Holarchic Meta-Ethics and Complexity Science
"It appears to me that in Ethics, as in all other philosophical studies, the difficulties and disagreements, of which history is full, are mainly due to a very simple cause: namely to the attempt to answer questions, without first discovering precisely what question it is which you desire to answer."
G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, 1903, preface
"All human action is undertaken in order to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory state. The conduct we call moral is the conduct we consider likely to lead to the most satisfactory situation in the long run."
Henry Hazlitt, Foundations of Morality, 1964, Chapter 33
Our complex world includes many levels and types of value. We have the systemic values of distinctions, A or NOT A, the extrinsic values of comparisons A > B and the intrinsic values of wholeness A + B. But we also have a further type, and that is the holarchic concept of wholes within wholes C(B(A))), a multi-level approach which we can call 'whole systems' thinking. We normally, in our societies, treat individual levels in our reasoning, whether abstract labels (e.g. Arab), single variables (e.g. cost) or complete entities (e.g. a partner). This tends to obscure the real inter-connectedness of our world, the way in which all these values and levels link together, not only within the three dimensions of space, and the one of time, but also in the fifth dimension of scope or emergence (growth and evolution). In this nested (fractal) dimension we look to discovering the whole contents of our system, we reverse the analytical reductionist zoom-in tendency of recent specialist science and generate instead a zoom-out transdisciplinary synthesis of the dynamic component interconnections, we create rather than destroy.
Creation is a value-add step in which the whole is more than the sum of the parts that make it up, for example an aeroplane flies, but none of the components can do so, a girl skips, but none of her cells can do that. This synergy is what adds value levels to the whole, we need new concepts, new criteria to judge the system, new functions have become apparent, new opportunities - this is very much an active view of the world, in comparison to the passive 'detached observer' position often taken. In this valuation metaview we emphasise the twin reciprocal roles of all teleological entities (analogous to the Yin and the Yang), where we are both agents of action towards our environment and agents of opportunity within the environment of others. This is a coevolutionary form of human valuation which has some interesting perspectives to offer upon many traditional ethical or moral problems. We will examine some of these in part 2 where we introduce our holarchic valuation as a critical methodology which can give practical meaning to ethical guidelines.
Part 1: Generating a Meta-Valuation Methodology
Firstly we set the scene for our evolutionary ethical treatment by reviewing the relationship between complex systems science and our enhanced axiological science, in the context of human behaviour, and in asking how we act dynamically in our world as autonomous entities.
"In a broad sense, biological coevolution is "the change of a biological object triggered by the change of a related object". Coevolution can occur at multiple levels of biology: it can be as microscopic as correlated mutations between amino acids in a protein, or as macroscopic as covarying traits between different species in an environment.
Each party in a coevolutionary relationship exerts selective pressures on the other, thereby affecting each others' evolution. Species-level coevolution includes the evolution of a host species and its parasites (host-parasite coevolution), and examples of mutualism evolving through time. Evolution in response to abiotic factors, such as climate change, is not coevolution (since climate is not alive and does not undergo biological evolution). Evolution in a one-on-one interaction, such as that between predator and prey, host-symbiont or host-parasitic pair, is coevolution.
But many cases are less clearcut: a species may evolve in response to a number of other species, each of which is also evolving in response to a set of species. This situation has been referred to as "diffuse coevolution". And, certainly, for many organisms, the biotic (living) environment is the most prominent selective pressure, resulting in evolutionary change.
One model of the coevolution processes was Leigh Van Valen's Red Queen's Hypothesis. Emphasizing the importance of the sexual conflict, Thierry Lodé privileged the role of antagonist interactions (notably sexual) in evolution leading to an antagonist coevolution.
Coevolution does not imply mutual dependence. The host of a parasite, or prey of a predator, does not depend on its enemy for survival.
The existence of mitochondria within eukaryote cells is an example of coevolution as the mitochondria has a different DNA sequence than that of the nucleus in the host cell. This concept is described further by the endosymbiotic theory.
Coevolutionary algorithms are also a class of algorithms used for generating artificial life as well as for optimization, game learning and machine learning. Pioneering results in the use of coevolutionary methods were by Daniel Hillis (who coevolved sorting networks) and Karl Sims (who coevolved virtual creatures).
Social and Economic Complexity: the co-evolution of Reality, Knowledge and Values
for the Social and Economic Modelling Session, the ONCE Conference, Oxford
Abstract: In this paper we consider the complexity of social and economic systems. In particular, we look at the importance of the ideas of co-evolution in which the aims and goals (axiology), and knowledge of agents (epistemology) essentially constitutes their identities, and the diversity and heterogeneity of these are the driving force of co-evolutionary change of reality (ontology). We use a simple example illustrating how experience leads to beliefs, beliefs direct actions which in turn lead to experience, creating a fundamentally, circular co-evolutionary potential for new elements and structure. This is the core of complexity that underlies social systems and undermines the application of the traditional scientific method, which supposes an objective, external reality.
