t be separated at all?

His whole book [1] is nothing else than an accumulation of half-baked formalistic particulars. When he talks about networks, he considers only logistic networks. Bringing in fractals, he misses to mention the underlying mechanisms of growth and the formal aspects (self-affine mapping). In his discussion of the possible role of evolutionary theory [4], following Geddes, Batty resorts again to physicalism and defends it. Despite he emphasizes the importance of the concept of “mechanism”, despite he correctly distinguishes development from evolution, despite he demands an “evolutionary thinking”, he fails to get to the point: A proper attitude to theory under conditions of evolution and complexity, a probabilistic formulation, an awareness for self-referentiality, insight to the incommensurability of emergent traits, the dualism of code and corporeality, the space of evo-devo-cogno. In [4], one can find another nonsensical statement about complexity on p.567:

“The essential criterion for a complex system is a collection of elements that act independently of one another but nevertheless manage to act in concert, often through constraints on their actions and through competition and co-evolution. The physical trace of such complexity, which is seen in aggregate patterns that appear ordered, is the hallmark of self-organisation.” (my emphasis).

The whole issue with complex systems is that there is no independence… they do not manage to act in concert… wildly mixing with concepts like evolution or competition… physics definitely can nothing say about the patterns, and the hallmark of self-organizing systems is not surely not just the physical trace: it is the informational re-configuration.

Not by pure chance therefore he is talking about “tricks” ([5], following Hamdi [7]): “The trick for urban planning is to identify key points where small change can lead spontaneously to massive change for the better.” Without a proper vocabulary of differentiation, that is, without a proper concept of differentiation, one inevitably has to invoke wizards…

But the most serious failures are the following: regarding the cultural domain, there is no awareness about the symbolic/semiotic domain, the disrespect of information, and regarding methodology, throughout his writings, Batty mistakes theory for models and vice versa, following the positivist trail. There is not the slightest evidence in his writing that there is even a small trace of reflection. This however is seriously indicated, because cities are about culture.

This insensitivity is shared by talented people like Luca D’Acci, who is still musing about “ideal cities”. His procedural achievements as a craftsman of empirism are impressive, but without reflection it is just threatening, claiming the status of the demiurg.

Despite all these failures, Batty’s approach and direction is of course by far more advanced than the musings of Conzen, Caniggia or Kropf, which are intellectually simply disastrous.There are numerous examples for a highly uncritical use of structural concepts, for mixing of levels of arguments, crude reductionism, a complete neglect of mechanisms and processes etc. For instance, Kropf in [6]

A morphological critique is necessarily a cultural critique. […] Why, for example, despite volumes of urban design guidance promoting permeability, is it so rare to find new development that fully integrates main routes between settlements or roads directly linking main routes (radials and counter-radials)?” (p.17)

The generic structure of urban form is a hierarchy of levels related part to whole. […] More effective and, in the long run, more successful urbanism and urban design will only come from a better understanding of urban form as a material with a range of handling characteristics.” (p.18)

It is really weird to regard form as matter, isn’t it? The materialist final revenge… So, through the work of Batty there is indeed some reasonable hope for improvement. Batty & Marshall are certainly heading to the right direction when they demand (p.572 [4]):

“The crucial step – still to be made convincingly – is to apply the scientifically inspired understanding of urban morphology and evolution to actual workable design tools and planning approaches on the ground.

But it is equally certain that an adoption of evolutionary theory that seriously considers an “elan vital” will not be able to serve as a proper foundation. What is needed instead is a methodologically sound abstraction of evolutionary theory as we have proposed it some time ago, based on a probabilistic formalization and vocabulary. (…end of the longest footnote I have ever produced…)

2. The concept mechanism should not be mistaken as kind of a “machine”. In stark contrast to machines, mechanisms are inherently probabilistic. While machines are synonymic to their plan, mechanisms imply an additional level of abstraction, the population and its dynamics. .

3. Whenever it is tried to proof or implement the opposite, the primacy of logic, characteristic gaps are created, more often than not of a highly pathological character.

4. see also the essay about “Behavior”, where we described the concept of “Behavioral Coating”.

5. Deleuzean understanding of differential [10], for details see “Miracle of Comparison”.

6. As in the preceding essays, we use the capital “U” if we refer to the urban as a particular quality and as a concept, in order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective that refers to common sense understanding.

7. Only in embryos or in automated industrial production we find “development”.

8. The definition (from Wiki) is: “In animals, metamery is defined as a mesodermal event resulting in serial repetition of unit subdivisions of ectoderm and mesoderm products.”

9. see our essay about Reaction-Diffusion-Systems.

10. To emancipate from constant and pervasive external “environmental” pressures is the main theme of evolution. This is the deep reason that generalists are favored to the costs of specialists (at least on evolutionary time scales).

11. Aristotle’s idea of the four causes is itself a scheme to talk about change. .

12. This principle is not only important for Urban affairs, but also for a rather different class of arrangements, machines that are able to move in epistemic space.

13. Here we meet the potential of symbols to behave according to a quasi-materiality.

14. Heinrich Klotz‘ credo in [21] is „not only function, but also fiction“, without however taking the mandatory step away from the attitude to predefine symbolic value. Such, Klotz himself remains a fully-fledged modernist. see also Wolfgang Welsch in [22], p.22 .

15. There is of course also Robert Venturi with his  “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture”, or Bernard Tschumi with his disjunction principle summarized in “Architecture and Disjunction.” (1996). Yet, both went as far as necessary, for “complexity” can be elementarized and generalized even further as he have been proposing it (here), which is, I think a necessary move to combine architecture and urbanism regarding space and time. 

16. see footnote 5.

17. ??? .

18. Remember, that the behavior of cities is also determined by the legal setup, the traditions, etc.

19.The ramp is an important element in contemporary architecture, yet, often used as a logistic solution and mostly just for the disabled or the moving staircase. In Koolhaas’ works, it takes completely different role as an element of story-telling. This aspect of temporality we will investigate in more detail in another essay. Significantly, LeCorbusier used the ramp as a solution for a purely spatial problem.

20. Of course, NOT as a phenomenon!

References

  • [1] Michael Batty, Cities and Complexity: Understanding Cities with Cellular Automata, Agent-Based Models, and Fractals. MIT Press, Boston 2007.
  • [2] Karl Kropf (2009). Aspects of urban form. Urban Morphology 13 (2), p.105-120.
  • [3] Michael Batty’s website.
  • [4] Michael Batty and Stephen Marshall (2009). The evolution of cities: Geddes, Abercrombie and the new physicalism. TPR, 80 (6) 2009 doi:10.3828/tpr.2009.12
  • [5] Michael Batty (2012). Urban Regeneration as Self-Organization. Architectural Design, 215, p.54-59.
  • [6] Karl Kropf (2005). The Handling Characteristics of Urban Form. Urban Design 93, p.17-18.
  • [7] Nabeel Hamdi, Small Change: About the Art of Practice and the Limits of Planning, Earthscan, London 2004.
  • [8] Dennis L. Sepper, Descartes’s Imagination Proportion, Images, and the Activity of Thinking. University of California Press, Berkeley 1996. available online.
  • [9] C. Bandt and M. Mesing (2009). Self-affine fractals of finite type. Banach Center Publications 84, 131-148. available online.
  • [9] Gilles Deleuze, Difference & Repetition. [1967].
  • [10] Moussaïd M, Perozo N, Garnier S, Helbing D, Theraulaz G (2010). The Walking Behaviour of Pedestrian Social Groups and Its Impact on Crowd Dynamics. PLoS ONE 5(4): e10047. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010047.
  • [11] Claire Detrain, Jean-Louis Deneubourg (2006). Self-organized structures in a superorganism: do ants “behave” like molecules? Physics of Life Reviews, 3(3)p.162–187.
  • [12] Dave Mosher, Secret of Annoying Crowds Revealed, Science now, 7 April 2010. available online.
  • [13] Charles Jencks, The Architecture of the Jumping Universe. Wiley 2001.
  • [14] Rem Koolhaas. Delirious New York.
  • [15] Markus Heidingsfelder, Rem Koolhaas – A Kind of Architect. DVD 2007.
  • [16] Rem Koolhaas, Bigness – or the problem of Large. in: Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau & OMA, S,M,L,XL. p.495-516. available here (mirrored)
  • [17] Wiki entry (english edition) about Rem Koolhaas, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rem_Koolhaas, last accessed Dec 4th, 2012.
  • [18] Rem Koolhaas (2010?). “On OMA’s Work”. Lecture as part of “The Areen Architecture Series” at the Department of Architecture and Design, American University of Beirut. available online. (the date of the lecture is not clearly identifiable on the Areen AUB website).
  • [19] Hans Ulrich Obrist, Interview with Rem Koolhaas at the Biennale 2010, Venice. Produced by the Institute of the 21st Century with support from ForYourArt, The Kayne Foundation. available online on youtube, last accessed Nov 27th, 2012.
  • [20] Heinrich Klotz, The history of postmodern architecture, 1986.
  • [21] Wolfgang Welsch, Unsere postmoderne Moderne. 6.Auflage, Oldenbourg Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2002 [1986].
  • [22] Vera Bühlmann, inahbiting media. Thesis, University of Basel 2009. (in german, available online)
  • [23] Report in de zeen (2008). available online.
  • [24] Jacques Herzog, Rem Koolhaas, Urs Steiner (2000). Unsere Herzen sind von Nadeln durchbohrt. Ein Gespräch zwischen den Architekten Rem Koolhaas und Jacques Herzog über ihre Zusammenarbeit. Aufgezeichnet von Urs Steiner.in: Marco Meier (Ed.). Tate Modern von Herzog & de Meuron. in: Du. Die Zeitschrift der Kultur. Vol. No. 706, Zurich, TA-Media AG, 05.2000. pp. 62-63. available online.

۞

Elementarization and Expressibility

March 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Since the beginnings of the intellectual adventure

that we know as philosophy, elements take a particular and prominent role. For us, as we live as “post-particularists,” the concept of element seems to be not only a familiar one, but also a simple, almost a primitive one. One may take this as the aftermath of the ontological dogma of the four (or five) elements and its early dismissal by Aristotle.

In fact, I think that the concept element is seriously undervalued and hence it is left disregarded much too often, especially as far as one concerns it as a structural tool in the task to organize thinking. The purpose of this chapter is thus to reconstruct the concept of “element” in an adequate manner (at least, to provide some first steps of such a reconstruction). To achieve that we have to take tree steps.

First, we will try to shed some light on its relevance as a more complete concept. In order to achieve this we will briefly visit the “origins” of the concept in (pre-)classic Greek philosophy. After browsing quickly through some prominent examples, the second part then will deal with the concept of element as a thinking technique. For that purpose we strip the ontological part of it (what else?), and turn it into an activity, a technique, and ultimately into a “game of languagability,” called straightforwardly “elementarization.”

This will forward us then to the third part, which will deal with problematics of expression and expressibility, or more precisely, to the problematics of how to talk about expression and expressibility. Undeniably, creativity is breaking (into) new grounds, and this aspect of breaking pre-existing borders also implies new ways of expressing things. To get clear about creativity thus requires to get clear about expressibility in advance.

