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TITOLO: Complexity and chaos as tools for understanding

WRITTEN BY: Lorenzo Matteoli

DATE: April 2004

 



Complexity, Chaos
and Knowledge Management:
what is it all about

Four lectures prepared for the University of Western Australia Extension
by

Lorenzo Matteoli
May 2004



We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing of the world.
(Stephen Hawking “A brief History of Time”)

 

An interesting foreword (October 20, 2004).

I posted this essay on my website in April 2004 and gave the lectures at the UWA Extension in May 2004.

On October 5th, 2004 I read an article on the Washington Post by David Ignatius (Google with Judgement) in which news were given about a researcher named Charles McLean of a Denver Research Group who was asserting to have produced a computer model capable of processing 80% of the information available through press, journals, research papers, students thesis, Government Institutions reports etc. and to discern the "tonalities" that shape global events.

Here is the excerpt from that article:

quote:

It happens that a former Republican campaign strategist named Charles M. McLean has created just such a database. His consulting company, Denver Research Group Inc., monitors more than 7,000 sources on a constant, real-time basis -- giving him a window on what he estimates is about 80 percent of all original political content around the world. Using a combination of computer algorithms and human analysis, he sifts this mass of information to discern the "tonalities" that shape global events. This approach has identified key political trends one to two weeks before those changes appear in traditional poll numbers, he says

unquote.

If you compare this with what I propose at the end of my essay you will see the striking similarity of the two ideas.

I contacted immediately Mr. David Ignatius at his e.mail address c/o the Washington Post asking to be put in touch with Mr. Charles McLean, but my message was ignored. I tried to find Mr. Charles McLean and the Denver Research Group, but that turned out to be an impossible exercise. Neither of the two seem to exist.

Now it would be interesting to know:

A. if Mr. Charles McLean and the Denver Research Group are fictional characters invented by Ignatius to propose without any personal risk an idea that he fished out from my paper;

B. if Mr. Charles McLean is a real person who fished out the idea from my essay and is asserting to have a "mathematical model" or an "algorithm" to process in real time 7000 sources of information;

C. if Mr. Charles McLean is a real person and actually had my same idea at just about the same time;

I got the source from Mr. Ignatius in the form of a website (DRGI.com): but that website is impenetrable to me because I have not been issued a password.

So Charles McLean is a real person but he does not want me to nose around his site. Which is interesting news.

Lorenzo Matteoli

 


Presentation
My trade today is writing - a trade that I chose freely and not for any financial reward. My ‘boss’ is enlightened and very understanding. Nothing is asked of me nor imposed upon me. I can write whatever I want about whatever topic I choose. I can express whatever opinion I have, however controversial. I can censor the official policy of my Government and its allies with no fear of retribution.
Total freedom! I can publish my opinions and my writings wherever I wish and the system even provides a very powerful tool for publication at a very reasonable cost with millions of people having access to my website.
I have no specific constraints or duties. I am not restricted to a minimum of words or lines every day; there are no schedules or deadlines to be met. There are no “editors” to control or censor, cut, or change my drafts. I can spend weeks or months without writing a single word and then write furiously for days and nights, following the whim of inspiration or some other contingent condition that I force upon myself with conscious carelessness.
Whatever I write goes into what I call the global information environment. My subjects are diverse: energy, technology and utopia, literature, international politics, environmental problems, medieval history, Normans, Frederick the Second Hohenstaufen, medieval merchants and bankers, short stories, the future…
Clearly there are some basic rules: document consistency, respect for individuals, dignity of presentation, accountability, a dignified use of the language, but these are more on account of a self-imposed ethical choice or for the sake of credibility. As Jacques Monod would say, the ethics of knowledge.
People may wonder how I managed to reach such an interesting position. I must confess that it has not been simple. Thirty-six years, six months and one day of hard work in a risky career and in a cutthroat professional environment. I am a retired Italian university professor and my ‘boss’ is the Italian Government. I write mainly for myself and publish my essays on my website. I have readers. In fact, some of my essays have had tens of thousands of readers, to my delight and surprise.
When you write, your thoughts seem to roll out in a different way from when you speak. Writing implies a more systematic way of thinking, continuously and consistently fed by what you have already written. In some ways it is a self-referential process (as in Luhmann). One writes writing, at least as far as I am concerned, maybe because it is the very process of writing that makes me think. Even now, for example, I have only a vague idea about the pattern of thought that will unfold: an implicit feeling that I will discover line by line. In some way I am drawn to writing by the curiosity for what I may come up with. When I read what I have written, I am often surprised and think “what an articulate and interesting chap!” I am intrigued when reading my own writings and I add notes and comments to update them according to the evolution of my subsequent thinking. The name of the game is “narcissism”, a very common syndrome - not only among writers.

First Lecture
I recently wrote about the war in Iraq and it was this experience that drew my attention to how difficult it is for us today to be decently informed about what is actually happening. Manipulation is dominating the news and the attempts to escape manipulation are even more frustrating. Manipulation of the news is an irreversible process (like the journey towards maximum entropy). Retrieval of the original facts is impossible.
It is quite a frustrating process: the more I read, the more I cross check my information, the more I search for further evidence and documentation, the less I seem to understand or to “know” about what is actually going on.
When I submitted the idea of exploring the problem of information control to the UWA Extension as a possible topic for a short course, I thought it might be possible to identify a reasonably simple method to organise our “reading” habits in order to deal with the current information glut. When I tried to elaborate on this concept I found myself entering a very challenging field of complexity, chaos and knowledge management.
Cognition processes, complexity, chaos and knowledge management appeared immediately to be a challenging field of speculation and a powerful provocation to overcome our natural laziness.
I was fascinated by the exercise and started some voracious reading which presented even greater challenges.
I must also acknowledge that the idea of a connection between chaos, complexity and information has been lingering in my mind for quite some time. I wrote this almost ten years ago in an essay on Technology, Utopia & Future:
Compared to hundreds of years ago social utopia is challenged today by a new element: intensive and diffused information, by which current opinion is shaped or deformed. A positive outcome of this interaction may be the sudden flash of the pervasive social utopian signal that may reach the critical intensity needed to move the dwellers of the Planet towards a new set of organic scopes: adequacy, sustainability, environmental consistency.
This could happen not as a consequence of intelligence, a feature that the chaotic paradigm of information hardly deserves, but by the association of the dominant information signals with the contingent reactive capability of the general public. Such an effective alliance could induce new patterns of conduct in the mass of consumers, which would stir a consistent demand mode. The market may eventually respond, radically changing present attitudes and inducing related environmental trends.

From:
http://matteoli.iinet.net.au/html/Articles/UtopiaEngItal.html
Quite possibly this essay is an attempt to explore the intuition I had ten years ago. Our thoughts often repeat themselves during our lifetime.The first few books I read about complexity and chaos stirred my imagination, but some of the literature left me with the feeling that the field was still quite obscure and that some of the authors were actually fishing in murky waters. My suspicion was that behind the woolly language, the substantial core was very thin. Basically, many authors seemed to me to be groping in the dark. However, one interesting aspect was that the “founders” of the science of complexity were people coming from the most diverse fields of expertise: physics, mathematics, meteorology, biology, quantum mechanics, computer science, cosmology, philosophy…

