General Theory of Living Systems

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Full Title or Meme

In order to understand or design any successful, continuing digital ecosystem, there must first be a general theory of living systems that we can use a template to build such a theory.

Context

In 1978 James Grier Miller attempted a General Theory of Living systems [1] which proposed rigid taxonomies of levels of complexity and common processes contained in each level. As with all taxonomies of living systems, this one necessarily has very fuzzing boundaries which help a new learner, but which become an undue burden if carried to extremely fine detail. None-the-less, this page will continue in Miller's path and try the same taxonomic approach, but first a short description of alternate methods. Whereas Miller thought that living systems were a subset of all systems, this page takes the view that all complex, successful, enduring systems are subject to the laws of evolution and hence should be considered living systems.

In 1979 Douglas Hofstadter started making the case that natural thinking involved "chunking" small ideas together to make a smaller number of classes of objects [2] that hide the details in ways that were currently in process in "object oriented programming. He continued this line of development into the use of fluid analogies in our own thought as a model for how computer networks should work.[3] Analogies (which we make constantly, relentlessly and mostly unconsciously) are what allow categorization to happen. "Our minds are constructed with an unlimited quality for 'chunking' primordial concepts, which then become larger concepts." As an example the word "hub," as in "Denver is the hub for United Airlines," brings to mind a large linked network of concepts that are "chunked" together to make up the commonly used term. Other examples range from basics like "wheel" and "node" to higher-order concepts like "spoke" and "network." Higher-order concepts are assembled from lower-order concepts. He believes there no fundamental difference in thinking with basic concepts and very large concepts because we don't "see" inside them. We build concepts by putting several concepts together and putting a membrane around them and giving that a name. Kind of miraculously these [interior] concepts disappear into the named high-order concept.

While high-level languages and object-oriented programming (OOP) were present in the early days of computing (e.g. MAD and Smalltalk), they did not capture a significant mind-share of working programmers until the release of Java in 1996. With OOP languages, encapsulation or information hiding became a recognized feature of computer system architectures. While this sound like "chunking", one of its purposes was to hide details. Whereas living systems create abstract chunks, information hiding created pieces that were sealed and did not expose details of the implementation. So information hiding does not allow for level crossing and does not share the capability in open systems for higher level systems to directly interface with lower level systems. Since this is a general theory, we cannot assume that information hiding is necessary or appropriate, although privacy advocates might disagree.

In 2007 Cleland and Chyba wrote a chapter in Planets and Life:[4] "In the absence of such a theory, we are in a position analogous to that of a 16th-century investigator trying to define 'water' in the absence of molecular theory." ... "Without access to living things having a different historical origin, it is difficult and perhaps ultimately impossible to formulate an adequately general theory of the nature of living systems"

Bayesian Identity Proofing provides the means for a collection of authentication and verification steps to be validated.

Problems

Human cognitive process are limited and not nearly a logical as some believe.

Cognitive Overload

Cognitive Dissonance

Solutions

Taxonomy of Levels of connected Systems

Level Name Typical use User Experience
1 Chip Management of Computer Only by Administrators
2 Board Computer Internet of Things Room temperature or video surveillance
3 Single Processor Computer Accessing Web Sites Simple Queries of web
4 Multiple Processor Computer Local processing & virtualization Mobile or Desktop device that maintains user info
5 Data Center Collection of computers in a single location Only by Administrators
6 Cloud (single owner) Social Network Interaction of user searches and tracking
7 Internetwork of Clouds Maintenance of Names User cannot access desired resourced for security reasons

Grier's 19 "proceses" that work at all levels

The colored boxes highlight the ones that deal with energy or manner, not the primary focus of this presentation.

Nu Name Typical use User Experience
1 ingestor Management of Computer Energy Matter
2 distributor Internet of Things Energy Matter
3 converter Accessing Web Sites Energy Matter
4 producer Local processing & virtualization Energy Matter
5 storage Collection of computers in a single location Energy Matter
6 extruder Social Network Energy Matter
7 motor Maintenance of Names Energy Matter
8 supporter Management of Computer Energy Matter
9 Board Computer Internet of Things Room temperature or video surveillance
10 Single Processor Computer Accessing Web Sites Simple Queries of web
11 Multiple Processor Computer Local processing & virtualization Mobile or Desktop device that maintains user info
12 Data Center Collection of computers in a single location Only by Administrators
13 Cloud (single owner) Social Network Interaction of user searches and tracking
14 Internetwork of Clouds Maintenance of Names User cannot access desired resourced for security reasons
15 Chip Management of Computer Only by Administrators
16 Board Computer Internet of Things Room temperature or video surveillance
17 Single Processor Computer Accessing Web Sites Simple Queries of web
18 Multiple Processor Computer Local processing & virtualization Mobile or Desktop device that maintains user info
19 Data Center Collection of computers in a single location Only by Administrators
20 Cloud (single owner) Social Network Interaction of user searches and tracking
7 Internetwork of Clouds Maintenance of Names User cannot access desired resourced for security reasons




ingestor, distributor, converter, producer, storage, extruder, motor, supporter The processors of information are: input transducer, internal transducer, channel and net, timer (added later), decoder, associator, memory, decider, encoder, output transducer.

References

  1. James Grier Miller Living Systems 1978 ISBN 978-0070420151
  2. Douglas R. Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid Vintage
  3. Douglas R. Hofstadter, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought 1995 ISBN 978-0465024759
  4. Woodruff, T. Sullivan; John Baross. Planets and Life: The Emerging Science of Astrobiology. October 8, 2007 Cambridge University Press.