The remainder of this essay revolves is arranged by the following sections (active links):

The Roots1

As many other concepts too, the concept of “element” first appeared in classic Greek culture. As a concept, the element, Greek “stoicheion”, in greek letters ΣΤΟΙΧΕΙΟΝ, is quite unique because it is a synthetic concept, without predecessors in common language. The context of its appearance is the popularization of the sundial by Anaximander around 590 B.C. Sundials have been known before, but it was quite laborious to create them since they required a so-called skaphe, a hollow sphere as the projection site of the gnomon’s shadow.

Figure 1a,b.  Left (a): A sundial in its ancient (primary) form based on a skaphe, which allowed for equidistant segmentation , Right (b): the planar projection involves hyperbolas and complicated segmentation.

The planar projection promised a much more easier implementation, yet, it involves the handling of hyperbolas, which even change relative to the earth’s seasonal inclination. Else, the hours can’t be indicated by an equidistant segments any more. Such, the mathematical complexity has been beyond the capabilities of that time. The idea (presumably of Anaximander) then was to determine the points for the hours empirically, using “local” time (measured by water clocks) as a reference.

Anaximander also got aware of the particular status of a single point in such a non-trivial “series”. It can’t be thought without reference to the whole series, and additionally, there was no simple rule which would have been allowing for its easy reconstruction. This particular status he called an “element”, a stoicheia (pronunciation). Anaximander’s element is best understood as a constitutive component, a building block for the purpose to build a series; note the instrumental twist in his conceptualization.

From this starting point, the concept has been generalized in its further career, soon denoting something like “basics,” or “basic principles”. While Empedokles conceived the four elements, earth, wind, water and fire almost as divine entities, it was Platon (Timaios 201, Theaitet 48B) who developed the more abstract perspective into “elements as basic principles.”

Yet, the road of abstraction does not know a well-defined destiny. Platon himself introduced the notion of “element of recognition and proofing” for stoicheia. Isokrates, then, a famous rhetorician and coeval of Platon extended the reach of stoicheia from “basic component / principle” into “basic condition.” This turn is quite significant since as a consequence it inverts the structure of argumentation from idealistic, positive definite claims to the constraints of such claims; it even opens the perspective to the “condition of possibility”, a concept that is one of the cornerstones of Kantian philosophy, more than 2000 years later. No wonder, Isokrates is said to have opposed Platon’s  arguments.

Nevertheless, all these philosophical uses of stoicheia, the elements, have been used as ontological principles in the context of the enigma of the absolute origin of all things and the search for it. This is all the more particularly remarkable as the concept itself has been constructed some 150 years before in a purely instrumental manner.

Aristotle dramatically changed the ontological perspective. He dismissed the “analysis based on elements” completely and established what is now known as “analysis of moments”, to which the concepts of “form” and “substance” are central. Since Aristotle, elemental analysis regarded as a perspective heading towards “particularization”, while the analysis of moments is believed to be directed to generalization. Elemental analysis and ontology is considered as being somewhat “primitive,” probably due to its (historic) neighborhood to the dogma of the four elements.

True, the dualism made from form and substance is more abstract and more general. Yet, as concept it looses contact not only to the empiric world as it completely devoid of processual aspects. It is also quite difficult, if not impossible, to think “substance” in a non-ontological manner. It seems as if that dualism abolishes even the possibility to think in a different manner than as ontology, hence implying a whole range of severe blind spots: the primacy of interpretation, the deeply processual, event-like character of the “world” (the primacy of “process” against “being”), the communal aspects of human lifeforms and its creational power, the issue of localized transcendence are just the most salient issues that are rendered invisible in the perspective of ontology.

Much more could be said of course about the history of those concepts. Of course, Aristotle’s introduction of the concept of substance is definitely not without its own problems, paving the way for the (overly) pronounced materialism of our days. And there is, of course, the “Elements of Geometry” by Euclid, the most abundant mathematical textbook ever. Yet, I am neither a historian nor a philologus, thus let us now proceed with some examples. I just would like to emphasize that the “element” can be conceived as a structural topos of thinking starting from the earliest witnesses of historical time.

2. Examples

Think about the chemical elements as they have been invented in the 19th century. Chemical compounds, so the parlance of chemists goes, are made from chemical elements, which have been typicized by Mendeleev according to the valence electrons and then arranged into the famous “periodic table.” Mendeleev not only constructed a quality according to which various elements could be distinguished. His “basic principle” allowed him to make qualitative and quantitative predictions of an astonishing accuracy. He predicted the existence of chemical elements, “nature’s substance”, actually unknown so far, along with their physico-chemical qualities. Since it was in the context of natural science, he also could validate that. Without the concept of those (chemical) elements the (chemical) compounds can’t be properly understood. Today a similar development can be observed within the standard theory of particle physics, where basic types of particles are conceived as elements analogous to chemical elements, just that in particle physics the descriptive level is a different one.

Here we have to draw a quite important distinction. The element in Mendeleev’s thinking is not equal to the element as the chemical elements. Mendeleev’s elements are (i) the discrete number (an integer between 1..7, and 0/8 for the noble gases like Argon etc.) that describes the free electron as a representative of electrostatic forces, and (ii) the concept of “completeness” of the set of electrons in the so-called outer shell (or “orbitals”): the number of the valence electrons of two different chemical elements tend to sum up to eight. Actually, chemical elements can be sorted into groups (gases, different kinds of metals, carbon and silicon) according to the mechanism how they achieve this magic number (or how they don’t). As a result, there is a certain kind of combinatorianism, the chemical universe is almost a Lullian-Leibnizian one. Anyway, the important point here is that the chemical elements are only a consequence of a completely different figure of thought.

Still within in chemistry, there is another famous, albeit less well-known example for abstract “basic principles”: Kekulé’s de-localized valence electrons in carbon compounds (in today’s notion: delocalized 6-π-electrons). Actually, Kekulé added the “element” of the indeterminateness to the element of the valence electron. He dropped the idea of a stable state that could be expressed by a numerical value, or even by an integer. His 6-π-orbital is a cloud that could not be measured directly as such. Today, it is easy to see that the whole area of organic chemistry is based on, or even defined by, these conceptual elements.

Another example is provided by “The Elements of Geometry” by Euclid. He called it “elements” probably for mainly two reasons. First, it was supposed that it was complete, secondly, because you could not remove any of the axioms, procedures, proofs or lines of arguments, i.e. any of its elements, without corroborating the compound concept “geometry.”

A further example from the classic is the conceptual (re-)construction of causality by Aristotle. He obviously understood that it is not appropriate to take causality as an impartible entity. Aristotle designed his idea of causality as an irreducible combination of four distinct elements, causa materialis, causa formalis, causa efficiens and causa finalis. To render this a bit more palpable, think about inflaming a wooden stick and then being asked: What is the cause for the stick being burning?

Even if I would put (causa efficiens) a wooden (causa materialis) stick (causa formalis) above an open flame (part of causa efficiens), it will not necessarily be inflamed until I decide that it should (causa finalis). This is a quite interesting structure, since it could be conceived as a precursor of the Wittgensteinian perspective of a language game.

For Aristotle it made no sense to assume that any of the elements of his causality as he conceived it would be independent from any of the others. For him it would have been nonsense to conceive of causality as any subset of his four elements. Nevertheless, exactly this was what physics did since Newton. In our culture, causality is almost always debated as if it would be identical to causa efficiens. In Newton’s words: Actioni contrariam semper et aequalem esse reactionem. [2] Later, this postulate of actio = reactio has been backed by further foundational work through larger physical theories postulating the homogeneity of physical space. Despite the success of physics, the reduction of causality to physical forces remains just that: a reduction. Applying this principle then again to any event in the world generates specific deficits, which are well visible in large parts of contemporary philosophy of science when it comes to the debate about the relation of natural science and causality (see cf. [3]).

Aristotle himself did not call the components of causality as “elements.” Yet, the technique he applied is just that: an elementarization. This technique was quite popular and well known from another discourse, involving earth, water, air, and fire. Finally, this model had to be abolished, but it is quite likely that the idea of the “element” has been inherited down to Mendeleev.

Characterizing the Concept of “Element”

As we have announced it before, we would like to strip any ontological flavor from the concept of the element. This marks the difference between conceiving them as part of the world or, alternatively, as a part of a tool-set used in the process of constructing a world. This means to take it purely instrumental, or in other words, as a language game. Such, it is also one out of the row of many examples for the necessity to remove any content from philosophy (Ontology is always claiming some kind of such content, which is highly problematical).

A major structural component of the language game “element” is that the entities denoted by it are used as anchors for a particular non-primitive compound quality, i.e. a quality that can’t be perceived by just the natural five (or six, or so) senses.

One the other hand, they are also strictly different from axioms. An axiom is a primitive proposition that serves as a starting point in a formal framework, such as mathematics. The intention behind the construction of axioms is to utilize common sense as a basis for more complicated reasoning. Axioms are considered as facts that could not seriously disputed as such. Thus, they indeed the main element in the attempt to secure mathematics as a unbroken chain of logic-based reasoning. Of course, the selection of a particular axiom for a particular purpose could always be discussed. But itself, it is a “primitive”, either a simple more or less empiric fact, or a simple mathematical definition.

The difference to elements is profound. One always can remove a single axiom from an axiomatic system without corroborating the sense of the latter. Take for instance the axiom of associativity in group theory, which leads to Lie-groups and Lie-algebras. Klein groups are just a special case of Lie Groups. Or, removing the “axiom” of parallel lines from the Euclidean axioms brings us to more general notions of geometry.

In contrast to that pattern, removing an element from an elemental system destroys the sense of the system. Elemental systems are primarily thought as a whole, as a non-decomposable thing, and any of the used elements is synthetically effective. Their actual meaning is only given by being a part of a composition with other elements. Axioms, in contrast, are parts of decomposable systems, where they act as constraints. Removing them leads usually to improved generality. The axioms that build an “axiomatic system” are not tied to each other, they are independent as such. Of course, their interaction always will create a particular conditionability, but that is a secondary effect.

The synthetic activity of elements simply mirrors the assumption that there is (i) a particular irreducible whole, and (ii) that the parts of that whole have a particular relationship to the embedding whole. In contrast to the prejudice that elemental analysis results in an unsuitable particularization of the subject matter, I think that elements are highly integrated, yet itself non-decomposable idealizations of compound structures. This is true for the quaternium of earth, wind, water and fire, but also for the valence electrons in chemistry or the elements of complexity, as we have introduced them here. Elements are made from concepts, while axioms are made from definitions.

In some way, elements can be conceived as the operationalization of beliefs. Take a belief, symbolize it and you get an element. From this perspective it again becomes obvious (on a second route) that elements could not be as something natural or even ontological; they can not be discovered as such in a pure or stable form. They can’t be used to proof propositions in a formal system, but they are indispensable to explain or establish the possibility of thinking a whole.

Mechanism and organism are just different terms that can be used to talk about the same issue, albeit in a less abstract manner. Yet, it is clear that integrated phenomena like “complexity,” or “culture,” or even “text” can’t be appropriately handled without the structural topos of the element, regardless which specific elements are actually chosen. In any of these cases it is a particular relation between the parts and the whole that is essential for the respective phenomenon as such.

If we accept the perspective that conceives of  elements as stabilized beliefs we may recognize that they may be used as building blocks for the construction of a consistent world. Indeed, we well may say that it is due to their properties as described above, their positioning between belief and axiom, that we can use them as an initial scaffold (Gestell), which in turn provides the possibility for targeted observation, and thus for consistency, understood both as substance and as logical quality.

