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This is offtopic for this list, but busy people are already
Progress and evolution: I am not optimistic or pessimistic.
I observe behavior. The things Clay and others write about
were exhaustively discussed before they got to them.
Is it progress that more people are writing about those
topics now? Possibly. Is it progress that people like
yourself attribute the ideas to them because that is the
first place you encountered those ideas? No. It means
the viewpoint is limited in time. Viewpoint is the crucial key
to observing and measuring such systems, and without a
definition for viewpoint, any discussion of evolution to
higher forms or devolution to lower forms is meaningless.
Chaos is a way of talking about systems that use feedback
yet are or become unpredictable. The theory bears the same relationship to
behavior as XML does to content; it's a way of notating it.
Again, don't mistake tools for truth or value. I get out
of bed because over time, I notice that devolution and evolution
are running at the same time in the same place and it depends
on what you measure and how you measure it relative to some
predetermined goal. Absolute measures of progress aren't
found. Is the emergence of complex systems progress? Is
the emergence of knowledge that simpler systems offer more
benefits to more people progress? No smoking gun to be
found in either position.
Do you accept Larry McVoy's position that the only way to build a
profitable business around open source is to give the customer
crap because otherwise, why would they need services? In other
words, is the goal of open source actually a devolutionary force?
Is attention.xml progress in focus or isolationism? Is it
merely a means to allocate resources? It is all of them.
Without the bounding box of the viewpoint, one can't know
which at any given moment.
History has examples aplenty of cultures and civilizations
that returned to simpler means and lower populations, sometimes
spectacularly quickly. Typically, one or two of a few things happened:
they interupted the sustaining processes provided by the
environment (Mayan civilization land fatigue), the environment changed of
it's own accord (Chaco Canyon and Anasazi droughts (one theory)), internal
created conditions that cause a 'fissure' (slave revolts in
Mediterranean civilizations that caused a collapse of the
regional civilizations because of raiding, or the theory that
the Anasazi were conquered by canibals from the central
american populations), and so on. Note that for whatever reason,
the communities 'opted out' in both the mezo-american and the
mediterranean civilizations. They both became cliff dwellers
and endured generations of privation as the trade-off for security.
That a succeeding group can build back up to complex conditions
and openness is also observed, but that may or may not be progress because
the original civilization is gone.
HTML was considered (actually is) a retrograde move in markup
but it had scaling effects. That again, is a pattern often
observed. Progress in markup was made by a small group of
people. When the environment made it advantageous to use
markup at a larger scale, it had to be collapsed into a more
primitive form first. Progress? Well, sure if you adopt
a measure that relies on large numbers. In terms of the
technology itself, it was a leap backwards.
Will communities opt out? They already have. Sure that is
an intelligent choice. Is that progress? Maybe but it means
that occasionally important changes will occur without their
participation and as a result, they will become less important.
Keep in mind what the progress of Chinese and Arab/Semitic
civilizations were while the Europeans slid backwards. Note
the isolation of the Chinese during that period.
Do we fear that? Some do. Can we change that? No, not
if we want to maintain our own status quo. Can communities
that opt out make progress on their own and share that? They
certainly can, in fact, that is a common pattern.
So we agree here. I simply don't adopt an optimistic attitude
or a pessimistic one. It is to me like observing music that
can be pleasant, unpleasant, structured or stochastic, and I
know that stochastic systems can create complex behavior without
any external intelligence, and that a stochastic system with
an external intelligence can create chaotic behaviors. It
depends on what is measured and how long you observe.
From: Jason Aaron Osgood [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, May 27, 2005 8:31 AM
To: Bullard, Claude L (Len); XML Developers List
Subject: RE: [xml-dev] Using Me Using You
Hi Claude L (Len) Bullard-
You originally voiced the opinion that communities are opting out.
Also, that predators are becoming more widespread. I tried to present
an alternative optimistic viewpoint.
> So is devolution. In the limbo world, "how low can you go?"
If I thought that, I wouldn't ever get out of bed. I'm a huge fan of
the ratchet effect. Robert Wright related cultural evolution in terms
of game theory. In brief, progress occurs when nonzero sum games
(win-win) can be devised to replace select zero sum games (I win, you
lose). Wright argues that while progress may have been delayed (e.g.
Mongol hordes disrupting Chinese society), overall, society doesn't
And, yes, I believe sentience is inevitable and not accidental. My own
special little faith, since it can't be disproved (in the Popperian
sense). See below.
I also acknowledge that regression occurs, but only in the short term.
I was walking around our popular Broadway neighborhood a few weeks ago.
It was like the Reagan era all over again (decay, pan-handlers,
general shabbiness). The cause of progress is saved because better
ideas outcompete less good ideas.
> But to summarize your point, radar guns spawn radar detectors.
No. I'm saying that communities fissure. Life's arms race is
something else entirely.
> The reason for 'professional behavior' is to mask personal
> preference, and therein is one approach to the problem. It
> isn't one that works on all levels. It isn't that everyone
> wants a close personal relationship; it is that we have
> few good means to filter. FOAF is interesting, so if
> we see repeats of patterns, I suspect it won't be individuals
> but networks in that model that go 'behind the gates' somewhat
> the way we have closed social clubs now. Legal? Another
> interesting question. Are information force fields legal?
> Not my term. There is an article about that on the web
> related to all of the devices that will be able to detect
> and phone you someone at the ubqiquity level of Coke signs.
> There are already test cases related to institutions that
> are shielding cellphone traffic.
I didn't follow most of these bits at all.
On the job of filtering, I think humans are brilliant at it. It's the
only way to preserve our sanity. I wouldn't be surprised if it's
integral to our intelligence. Smart babies will go to sleep when
they're overloaded (too much tickling). Marshall McLuhan argued that
we "auto amputate" portions of our sensing ability when we're over
The primary filter we have is attention. Either to opt out or rely on
reputation. Clay Shirky's observations on the effects of power laws of
distribution are fascinating.
Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality
The other force at work is foraging behavior. (See below.)
> The communications model we have today has never existed
> in recorded history at this scale and level of penetration.
> That is what makes it fascinating.
I believe communication patterns are self-similar (independent of
scale). In other words, I don't find today's world terribly
exceptional. The sole difference is the occasional flurry of
self-awareness afforded by science and reason.
Danny Hillis spoke at the first Java conference (1996), before it
became JavaOne. (I can't find a working link to the article I wrote
back then.) He related his view of progress. At the scales of atoms,
molecules, cells, organisms, communities, and then (perhaps) societies,
in each system of interaction, communication crosses a complexity
threshold that then becomes computation. At the scale we're relating
at, it's called social cognition. This book was a mind blow:
"Swarm Intelligence" by Eberhart, Shi, Kennedy
(Careful, there's at least 2 other books with that same title.)
Please know that I'm not an extropian, transhumanist, or any of those
goofy Omni and Mondo2000 caricatures. It's just that I find these
fundamentally optimistic ideas both helpful (an integral part of my
suicide avoidance strategy) and useful (a narrative that helps with my
It's also why I don't get worked up about encoding and schemas. At the
end of the day, it's all 1s and 0s, and subject-verb-object clauses.
The only variables are choosing the abstractions (representations) and
algorithms, how much to leave implicit versus making explicit, and
whether to reuse or redo. And in making those decisions, one's use
cases and tolerance for pain are the only useful guides.
Cheers, Jason Aaron Osgood / Seattle WA
PS- Someone let me know if I go off topic. hahahah.