The maze was created by laying a maze template down onto a plate of agar. In the first part of the experiment, pieces of slime mould Physarum polycephalum were placed throughout the 3x3cm maze. To grow, the slime mould throws out tube‐like structures called pseudopodia, and it soon filled the entire maze.
The maze had four routes through, to get from one exit to the other. Food was placed at both exits, and after eight hours, the slime mould had shrunk back so that its 'body' filled only the parts of the maze that were the shortest route from one piece of food to the
only the parts of the maze that were the shortest route from one piece of food to the other.
The researchers suggest that as the parts of the plasmodium come into contact with food, they start to contract more frequently. This sends out waves to other parts of its body which give feedback signals as to whether to grow further or contract. Ultimately, to maximise foraging efficiency, the plasmodium contracts into one thick tube, running through the maze.
Alexander Bogdanov's (1873‐1928, Bielorussian, bolshevik) original proposition ‐
Tectology ‐ consisted of unifying all social, biological and physical sciences, by considering them as systems of relationships, and by seeking the organizational principles that underly
all systems. His work "Tectology: Universal Organization Science", finished by the early 1920s, anticipated many of the ideas that were popularized later by Norbert Wiener in Cybernetics and Ludwig von Bertalanffy in the General Systems Theory. There are suggestions that both Wiener and von Bertalanffy might have read the German translation of "Tectology"
of Tectology which was published in 1928. In Russia, Lenin (and later Stalin) considered which was published in 1928 In Russia Lenin (and later Stalin) considered
Bogdanov's natural philosophy an ideological threat to the dialectic materialism and put tectology to sleep. The rediscovery of Bogdanov's tectology occurred only in the 1970s.
Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy (September 19, 1901, Atzgersdorf near Vienna, Austria – June 12, 1972, Buffalo, New York, USA) was anAustrian‐born biologist known as one of the founders of general systems theory. Von Bertalanffy grew up in Austria and subsequently ,
worked in Vienna, London, Canada and the USA.
Can systems learn “unconsciously”? 18
A time‐traveller to Florence back into the 1200s will find some of the landmark buildings already there: the baptistery of the Duomo the ancient city hall (Bargello) The broad outline of the streets would be already
baptistery of the Duomo, the ancient city hall (Bargello). The broad outline of the streets would be already there, only the names would be different, and the buildings will be different too. The language will be different, the culture, the way of dressing, the customs too, yet, the time‐traveller will know where to buy silk and gold – at Por Santa Maria street! Also – where to buy leather gloves, or to borrow money. In many other ancient cities this is the case (Istanbul, Athens, Beijing)… Like any emergent system, a city is a pattern in time. Dozens of generations come and go, conquerors rise and fall, wars happen, the printing press is invented, the steam engine, radio, TV, the web appears… and beneath all that turbulence, a pattern retains its shape: silk weavers in Por Santa Maria street, Venetian gglassblowers ‐ in Murano… Why? Due to tradition? Just of sentimental value? Why do cities keep their shapes? Certain elements of urban life get passed on from generation to generation because they are associated with a physical structure that has its own durability (Cathedrals – religious life centers around them, Universities –
bohemian student quarters center around them as the Left Bank in Paris around the Sorbonne, ports and railway stations – with prostitution and hour‐based hotels in the immediate neighbourhood). But the Florentine silk traders aren’t anchored to a particular structure. Why? ‐One can argue that it is due to inertia – it is easier to stay put than to move (it is not emergence, it is l i
laziness). Objection: this would make sense if talking about a 50 year span, or a century. But on a 1000‐year ) Obj ti
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scale the force of cultural drift becomes far more powerful. Technologies and geopolitical changes have tremendous impact, sometimes killing entire industries (as the silk weaving industry in Lyon, France). Neighbourhood clusters are extremely vulnerable to both these dramatic forces of change, but also to the slower, invisible drift that all culture undergoes.