Finally, we should shed some words on the relation between elements and ideas. Elsewhere, we distinguished ideas from concepts. Ideas can’t be equated with elements either. Just the other way round, elements may contain ideas, but also concepts, relations and systems thereof, empirical hypotheses or formal definitions. Elements are, however, always immaterial, even in the case of chemistry. For us, elements are immaterial synthetic compounds used as interdependent building blocks of other immaterial things like concepts, rules, or hypotheses.

Many, if not all concepts, are built from elements in a similar way. The important issue is that elements are synthetic compounds which are used to establish further compounds in a particular manner. In the beginning there need not to be any kind of apriori justification for a particular choice or design. The only requirement is that the compound built from them allows for some kind of beneficial usage in creating higher integrated compounds which would not be achievable without them.

4. Expressibility

Elements may well be conceived as epistemological stepping stones, capsules of belief that we use to build up beliefs. Such, the status of elements is somewhere between models and concepts, not as formal and restricted as models and not as transcendental as concepts, yet still with much stronger ties towards empiric conditions than ideas.

It is quite obvious that such a status reflects a prominent role for perception as well as for understanding. The element may well be conceived as an active zone of differentiation, a zone from which different kind of branches emerge: ideas, models, concepts, words, beliefs. We also could say that elements are close to the effects and the emergence of immanence. The ΣΤΟΙΧΕΙΟΝ itself, its origins and transformations, may count as an epitome of this zone, where thinking creates its objects. It is “here” that expressibility finds its conditions.

At that point we should recall – and keep in mind – that elements should not be conceived as an ontological category. Elements unfold as (rather than “are”) a figure of thought, an idiom of thinking, as a figure for thought. Of course, we can deliberately visit this area, we may develop certain styles to navigate in this (sometimes) misty areas. In other words, we may develop a culture of elementarization. Sadly enough, positivism, which emerged from the materialism of the 19th century on the line from Auguste Comte down to Frege, Husserl, Schlick, Carnap and van Fraassen (among others), that positivism indeed destroyed much of that style. In my opinion, much of the inventiveness of the 19th century could be attributed a certain, yet largely unconscious, attitude towards the topos of the “element.”

No question, elevating the topos of the element into consciousness, as a deliberate means of thinking, is quite promising. Hence, it is also of some importance to our question of machine-based episteme. We may just add a further twist to this overarching topic by asking about the mechanisms and conditions that are needed for the possibility of “elementarization”. Still in other words we could say that elements are the main element of creativity. And we may add that the issue of expression and expressibility is not about words and texts, albeit texts and words potentiated the dynamics and the density of expressibility.

Before we can step on to harvest the power of elementarization we have to spend some efforts on the issue of the structure of expression. The first question is: What exactly happens if we invent and impose an element in and to our thoughts? The second salient question is about the process forming the element itself. Is the “element” just a phenomenological descriptional parlance, or is it possible to give some mechanisms for it?

Spaces and Dimensions

As it is already demonstrated by Anaximander’s ΣΤΟΙΧΕΙΟΝ, elements put marks into the void. The “element game” introduces discernability, and it is central to the topos of the element that it implies a whole, an irreducible set, of which it is a constitutive part. This way, elements don’t act just sign posts that would indicate a direction in an already existing landscape. It is more appropriate to conceive of them as a generators of landscape. Even before words, whether spoken or written, elements are the basic instance of externalization, abstract writing, so to speak.

It is the abstract topos of elements that introduce the complexities around territorialization and deterritorialization into thought, a dynamics that never can come to an end. Yet, let us focus here on the generative capacities of elements.

Elements transform existing spaces or create completely new ones, they represent the condition for the possibility of expressing anything. The implications are rather strong. Looking back from that conditioning to the topos itself we may recognize that wherever there is some kind of expression, there is also a germination zone of ideas, concepts and models, and above all, belief.

The space implied by elements is particular one yet, due to the fact that it inherits the aprioris of the wholeness and non-decomposability. Non-decomposability means that the elemental space looses essential qualities if one of the constituting elements would be removed.

This may be contrasted to the Cartesian space, the generalized Euclidean space, which is the prevailing concept of space today. A Cartesian space is spanned by dimensions that are set orthogonal to each other. This orthogonality of the dimensional setup allows to change the position in just one dimension, but to keep the position in all the other dimensions unchanged, constant. The dimensions are independent from each other. Additionally, the quality of the space itself does not change if we remove one of the dimensions of a n-dimensional Cartesian space (n>1). Thus, the Cartesian space is decomposable.

Spaces are inevitably implied as soon as entities are conceived as carriers of properties, in fact, even if at least one (“1”!) property will be assigned to them. These assigned properties, or short: assignates, then could be mapped to different dimensions. A particular entity thus becomes visible as a particular arrangement in the implied space. In case of Cartesian spaces, this arrangement consists of a sheaf of vectors, which is as specific for the mapped entity as it could be desired.

Dimensions may refer to sensory modalities, to philosophical qualias, or to constructed properties of development in time, that is, concepts like frequency, density, or any kind of pattern. Dimensions may be even purely abstract, as in case of random vectors or random graphs, which we discussed here, where the assignate refers to some arbitrary probability or structural, method specific parameter.

Many phenomena remain completely mysterious if we do not succeed to setup the (approximately) right number of dimensions or aspects. This has been famously demonstrated by Abbott and his flatland [4], or by Ian Stewart and his flatter land [5]. Other examples are the so-called embedding dimension in the complex systems analysis, or the analysis of (mathematical) cusp catastrophes by Ian Stewart [6]. Dimensionality also plays an important role in the philosophy of science, where Ronald Giere uses it to develop a “scientific perspectivism.” [7]

Suppose the example of a cloud of points in the 3‑dimensional space, which forms a spiral-like shape, with the main axis of the shape parallel to the z-axis. For points in the upper half of the cloudy spiral there shall be a high probability that they are blue; those in the lower half shall be mostly red. In other words, there is a clear pattern. If we now project the points to the x-y-plane, i.e. if we reduce dimensionality we loose the possibility to recognize the pattern. Yet, the conclusion that there “is” no pattern is utterly wrong. The selection of a particular number of dimensions is a rather critical operation. Hence, taking action without reflecting on the dimensionality of the space of expressibility quite likely leads to severe misinterpretations. The cover of Douglas Hofstadter’s first book “Gödel, Escher, Bach” featured a demonstration of the effect of projection from higher to lower dimensionality (see the image below), another presentation can be found here on YouTube, featuring Carl Sagan on the topic of dimensionality.

In mathematics, the relation between two spaces of different dimensionality, the so-called manifold, may itself form an abstract space. This exercise of checking out the consequences of removing or adding a dimension/aspect from the space of expressibility is a rewarding game even in everyday life. In the case of fractals in time series developments, Mandelbrot conceptualizes even a changing dimensionality of the space which is used to embed the observations over time.

Undeniably, this decomposability contributed much to the rise and the success of what we call modern science. Any of the spaces of mathematics or statistics is a Cartesian space. Riemann space, Hilbert space, Banach space, topological spaces etc. are all Cartesian insofar as the dimensions are arranged orthogonal to each other, thus introducing independence of elements before any other definition. Though, the real revolutionary contribution of Descartes has not been the setup of independent dimensions, it is the “Copernican” move to move the “origin” around, and with that, to mobilize the reference system of a particular measurement.

But again: By performing this mapping, the wholeness of the entity will be lost. Any interpretation of the entities requires a point outside of the Cartesian dimensional system. And precisely this externalized position is not possible for an entity that itself “performs cognitive processes.”2 It would be quite interesting to investigate the epistemic role of externalization of mental affairs through cultural techniques like words, symbols, or computers, yet that task would be huge.

Despite the success of the Cartesian space as a methodological approach it obviously also remains true that there is no free lunch in the realm of methods and mappings. In case of the Cartesian space this cost is as huge as its benefit, as both are linked to its decomposability. In Cartesian space it is not possible to speak about a whole, whole entities are simply nonexistent. This is indeed as dramatic as it sounds.Yet, it is a direct consequence of the independence of the dimensions. There is nothing in the structure of the Cartesian space that could be utilized as a kind of media to establish coherence. We already emphasized that the structure of the Cartesian space implies the necessity of an external observer. This, however, is not quite surprising for a construction devised by Descartes in the age of absolutistic monarchies symbiontically tied to catholicism, where the idea of the machine had been applied pervasively to anything and everything.

There are still  further assumptions underlying the Cartesian conception of space. Probably the two most salient ones are concerning density and homogeneity. At first it might sound somewhat crazy to conceive of a space of inhomogeneous dimensionality. Such a space would have “holes” about which one could neither talk from within that space not would they be recognizable. Yet, from theoretical physics we know about the concept of wormholes, which precisely represent such inhomogeneity. Nevertheless, the “accessible” parts of such a space would remain Cartesian, so we could call the whole entity “weakly Cartesian”. A famous example is provided by Benoît Mandelbrot’s warping of dimensionality in the time domain of observations [8,9]

From an epistemological perspective, the Cartesian space is just a particular instance for the standardization or even institutionalization of the inevitable implication of spaces. Yet, the epistemic spaces are not just 3-dimensional as Kant assumed in his investigation, epistemic spaces may comprise a large and even variable number of dimensions. Nevertheless, Kant was right about the transcendental character of space, though the space we refer to here is not just the 3d- or (n)d-physical space.

Despite the success of Cartesian space, which builds on the elements of separability, decomposability and externalizable position of the interpreter, it is perfectly clear that it is nothing else than just a particular way of dealing with spaces. There are many empirical, cognitive or mental contexts for which the assumptions underlying the Cartesian space are severely violated. Such contexts usually involve the wholeness of the investigated entity as a necessary apriori. Think of complexity, language, the concept of life forms with its representatives like urban cultures, for any of these domains the status of any part of it can’t be qualified in any reasonable manner without referring always to the embedding wholeness.

The Aspectional Space

What we need is a more general concept of space, which does not start with any assumption about decomposability (or its refutation). Since it is always possible to proof and to drop the assumption of dependence (non-decomposability), but never for the assumption of independence (decomposability) we should start with a concept of space which keeps the wholeness intact.

Actually, it is not too difficult to start with a construction of such a space. The starting point is provided by a method to visualize data, the so-called ternary diagram. Particularly in metallurgy and geology ternary diagrams are abundantly in use for the purpose of expressing mixing proportions. The following figure 2a shows a general diagram for three components A,B,C, and Figure 2b shows a concrete diagram for a three component steel alloy at 900°C.

Figure 2a,b: Ternary diagrams in metallurgy and geology are pre-cursors of aspectional spaces.

Such ternary diagrams are used to express the relation between different phases where the influential components all influence each other. Note that the area of the triangle in such a ternary diagram comprises the whole universe as it is implied by the components. However, in principle it is still possible (though not overly elegant) to map the ternary diagram as it is used in geology into Cartesian space, because there is a strongly standardized way about how to map values. Any triple of values (a,b,c) is mapped to the axes A,B,C such that these axes are served counter-clockwise beginning with A. Without that rule a unique mapping of single points from the ternary space to the Cartesian space would not be possible any more. Thus we can see that the ternary diagram does not introduce a fundamental difference as compared to the Cartesian space defined by orthogonal axes.