After further reading, I have changed my mind, but I still think that most of the literature in the field on chaos and non linear dynamic systems is complacent to the intellectual game of complexity and chaos and that the main objective of the debate is the debate itself.
Further study made me understand that the “science of complexity” had a very long “incubation” period. The powerful academic masters of the “real” scientific disciplines viewed those who were dealing with it with scorn and suspicion. ”Big Science” was sceptical, if not openly disdainful, towards the new discipline. The experience of the Santa Cruz “Collective” from 1977 to 1983 (Shaw, Farmer, Packard, Crutchfield) exemplifies the problem.
Complexity and chaos had “language problems”. The message was unclear and the mathematical tools to represent it were not yet available. The math involved was not the most simple to grasp. It required an interdisciplinary culture whereas the academic set-up of those years was definitely specialist to the limit of sectarianism.
I cannot claim to be an expert now, but the amount of reading I have done has given me a better vision of the “complexity & chaos arena”. I feel reasonably safe if I state that the science of complexity and chaos and the discovery of inner self-organisational trends in highly complex non-linear systems has been the most important scientific revolution of the last century. The radical reassessment of the very foundations of knowledge, which resulted from that discovery, has completely overruled what was left of deterministic post Newtonian reductionism. To quote James Gleick: “Chaos: the making of a new science”: “…chaos theory may in time rival relativity and quantum mechanics in its influence on scientific thought…”
The perspectives, which are now open for a comprehensive reading of the real world, are a new challenge to all fields of discipline. The great utopian dream of the unified field of knowledge that has been at the core of scientific debate for the last two centuries may be closer to reality than we think.
In the four lectures that I have prepared, I will tell you what I think I have learned in my two years of “chaotic” reading and learning. I will also try to describe ways in which the science of complexity can be applied to everyday life to help us understand “what it is really all about”. My personal technological culture always pushes me to search for practical applications of a concept or of a theoretical scientific vision.
A short outline of the four lectures
In my first lecture I will deal with present day manipulated information: How we are subject to exogenous and endogenous manipulation and how the problem has changed throughout history. I will talk about “scenarios” and comment on a particularly authoritative one: the CIA “Trends 2015”.
The second lecture will be about our learning process: The damage caused by conformist education to the innate potential of our brain for holistic understanding of complex realities. In the same lecture I will briefly deal with “mistakes” and “culturally” induced mistakes.
The third lecture will deal with the science of complexity and chaos: I will peruse through a short history of the new discipline and of its main masters (Monod, Prigogine, Lorenz, Kauffmann, Johnson, Mitchell). I will also analyze the potential of the science of complexity for the possible better management of information and knowledge.
In the fourth lecture I will try to explain how understanding the concepts of complexity and chaos may help us in our daily experience. I will present the general outline of a possible method to codify and process information in order to identify current trends at various levels of specificity
Never before in its history has our society had the intensity and quantity of “data” we have today. We are continuously bombarded by data and messages: TV, newspapers, internet, radio, relentlessly feed us with an amount of information that by far exceeds our reading capacity and our critical processing capability.
To the quantitative overload we have to add the problem of systematic manipulation by various sources. Last, but not least, by ourselves: We screen the incoming information through our cultural and ideological filter and bias, discarding, overestimating and underestimating according to our personal values. So the huge amount of information does not yield a consistent amount of reliable knowledge.
In fact, we must conclude that the knowledge we have of the world we live in is both scarce and biased.
The “real world” is quite different from the idea we can have of it, both as citizens and as decision-makers. We do not know what is happening and what we think we know is probably wrong.
This is a dangerous situation because we are living in the real world and in this real world we make decisions for ourselves and for others with vital consequences.
To make decisions without knowing, or worse, based on wrong assumptions, clearly aggravates the vicious cycle of our critical relationship with the environment.
The fundamental conditions for any reliable guidance are not there and what we have is dangerously biased. The stage is set for a formidable historical catastrophe.
While a few decades ago (or a few centuries ago) the gap between knowledge and guidance was less critical because the human settlement on the Planet was contained (one billion people compared to the present six billion), today the danger of irreversible catastrophic dynamics is clear and present. Physical and social environmental limits have been reached and, in many areas, breached. The physical human impact on the Planet is now so huge that there is no more space or time left for further reckless development.
So much for the broad “planetary” terms of the knowledge gap. The information failure is also relevant for our everyday life, menial matters, no cosmic/planetary issues maybe, but very meaningful for our individual lives and not to be neglected. After all, we only have one life to live.
Decisions on how to raise the kids, how to invest our savings, where to buy a house, how to vote…are paramount for each one of us, and are paramount for the social environment to which we belong.
It is not a new problem, in fact it is a very old one, and we have tackled it in many ways throughout history: with “rationality” through philosophy and logical thinking; in practice with science, research and technology; with “religion”, through prophetic revelations and assumptions of faith.
Neither rationality nor religions have ever been able to thoroughly fulfil the yearning for certainty and knowledge of the human mind. This is why there have always been all kinds of esoteric operators: fortune tellers, astrologers, oracles, augurs, soothsayers, palm readers, witch doctors, popes, imams, ayatollahs, priests …
Looking at various experiences, some of which were terribly cruel and tragic, one can see that the problem was always the same: to understand and simplify a vast and complex reality and to explain it simply and clearly, eventually with a blunt yes or no choice.
Our ancestors used to make sacrifices to the gods of sheep, lambs, goats, chickens, rabbits, cows, sometimes-young virgins or lads to anxiously scrutinize their death throes, the blood and the guts of the victims and hence draw unquestionable conclusions. The flight of birds, the behaviour of ants, snails, snakes, cats and dogs were other places for the search of interpretive certainty of our ancestors. The night sky, constantly changing with the mysterious dance of the planets against the majestic backdrop of the stars, was another source of inquiry.
Planets and stars are still today a field of passionate exploration and frankly I would have some regrets if I had to utterly dismiss it on grounds of lack of scientific evidence.
No wine expert would deny the fact that wine bottled during the wrong lunar phase (different for each wine) is undrinkable. The same applies to salad: if seeded during the wrong moon phase it will produce flowers and not leaves. If so many organic systems around us are sensitive to astral influence why should we be exempt? Lack of evidence has never been a condition sufficient to dismiss a possibility. It would not be prudent to accept this criterion today.
The choice of the “scientific method” by Renaissance thinkers should suggest caution before excluding possibilities for lack of scientific evidence, whereas such lack is generally assumed to justify dismissal with no appeal. No experimental scientific evidence? Off you go…done, finito, end of story. Galileo said that he believed things he could see with his eyes, but he never denied the existence of what he could not see.
Mathematics is full of theorems, lemmas that are assumed as certain even if their complete demonstration has not been developed. We had to wait two hundred years to have a full demonstration of the last theorem by Fermat. The same applies to physics where the separation between quantum mechanics and oscillatory dynamics is very uncertain and continuously subject to contingent interpretation.
I do not have to elaborate any further to conclude that we urgently need new and much more effective tools for information handling, processing and management in order to consistently improve the general knowledge of what is actually going on out there so that we can make the most appropriate decisions for ourselves and for our Planet.
These tools must be available to the greater public and must be easy to use. In fact, problems cannot be solved by an isolated group of political decision makers, no matter how well informed and competent, over the heads of uninformed citizens, ignorant or unable to understand.
Nothing can be decided and implemented without the understanding and intelligent participation of the public. Nothing can be achieved above or against the social culture. This is, at the same time, the great advantage and the great curse of democracy.
Only a thoroughly informed social structure can accept without rejection the decisions that will lead beyond the crisis. The time of oracles and of augurs is way past. A modern political leader cannot demand acts of faith. He who tries is a danger to himself and to others.
The Information Utopia is that of a World without leaders where the social culture acts upon its own input and on account of mature understanding and not of subservience. We must urgently recover and use the right hemisphere of our brain that operates according to holistic procedures processing information and data in a diffuse and simultaneous way.
The true information revolution has yet to happen. Until now the computer culture has only enormously increased the information and data glut, and it has been used within the paradigm of the reductionism Cartesian vision of the cognitive learning process, as a tool for deterministic partialization.
This is a very powerful tool, used with a two centuries old cultural attitude. We urgently need a conceptual spin. We must work so that this huge amount of data can be collected and collated with a comprehensive vision of reality so that it can become holistic participated knowledge as opposed to an analytical data glut. This is the only way to manage the ongoing slow catastrophe: The devastation of the planetary environment setting out the irreversible dynamics towards our own extinction.


Some further comment about oracles and augurs

With the arrogance of our presumed “scientific culture” we could dismiss with derision the simple minds searching for answers to their desperate quests in the blood and guts of sacrificed animals. I would not so lightly disagree with those gory, colourful and diverse customs.
In fact, I believe they had some degree of efficacy, as did many other esoteric habits and functions. The lack of hard evidence is irrelevant because they gave “certainty” to the questioning party.
When someone operates on the assumption of “certainty” he automatically has a great edge on his uncertain counterpart. Often mistakenly, his cheerful assertion is accepted as the “right” thing to do just because it is perceived as such. Regrettably an incompetent but “sure” person is more credible than a doubting wiser man and there always seem to be far more of the former than the latter. Moreover from a statistical standpoint, if the question requires a yes or no answer, the probability of a correct response is 50% - a reasonable rate in practical risk management. An immediate answer with a 50% chance of being right is much more effective and convincing than a very elaborate, possibly ambiguous response, supplied after days of tormented debate.
In the real world, the first to move has the advantage of forcing his own rules upon his counterpart. The need to make the right choice is often balanced by the opportunity of making an almost right choice and maybe even a wrong one, but quickly. How many a time has a quick, risky and perhaps wrong choice won over a more cautious possibly right slow move?
This is an impossible question to answer because history reports only the consequences of the decision that is made. What would have followed otherwise is not recorded. We will never know where the road not taken would have led us.
The Romans stated quite clearly: “Fortuna audaces juvat” (Luck helps the daring) - a blunt response to Petronius’ subtle suggestion: “Suam habet rationem fortuna” (Chance has a reason of its own).
The responses of oracles and augurs have strength, regardless of their veracity, because they “convince” the applicants, who, made bold by the response, act and succeed because of their conviction.
We are what we believe and we act accordingly. Success and victory come easiest to him who is convinced he will win - right or wrong -
Which is the true strength of oracles, horoscopes and augurs.
The definition of plausible scenarios:
Strategy and tactics are basic disciplines of military organisation. Tactics is the art of contingent short-term action and response, whereas strategy is the discipline of long-term operation.
Devising war operations, attack and defence, the military have learned the art of representing hypothetical plausible realities: alternative variations, schemes and diagrams to void enemy actions and to achieve control or victory on the battlefield.
The rules of the game have always been limited: the terrain, the number and the qualification of the forces on the field – climate, horses, tanks, …
Nevertheless risk in military action has always been high and the ability to invent surprises, unusual schemes and sequences of actions to pre-empt enemy attacks has always been a rewarding challenge and test of military ingenuity. Those who deserved it achieved often victory by sheer chance.
Surprise and luck in military history have often counted more than heroism.
With the introduction of nuclear weapons capable of destroying entire continents, tactics and strategy have become “global” disciplines: not a limited number of parameters, but the disruption of the physical and environmental balance of the whole Planet.
The definition of plausible scenarios of what is going on, or projections of hypothetical futures is a continuous exercise for many Groups and Institutions. There are many techniques and methods, generally done with a “no surprise condition” which is unrealistic. Surprises inevitably happen - and surprising reactions to surprises. Maybe an effort to list possible surprises would be useful.
Our current everyday information process is different from the strategic or tactical scenarios definition and is done (I would say “it happens”) according to less formal modes. We usually “absorb” the information environment with no specific critical attention: as if it were merely some kind of background noise.
Wars, murders, robberies, planetary scams and multibillion scandals, natural disasters, oil depletion, pollution, climate change, terror, bombings, riots, epidemics, earthquakes, hurricanes are metabolised in a subliminal limbo while we are dealing with our taxes, the mortgage, children, parents, noisy neighbours, mowing lawns and paying the bills.
We read the newspapers, watch TV, listen to the radio, talk with friends and colleagues with the only filter of our “culture” within the frame of the set of values that we have received from our family, school, education and life experience (so far).
Nevertheless, information absorbed in this way confirms or directs our basic “culture”. The consequent evaluations, assessments and decisions we make are inevitably the outcome of the manipulated environmental information as deformed by our own personal cultural filters – an intriguing “chicken/egg” cycle.
Hence, the Information environment as filtered by our culture is the limit we cannot overcome and which rules whatever judgement, decision, statement or choices we make. This same limit makes the manipulation of information by those who control it, easy and successful: We end up by behaving according to the defined paradigm.
The CIA 2015 trends
Scenario building has been an institutional activity for many years and is currently carried out by many organisations: central banks, government agencies, political parties, huge corporations, universities, and armies …
One interesting exercise is to check the scenarios drafted twenty or thirty years ago. None of the historical subverting events has ever been properly identified by any scenario: WW2, Fall of Communism, 9/11 … some huge disasters instead have been clearly identified: demographic bomb, famine, oil depletion, climate change and …ignored (removed) by the common consciousness.
If what actually happens is not identified and if what is correctly identified bypasses social consciousness, one must question what is the use of scenarios!
Clearly scenarios do not make it through the endogenous and exogenous “cultural” filters that squelch the ”information environment”, for lack of authority/credibility or for lack of a social mind set conducive to belief. Both attitudes are worth studying.
Scenarios are usually prepared or sold to Governments (Banks, huge Corporations, International Bodies, Agencies…) they are thought to be powerful movers of the public and private decision-making processes. Some of them are kept secret for security reasons and some of them are consistently manipulated for instrumental reasons. They may be used as a tool to supplement, direct or substitute other information-retrieval procedures. They have to be considered with great caution.
There are a lot of websites available on the Internet with scenarios and descriptions of hypothetical futures. These are usually provided by Universities or by Government agencies with the advice and consultancy of highly qualified research Institutes and centres. Reading this literature is an interesting exercise. Even the most powerful futurologists, when confronted with the need for a conclusive and comprehensive description of the result of their vast and expensive research, end up with some healthy pedestrian editing.
You will find here one of the most “authoritative” set of scenarios proposed by the Central Intelligence Agency of the US Government, published on their site (Trends 2015). Research and assistance for these various matters was provided by thirteen of the most powerful and important American Universities and integrated and edited by a committee of world-class experts.


