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From a negative spiral of failure to the useful term reverting?

While I consider myself an AI and System & cybernetic researcher, I can’t undo myself from the impression that both domains have failed. There are genius insights that arose from the domains, but the impact on society is marginal. I consider it a failure if we consider the expected impact on society and the current impact.

Today I read a story that again gives me the feeling of failure. There is a nice article in wired about technological evolution: The interview is just a small summery, but I get the impression that much is reinvent the wheel. Accept the mentioning of Stuart Kauffman, I didn’t see any other of the great authors in the summery nor did I read it between the lines.

We fail as a science if people reinvent the wheel, it means we did something wrong, that we didn’t make the insights become autonomous entities in our society (e.g. strong memes). I think the article actually gives us an idea why we failed in respect to the economics of our science. Let me quote a part of the article:

…That was the difference between Tim Berners-Lee’s successful HTML code and Ted Nelson’s abortive Xanadu project. Both tried to jump into the same general space—a networked hypertext—but Tim’s approach did it with a dumb half-step, while Ted’s earlier, more elegant design required that everyone take five steps all at once.

Did we try to do it to good and therefore failed? Do we need dumber half-steps? Notice how in this article the whole idea of variety by natural selection is actually expressed by a term with more negative connotation: “To create something great, you need the means to make a lot of really bad crap.”

Was it our pride of elegance that made us fail? I think it is, in economics we see other quite negative and contradicting notions like “disruptive innovation”. Walsh study of Youtubeshows a negative meme “Whatever man” is going down a spiral of increased negativity to end up becoming something very pure and good (see the link in an earlier post) .

Now in science I’ve seen some people making this negatives spiral too. For example I always had this double feeling about what I consider Latour’s greatest book “Pandora’s hope”, which of course refers to the narrative of Pandora. Maybe he has touch again on something as fundamental as “science in action”. Then again maybe Latour isn’t really a scientists but a hybrid between a narrator and a scientists.

Walsh focuses in other videos on the relevance of re-cognition. Latour makes a relevant of retro-fitting. Both create a spiral to come up on the other side. We can find cased of a negative spiral becoming something good and a positive spiral becoming something negative. Thus let us call it reverting.

Examples of positive-reverting

My advisor Francis illustrates in several of his papers how parasitism isn’t fit and that it is deemed to become synergetic. On a related note we talked about is the synergy by “indigestion”. It is a term some cellular biologist used in their evolutionary studies to explain non-linear or radical evolution steps. The claim is that some cells tried to swallow another cell but got a very bad indigestion. Some would die, but by natural selection some result in synergies, which would be extremely fit.

Al Gore in his defense on green energy often used positive-reverting. Like how U-bombs actually lead to redefining the use of conflict/war for nations to grow. Or how the negative image of green meaning less capitalism can be reverted into a green economy.

Some examples of negative-reverting

While science has still (and luckily) a positivistic approach we should be more concerned about negative-reverting. For example Francis has become more concerned about all the GMS and wifi frequencies polluting our atmosphere. While everyone considers the advances of communication something positive, the concerns that this may actually have a strong impact on our health could become a negative-reverting.

Not convinced? Consider a recent meltdown leading to our current economic crisis. Banks, insurance companies, investors, they all thought there was a new paradigm that wealth was working at increased speed. Afterwards (via retro-fitting) we all see it as something bad. Still not so many people would have created the spiral if they didn’t belief it was something good. They honestly believed that “greed” was good.

I’ve seen the negative-reverting often in narratives. Where the hero uses from a rational perspective “all means necessary” to get the job done and in that process loses its soul and becomes the embodiment of the evil it tries to fight. It is a narrative we for example see frequently in World of Warcraft. Actually they frequently use reverting in both directions.

So what is next?

I’m very interested in your opinion. Can we make more work of having reverting a well understood cybernetic concept? Is there other relevant theory that has addressed this issue? How you thing about having more economic oriented experiments as to make our science stronger?