Now let us drop this standard of the arrangement of axes. None of the axes should be primary against any other. Obviously, the resulting space is completely different from the spaces shown in Fig.2. We can keep only one of n dimensions constant while changing position in this space (by moving along an arc around one of the corners). Compare this to the Cartesian space, where it is possible to change just one and keep the other constant. For this reason we should call the boundaries of such a space not “axes” or “dimensions” and more. By convention, we may call the scaling entities “aspection“, derived from “aspect,” a concept that, similarly to the concept of element, indicates the non-decomposability of the embedding context.

As said, our space that we are going to construct for a mapping of elements can’t be transformed into a Cartesian space any more. It is an “aspectional space”, not a dimensional space. Of course, the aspectional space, together with the introduction of “aspections” as a companion concept for “dimension” is not just a Glass Bead Game. We urgently need it if we want to talk transparently and probably even quantitatively about the relation between parts and wholes in a way that keeps the dependency relations alive.

The requirement of keeping the dependency relations exerts an interesting consequence. It renders the corner points into singular points, or more precisely, into poles, as the underlying apriori assumption is just the irreducibility of the space. In contrast to the ternary diagram (which is thus still Cartesian) the aspectional space is neither defined at the corner points nor along the borders (“edges”). In  other words, the aspectional space has no border, despite the fact that its volume appears to be limited. Since it would be somehow artificial to exclude the edges and corners by dedicated rules we prefer to achieve the same effect (of exclusion) by choosing a particular structure of the space itself. For that purpose, it is quite straightforward to provide the aspectional space with a hyperbolic structure.

The artist M.C. Escher produced a small variety of confined hyperbolic disks that perfectly represent the structure of our aspectional space. Note that there are no “aspects,” it is a zero-aspectional space. Remember that the 0-dimensional mathematical point represents a number in Cartesian space. This way we even invented a new class of numbers!3 A value in this class of number would (probably) represent the structure of the space, in other words the curvature of the hyperbola underlying the scaling of the space. Yet, the whole mathematics around this space and these numbers is undiscovered!

Figure 3: M.C. Eschers hyperbolic disk, capturing infinity on the table.

Above we said that this space appears to be limited. This impression of a limitation would hold only for external observers. Yet, our interest in aspectional spaces is precisely given by the apriori assumption of non-decomposability and the impossibility of such an external position for cognitive activities. Aspectional spaces are suitable just for those cases where such an external position is not available. From within such a hyperbolic space, the limitation would not be experiencable, a at least not by simple means: the propagation of waves would be different as compared to the Cartesian space.

Aspections, Dimensions

So, what is the status of the aspectional space, especially as compared to the dimensional Cartesian space? A first step of such a characterization would investigate the possibility of transforming those spaces into each other. A second part would not address the space itself, but its capability to do some things uniquely.

So, let us start with the first issue, the possibility for a transition between the two types of species. Think of a three-aspectional space. The space is given by the triangularized relation, where the corners represent the intensity or relevance of a certain aspect. Moving around on this plane changes the distance to at least two (n-1) of the corners, but most moves change the distance to all three of the corners. Now, if we reduce the conceptual difference and/or the possible difference of intensity between all of the three corners we experience a sudden change of the quality of the aspectional space when we perform the limes transition into a state where all differential relevance has been expelled; the aspects would behave perfectly collinear.

Of course, we then would drop the possibility for dependence, claiming independence as a universal property, resulting in a jump into Cartesian space. Notably, there is no way back from the dimensional Cartesian space into aspectional spaces. Interestingly, there is a transformation of the aspectional space which produces a Cartesian space, while the opposite is not possible.

This formal exercise sheds an interesting light to the life form of the 17th century Descartes. Indeed, even in assuming the possibility of dependence one would grant parts of the world autonomy, something that has been categorically ruled out at those times. The idea of God as it was abundant then implied the mechanical character of the world.

Anyway, we can conclude that aspectional spaces are more general than Cartesian spaces as there is a transition only in one direction. Aspectional spaces are indeed formal spaces as Cartesian spaces are. It is possible to define negative numbers, and it is possible to provide them with different metrices or topologies.

Figure 4: From aspectional space to dimensional space in 5 steps. Descartes’ “origin” turns out to be nothing else than the abolishment or conflation of elements, which again could be interpreted as a strongly metaphysically influenced choice.

Now to the second aspect about the kinship between aspections and dimensions. One may wonder, whether the kind of dependency that could be mapped to aspectional spaces could not be modeled in dimensional spaces as well, for instance, by some functional rule acting on the relation between two dimensions. A simple example would be the regression, but also any analytic function y=f(x).

At first sight it seems that this could result in similar effects. We could, for instance, replace two independent dimensions by a new dimension, which has been synthesized in a rule-based manner, e.g. by applying a classic analytical closed-form function. The dependency would disappear and all dimensions again being orthogonal, i.e. independent to each other. Such an operation, however, would require that the dimensions are already abstract enough such that they can be combined by closed analytical functions. This then reveals that we put the claim of independence already into the considerations before anything else. Claiming the perfect equality of functional mapping of dependency into independence thus is a petitio principii. No wonder we find it possible to do so in a later phase of the analysis. It is thus obvious, that the epistemological state of a dependence secondary to the independence of dimensions is a completely different from the primary dependence.

A brief Example

A telling example4 for such an aspectional space is provided by the city theory of David Grahame Shane [10]. The space created by Shane in order to fit in his interests in a non-reductionist coverage of the complexity of cities represents a powerful city theory, from which various models can be derived. The space is established through the three elements of armature, enclave and (Foucaultian) heterotopia. Armature is, of course a rather general concept–designed to cover more or less straight zones of transmission or the guidance for such–, which however expresses nicely the double role of “things” in a city. It points to things as part of the equipment of a city as well as their role as anchor (points). Armatures, in Shane’s terminology, are things like gates, arcades, malls, boulevards, railways, highway, skyscraper or particular forms of public media, that is, particular forms of passages. Heterotopias, on the other hand, are rather compli­cated “things,” at least it invokes the whole philo­sophi­cal stance of the late Foucault, to whom Shane explicitly refers. For any of these elements, Shane then provides extensions and phenomenological instances, as values if you like, from which he builds a metric for each of the three basic aspects. Through­out his book he demonstrates the usefulness of his approach, which is based on these three elements. This usefulness becomes tangible because Shane’s city theory is an aspectional space of expressibility which allows to compare and to relate an extreme variety of phenomena regarding the city and the urban organization. Of course, we must expect other such spaces in principle; this would not only be interesting, but also a large amount of work to complete. Quite likely, however, it will be a just an extension of Shane’s concept.

5. Conclusion

Freeing the concept of “element” from its ontological burden turns it into a structural topos of thinking. The “element game” is a mandatory condition for the creation of spaces that we need in order to express anything. Hence, the “element game,” or briefly, the operation of “elementarization,” may be regarded as the prime instance of externalization and as such also as the hot spot of the germination of ideas, concepts and words, both abstract and factual. For our concerns here about machine-based episteme it is important that the notion of the element provides an additional (new?) possibility to ask about the mechanism in the formation of thinking.

Elementarization also represents the conditions for “developing” ideas and to “settle” them. Yet, our strictly non-ontological approach helps to avoid premature and final territorialization in thought. Quite to the contrary, if understood as a technique, elementarization helps to open new perspectives.

Elementarization appears as a technique to create spaces of expressibility, even before words and texts. It is thus worthwhile to consider words as representatives of a certain dynamics around processes of elementarization, both as an active as well as a passive structure.

We have been arguing that the notion of space does not automatically determine the space to be a Cartesian space. Elements to not create Cartesian spaces. Their particular reference to the apriori acceptance of an embedding wholeness renders both the elements as well as the space implied by them incompatible with Cartesian space. We introduced the notion of “aspects” in order to reflect to the particular quality of elements. Aspects are the result of a more or less volitional selection and construction.

Aspectional spaces are spaces of mutual dependency between aspects, while Cartesian spaces claim that dimensions are independent from each other. Concerning the handling and usage of spaces, parameters have to be sharply distinguished both from aspects as well as from dimensions. In Mathematics or in natural sciences, parameters are distinguished from variables. Variables are to be understood as containers for all allowed instances of values of a certain dimension. Parameters are modifying just the operation of placing such a value into the coordinate system. In other words, they do not change the general structure of the space used for or established by performing a mapping, and they even do not change the dimensionality of the space itself. For designers as well as scientists, and more general for any person acting with or upon things in the world, it is thus more than naive to play around with parameters without explicating or challenging the underlying space of expressibility, whether this is a Cartesian or an aspectional space. From that it also follows that the estimation of parameters can’t be regarded as an instance of learning.

Here we didn’t mention the mechanisms that could lead to the formation of elements.Yet, it is quite important to understand that we didn’t just shift the problematics of creativity to another descriptional layer, without getting a better grip to it. The topos of the element allows us to develop and to apply a completely different perspective to the “creative act.”

The mechanisms that could be put into charge for generating elements will be the issue of the next chapter. There we will deal with relations and its precursors. We also will briefly return to the topos of comparison.

Part 3: A Pragmatic Start for a Beautiful Pair

Part 5: Relations and Symmetries (forthcoming)

Notes

1. Most of the classic items presented here I have taken from Wilhelm Schwabe’s superb work about the ΣΤΟΙΧΕΙΟΝ [1], in latin letters “stoicheion.”

2. The external viewpoint has been recognized as an unavailable desire already by Archimedes long ago.

3. Just consider the imaginary numbers that are basically 2-dimensional entities, where the unit 1 expresses a turn of -90 degrees in the plane.

4. Elsewhere [11] I dealt in more detail with Shane’s approach, a must read for anyone dealing with or interested in cities or urban culture.

  • [1] Wilhelm Schwabe. ‘Mischung’ und ‘Element’ im Griechischen bis Platon. Wort- u. begriffsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen, insbes. zur Bedeutungsentwicklung von ΣΤΟΙΧΕΙΟΝ. Bouvier, Bonn 1980.
  • [2] Isaac Newton: Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. Bd. 1 Tomus Primus. London 1726, S. 14 (http://gdz.sub.uni-goettingen.de/no_cache/dms/load/img/?IDDOC=294021)
  • [3] Wesley C. Salmon. Explanation and Causality. 2003.
  • [4] Abbott. Flatland.
  • [5] Ian Stewart Flatter Land.
  • [6] Ian Stewart & nn, Catastrophe Theory
  • [7] Ronald N. Giere, Scientific Perspectivism.
  • [8] Benoit B. Mandelbrot, Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension.Freeman, New York 1977.
  • [9] Benoit B. Mandelbrot, Fractals and Scaling in Finance. Springer, New York 1997.
  • [10] David Grahame Shane, Recombinant Urbanism, Wiley, New York 2005.
  • [11] Klaus Wassermann (2011). Sema Città-Deriving Elements for an applicable City Theory. in: T. Zupančič-Strojan, M. Juvančič, S. Verovšek, A. Jutraž (eds.), Respecting fragile places, 29th Conference on Education in Computer Aided Architectural Design in Europe
    eCAADe. available online.

۞

Ideas and Machinic Platonism

March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Once the cat had the idea to go on a journey…
You don’t believe me? Did not your cat have the same idea? Or is your doubt about my believe that cats can have ideas?