Four Alternative Global Futures by the CIA
In September-October 1999, the NIC initiated work on Global Trends 2015 by cosponsoring with Department of State/INR and CIA's Global Futures Project two unclassified workshops on Alternative Global Futures: 2000-2015. The workshops brought together several dozen government and nongovernmental specialists in a wide range of fields.
The first workshop identified major factors and events that would drive global change through 2015. It focused on demography, natural resources, science and technology, the global economy, governance, social/cultural identities, and conflict and identified main trends and regional variations. These analyses became the basis for subsequent elaboration in Global Trends 2015.
The second workshop developed four alternative global futures in which these drivers would interact in different ways through 2015. Each scenario was intended to construct a plausible, policy-relevant story of how this future might evolve: highlighting key uncertainties, discontinuities, and unlikely or "wild card" events, and identifying important policy and intelligence challenges.
Scenario One: Inclusive Globalization:
A virtuous circle develops among technology, economic growth, demographic factors, and effective governance, which enables a majority of the world's people to benefit from globalization. Technological development and diffusion—in some cases triggered by severe environmental or health crises—are utilized to grapple effectively with some problems of the developing world. Robust global economic growth—spurred by a strong policy consensus on economic liberalization—diffuses wealth widely and mitigates many demographic and resource problems. Governance is effective at both the national and international levels. In many countries, the state's role shrinks, as its functions are privatized or performed by public-private partnerships, while global cooperation intensifies on many issues through a variety of international arrangements. Conflict is minimal within and among states benefiting from globalization. A minority of the world's people—in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the Andean region—do not benefit from these positive changes, and internal conflicts persist in and around those countries left behind.
Scenario Two: Pernicious Globalization
Global elites thrive, but the majority of the world's population fails to benefit from globalization. Population growth and resource scarcities place heavy burdens on many developing countries, and migration becomes a major source of interstate tension. Technologies not only fail to address the problems of developing countries but also are exploited by negative and illicit networks and incorporated into destabilizing weapons. The global economy splits into three: growth continues in developed countries; many developing countries experience low or negative per capita growth, resulting in a growing gap with the developed world; and the illicit economy grows dramatically. Governance and political leadership are weak at both the national and international levels. Internal conflicts increase, fuelled by frustrated expectations, inequities, and heightened communal tensions; WMD proliferate and are used in at least one internal conflict.
Scenario Three: Regional Competition
Regional identities sharpen in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, driven by growing political resistance in Europe and East Asia to US global preponderance and US-driven globalization and each region's increasing preoccupation with its own economic and political priorities. There is an uneven diffusion of technologies, reflecting differing regional concepts of intellectual property and attitudes towards biotechnology. Regional economic integration in trade and finance increases, resulting in both fairly high levels of economic growth and rising regional competition. Both the state and institutions of regional governance thrive in major developed and emerging market countries, as governments recognize the need to resolve pressing regional problems and shift responsibilities from global to regional institutions. Given the preoccupation of the three major regions with their own concerns, countries outside these regions in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia have few places to turn for resources or political support. Military conflict among and within the three major regions does not materialize, but internal conflicts increase in and around other countries left behind.
Scenario Four: Post-Polar World
US domestic preoccupation increases as the US economy slows, then stagnates. Economic and political tensions with Europe grow, the US-European alliance deteriorates as the United States withdraws its troops, and Europe turns inward, relying on its own regional institutions. At the same time, national governance crises create instability in Latin America, particularly in Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, and Panama, forcing the United States to concentrate on the region. Indonesia also faces internal crisis and risks disintegration, prompting China to provide the bulk of an ad hoc peacekeeping force. Otherwise, Asia is generally prosperous and stable, permitting the United States to focus elsewhere. Korea's normalization and de facto unification proceed, China and Japan provide the bulk of external financial support for Korean unification, and the United States begins withdrawing its troops from Korea and Japan. Over time, these geostrategic shifts ignite longstanding national rivalries among the Asian powers, triggering increased military preparations and hitherto dormant or covert WMD programs. Regional and global institutions prove irrelevant to the evolving conflict situation in Asia, as China issues an ultimatum to Japan to dismantle its nuclear program and Japan—invoking its bilateral treaty with the US—calls for US reengagement in Asia under adverse circumstances at the brink of a major war. Given the priorities of Asia, the Americas, and Europe, countries outside these regions are marginalized, with virtually no sources of political or financial support.
Generalizations Across the Scenarios
The four scenarios can be grouped in two pairs: the first pair contrasting the "positive" and "negative" effects of globalization; the second pair contrasting intensely competitive but not conflictual regionalism and the descent into regional military conflict.
* In all but the first scenario, globalization does not create widespread global cooperation. Rather, in the second scenario, globalization's negative effects promote extensive dislocation and conflict, while in the third and fourth, they spur regionalism.
* In all four scenarios, countries negatively affected by population growth, resource scarcities and bad governance, fail to benefit from globalization, are prone to internal conflicts, and risk state failure.
* In all four scenarios, the effectiveness of national, regional, and international governance and at least moderate but steady economic growth are crucial.
* In all four scenarios, US global influence wanes.

In our present situation, I can hardly see any chances for any other scenario than No. 2.
One of the consequences of scenario building and future exploration is that the foreseen future may be either confirmed and “locked in” by the forecast, or skilfully avoided. Being aware of possible terrible future curses, all available efforts are made to avoid them, thus pre-empting their occurrence. Sometimes it is these very efforts to avoid foreseen events that actually make them happen. For understandable reasons, this is called the Oedipus Effect in the field of futurology.
A short review of the “scenarios” proposed by various Bodies and Institutions in the last 20 or 30 years will explain why the wording of the scenarios is always extremely cautious: the list of totally unforeseen major events sets a discouraging standard. (Pearl Harbour, WW2, the Kippur Oil Crisis 1973, the fall of the Berlin Wall, September 11…)
My perception again is that the publication of the CIA doom scenario is not sufficient to set out a powerful global re-action. There are no political, social or cultural ears available to listen to the message – a dramatic, two-way, credibility gap.
What is needed is an action capable of addressing the vast majority of people to inform them about the real situation and the possible consequent consistent dangers or outcomes. An action capable of getting through the subliminal critical filter that prevents information reaching public consciousness and to direct consequent behavioural patterns.
Such an action implies a “cultural revolution” and the radical reassessment of our ways of “reading” what is going on in our lives.
This eventually requires a complete overhaul of our ways of retrieving and processing information, learning, evaluating and understanding. The whole paradigm of knowledge is at stake.

Second Lecture
The second lecture will be about our learning process: The damage caused by conformist education to the innate potential of our brain for holistic understanding of complex realities. In the same lecture I will briefly deal with “mistakes” and with “culturally” induced mistakes.
For the last few centuries the teaching methods and procedures of the Western school systems have been based upon an ambiguous mixture of Aristotelian/Cartesian logic: we understand by simplifying, we learn through analysis. We reduce a complex, intertwined and dynamically changing reality to single parts and bits so that our brain can comprehend each one of them; then we assume that we know the whole because we think that knowing the parts implies knowledge of the whole. Throughout this paper I have done this repeatedly. I cannot escape the deeply embedded habit and conditioning. Unfortunately I am a product of the system.
To make the process easier, or as a result of that same process, during the last 20 centuries we have built a set of disciplinary categories: physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, philosophy… The main disciplinary fields have then been further reduced into sub chapters: arithmetic, algebra, analysis, mechanics, quantum mechanics, nuclear physics, organic chemistry, bacteriology …
We have extended this reductionism operation to every field of knowledge: history, geography, astronomy, oceanography, earth sciences, and zoology…
Ironically, even philosophy has been dismembered according to various categories: the Greek philosophers, atomists, stoicisms, German idealism, English positivism, Heidegger, existentialism, aesthetics, ethics, historic materialism…
Even our life is organised in sections and chapters (childhood, adolescence, youth, maturity, old age, very old age and the terminal stretch) and I suspect that even the best of us has an index!
So radical and strong has been the reductionism operation that different cultures, languages and anthropological profiles have been set up. Fences between disciplines, so useful to organise our books on the shelves of a library, have created different cultural territories with no connecting communication. Different and sometimes mutually hostile values have grown in time and with the help of “academies”.
Think about the cultural/social implications of the professional qualification of “accountant” or “quantity surveyor”. Ask a quantum physicist his opinion on engineers (do not even mention architects or zoologists). Even within the domain of engineering, consider the attitude of electronic engineers towards mechanical engineers, or civil engineers. I do not wish to elaborate any further on this matter that could have a sarcastic twist. I will leave it to you to consider the implications on our daily life: what does an optician think of a grocer, or a psychiatrist of a dentist…not to mention the estate agent or car salesman!
Let us go back to reductionism and analysis. What I am worried about is the automatic operation of this mindset. We reduce to parts. We analyze in order to understand the whole. I do not know what we understand, but certainly the level of comprehension is minimal and the substance is biased.
This “Cartesian” approach has been subject to a heavy critical process during the last 50 years: it slowly deteriorated and was eventually completely destroyed. The “lethal” critic came from many of the separated disciplines: quantum physics, mathematics, biology, and biochemistry.
Deterministic attitudes are still active out there and still causing damage, but the main strongholds of “deterministic certainty” have been dealt a fatal blow.
The clear and undeniable fact that has annihilated the reductionist learning logic (possibly unjustly attributed to Descartes) is that “the whole is different from the sum of its parts”. This simple truth is also a cognitive curse: the whole is different and, moreover, we do not know it. Since the whole is different from the sum of its parts it defies our knowledge procedure. When we act on the whole equipped with the specialist knowledge of its parts, we are bound to make mistakes. From this point of view the history of the last 30-50 years of science is the history of the long fight of a few “visionaries” to rebuild a holistic approach to our learning and understanding processes.
Einstein was probably the first “agent provocateur” when he started messing around with space and time, destabilising the entire scientific castle at the beginning of the last century (1900).
Others contributed to the assault against the reductionist wall subverting Newtonian categories with new insights on particles or vibration energy flows and quantum mechanics (Planck, Schrödinger, Prigogine and Petrosky).
Jacques Monod et al started demolishing the established belief, speculating on the continuity between chemistry/physics and biology. The present day debate (1970-2000) on self-organisation trends in very complex systems (order at the border of chaos) opens a new territory of knowledge, the limits of which are not yet conceivable (physics, cosmology, space biology).
In the field of humanities, liberal arts and cognition sciences, we are still behind: History, geography, economy, cultural anthropology, are still isolated disciplines well in control of the old proto “Cartesian” reductionism.
Ambassadors and pompous delegations are shared from time to time and fake “trans-disciplinary” seminars are organised so that the various ‘high priests’ can exchange elegant innuendoes and slurs, gift- wrapped in academic silk. The disciplines remain segregated in their sectarian logics, unable to share knowledge and information and to grow beyond the provincial boundaries of self-imposed apartheid. Order and related immobility dominate, unchallenged, as if maximum entropy had been reached whereas energy differentials are still explosive.
The battle to promote a different mind set, a holistic attitude for the exploration of the World has another formidable enemy: Religion -
In its various guises and under the different forms in which it is marketed: political faith, philosophical credo, spiritual fanaticism, gullibility, existential fear, and presumption of truth, racism, cultural arrogance, and totalitarianism.
The dwellers within the various religious fortresses know quite well that when other castles fall, their strongholds will also crumble. This is why their resistance is so fierce. It is indeed a challenge to an alluring battle.