Gene–Culture Coevolution and the Evolution of Social Institutions
Social institutions are the laws, informal rules, and conventions that give durable structure to social interactions within a population. Such institutions are typically not designed consciously, are heritable at the population level, are frequently but not always group beneficial, and are often symbolically marked. Conceptualizing social institutions as one of multiple possible stable cultural equilibrium allows a straightforward explanation of their properties. The evolution of institutions is partly driven by both the deliberate and intuitive decisions of individuals and collectivities. The innate components of human psychology coevolved in response to a culturally evolved, institutional environment and reflect a prosocial tendency of choices we make about institutional forms.
Complexity and co-evolution: continuity and change in socio-economic systems
"This book applies ideas and methods from the complexity perspective to key concerns in the social sciences, exploring co-evolutionary processes that have not yet been addressed in the technical or popular literature on complexity. Authorities in a variety of fields - including evolutionary economics, innovation and regeneration studies, urban modeling and historical terrain - reevaluate their disciplines within this framework. The study explores the complex dynamic processes that give rise to socio-economic change over space and time, with reference to empirical cases including the emergence of knowledge-intensive industries and decline of mature regions, the operation of innovative networks and the evolution of localities and cities. Sustainability is a persistent theme and the practicability of intervention is examined in the light of these perspectives."
The cognitive niche: Coevolution of intelligence, sociality, and language
Although Darwin insisted that human intelligence could be fully explained by the theory of evolution, the codiscoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, claimed that abstract intelligence was of no use to ancestral humans and could only be explained by intelligent design. Wallace's apparent paradox can be dissolved with two hypotheses about human cognition. One is that intelligence is an adaptation to a knowledge-using, socially interdependent lifestyle, the “cognitive niche.” This embraces the ability to overcome the evolutionary fixed defenses of plants and animals by applications of reasoning, including weapons, traps, coordinated driving of game, and detoxification of plants. Such reasoning exploits intuitive theories about different aspects of the world, such as objects, forces, paths, places, states, substances, and other people's beliefs and desires. The theory explains many zoologically unusual traits in Homo sapiens, including our complex toolkit, wide range of habitats and diets, extended childhoods and long lives, hypersociality, complex mating, division into cultures, and language (which multiplies the benefit of knowledge because know-how is useful not only for its practical benefits but as a trade good with others, enhancing the evolution of cooperation). The second hypothesis is that humans possess an ability of metaphorical abstraction, which allows them to coopt faculties that originally evolved for physical problem-solving and social coordination, apply them to abstract subject matter, and combine them productively. These abilities can help explain the emergence of abstract cognition without supernatural or exotic evolutionary forces and are in principle testable by analyses of statistical signs of selection in the human genome.
"The ecological approach to perception-action is unlike the standard approach in several respects. It takes the animal-in-its-environment as the proper scale for the theory and analysis of perception-action, it eschews symbol based accounts of perception-action, it promotes self-organization as the theory-constitutive metaphor for perception-action, and it employs self-referring, non-predicative definitions in explaining perception-action. The present article details the complexity issues confronted by the ecological approach in terms suggested by Rosen and introduces non-well-founded set theory (hyperset theory) as a potentially useful tool for expressing them. The issues and the tool are brought to focus in the concept of affordance that is the basis for explanation of prospective control of action in the ecological approach."
Complex Systems from the Perspective of Category Theory: I. Functioning of the Adjunction Concept
"We develop a category theoretical framework for the comprehension of the information structure associated with a complex system, in terms of families of partial or local information carriers. The framework is based on the existence of a categorical adjunction, that provides a theoretical platform for the descriptive analysis of the complex system as a process of functorial information communication."
Complex Systems from the Perspective of Category Theory: II. Covering Systems and Sheaves
"Using the concept of adjunctive correspondence, for the comprehension of the structure of a complex system, developed in Part I, we introduce the notion of covering systems consisting of partially or locally defined adequately understood objects. This notion incorporates the necessary and sufficient conditions for a sheaf theoretical representation of the informational content included in the structure of a complex system in terms of localization systems. Furthermore, it accommodates a formulation of an invariance property of information communication concerning the analysis of a complex system.
Keywords : Complex Systems, Information Structures, Localization Systems, Coverings, Adjunction, Sheaves."
"Because states express topologically while the syntactic structures of their underlying operators express descriptively, attributive duality is sometimes called state-syntax duality. As information requires syntactic organization, it amounts to a valuation of cognitive/perceptual syntax; conversely, recognition consists of a subtractive restriction of informational potential through an additive acquisition of information. TD [topological-descriptive, state-syntax, attributive] duality thus relates information to the informational potential bounded by syntax, and perception (cognitive state acquisition) to cognition.
In a Venn diagram, the contents of circles reflect the structure of their boundaries; the boundaries are the primary descriptors. The interior of a circle is simply an “interiorization” or self-distribution of its syntactic “boundary constraint”. Thus, nested circles corresponding to identical objects display a descriptive form of containment corresponding to syntactic layering, with underlying levels corresponding to syntactic coverings.
This leads to a related form of duality, constructive-filtrative duality."