So, look at this individual here, who is climbing along the facade, outside the window…

(sorry for the spoken comment being available only in German language in the clip, but I am quite sure you got the point anyway…)

Cats definitely know about the height of their own position, and this one is climbing from flat to flat … outside, on the facade of the building, and in the 6th floor. Crazy, or cool, respectively, in its full meaning, this cat here, since it looks like she has been having a plan… (of course, anyone ever lived together with a cat knows very well that they can have plans… proudness like this one, and also remorse…)

Yet, how would your doubts look like, if I would say “Once the machine got the idea…” ? Probably you would stop talking or listening to me, turning away from this strange guy. Anyway, just that is the claim here, and hence I hope you keep reading.

We already discussed elsewhere1 that it is quite easy to derive a bunch of hypotheses about empirical data. Yet, deriving regularities or rules from empirical data does not make up an idea, or a concept. At most they could serve as kind of qualified precursors for the latter. Once the subject of interest has been identified, deriving hypotheses about it is almost something mechanical. Ideas and concepts as well are much more related to the invention of a problematics, as Deleuze has been working out again and again, without being that invention or problematics. To overlook (or to negate?) that difference between the problematic and the question is one of the main failures of logical empiricism, and probably even of today’s science.

The Topic

But what is it then, that would make up an idea, or a concept? Douglas Hofstadter once wrote [1] that we are lacking a concept of concept. Since then, a discipline emerged that calls itself “formal concept analysis”. So, actually some people indeed do think that concepts could be analyzed formally. We will see that the issues about the relation between concepts and form are quite important. We already met some aspects of that relationship in the chapters about formalization and creativity. And we definitely think that formalization expels anything interesting from that what probably had been a concept before that formalization. Of course, formalization is an important part in thinking, yet it is importance is restricted before it there are concepts or after we have reduced them into a fixed set of finite rules.

Ideas

Ideas are almost annoying, I mean, as a philosophical concept, and they have been so since the first clear expressions of philosophy. From the very beginning there was a quarrel not only about “where they come from,” but also about their role with respect to knowledge, today expressed as . Very early on in philosophy two seemingly juxtaposed positions emerged, represented by the philosophical approaches of Platon and Aristotle. The former claimed that ideas are before perception, while for the latter ideas clearly have been assigned the status of something derived, secondary. Yet, recent research emphasized the possibility that the contrast between them is not as strong as it has been proposed for more than 2000 years. There is an eminent empiric pillar in Platon’s philosophical building [2].

We certainly will not delve into this discussion here, it simply would take too much space and efforts, and not to the least there are enough sources in the web displaying the traditional positions in great detail. Throughout history since Aristotle, many and rather divergent flavors of idealism emerged. Whatever the exact distinctive claim of any of those positions is, they all share the belief in the dominance into some top-down principle as essential part of the conditions for the possibility of knowledge, or more general the episteme. Some philosophers like Hegel or Frege, just as others nowadays being perceived as members of German Idealism took rather radical positions. Frege’s hyper-platonism, probably the most extreme idealistic position (but not exceeding Hegel’s “great spirit” that far) indeed claimed that something like a triangle exists, and quite literally so, albeit in a non-substantial manner, completely independent from any, e.g. human, thought.

Let us fix this main property of the claim of a top-down principle as characteristic for any flavor of idealism. The decisive question then is how could we think the becoming of ideas.It is clearly one of the weaknesses of idealistic positions that they induce a salient vulnerability regarding the issue of justification. As a philosophical structure, idealism mixes content with value in the structural domain, consequently and quite directly leading to a certain kind of blind spot: political power is justified by the right idea. The factual consequences have been disastrous throughout history.

So, there are several alternatives to think about this becoming. But even before we consider any alternative, it should be clear that something like “becoming” and “idealism” is barely compatible. Maybe, a very soft idealism, one that already turned into pragmatism, much in the vein of Charles S. Peirce, could allow to think process and ideas together. Hegel’s position, or as well Schelling’s, Fichte’s, Marx’s or Frege’s definitely exclude any such rapprochement or convergence.

The becoming of ideas could not thought as something that is flowing down from even greater transcendental heights. Of course, anybody may choose to invoke some kind of divinity here, but obviously that does not help much. A solution according to Hegel’s great spirit, history itself, is not helpful either, even as this concept implied that there is something in and about the community that is indispensable when it comes to thinking. Much later, Wittgenstein took a related route and thereby initiated the momentum towards the linguistic turn. Yet, Hegel’s history is not useful to get clear about the becoming of ideas regarding the involved mechanism. And without such mechanisms anything like machine-based episteme, or cats having ideas, is accepted as being impossible apriori.

One such mechanism is interpretation. For us the principle of the primacy of interpretation is definitely indisputable. This does not mean that we disregard the concept of the idea, yet, we clearly take an Aristotelian position. More á jour, we could say that we are quite fond of Deleuze’s position on relating empiric impressions, affects, and thought. There are, of course many supporters in the period of time that span between Aristotle and Deleuze who are quite influential for our position.2
Yet, somehow it culminated all in the approach that has been labelled French philosophy, and which for us comprises mainly Michel Serres, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, with some predecessors like Georges Simondon. They converged towards a position that allow to think the embedding of ideas in the world as a process, or as an ongoing event [3,4], and this embedding is based on empiric affects.

So far, so good. Yet, we only declared the kind of raft we will build to sail with. We didn’t mention anything about how to build this raft or how to sail it. Before we can start to constructively discuss the relation between machines and ideas we first have to visit the concept, both as an issue and as a concept.

Concepts

“Concept” is very special concept. First, it is not externalizable, which is why we call it a strongly singular term. Whenever one thinks “concept,” there is already something like concept. For most of the other terms in our languages, such as idea, that does not hold. Such, and regarding the structural dynamics of its usage,”concept” behave similar to “language” or “formalization.”

Additionally, however, “concept” is not self-containing term like language. One needs not only symbols, one even needs a combination of categories and structured expression, there are also Peircean signs involved, and last but not least concepts relate to models, even as models are also quite apart from it. Ideas do not relate in the same way to models as concepts do.

Let us, for instance take the concept of time. There is this abundantly cited quote by  Augustine [5], a passage where he tries to explain the status of God as the creator of time, hence the fundamental incomprehensibility of God, and even of his creations (such as time) [my emphasis]:

For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not. Yet I say with confidence, that I know that if nothing passed away, there would not be past time; and if nothing were coming, there would not be future time; and if nothing were, there would not be present time.

I certainly don’t want to speculate about “time” (or God) here, instead I would like to focus this peculiarity Augustine is talking about. Many, and probably even Augustine himself, confine this peculiarity to time (and space). I think, however, this peculiarity applies to any concept.

By means of this example we can quite clearly experience the difference between ideas and concepts. Ideas are some kind of models—we will return that in the next section—, while concepts are the both the condition for models and being conditioned by models. The concept of time provides the condition for calendars, which in turn can be conceived as a possible condition for the operationalization of expectability.

“Concepts” as well as “models” do not exist as “pure” forms. We elicit a strange and eminently counter-intuitive force when trying to “think” pure concept or models. The stronger we try, the more we imply their “opposite”, which in case of concepts presumably is the embedding potentiality of mechanisms, and in case of models we could say it is simply belief. We will discuss the issue of these relation in much more detail in the chapter about the choreosteme (forthcoming). Actually, we think that it is appropriate to conceive of terms like “concept” and “model” as choreostemic singular terms, or short choreostemic singularities.

Even from an ontological perspective we could not claim that there “is” such a thing like a “concept”. Well, you may already know that we refute any ontological approach anyway. Yet, in case of choreostemic singular terms like “concept” we can’t simply resort to our beloved language game. With respect to language, the choreosteme takes the role of an apriori, something like the the sum of all conditions.

Since we would need a full discussion of the concept of the choreosteme we can’t fully discuss the concept of “concept” here.  Yet, as kind of a summary we may propose that the important point about concepts is that it is nothing that could exist. It does not exist as matter, as information, as substance nor as form.

The language game of “concept” simply points into the direction of that non-existence. Concepts are not a “thing” that we could analyze, and also nothing that we could relate to by means of an identifiable relation (as e.g. in a graph). Concepts are best taken as gradient field in a choreostemic space, yet, one exhibiting a quite unusual structure and topology. So far, we identified two (of a total of four) singularities that together spawn the choreostemic space. We also could say that the language game of “concept” is used to indicate a certain form of a drift in the choreostemic space. (Later we also will discuss the topology of that space, among many other issues.)

For our concerns here in this chapter, the machine-based episteme, we can conclude that it would be a misguided approach to try to implement concepts (or their formal analysis). The issue of the conditions for the ability to move around in the choreostemic space we have to postpone. In other words, we have confined our task, or at least, we found a suitable entry  point for our task, the investigation of the relation between machines and ideas.

Machines and Ideas

When talking about machines and ideas we are, here and for the time being, not interested in the usage of machines to support “having” ideas. We are not interested in such tooling for now. The question is about the mechanism inside the machine that would lead to the emergence of ideas.

Think about the idea of a triangle. Certainly, triangles as we imagine them do not belong to the material world. Any possible factual representation is imperfect, as compared with the idea. Yet, without the idea (of the triangle) we wouldn’t be able to proceed, as, for instance, towards land survey. As already said, ideas serve as models, they do not involve formalization, they often live as formalization (though not always a mathematical one) in the sense of an idealized model, in other words they serve as ladder spokes for actions. Concepts, if we in contrast them to ideas, that is, if we try to distinguish them, never could be formalized, they remain inaccessible as condition. Nothing else could be expected  from a transcendental singularity.

Back to our triangle. Despite we can’t represent them perfectly, seeing a lot of imperfect triangles gives rise to the idea of the triangle. Rephrased in this way, we may recognize that the first half of the task is to look for a process that would provide an idealization (of a model), starting from empirical impressions. The second half of the task is to get the idea working as a kind of template, yet not as a template. Such an abstract pattern is detached from any direct empirical relation, despite the fact that once we started with with empiric data.

Table 1: The two tasks in realizing “machinic idealism”

Task 1: process of idealization that starts with an intensional description
Task 2: applying the idealization for first-of-a-kind-encounters

Here we should note that culture is almost defined by the fact that it provides such ideas before any individual person’s possibility to collect enough experience for deriving them on her own.

In order to approach these tasks, we need first model systems that exhibit the desired behavior, but which also are simple enough to comprehend. Let us first deal with the first half of the task.

Task 1: The Process of Idealization

We already mentioned that we need to start from empirical impressions. These can be provided by the Self-organizing Map (SOM), as it is able to abstract from the list of observations (the extensions), thereby building an intensional representation of the data. In other words, the SOM is able to create “representative” classes. Of course, these representations are dependent on some parameters, but that’s not the important point here.

Once we have those intensions available, we may ask how to proceed in order to arrive at something that we could call an idea. Our proposal for an appropriate model system consists from the following parts:

  • (1) A small set (n=4) of profiles, which consist of 3 properties; the form of the profiles is set apriori such that they overlap partially;
  • (2) a small SOM, here with 12×12=144 nodes; the SOM needs to be trainable and also should provide classification service, i.e. acting as a model
  • (3) a simple Monte-Carlo-simulation device, that is able to create randomly varied profiles that deviate from the original ones without departing too much;
  • (4) A measurement process that is recording the (simulated) data flow

The profiles are defined as shown in the following table (V denotes variables, C denotes categories, or classes):

V1 V2 V3
C1 0.1 0.4 0.6
C2 0.8 0.4 0.6
C3 0.3 0.1 0.4
C4 0.2 0.2 0.8

From these parts we then build a cyclic process, which comprises the following steps.