Moving towards a new cognition paradigm
I proposed the assumption that the origin of our inability to understand the world (and the complex dynamics that move within it) is the result of specialization and the reductive analysis that is peculiar to our cognition process.
I think that our brain is quite capable, from a structural point of view, to comprehend and manage complexity and a chaotic information environment, which are the essence of the real world. This capability has been seriously damaged by our education system which, for the sake of presumed rationality and teaching simplification, has systematically destroyed all its potential to operate according to fuzzy logic and holistic methods. However, The memory of that capability may still be there, much as our shoulder blades are the truncated remnants of wings that never evolved sufficiently for us to fly. Somewhere inside our brain there are the truncated remnants of a holistic cognitive process that has not evolved sufficiently for our complete comprehension.
We must now find a way to retrieve a holistic perception of the complex reality around us, assuming that the reductive canon has not yet entered our genetic profile.
Our suspicion of the existence of a holistic M.O. may be a positive sign. The Learning Process:
The process through which we “learn” has been a field of research for centuries. Modern neuro-science and modern means of exploring explore the “brain environment” in action have revealed some mechanical procedures of our “hardware”: neurons zap about from one side of the brain to another even while we sleep and process experience, store data in some order in some place, but exactly how “notions” are extracted from experience and memorized in the ineffable enzymes/proteins of our grey blob is still pretty much a mystery. What kind of, and how much “operating system” do we already have in our brain cells when we are born and how much is added while we go through the very first months of life and later on is a matter of wild speculation. Also, the peculiar ways of the “decaying” and inexorable progress to a world of dreams or silent darkness are not at all clear.
We can “analyze” the process and split it into parts and stages. That is what we are taught to do whenever we explore the “unknown”. It is arguable that the actual “learning process” of the brain is in any way similar to the simplified block diagrams that we produce. The actual connections seem to be “holistic”: it’s all there at the same moment. Retrieval of information is also a strange process: sometimes mental associations that allow us to remember are absolutely whimsical, as we have all experienced.
Let us consider more closely a possible sequence of the learning process:a. Setting up of the individual cultural base
b. Perception of the information environment
c. Interaction of perceived data and individual cultural
base
d. Assessment and comparative evaluation
e. Operational or behavioural choice
f. Ex post re-assessment
g. Feedback to a)
A)
Setting up the individual cultural base is a lifelong process: It starts with the very first days after birth (and maybe even earlier). It is comparable to a cognitive storm for the first few years of life, is moderated by the educational experience and goes on throughout our work or professional experience and daily menial chores. The last thing we learn is to die, but there is no feedback. We are our culture: it’s all there, values, ideal tensions, desires, frustrations, delusions, happiness, anger…
The establishment of this cultural asset takes years and as we grow older it gets more and more difficult to change or update. While during the first few years of life the process is dominated by the right hemisphere of the brain (the one that controls the left side of our body) that operates in a comprehensive, intuitive rather holistic way, later in life is dominated by the analytical left side of the brain.
Our comprehension capability level plummets and for some of us is wiped out completely. When that happens we understand only or mainly according to the established cognition paradigm. After 15-20 years the individual cultural base is defined and has a specific identity. The consequent behavioural patterns and character profile can be described and predicted - the territory of marketing and any other kind of manipulation: ideological, cultural, political…
The reaction of a frustrated football fan to a wrong call by a referee is not difficult to foresee. The housewife in front of the detergents shelf of the store automatically picks up the one that has been hammered into her brain by systematic, relentless, explicit or subliminal advertising. Like tame dogs we execute the trick we have been trained to perform. What we are tamed into doing by explicit advertising is of concern, but even more worrying is what we do as a result of unperceived, diffused, environmental conditioning. We are advertising fodder.
One of the products or results of the individual cultural base formation process is the establishment of interpretive patterns of the world around us and of our current consequential logic of understanding. Such patterns are not necessarily consciously perceived: they are more like a “mind-set”. Fritjof Capra (The turning point, part IV, chapter 9) has a good image: “The patterns of the external environment that we perceive are quite fundamentally based on the patterns we have inside.”
B)
The perception of the information environment is the continuous daily practice of retrieving information. We read the newspapers, watch TV, talk with friends and colleagues, we go to the movies, to the bank, shopping, to the beach, to play tennis…Each specific activity of our everyday life is a channel through which we gather information directly or indirectly; each situation is a “representation” of the world, partly genuine, partly manipulated.
Our analytical brain is not the best tool to grasp multiple correlations: Four mutually related dynamic phenomena are beyond the reach of most of us. To overcome this weakness our brain shifts into its simplified patterns or to its latent comprehensive paradigms, which become dangerous means of generalisation, yielding implausible conclusions or dismissing unmanageable input.
C)
The flow of incoming data is processed through our individual cultural base (and filter). We consciously or unconsciously dismiss unacceptable data or data we do not like or understand. We filter, simplify, adapt, interpret and thus shape up our personal image of reality (always some kind of projection of our interior patterns). This image is more or less sophisticated according to our culture and to many contingent conditions (worry, happiness, pressure, fear…) In the majority of situations this image compares well with the image that the “media” system wants us to have.
D)
According to the more or less complex and sophisticated image of the world, we update and integrate our set of assessment patterns: We elaborate our identity or position as related to the world. This process takes place both at conscious and unconscious levels. We know some of the things that change us and in what way, but some of the changes take place without us perceiving their happening. This is, in some ways, part of the process of getting old.
E)
With these patterns, culture and mind-set we make our choices and decisions. We invest, educate our children, work and contribute to the establishment of the information environment around us - a self-referential cycle.
F)
We may change our judgments and behavioural patterns as a consequence of different experiences: our cultural base becomes richer and more sophisticated. It is called “experience”. When we use it to update our mindset and our assessment values we are still critically active. If we use it to confirm the acquired mind-set our critical system is weakening.

Sociology, social psychology, psychiatry, medicine, teaching science and many other disciplines have contributed monuments of thinking to the above schematic outline. What the scheme illustrates is the vital importance of the “image”. Knowledge is the result of “image” retrieving, processing, comparing, reading, and understanding - a simple truth from the individual to the huge corporate empire. This is why so much money is invested in “image building” by anyone who has to operate within the global market - an image to sell, to communicate, to convince, to survive.

Nothing new here! We all know it and many among us are active members of the image machine. The strange thing is that this knowledge does not protect us. We take part in it and at the same time we are the happy subjects of the image machine. Diligent pawns of its establishment and perpetuation, we condemn and ostracise non-conforming behavioural modes, dismiss or deny the ones we do not like, radically remove the dangerous ones.A brief History of Information
A short perusal on how the learning paradigm has developed through the history of Homo sapiens could be useful and to consider the application of the scheme to the early Cro Magnon:
a. Setting up of the individual cultural base (memory)
b. Detection of the information environment
c. Interaction of perceived data and individual cultural base
d. Assessment and comparative evaluation (reasoning)
e. Operational or behavioural choice (decision making)
f. Ex post re-assessment
g. Feedback to a) (memory)
The anthropological cultural base of the individuals was dominated by tribe/family relationships and by environmental conditions. People applied and endured behavioural patterns, which were at the limits of tolerability; the environmental information was mainly dictated by survival necessities. The interaction between context and individuals was simple: ‘if I do not kill you, I will not eat and will die’, or ‘if I do not kill you, you kill me’. The assessment was blunt. The feedback was the satisfaction of having survived one more day and to have killed the opponent.
This exercise is simple but nevertheless it shows how effective was the scheme when applied to a primitive society. The individual cultural pattern was clear, simple and not distorted by ideological constraints. The environmental information reached the subjects in a very direct way. The evaluation and assessment procedures were brutally effective. The relationship between information and individual behavioural modes was direct.
Things have changed with the introduction of supernatural forces and entities. When simple answers could not be given to explain events and phenomena, abstract entities were invented (spirits, ghosts, genies, gods, fairies…) a huge step towards complexity of the information environment and for the individual cultural base.
For a few millennia, the subjects of the information game were limited: the king, the witch doctor, and the chief of the warriors. The tribe followed the tribal power logic.
We often wonder about the efficiency of the governing structures of primitive societies. They were effective because of the simple diagram of the “chain of command”. The Chief was beyond scrutiny and his orders were executed without question. This is not exactly what happens in a democratic structure and chain of command. In the Middle Ages, Popes and Emperors dictated their orders without any popular consultation: the time from the issue to execution of an order was minimal. Efficiency and effectiveness were the immediate result. Even if the communication was slow (a messenger from Rome to Paris would take 3-4 weeks to arrive) the simplicity of the executive structure more than compensated.
With the introduction of democracy and of the check and balance system, things have radically changed and the efficiency of the direct chain of command of primitive societies was lost.
Today we communicate in nanoseconds but the time to conceive and execute in the participated bureaucratic environment is of geological order.
Some “fossil” of the old effective structures remains in our modern society and we find it in organised crime. That is why it is efficient.
I am not carelessly promoting a return to monocratic regimes or for the sake of efficiency the reinstatement of mafia-like governance: better be careful with what one writes! The problem is not “democracy” but its implementation. We cannot manage democratic government with two hundred year old structures and procedural cultures.
Churchill’s famous observation that democracy was the worst system but the only acceptable one has been protecting an inefficient status quo for too long.
Information and data-processing technologies available today could bring back to democratic government the efficiency lost in centuries of slow decay from “democracy” to “democratism”, without sacrifice for the government of the people and making it effective.
The first quality leap of the information environment was made in 1455 with Gutenberg’s invention of the press. Radio (beginning of 1900) has been the second revolution used between the two Wars, during WW2 (Roosevelt, Churchill, Mussolini, Hitler) and right after WW2. TV was the third media revolution (1960) and we are today looking at the fourth huge change with cable TV, Internet, satellite supported communication systems and optic fibres.
The last revolution is still difficult to assess: the great difference with previous information technologies is the users participation potential. Internet is not a one-way system or top-down tool. It is a network of millions of connected users that can become producers of information with potentially awesome consequences on the information environment.
This powerful tool is being suffocated by the stupidity of the millions of purveyors of such things as Viagra, penis enlargement pills and pornography. This is a consequence of the total freedom that should be the matrix of the information revolution and the last useful confirmation of the invincible power of stupidity - The curse of Homo sapiens, the triumph of Homo Insipiens. Nevertheless if this way of using the system triumphs, we have to acknowledge the fact without moralist whingeing. So be it.