‐The reason is the self‐organizing agglomeration/clustering together. A street specialized in a certain trade serves like an user interface to a complex system – it implements physically a pattern. On one side it enables craftsmen to share techniques and services that they wound’t be able to do on their own. On the side of the clients – agglomeration / clustering helps to easily compare goods and prices. It is an equilibrium point of clients agglomeration / clustering helps to easily compare goods and prices It is an equilibrium point of
two opposing forces – creates a pattern which is learned. Cities can be viewed as physical information stores – they store a huge set of patterns, or equilibrium points that have established themselves for a certain time. These patterns create convenience for the individuals, increase their utility, they are “attraction” points. If one traces the history of how cities emerged in the middle ages, that is exactly how – they provided convenient equilibriums of interest among different parties, which were attractive and allowed them to grow. 19
How cities started to emerge in medieval Europe? New ways of harvesting energy from the soil – the wheeled plough, and introduction of 3 year field rotation, increased production, so bigger population density could be sustained. As larger towns began to form, recycling waste products from the town for fertilizer – increased productivity even further Æ
Feedback loop (Can you give an example of a feedback loop somewhere else, e.g. in an online community? )
But how did it start? Bootstrapping problem? How did villages become into towns and But
how did it start? Bootstrapping problem? How did villages become into towns and
grow into cities? By the villagers solving efficiently their problems, providing food and being able to trade, they become attractive for other settlers, local decisions made in their best interest accelerated urban development and brought urban explosion.
This acceleration in urban development happened again in the 1800 with the intensification of the flow of energy – from the exploitation of fossil fuels (coal). 20
Real cities are shaped by top‐down forces (zoning laws and planning commissions), but there are also bottom‐up forces playing a critical role in city formation, creating distinct h
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neighbourhoods and other unplanned demographic clusters. Paul Krugman (1995) “The self‐organizing economy” has a remarkably simple mathematical model that can account for the polycentric, plum‐pudding pattern of the modern metropolis. The model builds on game‐theoretical model. Each business where to locate itself based on the location of other businesses. Centripetal forces – trying to stay together to share customer base, infrastructure, and centrifugal forces – competition, land availability, customers). The rules are: 1 There must be a tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces neither too
are: 1. There must be a tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces, neither too strong. 2. The range of centripetal forces must be shorter that that of centrifugal forces. If you have these rules in a model, the distribution of businesses will spontaneously self‐
organize into a patterns with multiple clearly separated business centers (malls).
Cities grow into megapolises due to positive feedback loops ‐ Lewis Mumfort critic of Jane Jacobs; he was a fan of garden cities, small size cities, like italian cities of the Renaissance. Unlimited growth is like cancer…
Unlimited growth is like cancer… There is a parallel with online communities that grow too large. Early ones like the Well were easy to moderate by one person or a small group (centralized). But when they grow, they come to a critical point when they can collapse (spammers, trolls, flamers, cranks who interject monopolize any discussion, cognitive overload). Lurkers reinforce the cranks, since the crank can claim that they are his audience. Slashdot.org – a system created by Rob Malda with positive and negative feedbacks to achieve a homeostasis. How it grew out of a small discussion forum. 21
Right now we are in the midst of another technological revolution – an information age, near‐
infinite connectedness. We are building digital cities (online communities). Do these cities learn as well? Is there a global consciousness arising from the Web? Probably not (in terms of self‐
awareness, “intelligence” in the individual human sense). But probably “yes” in terms of a device for processing and storing information as the neighbourhoods of a city, an ant‐colony… Just like ants do their learning on a colony level. The colony brain is a sum of billion decisions executed at the individual level. If you substitute “ants” with “neurons” and “pheromons” with “neurotransmitters” – the human b i i t lli
brain intelligence is also a colony intelligence. The web ensures connectedness (the first condition i l
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for emergence), but for the web to become a emergent global intelligence it will need to start self‐
organizing into patterns with some order and goal/specialization for the common good ‐ like streets and neighbourhoods in cities, task‐divisions an ant colony, or regional structures in the brain. There is already a start in self‐organization on the Web – there are patterns, for example, power law distributions (as we will discuss in the next topic). However, these patterns are not adaptive per se, they are more like a snowflake than a neural net… it is a self‐organized shape but not smart shape responding to changes in the environment towards a particular goal (survival of
not smart shape, responding to changes in the environment towards a particular goal (survival of the whole). The patterns of the brain or the cities have evolved in struggling for survival, only the winning structures have lived on. One of the deep inherent problems – that HTML links are one‐
directional. There is no mutual interaction (as in cities, ants, neurons)…. It is like a Gap outlet that doesn’t realize that American Eagle has moved in across the street or an ant that remains oblivious to the other ants it stumbles across in its daily wanderings. Mutual feedback is missing on the web as it is now. Self‐organizing systems use feedback to bootstrap themselves into a more orderly structure. structure