  • (0) Organize some empirical measurement for training the SOM; in our model system, however, we use the original profiles and create an artificial body of “original” data, in order to be able to detect the relevant phenomenon (we have perfect knowledge about the measurement);
  • (1) Train the SOM;
  • (2) Check the intensional descriptions for their implied risk (should be minimal, i.e. beyond some threshold) and extract them as profiles;
  • (3) Use these profiles to create a bunch of simulated (artificial) data;
  • (4) Take the profile definitions and simulate enough records to train the SOM,

Thus, we have two counteracting forces, (1) a dispersion due to the randomizing simulation, and (2) the focusing of the SOM due to the filtering along the separability, in our case operationalized as risk (1/ppv=positive predictive value) per node. Note that the SOM process is not a directly re-entrant process as for instance Elman networks [6,7,8].3

This process leads not only to a focusing contrast-enhancement but also to (a limited version) of inventing new intensional descriptions that never have been present in the empiric measurement, at least not salient enough to show up as an intension.

The following figure 1a-1i shows 9 snapshots from the evolution of such a system, it starts top-left of the portfolio, then proceeds row-wise from left to right down to the bottom-right item. Each of the 9 items displays a SOM, where the RGB-color corresponds to the three variables V1, V2, V3. A particular color thus represents a particular profile on the level of the intension. Remember, that the intensions are built from the field-wise average across all the extensions collected by a particular node.

Well, let us now contemplate a bit about the sequence of these panels, which represents the evolution of the system. The first point is that there is no particular locational stability. Of course, not, I am tempted to say, since a SOM is not an image that represents as image. A SOM contains intensions and abstractions, the only issue that counts is its predictive power.

Now, comparing the colors between the first and the second, we see that the green (top-right in 1a, middle-left in 1b) and the brownish (top-left in 1a, middle-right in 1b) appear much more clear in 1b as compared to 1a. In 1a, the green obviously was “contaminated” by blue, and actually by all other values as well, leading to its brightness. This tendency prevails. In 1c and 1d yellowish colors are separated, etc.

Figure 1a thru 1i: A simple SOM in a re-entrant Markov process develops idealization. Time index proceeds from top-left to bottom-right.

The point now is that the intensions contained in the last SOM (1i, bottom-right of the portfolio) have not been recognizable in the beginning, in some important respect they have not been present. Our SOM steadily drifted away from its empirical roots. That’s not a big surprise, indeed, for we used a randomization process. The nice thing is something different: the intensions get “purified”, changing thereby their status from “intensions” to “ideas”.

Now imagine that the variables V1..Vn represent properties of geometric primitives. Our sensory apparatus is able to perceive and to encode them: horizontal lines, vertical lines, crossings, etc. In empiric data our visual apparatus may find any combination of those properties, especially in case of a (platonic) school (say: academia) where the pupils and the teachers draw triangles over triangles into the wax tablets, or into the sand of the pathways in the garden…

By now, the message should be quite clear: there is nothing special about ideas. In abstract terms, what is needed is

  • (1) a SOM-like structure;
  • (2) a self-directed simulation process;
  • (3) re-entrant modeling

Notice that we need not to specify a target variable. The associative process itself is just sufficient.

Given this model it should not surprise anymore why the first philosophers came up with idealism. It is almost built into the nature of the brain. We may summarize our achievements in the following characterization;

Ideas can be conceived as idealizations of intensional descriptions.

It is of course important to be aware of the status of such a “definition”. First, we tried to separate concepts and ideas. Most of the literature about ideas conflate them.Yet, as long as they are conflated, everything and any reasoning about mental affairs, cognition, thinking and knowledge necessarily remains inappropriate. For instance, the infamous discourse about universals and qualia seriously suffered from that conflation, or more precisely, they only arose due to that mess.

Second, our lemma is just an operationalization, despite the fact that we are quite convinced about its reasonability. Yet, there might be different ones.

Our proposal has important benefits though, as it matches a lot of the aspects commonly associated the the term “idea.” In my opinion, what is especially striking about the proposed model is the observation that idealization implicitly also led to the “invention” of “intensions” that were not present in the empiric data. Who would have been expecting that idealization is implicitly inventive?

Finally, two small notes should be added concerning the type of data and the relationship between the “idea” as a continuously intermediate result of the re-entrant SOM process. One should be aware that the “normal” input to natural associative systems are time series. Our brain is dealing with a manifold of series of events, which is mapped onto the internal processes, that is, onto another time-based structure. Prima facie Our brain is not dealing with tables. Yet, (virtual) tabular structures are implied by the process of propertization, which is an inevitable component of any kind of modeling. It is well-known that is is time-series data and their modeling that give rise to the impression of causality. In the light of ideas qua re-entrant associativity, we now can easily understand the transition from networks of potential causal influences to the claim of “causality” as some kind of a pure concept. Despite the idea of causality (in the Newtonian sense) played an important role in the history of science, it is just that: a naive idealization.

The other note concerns the source of the data.  If we consider re-entrant informational structures that are arranged across large “distances”, possibly with several intermediate transformative complexes (for which there are hints from neurobiology) we may understand that for a particular SOM (or SOM-like structure) the type of the source is completely opaque. To put it short, it does not matter for our proposed mechanism whether the data are sourced as empiric data from the external world,or as some kind of simulated, surrogated re-entrant data from within the system itself. In such wide-area, informationally re-entrant probabilistic networks we may expect kind of a runaway idealization. The question then is about the minimal size necessary for eliciting that effect. A nice corollary of this result is the insight that logistic networks, such like the internet or the telephone wiring cable NEVER will start to think on itself, as some still expect. Yet, since there a lot of brains as intermediate transforming entities embedded in this deterministic cablework, we indeed may expect that the whole assembly is much more than could be achieved by a small group of humans living, say around 1983. But that is not really a surprise.

Task 2: Ideas, applied

Ideas are an extremely important structural phenomenon, because they allow to recognize things and to deal with tasks that we never have seen before. We may act adaptively before having encountered a situation that would directly resemble—as equivalence class—any intensional description available so far.

Actually, it is not just one idea, it is a “system” of ideas that is needed for that. Some years ago, Douglas Hofstadter and his group3 devised a model system suitable for demonstrating exactly this: the application of ideas. They called the project (and the model system) Copycat.

We won’t discuss Copycat and analogy-making rules by top-down ideas here (we already introduced it elsewhere). We just want to note that the central “platonic” concept in Copycat is a dynamic relational system of symmetry relations. Such symmetry relations are for instance “before”, “after”, or “builds a group”, “is a triple”, etc. Such kind of relations represent different levels of abstractions, but that’s not important. Much more important is the fact that the relations between these symmetry relations are dynamic and will adapt according to the situation at hand.

I think that these symmetry relations as conceived by the Fargonauts are on the same level as our ideas. The transition from ideas to symmetries is just a grammatological move.

The case of Biological Neural Systems

Re-entrance seems to be an important property of natural neural networks. Very early on in the liaison of neurobiology and computer science, starting with Hebb and Hopfield in the beginning of the 1940ies, recurrent networks have been attractive for researchers. If we take a look to drawings like the following, created (!) by Ramon y Cajal [10] in the beginning of the 20th century.

Figure 2a-2c: Drawings by Ramon y Cajal, the Spain neurobiologist. See also:  History of Neuroscience. a: from a Sparrow’s brain, b: motor brain in human brain, c: Hypothalamus in human brain

Yet, Hebb, Hopfield and Elman got trapped by the (necessary) idealization of Cajal’s drawings. Cajal’s interest was to establish and to proof the “neuron hypothesis”, i.e. that brains work on the basis of neurons. From Cajal’s drawings to the claim that biological neuronal structures could be represented by cybernetic systems or finite state machines is, honestly, a breakneck, or, likewise, ideology.

Figure 3: Structure of an Elman Network; obviously, Elman was seriously affected by idealization (click for higher resolution).

Thus, we propose to distinguish between re-entrant and recurrent networks. While the latter are directly wired onto themselves in a deterministic manner, that is the self-reference is modeled on the morphological level, the former are modeled on the  informational level. Since it is simply impossible for cybernetic structure to reflect neuromorphological plasticity and change, the informational approach is much more appropriate for modeling large assemblies of individual “neuronal” items (cf. [11]).

Nevertheless, the principle of re-entrance remains a very important one. It is a structure that is known to lead to contrast enhancement and to second-order memory effects. It is also a cornerstone in the theory (theories) proposed by Gerald Edelman, who probably is much less affected by cybernetics (e.g. [12]) than the authors cited above. Edelman always conceived the brain-mind as something like an abstract informational population; he even was the first adopting evolutionary selection processes (Darwinian and others) to describe the dynamics in the brain-mind.

Conclusion: Machines and Choreostemic Drift

Out point of departure was to distinguish between ideas and concepts. Their difference becomes visible if we compare them, for instance, with regard to their relation to (abstract) models. It turns out that ideas can be conceived as a more or less stable immaterial entity (though not  “state”) of self-referential processes involving self-organizing maps and the simulated surrogates of intensional descriptions. Concepts on the other hand are described as a transcendental vector in choreostemic processes. Consequently, we may propose only for ideas that we can implement their conditions and mechanisms, while concepts can’t be implemented. It is beyond the expressibility of any technique to talk about the conditions for their actualization. Hence, the issue of “concept” has been postponed to a forthcoming chapter.

Ideas can be conceived as the effect of putting a SOM into a reentrant context, through which the SOM develops a system of categories beyond simple intensions. These categories are not justified by empirical references any more, at least not in the strong sense. Hence, ideas can be also characterized as being clearly distinct from models or schemata. Both, models and schemata involve classification, which—due to the dissolved bonds to empiric data—can not be regarded a sufficient component for ideas. We would like to suggest the intended mechanism as the candidate principle for the development ideas. We think that the simulated data in the re-entrant SOM process should be distinguished from data in contexts that are characterized by measurement of “external” objects, albeit their digestion by the SOM mechanism itself remains the same.

From what has been said it is also clear that the capability of deriving ideas alone is still quite close to the material arrangements of a body, whether thought as biological wetware or as software. Therefore, we still didn’t reach a state where we can talk about epistemic affairs. What we need is the possibility of expressing the abstract conditions of the episteme.

Of course, what we have compiled here exceeds by far any other approach, and additionally we think that it could serve as as a natural complement to the work of Douglas Hofstadter. In his work, Hofstadter had to implement the platonic heavens of his machine manually, and even for the small domain he’d chosen it has been a tedious work. Here we proposed the possibility for a seamless transition from the world of associative mechanisms like the SOM to the world of platonic Copy-Cats, and “seamless” here refers to “implementable”.

Yet, what is really interesting is the form of choreostemic movement or drift, resulting from a particular configuration of the dynamics in systems of ideas. But this is another story, perhaps related to Felix Guattari’s principle of the “machinic”, and it definitely can’t be implemented any more.

.
Notes

1. we did so in the recent chapter about data and their transformation, but also see the section “Overall Organization” in Technical Aspects of Modeling.

2. You really should be aware that this trace we try to put forward here does not come close to even a coarse outline of all of the relevant issues.

3. they called themselves the “Fargonauts”, from FARG being the acronym for “Fluid Analogy Research Group”.