Mistakes
First of all, let me supply you with some interesting and paradoxical truisms about mistakes:

"Do not fear mistakes. There are none. Miles Davis
The only mistake I ever made was not listening to my gut. Lee Iacocca
A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines. Frank Lloyd Wright
The greatest mistake a man can ever make is to be afraid of making one. Elbert Hubbard
A mistake is not a failure. It is something that goes wrong... and then you fix it. You never fail until you stop trying. Suzie Heyman
If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner. Tallulah Bankhead
A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional, and are the portals of discovery. James Joyce
An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field. Niels Bohr
A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake. Confucius
There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth -- not going all the way, and not starting. The Buddha
A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. George Bernard Shaw
Mistakes show us what we need to learn. Peter McWilliams
Mistakes live in the neighbourhood of truth and therefore delude us. Rabindranath Tagore
Our 'mistakes' become our crucial parts, sometimes our best parts, of the lives we have made. Ellen Goodman
"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. Albert Einstein
When I make a mistake everyone can see it, but not when I lie. Johann von Goethe
Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. Mahatma Gandhi
When I have listened to my mistakes, I have grown. Hugh Prather
A mistake is an event, the full benefit of which has not yet been turned to your advantage. Edwin Land
I have learned throughout my life as a composer chiefly through my mistakes and pursuits of false assumptions, not by my exposure to founts of wisdom and knowledge. Igor Stravinsky
A just cause is not ruined by a few mistakes. Fyodor Dostoevsky
Every calamity is a spur and valuable hint. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Do not be embarrassed by your mistakes. Nothing can teach us better than our understanding of them. This is one of the best ways of self-education. Thomas Carlyle
I'd rather make a mistake than do nothing. Harry Chapin
Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life. Sophia Loren
The person interested in success has to learn to view failure as a healthy, inevitable part of the process of getting to the top. Dr. Joyce Brothers
Some of the best lessons we ever learn we learn from our mistakes and failures. The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future. Tyron Edwards
Not many people are willing to give failure a second opportunity. They fail once and it is all over. The bitter pill of failure is often more than most people can handle. If you are willing to accept failure and learn from it, if you are willing to consider failure as a blessing in disguise and bounce back, you have got the essential of harnessing one of the most powerful success forces. Joseph Sugarman
Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. Winston Churchill
A series of failures may culminate in the best possible result. Gisela Richter
Error is discipline through which we advance. William E. Channing
You always pass failure on the way to success. Mickey Rooney
Weinberg's Principle: An expert is a person who avoids the small errors while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.
What looks like a loss may be the very event which is subsequently responsible for helping to produce the major achievement of your life. Srully Blotnick
It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. Herman Melville
Best men are often moulded out of faults. Shakespeare
Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I'll show you a failure. Thomas A. Edison
I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone. Bill Cosby
My play was a complete success. The audience was a failure. Ashleigh Brilliant
Learning is never done without errors and defeat. Vladimir Lenin
I want to suggest to you today, that unless we have a tolerant attitude toward mistakes - I might almost say "a positive attitude toward them" - we shall be behaving irrationally, unscientifically, and unsuccessfully. Now, of course, if you now say to me, "Look here, you weird Limey, are you seriously advocating relaunching the Edsel?" I will reply, "No." There are mistakes - and mistakes. There are true, copper-bottom mistakes like spelling the word "rabbit" with three Ms; wearing e black bra under a white shirt; or, to take a more masculine example, starting a land war in Asia. These are the kind of mistakes described by Mr. David Letterman as Brushes With Stupidity, because they have no reasonable chance of success. John CleeseReading all these truisms, witty remarks and opinions about mistakes is enlightening. The general attitude towards mistakes seems to be a positive one.


However, an important part of the drama is missing here: none of the witty thoughts or one-liners shows any concern for the sacrifice and sorrow that our mistakes may cause to others. It looks as if we were the only ones to suffer or to learn from the consequences of our mistakes: Regrettably this is not so.
Even if it seems that mistakes are a very common occurrence, they are not the subjects of any training. The whole awesome monument of knowledge and education has the grand goal of avoiding mistakes by teaching how to do the right things, but no theoretical information is supplied about the very conceptual texture of mistakes. What are they made of, where do they come from, how do they happen? One would think that the best way to avoid something is to have a good knowledge of it.
Anyway, after having received our positive education and training we go into the real world and start from scratch "learning by our own mistakes". But still we know nothing about them, their "structure", their conceptual form, their environment and habitat, the recurring dynamics of their occurrence, their intimate relationship with our way of thinking and with our "culture". It is only later in life that we start to wonder, “Why did I do that”?
I will make an attempt to fill this gap with an exploratory note. The matter is certainly worth an in- depth treatise, but this is just a cursory perusal that I hope will encourage further thinking by interested parties.
A preliminary check from the dictionary is always useful:
Mistake: a wrong action or statement proceeding from faulty judgement, misunderstanding of the meaning or of the implication of something;
A wrong choice derived from ignorance or from faulty information, a deviation from a coded practice or from accepted behavioural paradigm.
I am not at all happy with these definitions: the idea that a mistake is necessarily and immediately "wrong" is arguable and the idea that it is due to "faulty information" or "misunderstanding" is also an unacceptable limit in a general definition.
Moreover to introduce the concept of "wrong" is extremely dangerous given the moralistic ambiguity of it. What is "wrong" and what is "right" is matter for another debate. Wrong compared to what? And right compared to what? For whom? Even utilitarian ethics may find it hard to negotiate this area, under a rigorous "Darwinist" assumption. I will simply dismiss the problem with a warning against any "teleological" interpretation of whatever. The whole process (whichever process) has no "goal". The presumption of a "goal" is the entrance to a world of obscurity.
There can be mistakes made on perfectly correct information or competent assumptions: there are always many options supported by the same solid evidence and exact information.
My definition of mistakes would be something like this:
The decision or the choice to do something or to proceed in some way which "later" turns out not to be the best thing to have done or the best way to proceed in the given circumstance.
By this definition of mine the mistake is actually a mistake only when you can see or prove that a different decision or choice would have been better. Lacking such proof, there is no mistake.

When a decision is made it is usually justifiable or understandable: it becomes a mistake only afterwards and only if a better alternative can be shown to have been available in the same circumstances. It can be years or just seconds after the decision is made. You may have the sudden vision of the mistake you are making in the same moment in which you pull the trigger and shoot, or you may be lucky enough never to know. Again there is a problem hidden in the term "better": define "better!
It seemed to be the right thing to do at the time…
If mistakes were the outcome of wrong or faulty information "mistakeology" would be an easy science: faulty information? OK mistake! Game over, end of story.
Unfortunately mistakes are made even when we have the competence and the right information. Which makes the matter more complicated and more challenging.
Decisions are usually made on the assessment of the alternatives: I would say that decisions made on a 99 to 1 chance are not difficult, but the real world is very seldom like that. Your options come usually at a rate of 48/52, 49/51. To put it bluntly it does not take a rocket scientist to choose between muck and money. Unfortunately though mucky money, or muck with some amount of money are the common occurrence.
There must be a generating "matrix" of mistakes that is subtler and more suggestive than ignorance or faulty information. Or, better, let us say that mistakes generated by ignorance or faulty information are not interesting: they can be detected easily and responsibilities may be easily identified.
I think that the true "matrix" is a cultural paradigm - A code that is rooted in our culture or in the values that drive our behavioural pattern in an implicit, subliminal, unconscious way.
If my assumption is true, our mistakes are "typical" of our personality/character. This also means that we always make the "same" mistake or that our mistakes are always of a similar "genre".

It could be a useful process to list our mistakes (we are the only ones who know them) and find their generating "matrix", or the general set of "values" that induce them. Which does not mean that we will be able to prevent them and avoid them. It only means that we may be able to identify the specific situations and behave with more caution while negotiating through them.
Dammed: I have done it again!
Elements of "generating matrixes".
Gender, race, nationality, language, education, profession, physical appearance & condition, political beliefs, social status, hierarchical level, income, greed, compassion, ethical values, religion, wealth, age, Zodiac sign, environmental background & context, health, panic, fear, serendipity …… For the same individual these "elements" may play a different role in different moments of life or in different circumstances, but the general "pattern" of the matrix over the years will have a specific individual identity.
It’s like the weather: the set of elements is the same: temperature, radiation, relative humidity, wind velocity, barometric pressure…but for a given place the "pattern" of their combination yields a specific climatic identity. It will never snow in Scarborough and the chances of having a fresh Southwesterly wind setting in at 11.30 are pretty high every day, in the summer.

Third lecture
The third lecture will deal with the science of complexity and chaos: I will peruse through a short history of the new discipline and its main masters (Monod, Prigogine, Lorenz, Kauffmann, Johnson, Mitchell). I will also analyze the potential of the science of complexity for the possible better management of information and knowledge.
If analytical reduction to parts and elements is what keeps us from holistic comprehension of complex realities, we must re-invent our learning modes.
The amount of literature on this problem is enormous: It seems a lot of people have written a great deal about how to teach and how to learn - Thinkers, pedagogues, cognition scientists.
As a result of my research, the following description is the one I like most:
“The best method for analyzing human cognitive behaviour lies in the analysis of the task rather than in attempting to analyze the methods used by the human to solve the problem”.
The practical learning iterated cycle is:
Action 1, comparative assessment 1, feedback 1,
Action 2, comparative assessment 2, feedback 2,
Action 3, comparative assessment 3, feedback 3,
Action 4…
The cycle builds up a set of data that continuously enriches the “assessment stage” and “feedback” through a consistent “memory” of data and experiences.
The pre-school child learns by following a process that has been deleted from our adult minds and that we must recover.
Anyone who has carefully observed the learning processes of a small child would have noticed the powerful teaching content of the action/assessment/feedback cycle. The learning process of a pre-school infant’s mind is not hindered by grammatical or rational rules: the process is naturally holistic.
Let’s have a closer look at the “task analysis”:
When I hammer a nail into a block of wood, with each strike I have empirical experience and store information.
After the first strike I already have a considerable number of experimental inputs that I use to inform me prior to the second.
Each strike is different, each informed by the preceding one and informing those that follow. The learning sequence is repeated with each new nail: the more or less cautious “testing” attitude is gradually abandoned and shortened while the operator develops more expertise.
The “feedback” gradually draws from a wider set of memorized data increasing the expertise and the overall efficiency of the operation.
A breakdown of the experience would include the following elements:
The sound indicates the precision of the strike and the resistance to penetration;
The amount of penetration at each strike indicates the percentage of nail that has already entered into the block;
The two elements inform on the tenacity of the connection that the nail will secure;
The sound changes completely when the nail is totally stuck in the block: any further hit is useless and can actually weaken the connection reducing the attrition between nail surface and wood through heat and vibration;