4. Elman networks are an attempt to simulate neuronal networks on the level of neurons. Such approaches we rate as fundamentally misguided, deeply inspired by cybernetics [9], because they consider noise as disturbance. Actually, they are equivalent to finite state machines. It is somewhat ridiculous to consider a finite state machine as model for learning “networks”. SOM, in contrast, especially if used in architectures like ours, are fundamentally probabilistic structures that could be regarded as “feeding on noise.” Elman networks, and their predecessor, the Hopfield network are not quite useful, due to problems in scalability and, more important, also in stability.

  • [1] Douglas Hofstadter, Douglas R. Hofstadter, Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought. Basic Books, New York 1996.  p.365
  • [2] Gernot Böhme, “Platon der Empiriker.” in: Gernot Böhme, Dieter Mersch, Gregor Schiemann (eds.), Platon im nachmetaphysischen Zeitalter. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2006.
  • [3] Marc Rölli (ed.), Ereignis auf Französisch: Von Bergson bis Deleuze. Fin, Frankfurt 2004.
  • [4] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. 1967
  • [5] Augustine, Confessions, Book 11 CHAP. XIV.
  • [6] Mandic, D. & Chambers, J. (2001). Recurrent Neural Networks for Prediction: Learning Algorithms, Architectures and Stability. Wiley.
  • [7] J.L. Elman, (1990). Finding Structure in Time. Cognitive Science 14 (2): 179–211.
  • [8] Raul Rojas, Neural Networks: A Systematic Introduction. Springer, Berlin 1996. (@google books)
  • [9] Holk Cruse, Neural Networks As Cybernetic Systems: Science Briefings, 3rd edition. Thieme, Stuttgart 2007.
  • [10] Santiago R.y Cajal, Texture of the Nervous System of Man and the Vertebrates: Volume I: 1, Springer, Wien 1999, edited and translated by Pedro Pasik & Tauba Pasik. see google books
  • [11] Florence Levy, Peter R. Krebs (2006), Cortical-Subcortical Re-Entrant Circuits and Recurrent Behaviour. Aust N Z J Psychiatry September 2006 vol. 40 no. 9 752-758.
    doi: 10.1080/j.1440-1614.2006.01879
  • [12] Gerald Edelman: “From Brain Dynamics to Consciousness: A Prelude to the Future of Brain-Based Devices“, Video, IBM Lecture on Cognitive Computing, June 2006.

۞

Mental States

October 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

The issue we are dealing with here is the question whether we are justified to assign “mental states” to other people on the basis of our experience, that is, based on weakly valid predictions and the use of some language upon them.

Hilary Putnam, in an early writing (at least before 1975), used the notion of mental states, and today almost everybody does so. In the following passage he tries to justify the reasonability of the inference of mental states (italics by H.Putnam, colored emphasis by me); I think this passage is not compatible with his results any more in “Representation and Reality”, although most people particularly from computer sciences cite him as a representative of a (rather crude) machine-state functionalism:

“These facts show that our reasons for accepting it that others have mental states are not an ordinary induction, any more than our reasons for accepting it that material objects exist are an ordinary induction Yet, what can be said in the case of material objects can also be said here our acceptance of the proposition that others have mental states is both analogous and disanalogous to the acceptance of ordinary empirical theories on the basis of explanatory induction. It is disanalogous insofar as ‘other people have mental states’ is, in the first instance, not an empirical theory at all, but rather a consequence of a host of specific hypothesis, theories, laws, and garden variety empirical statements that we accept.   […]   It is analogous, however, in that part of the justification for the assertion that other people have mental states is that to give up the proposition would require giving up all of the theories, statements, etc., that we accept implying that proposition; […] But if I say that other people do not have minds, that is if I say that other people do not have mental states, that is if I say that other people are never angry, suspicious, lustful,sad, etc., I am giving up propositions that are implied by the explanations that I give on specific occasions of the behavior of other people. So I would have to give up all of these explanations.”

Suppose, we observe someone for a few minutes while he or she is getting increasingly stressed/relaxed, and suddenly the person starts to shout and to cry, or to smile. More professionally, if we use a coding system like the one proposed by Scherer and Ekman, the famous “Facial Action Coding System,”  recently popularized by the TV series “Lie to me,” are we allowed to assign them a “mental state”?

Of course, we intuitively and instinctively start trying to guess what’s going on with the person, in order to make some prediction or diagnosis (which essentially is the same thing), for instance because we feel inclined to help, to care, to console the person, to flee, or to chummy with her. Yet, is such a diagnosis, probably taking place in the course of mutual interpretation of almost non-verbal behavior, is such a diagnosis the same as assigning “mental states”?

We are deeply convinced, that the correct answer is ‘NO’.

The answer to this question is somewhat important for an appropriate handling of machines that start to be able to open their own epistemology, which is the correct phrase for the flawed notion of “intelligent” machines. Our answer rests on two different pillars. We invoke complexity theory, and a philosophical argument as well. Complexity theory forbids states for empirical reasons; the philosophical argument forbids its usage regarding the mind due to the fact that empirical observations never can be linked to statefulness, neither by language nor by mathematics. Statefulness is then identified as a concept from the area of (machine) design.

Yet, things are a bit tricky. Hence, we have to extend the analysis a bit. Else we have to refer to what we said (or will say) about theory and modeling.

Reductionism, Complexity, and the Mental

Since the concept of “mental state” involves the concept of state, our investigation has to follow two branches. Besides the concept of “state” we have the concept of the “mental,” which still is a very blurry one. The compound concept of “mental state” just does not seem to be blurry, because of the state-part. But what if the assignment of states to the personal inner life of the conscious vis-a-vis is not justified? We think indeed that we are not allowed to assign states to other persons, at least when it comes to philosophy or science  about the mind (if you would like to call psychology a ‘science’). In this case, the concept of the mental remains blurry, of course. One could suspect that the saying of “mental state” just arose to create the illusion of a well-defined topic when talking about the mind or mindfulness.

“State” denotes a context of empirical activity. It assumes that there have been preceding measurements yielding a range of different values, which we aposteriori classify and interpret. As a result of these empirical activities we distinguish several levels of rather similar values, give them a label and call them a “state.” This labeling remains always partially arbitrary by principle. Looking backward we can see that the concept of “state” invokes measurability, interpretation and, above all, identifiability. The language game of “state” excludes basic non-identifiability. Though we may speak about a “mixed state,” which still assumes identifiability in principle, there are well-known cases of empirical subjects that we can not assign any distinct value in principle. Prigogine [2] gave many examples, and even one analytic one, based on number theory. In short, we can take it for sure that complex systems may traverse regions in their parameter space where it is not possible to assign anything identifiable. In some sense, the object does not exist as a particular thing, it just exists as a trajectory, or more precise, a compound made from history and pure potential. A slightly more graspable example for those regions are the bifurcation “points” (which are not really points for real systems).

An experimental example being also well visible are represented by arrangements like so-called Reaction-Diffusion-Systems [3]. How to describe such a system? An atomic description is not possible, if we try to refer to any kind of rules. The reason is that the description of a point in their parameter system around the indeterminate area of bifurcation is the description of the whole system itself, including its trajectory through phase space. Now, who would deny that the brain and the mind springing off from it is something which exceeds by far those “simple” complex systems in their complexity, which are used as “model systems” in the laboratory, in Petri dishes, or even computer simulations?

So, we conclude that brains can not “have” states in the analytic sense. But what about meta-stability? After all, it seems that the trajectories of psychological or behavioral parameters are somehow predictable. The point is that the concept of meta-stability does not help very much. That concept directly refers to complexity, and thus it references to the whole “system,” including a large part of its history. As a realist, or scientist believing in empiricism, we would not gain anything. We may summarize that their is no possible reduction of the brain to a perspective that would justify the usage of the notion of “state.”

But what about the mind? Let the brain be chaotic, the mind need not, probably. Nobody knows. Yet, an optimistic reductionist could argue for its possibility. Is it then allowed to assign states to the mind, that is, to separate the brain from the mind with respect to stability and “statefulness”? Firstly, again the reductionist would loose all his points, since in this case the mind and its states would turn into something metaphysical, if not from “another reality.” Secondly, measurability would fall apart, since mind is nothing you could measure as an explanans. It is not possible to split off the mind of a person from that very person, at least not for anybody who would try to justify the assignment of states to minds, brains or “mental matter.” The reason is a logical one: Such an attempt would commit a petitio principii.

Obviously, we have to resort to the perspective of language games. Of course, everything is a language game, we knew that even before refuting the state as an appropriate concept to describe the brain. Yet, we have demonstrated that even an enlightened reductionist, in the best case a contemporary psychologist, or probably also William James, must acknowledge that it is not possible to speak scientifically (or philosophically) about states concerning mental issues. Before starting with the state as a Language Game I would first like to visit the concepts of automata in their relation to language.

Automata, Mechanism, and Language

Automata are positive definite, meaning that it consists from a finite set of well-defined states. At any point in time they are exactly defined, even if the particular automaton is a probabilistic one. Well, complexity theory tells us, that this is not possible for real objects. Yet, “we” (i.e. computer hardware engineers) learned to suppress deviations far enough in order to build machines which come close to what is called the “Universal Turing Machine,” i.e. nowadays physical computers. A logical machine, or a “logics machine”, if you like, then is an automaton. Therefore, standard computer programs are perfectly predictable. They can be stopped, hibernated, restarted etc., and weeks later you can proceed at the last point of your work, because the computer did not change any single of more than 8’000’000’000 dual-valued bits. All of the software running on computers is completely defined at any point in time. Hence, logical machines not only do exist outside of time, at least from their own perspective. It is perfectly reasonable to assign them “states,” and the sequence of these states are fully reversible in the sense that either a totality of the state can be stored and mapped onto the machine, or that it can be identically reproduced.

For a long period of time, people thought that such a thing would be an ideal machine. Since it was supposed to be ideal, it was also a matter of God, and in turn, since God could not do nonsense (as it was believed), the world had to be a machine. In essence, this was the reasoning in the startup-phase of the Renaissance, remember Descartes’s or Leibniz’s ideas about machines. Later, Laplace claimed perfect predictability for the universe, if he could measure everything, as he said. Not quite randomly Leibniz also thought about the possibility to create any thought by combination from a rather limited set of primitives, and in that vein he also proposed binary encoding. Elsewhere we will discuss, whether real computers as simulators of logic machines can just and only behave deterministically. (they do not…)

Note that we are not just talking about the rather trivial case of Finite State Automata. We explicitly include the so-called Universal-Turing-Machine (UTM) into our considerations, as well as Cellular Automata, for which some interesting rules are known, producing unpredictable though not random behavior. The common property of all these entities is the positive definiteness. It is important to understand that physical computers must not conceived as UTM. The UTM is logical machine, while the computer is a physical instance of it. At the same time it is more, but also less than a UTM. The UTM consists of operations virtually without a body and without matter, and thus also without the challenge of a time viz. signal horizon: things, which usually cause trouble when it comes to exactness. The particular quality of the unfolding self-organization in Reaction-Diffusion-System is—besides other design principles—dependent on effective signal horizons.

Complex systems are different, and so are living systems (see posts about complexity). Their travel through parameter space is not reversible. Even “simple” chemical processes are not reversible. So, neither the brain nor the mind could be described as reversible entities. Even if we could measure a complex system at a given point in time “perfectly,” i.e. far beyond quantum mechanic thresholds (if such a statement makes any sense at all), even then the complex system will return to increasing unpredictability, because such systems are able to generate information [4]. Besides stability, they are also deeply nested, where each level of integration can’t be reduced to the available descriptions of the next lower level. Standard computer programs are thus an inappropriate metaphor for the brain as well as for the mind. Again, there is the strategic problem for the reductionist trying to defend the usage of the concept of states to describe mental issues, as reversibility would apriori assume complete measurability, which first have to be demonstrated, before we could talk about “states” in the brain or “in” the mind.