This learning sequence action/comparative-assessment/feedback is confirmed as we increase the number of experiences (i.e. nails hammered).
We can then write a nail-hammering manual: with a very detailed description of the learning experience and all the related observations (depth, sound, resistance etc.).
The manual of the perfect nail hammerer may be useful to reduce the learning cycle, but if you compare the ability of a nail hammerer who has put in 100 nails, but has not read the manual, with the ability of a nail hammerer who has only read the manual, but has never struck a nail, you will see that the one who has learned by doing is much more capable than the one who has learned by “reading”.
My conclusion is that “action” is a holistic learning process and is much more effective than an “analytical reductionism” learning process.
The amount of information gathered through practical operation and the amount of internal relationships between each piece of information is much more complex than any descriptive manual can ever be.
To confirm this conclusion scientifically, I would have to compare 1000 theoretical nail hammerers with 1000 practical nail hammerers granting all of them the exact comparable environmental conditions: I am applying for a grant in order to carry out this very modest research project!
Many peculiarities of craftsmanship are also the result of the personal subjective attitude of the operators. Some of them are useful, some just a matter of “style”, more or less indicative of effective ability.
It is undoubtedly true that in order to become a smooth operator one has to hammer a lot of different nails, with a lot of different hammers into a lot of different blocks or planks of timber and in many different positions.
The difference between the expert and the beginner is very obvious to any observer.
This observation in agreement with the power law of practice. This law simply states that the logarithm of the reaction time for a particular task decreases linearly with the logarithm of the number of practice trials taken. Qualitatively, the law only states that practice improves performance. However, the quantitative statement of the law and its applicability to a wide variety of different human behaviours -- immediate-response tasks, motor-perceptual tasks, recall tests, text editing, and more high-level, deliberate tasks such as game-playing -- have suggested it as a structural feature of the learning process.
One last comment: The operation of hammering a nail can be regarded as a complex operation for the purpose of this exercise. To make my point clear, imagine the operation of hitting a golf ball with a 3 wood for a 400-yard drive instead of hammering a nail.
A question that has always been the subject of much debate is whether the reading of a manual helps a beginner to cut his learning time or to make him a better operator?
Rivers of academic blood have been shed on this matter. There is no clear answer to the question. Preliminary theoretic study is sometimes useful, sometimes useless and sometimes even damaging, sometimes possible and sometimes not. There are no certainties.
Let us consider the case of languages: To learn the grammar and syntax of a foreign language before starting to talk maybe useful, but it is not necessarily so and can sometimes be a hindrance, because the fear of making mistakes delays the process of learning to speak.
An infant learns a different language with a very direct and practical procedure: he learns by listening and speaking, i.e. in a holistic manner.
An adult can do the same thing. Had he not forgotten how to do it.
This is yet another example of how complexity can be dealt with through a holistic approach whereas analytical procedures fail.
Chaos
Whereas we all have a more or less sophisticated idea of the meaning of this word we may not be familiar with the mathematical definition of it and with the recent history of mathematical speculation in the field.
According to the Dictionary (Webster)
Chaos: “State of things in which chance is supreme; nature that is subject to no law or that is not necessarily uniform; the confused unorganized state of primordial matter before the creation of distinct and orderly forms; confused mass or agglomerate of matters or heterogeneous items that are hard to distinguish, isolate, or interpret.
According to Edward Lorenz, the meteorologist who produced the first simplified mathematical simulation of the atmosphere (MIT 1956) a Chaotic system is a system that is sensitively dependent on interior changes in initial conditions.
The peculiarity of such a system is that any event that can take place can happen at any time. There is no mandatory, necessary or predetermined sequence of events.
Sensitive dependence on initial conditions is the key to conceptual understanding of Chaos and it’s interesting to know that we are indebted for the first glimpse into that scientific territory to the French mathematician/genius Henry Poincaré. He wrote in his essay “Science and Method” (1903):
“ If we knew exactly the laws of nature and the situation of the universe at the initial moment, we could predict exactly the situation of that same universe at a succeeding moment, but even if it were the case that the natural laws had no longer any secret for us, we could still only know the initial situation approximately. If that enabled us to predict the succeeding situation with the same approximation, which is all we require, and we should say that the phenomenon had been predicted, that is governed by laws. But it is not always so; it may happen that small differences in the initial conditions produce an enormous error in the latter. Prediction becomes impossible, and we have the fortuitous phenomenon.”
(See the butterfly story)
Lorenz ran into chaos more or less accidentally while he was trying to set up a system of equations capable of representing, in a simplified but significant way, the dynamics of the atmosphere and his purpose was dynamic meteorological forecasting (as opposed to statistical forecasting). He was working at the MIT before the “computer age” and his first computer was a Royal-McBee LGP-30 with an internal memory of 4096 32 bits words that performed a multiplication in 17 milliseconds and a full line of numbers in 10 seconds. One third of the memory was needed for the standard input and output programs (what we call today the Operating System - OS). By chance, luck and intelligent intuition Lorenz was eventually able to write a set of equations that represented a model of a “deterministic non periodic flow”: the embryo of which, many years later, became a dynamic atmospheric circulation model. Lorenz’s model had 12 variables: Present day atmospheric modelling tools used for weather forecasting have some five millions variables.
Here’s the story of the original discovery made by Lorenz:
In order to follow variations in weather conditions Lorenz set up a system in which he fed a set of initial conditions into the computer and allowed it to run on showing graphically the values taken by a single variable, such as temperature, over a long period of time. On one occasion he wished to examine part of one run in greater detail and fed in the conditions taken from an earlier run. To his surprise the computer produced a markedly different sequence from the original printout. Eventually Lorenz traced the source of the discrepancy. The initial conditions of the program, stored in the computer memory, had used the number 0.506127, correct to six decimal places; the printout however gave only three decimal places, 0.506. Lorenz, like everyone else, had assumed that so small a difference could have no significant effect. In fact, a small difference can, over a long period of time, build up to produce a large effect. Moreover, the way the difference affects the outcome is very sensitive to small changes. Technically this is termed “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”. More graphically, it is called the “butterfly effect”, from the idea that a single butterfly flapping its wings in China might, weeks later, “cause” a hurricane in New York.
The butterfly effect occurs because the weather depends on a number of factors – temperature, humidity, airflow, radiation etc. – and these are to a certain extent interdependent. Thus the way the temperature changes depends on the humidity, but this depends on temperature. Consequently equations relating these factors are “nonlinear” - a variable is a function of itself. And it is this non-linearity that causes the sensitive dependence on initial conditions. The weather is a system that repeats itself, but it repeats itself in an unpredictable way.
There are a number of similar nonlinear systems…the study of such systems has come to be known as “chaos theory”.
It is interesting to note that Lorenz was proceeding from mathematics towards reality: i.e. he was trying to set up a system of equations that could simulate a non-periodic behavioural pattern. He was not measuring a number of variables of a physical system and trying to put them into a set of equations.
An intriguing aspect of chaotic sequences is the concept of “attractor” (a name invented by Ruelle in 1971) and even more intriguing is the concept of “strange attractor”.
The terminology may be confusing and misleading. It took me a while to understand what the two concepts actually represented.
Lorenz supplied the best description (The Essence of Chaos, page 39):

“If we take a look at some real world phenomenon that has caught our attention, we are likely to find that certain conceivable modes of behaviour simply do not occur. A pendulum in a clock in good working order will not swing gently at times and violently at others; every swing will look like every other one. A flag in a steady breeze will never hang limp, nor will it extend itself directly into the breeze, no matter how long we wait. Subfreezing temperatures will not occur in Honolulu, nor will relative humidity of 15%. The states of any system that do occur again and again, or are approximated again and again, more and more closely, therefore belong to a rather restricted set. This is the set of attractors.”

When the graphical representation of the set of values of an attractor has a very identifiable pattern or appearance it is called a “strange attractor”.
The presence of strange attractors is partly responsible for the recent surge of interest in chaos.
An attractor is a recurring set of values in a chaotic phenomenon and a strange attractor is the striking appearance of some of the attractors when graphically represented.
It is the discovery of strange attractors that suggested the possible existence of some intrinsic order beyond, within, or on the margin of chaos. Lorenz calls the attractors “the heart of Chaos”. Which maybe a romantic, but it is not a stimulating definition.
The assumption of a possible order beyond chaos has led to speculation of possible “control” of chaos.
In my opinion, all the work in this area is flawed by a serious conceptual contradiction: Whereas the very concept of chaos is the victory of uncertainty and indeterminism over historic determinism (Marx et al), the speculation of inferring control of chaos through mathematical modelling is fundamentally deterministic.
If the lesson of chaos is to be learned, the logical sequence goes from the measurement of the real world to its eventual probabilistic representation.
Complexity
According to Webster’s Dictionary:
Complex: having many varied interrelated parts, patterns or elements and consequently hard to fully comprehend.
Complexity: the quality or state of being complex.
Not much to add there: Complexity and chaos are often used as synonyms even if they are not. It is true that chaotic systems are always complex but it is not true that complex systems are always chaotic, even if we may perceive them as such.
Fractals
Fractals are diagrams generated by more or less simple mathematical or geometrical rules. The exercise of generating a fractal tree is very simple, but when the rules are more sophisticated the process can become highly complex and “chaotic”. There is an intriguing connection between fractals and chaotic non-periodic systems: strange attractors are usually fractals.
My remote assumption here is that fractals could be useful to represent a consistently measured and codified complex reality.
For a thorough treatise on fractals see Benoit Mandelbrot “How long is the coast of Britain”.
Stuart Kauffman and the Santa Fe Institute
In his three compelling books (see Bibliography) Stuart Kauffmann, starting from the scientific fundamentals of Schrödinger, Prigogine, Lorenz and connecting Biology, Physics, Mathematics, Philosophy and Semantics, seeks with bald assumptions the “unified field” of Science. His starting point is that, as the complexity of systems increases, endogenous self-organization trends set in. He assumes this and provides many supporting examples, but no hard evidence. From that he goes on (Investigations page 34):
“The Ghadiri experiments open the door to work on self reproducing molecular systems in complex chemical reaction networks where the substrates and products are all peptides. The field of molecular diversity, generating trillions of more or less random DNA, RNA, and protein sequences, means that we can create complex reactions at will. Since DNA, RNA, and proteins can all bind to, and presumably also catalyze, reactions concerning the other classes of polymers, there is no reason not to seek autocatalytic and collectively autocatalytic systems of DNA, RNA, and protein species simultaneously.
Nor is the search for self-reproduction limited to linear polymers. Julius Rebek at Scripps has created a self-reproducing molecular system based on heterodimerization of complex organic molecules, calixarene urea.
So, in the American vernacular, (watch this! note of LM) self-reproducing molecular systems are a done deal.”

With all the revolutionary consequences such as:
The first real hints of a general biology and a broad basis of life in the universe.
New concepts about the origin of life on Earth.
The first hints of a new technology based on self-reproducing evolvable molecular systems.
The hard, hard push to explore a “terra nova”
Again Kauffmann:
“ I wish to say that life is an expected, emergent property of complex chemical reaction networks…if so, we are birthed of molecular diversity, children of second generation stars.”
Kauffmann extends the consequences of his revolutionary assumptions to the fields of ethics, semantics and economics, but I will leave him for a while. After Kauffman, a lot of the “complexity debate” has dealt with information, knowledge management, system optimization and schools of thought and businesses have thrived on this idea, selling it for whatever their scope and purpose.
A radical change
I am fascinated by Kauffmann’s assumptions and I accept them for what they are: In due time we will see if his theory is right or wrong. His supporting documentation is impressive, but as he himself frequently advises, it is not evidence. His thoughts represent and maybe are beyond the thinking of many others in the debate. James Lovelock was one, who proposed the idea of an environmental global unity and made the mistake of calling it Gaia thus irritating the lay conscience of scientists. Gregory Bateson integrated the concept of evolution with the idea that species evolve with their environment and the process could be better referred to as co-evolution. Prigogine deconstructed the deterministic view of the world and “proved” that there cannot be such a thing as certainty. Prigogine was probably the first to introduce the concept of self-organisation in complex systems with rigorous mathematical theoretical support.
What I particularly like about the whole complexity, chaos, end of certainty debate is the fact that historic determinism is definitively overruled by this debate, which I consider very timely. So many mistakes have been made by people who thought to be historically right and so much suffering has been caused by this arrogant mindset that the end of it must be blessed and welcomed.
One of the most compelling emergences from the debate is the “olonomic” peculiarity of the universe: a system made of parts where every part contains/represents the whole system.
The other point that I gather from this debate is that an experimental representation of a phenomenon can lead to its holistic understanding: this very basic suggestion, so clear in some of the observations made by Edward Lorenz, has been lost in subsequent development of the complexity debate. I would like to recover the powerful suggestion with a proposal aimed at “knowing what is actually going on”.
I apologize if the preliminary discussion for this proposal took a rather long time, but I think that the elements of the preliminary discussion will prove to be useful for the understanding and possible implementation of my proposed “knowledge machine”.
My idea is simple: Instead of progressing from the general theory towards praxis along Kauffmann’s lines, let us see if we can approach the problem from the other direction.
Let us start from the facts and see if we can derive from them a comprehensive (holistic) vision of reality.


Fourth Lecture
In the fourth lecture I will try to explain how understanding the concepts of complexity and chaos may help us in our daily lives. I will present the general outline of a possible method of codifying and processing information in order to identify current trends at various levels of specificity.“ We are observing the birth of a science that is no longer limited to idealized and simplified situations, but reflects the complexity of the real world, a science that views us and our creativity as part of a fundamental trend present at all levels of nature.”
(Ilya Prigogine “The end of certainty”, 1997)
The more precisely the position (of a subatomic particle) is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.
(Werner Heisenberg, uncertainty paper, 1927)
Explanatory Note:
Heisenberg had a shocking but clear realization about the limits of physical knowledge: the act of observing alters, at least at the subatomic level, the reality being observed. To measure the properties of a particle such as an electron, one needs to use a measuring device, usually light or radiation. But the energy in this radiation affects the particle being observed. If you adjust the light beam to accurately measure position, you need a short-wavelength, high-energy beam. It would tell you position, but its energy would throw off the momentum of the particle. Then, if you adjust the beam to a longer wavelength and lower energy, you could more closely measure momentum, but position would be inaccurate.
The [Heisenberg] theory yields a lot, but it hardly brings us any closer to the secret of the Old One. In any case I am convinced that He does not throw dice.
(Albert Einstein, writing to Max Born, 4 December 1926)There is no consequential relationship between Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy (the uncertainty principle) and the first attempt to describe non-linear systems and dynamics (Lorenz 1956), hence chaos and complexity (Santa Cruz Collective 1977), but some logical likeness is striking. Heisenberg states the limit of physical measurement (the act of observing alters the reality being observed). The sciences of complexity state that the very concept of chaos defies its definition.
Heisenberg had his intuition while dealing with subatomic particles; Lorenz while working with macro-scale atmospheric dynamics; the Santa Cruz Collective, Prigogine and later the Santa Fe institute while dealing with protein molecules.
It is useful here to quote Heisenberg again: “The path is there because we observe it.” The connection is there because we sense it.
There is one interesting factor about these different experiences: they were all transferred to absolute contexts and to a level of universality that was not in the minds of the original authors.
Heisenberg found that you couldn’t measure the speed of a particle and its position because if you measure the speed you are bound to change its position. The translation by the philosophers was: the act of observing alters the reality being observed. But even beyond that, Heisenberg inferred that even when you “talk” about something that something is “altered” by your talking…
Kauffmann’s statement that in some protein cultures some variations that lead to self reproduction may occur, is being pushed towards the assumption that there is order at the margins of chaos, and now the whole complexity debate is referred to the widest possible conceptual definition of knowledge. The question that has been at the very heart of philosophical research for quite a few centuries remains:
The never-ending question: What is it all about?
There is some interest in that strange “transfer”. It is usually philosophy that grasps the very general truths whereas physical experiences can only verify them.
Heisenberg found the principle of indeterminacy while working in his lab or while trying to think of a physical method to measure the speed and the position of subatomic particles. After that the principle became a very general philosophical statement: the act of observing alters the reality being observed. When you analyse something you change it, so you can never be sure of what you have actually analysed, the actual event/phenomenon or that phenomenon as changed by your observation: Tantalising!
Here’s is an excerpt of a conversation on the subject between Einstein and Heisenberg as reported by the latter:
From Heisenberg, Physics and Beyond, Arnold J. Pomerans, trans. (New York: Harper, 1971), p. 63.
Heisenberg: "We cannot observe electron orbits inside the atom...Now, since a good theory must be based on directly observable magnitudes, I thought it more fitting to restrict myself to these, treating them, as it were, as representatives of the electron orbits."
"But you don't seriously believe," Einstein protested, "that none but observable magnitudes must go into a physical theory?"
"Isn't that precisely what you have done with relativity?" I asked in some surprise...
"Possibly I did use this kind of reasoning," Einstein admitted, "but it is nonsense all the same....In reality the very opposite happens. It is the theory which decides what we can observe."So here we are, after fifty years of theoretical mulling.
We live in a complex, chaotic world that we try to analyze and understand with a grossly inadequate mindset - the assumption that we can control the uncontrollable by means of its categorization into elemental parts.
Many attempts have been made to simplify the problem. People faced with this impossible task decided that there is no need to know the whole complex process. We can rely on just one or two basic undeniable dynamics and hence draw our conclusions.
The demographic time bomb is one of the most popular “all encompassing” dynamics: Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) two centuries ago and very recently Paul & Anne Ehrlich have been elaborating on this. The Planet will not support 12 billion inhabitants so before we reach that number some radical “culling” will take place, one way or another: war, famine, plague, nuclear war, and/or climate change…
Another prophet of the “die-off” is Jay Hanson (see his website dieoff.org) who combines global warming, demography and oil depletion to forecast the end of ‘happiness’ on the Planet within the next ten years. This is also known as the Olduvai Theory after R. Duncan’s book.
The simplification of a complex reality to one or two of its variables cannot be accepted as a valid assumption. Major changes will occur on account of overpopulation and oil depletion, but human settlement on the Planet will not come to an end for that reason. Radical catastrophic adaptation will eventually prevent the end, at a very high cost. What “radical adaptation”, how and what cost? We could know something more and possibly devise alternative strategies if we had a better idea of the present complex dynamics as they effectively develop and not according to a simplified paradigm.
A set of parameters could be better: demography, oil depletion, food production, and water scarcity.
Again, my objection here would be that such a set does not have any redeeming potential: it is a doom-laden set, and I believe that the system may have a chance for a rebounding potential before the final catastrophe, or during it.
Some famous studies chose a set of parameters and played with them to see if they could find the “limits of growth” or go “beyond the limits of growth”: At the time (1960s) this was a groundbreaking experience and for me, still today, a great reference if the necessary corrections are made.
The strange thing is that deep in our unconscious minds we are all quite convinced that there is “that” particular thing which is connected with all the rest and can give meaning to it all. Is this wishful thinking, delusion or another cultural fossil? Is there actually such a thing as King Arthur’s’ “Holy Grail” in the field of information?
Our assessment of the world is substantially affected by our inner paradigms: we have the tendency to project our inner categories as structures for our understanding of the reality around us. This could lead to other ways of grasping a holistic sense of “what it is all about” or “what is actually going on”, viewing the world from a different standpoint than “our specific selves”. If we forget about our individual ego and try to put ourselves into a collective, social, environmental ego, we may be able to see things differently. Not necessarily in a holistic way, but maybe in a way which is not strongly tainted by our “mindset”.
The results may not be exciting, but it is a good exercise to go outside our psychologically fenced and protected territory and to try to see what a collective/social soul could see.
In a similar way, we could try to overcome the specific “time limits” of our assessment of the World: Instead of thinking in terms of years/decades let us try to think in terms of centuries or millennia and project our perception of the present situation into that time frame.
Any effort to escape the current “antropocentric” ways to perceive the environment can be useful to minimize the powerful subjective condition which is inherent to our natural way of assessing what is around us.

About a different conceptual Time
The problem with time comes out whenever any attempt is made at understanding ”what it’s all about”, probably because time is the most subtle and damning entity or dimension we have to deal with. Mass, volume, space, sizes, light, colours, heat and sound relate almost directly to our physical tools for the perception of the environment around us: we can touch, feel, see, hear, compare…but time is ineffable. There is no direct tool in our body to sense it but the process of aging: our cells change, perish and are constantly disturbed by time.
The mechanical measurement of time is conventionally related to the astronomical movements of our planet, but our perception of it is thoroughly subjective and beats any attempt at standardization.
Seconds seem to last hours when we are in pain and days pass in seconds when we are happy. Things that happened twenty years ago are perceived as having happened one or two years ago, while things that happened a week ago are perceived by our memory in the far away past.
When we are young, time seems endless and as we get older the fact that time is a limited entity becomes disturbingly evident.
The most significant thing we do with time is to plan or to think ahead: programs for the coming week, month, season, and year. We set forth deadlines, goals, and targets for us and for the community we are responsible for. So the present has already gone because we live it performing tasks and things that had been described long ago. Programming and planning maybe useful from a social and economical point of view: for banks, financial institutions and governments, but for individuals is a waste of life.
Life is living what happens, not what has been programmed or planned to happen. In some way things planned have already been lived.
Of course one could argue that nothing always happens according to plans: so there is some sense of life even in going through carefully planned "agendas", but the forward expectation is certainly damaged.
Newtonian physics, relativity and quantum physics have not yet been able to find an agreement on “time” and none of the three time entities seems to accommodate the human feeling of time.
If we are to find some different way of knowing things and of learning about what is around us we most certainly have to solve our problem with time.
The big questions are if time has an arrow (which means starts from somewhere and goes somewhere else), if it has always been or if it started with the big bang, if it will go on forever or if it will eventually end with the big crunch (the opposite of the big bang).
Some authors even argue that there is no such a thing as time: it is a non-entity. Time does not pass, it does not flow: we change, we pass. As Balbour says: “there is not an instant in time, time is in an instant”.
I remember a few years ago stating as a general life assessment rule a rather cryptical motto:
"Here and now ...forever". Think about it: it's not completely off mark.