So, we drop the possibility that the brain or the mind either is an automaton. A philosophically inspired biological reductionist then probably will resort to the concept of mechanism. Mechanisms are habits of matter. They are micrological and more local with respect to the more global explanandum. Mechanisms do not claim a deterministic causality for all the parts of a system, as the naive mechanists of earlier days did. Yet, referring to mechanisms imports the claim that there is a linkage between probabilistic micrological (often material) components and a reproducible overall behavior of the “system.” The micro-component can be modeled deterministically or probabilistically following very strong rules, the overall system then shows some behavior which can not described by the terms appropriate for the micro-level. Adopted to our case of mental states that would lead us to the assumption that there are mechanisms. We could not say that these mechanisms lead to states, because the reductionist first has to proof that mechanisms lead to stability. However, mechanisms do not provide any means to argue on the more integrated level. Thus we conclude that—funny enough—resorting to the concept of probabilistic mechanism includes the assumptions that it is not appropriate to talk about states. Again a bad card for the reductions heading for the states in the mind.

Instead, systems theory uses concepts like open systems, dynamic equilibrium (which actually is not an equilibrium), etc. The result of the story is that we can not separate a “something” in the mental processes that we could call a state. We have to speak about processes. But that is a completely different game, as Whitehead has demonstrated as the first one.

The assignment of a “mental state” itself is empty. The reason is that there is nothing we could compare it with. We only can compare behavior and language across subjects, since any other comparison of two minds always includes behavior and language. This difficulty is nicely demonstrated by the so-called Turing-test, as well as Searle’s example of the Chinese Chamber. Both examples describe situations where it is impossible to separate something in the “inner being” (of computers, people or chambers with Chinese dictionaries); it is impossible, because that “inner being” has no neighbor, as Wittgenstein would have said. As already said, there is nothing which we could compare with. Indeed, Wittgenstein said so about the “I” and refuted its reasonability, ultimately arriving at a position of “realistic solipsism.” Here we have to oppose the misunderstanding that an attitude like ours denies the existence of mental affairs of other people. It is totally o.k. to believe and to act according to this believe that other people have mental affairs in their own experience; but it is not o.k. to call that a state, because we can not know anything about the inner experience of private realities of other people, which would justify the assignment of the quality of a “state.” We also could refer to Wittgenstein’s example of pain: it is nonsense to deny that other people have pain, but it is also nonsense to try to speak about the pain of others in a way that claims private knowledge. It is even nonsense to speak about one’s own pain in a way that would claim private knowledge—not because it is private, but because it is not a kind of knowledge. Despite we are used to think that we “know” the pain, we do not. If we would, we could speak exactly about it, and for others it would not be unclear in any sense, much like: I know that 5>3, or things like that. But it is not possible to speak in this way about pain. There is a subtle translation or transformation process in between the physiological process of releasing prostaglandin at the cellular level and the final utterance of the sentence “I have a certain pain.” The sentence is public, and mandatory so. Before that sentence, the pain has no face and no location even for the person feeling the pain.

You might say, o.k. there is physics and biology and molecules and all the things we have no direct access to either. Yet, again, these systems behave deterministically, at least some of them we can force to behave regularly. Electrons, atoms and molecules do not have individuality beyond their materiality, they can not be distinguished, they have no memory, and they do not act in their own symbolic space. If they would, we would have the same problem as with the mental affairs of our conspecifics (and chimpanzees, whales, etc.).

Some philosophers, particularly  those calling themselves analytic, claim that not only feelings like happiness, anger etc. require states, but also that intentions would do so. This, however, would aggravate the attempt to justify the assignment of states to mental affairs, since intentions are the result of activities and processes in the brain and the mind. Yet, from that perspective one could try to claim that mental states are the result of calculations or deterministic processes. As for mathematical calculations, there could be many ways leading to the same result. (The identity theory between physical and mental affairs has been refuted first by Putnam 1967 [5].) On the level of the result we unfortunately can not tell anything about the way how to achieve it. This asymmetry is even true for simple mathematics.

Mental states are often conceived as “dispositions,” we just before talked about anger and happiness, notwithstanding more “theoretical” concepts. Regarding this usage of “state,” I suppose it is circular, or empty. We can not talk about the other’s psychic affairs except the linkage we derive by experience. This experience links certain types of histories or developments with certain outcomes. Yet, their is no fixation of any kind, and especially not in the sense of a finite state automaton. That means that we are mapping probability densities to each other. It may be natural to label those, but we can not claim that these labels denote “states.” Those labels are just that: labels. Perhaps negotiated into some convention, but still, just labels. Not to be aware of this means to forget about language, which really is a pity in case of “philosophers.” The concept of “state” is basically a concept that applies to the design of (logical) machines. For these reasons is thus not possible to use “state” as a concept where we attempt to compare (hence to explain)  different entities, one of which is not the result of  design. Thus, it is also not possible to use “states” as kind of “explaining principle” for any kind of further description.

One way to express the reason for the failure of  the supervenience claim is that it mixes matter with information. A physical state (if that would be meaningful at all) can not be equated with a mind state, in none of its possible ways. If the physical parameters of a brain changes, the mind affairs may or may not be affected in a measurable manner. If the physical state remains the same, the mental affairs may remain the same; yet, this does not matter: Since any sensory perception alters the physical makeup of the brain, a constant brain would be simply dead.

Would we accept the computationalist hypothesis about the brain/mind, we would have to call the “result” a state, or the “state” a result. Both alternatives feel weird at least with respect to a dynamic entity like the brain, though the even feel weird with respect to arithmetics. There is no such thing in the brain like a finite algorithm that stops when finished. There are no “results” in the brain, something, even hard-core reductionistic neurobiologists would admit. Yet, again, exactly this determinability had to be demonstrated in order to justify the usage of “state” by the reductionist, he can not refer to it as an assumption.

The misunderstanding is quite likely caused by the private experience of stability in thinking. We can calculate 73+54 with stable results. Yet, this does not tell anything about the relation between matter and mind. The same is true for language. Again, the hypothesis underling the claim of supervenience is denying the difference between matter and information.

Besides the fact that the reductionist is running again into the same serious tactical difficulties as before, this now is a very interesting point, since it is related to the relation of brain and mind on the one side and actions and language on the other. Where do the words we utter come from? How is it possible to express thoughts such that it is meaningful?

Of course, we do not run a database with a dictionary inside it in our head. We not only don’t do so, it would not be possible to produce and to understand language at all, even to the slightest extent. Secondly, we learn language, it is not innate. Even the capability to learn language is not innate, contrary to a popular guess. Just think about Kaspar Hauser who never mastered it better than a 6-year old child. We need an appropriately trained brain to become able to learn a language. Would the capability for language being innate, we would not have difficulties to learn any language. We all know that the opposite is true, many people having severe difficulties to learn even a single one.

Now, the questions of (1) how to become able to learn a language and (2) how to program a computer that it becomes able to understand language are closely related. The programmer can NOT put the words into the machine apriori as that would be self-delusory. Else, the meaning of something can not be determined apriori without referring to the whole Lebenswelt. That’s the result of Wittgenstein’s philosophy as well as it is Putnam’s final conclusion. Meaning is not a mental category, despite that it requires always several brains to create something we call “meaning” (emphasis on several). The words are somewhere in between, between the matter and the culture. In other words there must be some kind process  that includes modeling, binding, symbolization, habituation, both directed to its substrate, the brain matter, and its supply, the cultural life.

We will discuss this aspect elsewhere in more detail. Yet, for the reductionist trying to defend the usage of the concept of states for the description of mental affairs, this special dynamics between the outer world and the cognitively established reality, and which is embedding  our private use of language, is the final defeat for state-oriented reductionisms.

Nevertheless we humans often feel inclined to use that strange concept. The question is why do we do so, and what is the potential role of that linguistic behavior? If we take the habit of assigning a state to mental affairs of other people as a language game, a bunch of interesting questions come to the fore. These are by far too complex and to rich as to be discussed here. Language games are embedded into social situations, and after all, we always have to infer the intentions of our partners in discourse, we have to establish meaning throughout the discourse, etc. Assigning a mental state to another being probably just means “Hey, look, I am trying to understand you! Would you like to play the mutual interpretation game?” That’s ok, of course, for the pragmatics of a social situation, like any invitation to mutual inferentialism [6], and like any inferentialism it is even necessary—from the perspective of the pragmatics of a given social situation. Yet, this designation of understanding should not mistake the flag with the message. Demonstrating such an interest need not even be a valid hypothesis within the real-world situation. Ascribing states in this way, as an invitation for inferring my own utterances,  is even unavoidable, since any modeling requires categorization. We just have to resist to assign these activities any kind of objectivity that would refer to the inner mental affairs of our partner in discourse. In real life, doing so instead is inevitably and always a sign of deep disrespect of the other.

In philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari in their “Thousand Plateaus” (p.48) have been among the first who recognized the important abstract contribution of Darwin by means of his theory. He opened the possibility to replace types and species by population, degrees by differential relations. Darwin himself, however, has not been able to complete this move. It took another 100 years until Manfred Eigen coined the term quasi-species as an increased density in a probability distribution. Talking about mental states is noting than a fallback into Linnean times when science was the endeavor to organize lists according to uncritical use of concepts.

Some Consequences

The conclusion is that we can not use the concept of state for dealing with mental or cognitive affairs in any imaginable way, without stumbling into serious difficulties . We should definitely drop it from our vocabulary about the mind (and the brain as well). Assuming mental states in other people is rendering those other people into deterministic machines. Thus, doing so would even have serious ethical consequences. Unfortunately, many works by many philosophers are rendered into mere garbage by mistakenly referring to this bad concept of “mental states.”

Well, what are the consequences for our endeavor of machine-based epistemology?

The most salient one is that we can not use the digital computers to produce language understanding as along as we use these computers as deterministic machines. If we still want to try (and we do so), then we need mechanisms that introduce aspects that

  • – are (at least) non-deterministic;
  • – produce manifolds with respect to representations, both on the structural level and “content-wise”;
  • – start with probabilized concepts instead of compound symbolic “whole-sale” items (see also the chapter about representation);
  • – acknowledge the impossibility to analyze a kind of causality or—equival- ently—states inside the machine in order to “understand” the process of language at a microscopic level: claiming ‘mental states’ is a garbage state, whether it is assigned to people or to machines.

Fortunately enough, we found further important constraints for our implementa- tion of a machine that is able to understand language. Of course, we need further ingredients, but for now theses results are seminal. You may wonder about such mechanisms and the possibility to implement them on a computer. Be sure, they are there!

  • [1] Hilary Putnam, Mind, language, and reality. Cambridge University Press, 1979. p.346.
  • [2] Ilya Prigogine.
  • [3] Reaction-Diffusion-Systems: Gray-Scott-systems, Turing-systems
  • [4] Grassberger, 1988. Physica A.
  • [5] Hilary Putnam, 1967, ‘The Nature of Mental States’, in Mind, Language and reality, Cambridge University Press, 1975.
  • [6] Richard Brandom, Making it Explicit. 1994.

۞

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