Time is things happening. If nothing happens is there no time?
The more things happen the more time, the less things happen the less time.
Time is only now, tomorrow is not yet and yesterday is gone.
Time is our consciousness of it: there is no sense of time when we are not conscious (knocked out by anaesthetic), but our cells perish even while we are unconscious.
We are time-conscious in our natural sleep because when we wake up we know that we have slept, we remember dreams (more or less vaguely) and the sleeping experience.
Our body has a natural clock hidden somewhere in the metabolic processes, but that clock is not available to our conscious mind.
Time may be the process of decay of the physical environment, the process of achieving maximum entropy.
Time can only be represented by changes, movements or processes: in absence of which is only a rational concept.
Thus we have a keen perception of time in its relationship with speed as distance/time and that perception saves us from horrible accidents every day when we drive a car or cross the street. We cannot easily dismiss Newtonian time.
So, there is time according to Newton, time according to Einstein and Poincare and time according to Schrödinger and Heisenberg, but there is also a different time as a condition on human memory, mind and body.
We perceive time because events happen one after the other: night, day, weeks, months, seasons, get up, have breakfast, go to the office, read the newspaper, grow up, get married, have kids, grow old, die.
We also see things change accordingly: trees, flowers, clouds, weather, rivers etc.
This is the natural reason for our instinctive deterministic attitude: the event B happens after the event A and thus we see it as a consequence or determined by the event A. Which, regrettably, may be true in a lot of happenstances, but never necessarily, or unconditionally true.
Nature has imposed on us the expectation syndrome. Since nights always follow days, the set of events B will always follows the set of events A, we assume that as a normal rule or necessary condition.
We get confused when we use our human time paradigm for astronomical events and we say that stars shine: we should say that stars were shining a few million years ago. We will never see the real sky above us. Possibly no human being will ever see it.
To attempt a holistic vision of the World we must overcome the condition imposed by time linearity and by the consequent inevitable determinism and expectation syndrome.
The events, changes and sequences of happenings are different for different places and for different observers. Their ranking in terms of importance and impact are different. The vision of the environment or the history they define will be different and possibly conflicting.
If we conceive sets of events and processes and we organize and assess those events for specific scopes we may obtain different images of the World around us. With the appropriate choice of sets we may be able to control the expectation syndrome, for a specific purposes. Like focussing an image or zooming into it.
The perception of time could be radically different and suggest completely different evaluations and assessments.
It is impossible to process events in this way unless we use a powerful data processing tool.

Enter science fiction
How do we recover a “holistic” approach for the comprehension of complexity today? That is beyond the possibilities of the analytical mindset.
If we think about the kind of organisation needed to deal analytically with the task, it would be some gigantic beaurocratic institution.
The amount of information to deal with is enormous, produced in millions of words every minute around the world. Gathering, selecting, and processing it, would be an unmanageable operation. The professional multidisciplinary competence to sift through, evaluate and assess each news item and event would involve thousands of people and an incredible amount of hardware, with offices and agencies scattered in many cities of the world – a structure unthinkable without a budget in the range of billions per year. If it were ever to be set up, the chances are that its operation would be a nightmare and the output would be a huge indecipherable mass.
It is also very difficult for Western Culture to recover the mindset and the means of the Eastern culture: Centuries of assumed “rationality” and pragmatism will not be bridged in a few decades. If we are ever able to recover from this situation it will be by means of the same technology and mindset that brought us into the quagmire: only used in a different way.
What could be the “self-organising” innate process capable of producing some order at the border of this non-linear chaotic and highly complex state of affairs?
The only thing I can think of is a properly devised application of the formidable data-processing potential of the computer, able to deal with billions of data per second.
The problem is how to go from the billions of words to a formatted package ready to be processed to yield a usable representation or image of “what is actually going on”.
The process should be born “within” the complex dynamic non linear system: news and information should be issued or produced, with its own inbuilt codes. Suppose any “producer of information” (basically each one of us) codifies his/her output according to content, social and political relevance, geography, financial impact, environmental impact … it should not be too difficult to forward the codes to “collecting devices” properly placed on the WWW and equipped with processing software.
For the sake of this exercise, let us imagine that this part is feasible: Any producer of information can codify its product with a code and forward the code to a proper collecting device on the WWW.
What kind of code?
The code should qualitatively and quantitatively (where possible) profile the event according to its relevant features. For example:
® financial qualification
® economic relevance
® energy relevance
® environmental relevance
® geographic location
® extension in space
® duration in time
® genetic-biologic relevance
® social qualification
® political qualification
® cultural qualification
® ideological qualification
® criminal qualification
® religious qualification
® bottom up/bottom down
® mafia qualification
® military qualification
® arm traffic relationship
® drug traffic relationship
® direct interactions
® ……..
® Forwarding address
Clearly, such a sophisticated codification requires specific disciplinary competence: but who is more competent and knowledgeable that the producer of the information himself? Something similar is currently done today with the ISBN book classification: i.e. a codification (numbers or bar code) produced by the same author of the book.
The processing algorithm
Let me say a little about the kind of processing that should be carried out on the “package” of codes.
To describe the type of processing, we have to imagine the kind of output we want from the “knowledge machine”.
We can imagine either a literary product or an image output.
The literary product can be envisaged as a descriptive “trend” similar to the CIA trends. The algorithm will produce the descriptive trend, picking up parts of pre-edited sentences from a huge “sentence reservoir” or glossary.
The elemental parts from the “glossary” will collate into an understandable descriptive profile that will tell us to what kind of holistic trend the millions of input codes lead.
The image could be a “landscape” organized in regions related to specific features of the profile (financial, economic, social, environmental) represented in various colours according to urgency, gravity, severity etc. To add information content, readability and flexibility to the image this could be organized in diagrams that show the landscape associated with a third dimension (time? space? …). The algorithm will “paint” the ongoing scenario choosing the colours from a “palette”. Each colour will relate to a feature of the scenario and the combinations related to interactive features. At a glance one will be able to grasp the planetary holistic situation. Specific images could be drafted for specific problems: like environmental decay related to fertilizer abuse, or the Carbon dioxide fallout of ongoing activities, the distribution of drug related criminality, belligerance around the World, morbidity etc.

The problem with this sketch of futuristic computer giants is not so much its feasibility: fifteen years ago WWW would have been classified as the dream of a madman. What is worrying is its consistency with the definition of a “holistic” way of comprehending the total complexity.
The shift from bits and elemental parts to the “whole” takes place within the processing algorithm, so one could well say that it’s the old trick played at a huge scale over and over again. What we are supplied with is the final output of a machine that still operates on elemental parts to produce the “holistic” landscape or scenario.
The “catch” is that the machine operates on millions of individual inputs and integrates them according to a computing process absolutely inconceivable for the human brain. Is this a condition capable of securing the shift from “bits and pieces” to “the Whole”?
This depends very much on the sophistication of the algorithm and on the articulate representation of the codes: how much space/time interaction can be played through the codes. What degree of specificity can they contain and deliver to the process. The sensitivity of the code must be matched by the sensitivity of the input operator and by the actual degree of specific knowledge in the field. But even then, the sophistication of the mathematical set of equations can play a major role.
A lot can be contained in the algorithm: literally millions of variables can be played and each specific feature of the code (even if ranked over a 0 to 10 scale) can then be processed with very sophisticated equations where thousands (millions) of interacting factors can be simulated. The limit is the actual scientific knowledge of phenomena, but whatever is reasonably known can be processed. Hypothetical simulation of unknown combinations can also be processed and depicted as hypothetical assumptions.
We can let our imagination provoke further thinking on this subject: the effects of Ocean temperature fluctuations due to El Nino on fish depletion in the Indian Ocean; or the effects of the Ozone Layer on orange plantations in Western Australia; or the consequences of European Union subsidies to rice farmers in the Po river valley on employement in Japan’s software industies - Poppy farming in Bolivia and jobs in arm factories in Maryland.Objections
The reactions of my friends, colleagues and critics to this sketchy proposal, range from curious, puzzled, outraged rebuttal, serious embarrassment, patronising understanding, friendly worry (like in “you ought to see a doctor Lorenzo”), cool non-commitment (like in: …” you probably should go fly a kite …”), positive listening, all the way to…enthusiastic approval (like in: “ yeah, great, cool man, go for it…” . I list here some of the most common objections:
Shit in, shit out: the “machine” will not give you anything more than what you put in.
I do not know: I would never be able to have any parameter play with thousands of interacting variables and I would never be able to represent a “trend scenario” with a colour landscape fed with literally millions of different colour shades. Nobody suspected the existence of “strange attractors” when they first started the diagrammatic representation of non-linear games. The shit in shit out paradigm was true when only little data and very simple algorithms were played with. When the data are in the millions and the algorithm is capable of processing millions of variables, there may be a different story. The sheer number of data will level individual subjectivity and specific mistakes.
Look at what has been happening in the field of weather forecasting in the last twenty years: Complex weather patterns are simulated with algorithms that have thousands, if not millions, of variables. Yet still the weather forecast over 30 days is unreliable, but you can rely on the 24 to 48 hrs forecast which you definitely could not do twenty years ago.
Who is going to input the codes?
The most competent body: the same that produces the information in the first place. This is interesting because it would comply with the intuition of the Santa Fe people that complex systems have a built-in self-organisation dynamic mechanism that automatically sets out “order”.
Who will define the codification system?
This will be one of the key operations of the project: the codes have to be easy to use and very sophisticated at the same time. Capable of profiling events and information through a wide set of qualitative and quantitative parameters. Potential interactions may be included and also rated in the code.
Why would people bother to codify their information?
Basically for the same reason they put the telephone number on their business card.
If you take part in the process you will have access to the output and specifically to the output related to your specific piece of information. If you produce information you are interested in knowing how that information compares with what is going on in the whole picture. The degree of consistency ..
The codes will be subjective and not reliable for an objective output
One or two or ten codes, but not millions of them and subjectivity will tend to flatten out with the number of entries.
The whole thing is a monster from the organisational point of view:
This same objection was made when the WWW was first proposed: In fact, once the codes and their format are established and the algorithms set up (which will be a huge expensive task) the whole system should coast along effortlessly.
Who is going to pay for the holistic project?
After the first injection of capital and labour once rolling on the WWW, the system will pay for itself and it may become a golden goose. if you deliver “trend scenarios” for 5 dollars each you can easily sell millions of them on the www - Like they are selling horoscopes now.

Lorenzo Matteoli
Scarborough
April 2004


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