Transcript Document

The Evolution of Knowledge A Cybernetic Framework
Dr George Mallen
System Simulation Ltd
The personal narrative
Work at System Research with Pask on learning
and decision making
Founding System Simulation Ltd and research
fellowship at Royal College of Art
Dept of Design Research at RCA and Dept of
Communication and Media at Bournemouth
Computer graphics and the Computer Arts Society
Development of information systems for galleries
and museums
Return to research on learning and decision
The main evolutionary narrative Brain evolution
Homo sapiens
Cultural evolution
Belief/Knowledge dichotomy
Cybernetics of belief and knowledge
A brief history of homo sapiens
Our ancient ancestors - first spurt of
brain growth 2m years ago, from
australopithecines to homo habilis
and home erectus. Second spurt
500K to 200K years ago to homo
A brief history of homo sapiens
Mirror neuron circuitry in the premotor
cortex – integrates action and
Fire when we perform an action OR
see someone else perform the same
A brief history of mind
From “Swiss army knife” to combined
intellectual tools in the modern
human mind.
Mirror neurons as platform for
empathy, co-operation and cultural
A brief history of mind
Language evolution from 200K years
ago - more sophisticated tools,
passing on knowledge of how to
make them …?
Homo sapiens sapiens emerges from
Africa 100K years ago and spreads
across the world
A brief history of mind
Then around 70K years ago near
extinction! Mt Toba erupts, 6 years
without sunlight, then an ice age.
Human population drops from
perhaps a million or so to a few tens
of thousands. But from 50K years
ago a cultural “explosion” which has
continued to this day.
Evolution and culture
It is likely that the small surviving
populations of humans allowed very
rapid evolution of the characteristics
selected for survival – primarily the
ability to pass on skills and
knowledge quickly via demonstration
and language.
Cultural development
The human capability to “show and
tell” probably kick started the cultural
development which has led from
near extinction to a population of 6
billion and massive environmental
impact in just 50,000 years.
Externalising knowledge and skill
The process of externalisation is bound
up with the “theory of mind”
concept, the recognition, and use of
the recognition, that others have
minds. I know that you know that I
know…. etc and mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons
It looks as if mirror neurons are the link
between doing things, seeing others
do things and imagining doing things,
as in reading a novel or watching TV
or participating in virtual life. Common
circuitry firing for fact and fiction...?
So evolution has equipped our brains
with a means of sharing experiences
(empathising) with others. An
individual's experience is
“externalised” via the observer's
mirror neuron circuitry.
Cultural evolution
Human culture then emerges from collections
of empathised experiences and the
negotiation of what's acceptable, ie useful
for survival.
Tools for externalisation
There then comes a time when tool
making skills acquired over a million
years are used to symbolise
experiences, for example body
decoration, rock paintings and,
eventually writing. This marks a
further step in the externalisation
To summarise the argument Biological brains have evolved a human
culture based on externalising and
sharing experiences. This has now
generalised to extensive, reliable
knowledge emerging from science
and technology
Actions, belief and knowledge
The primitive mind needed to act to
get food, fight, flee, etc, and
McCulloch's redundancy of potential
command model is a brilliant stab at
the control processes involved. Such
actions inevitably based on
incomplete information.
Actions, belief and knowledge
The high risk of incomplete information
is mitigated by judgement based on
individual and collective experience.
But the action is taken in the belief it
is the right thing to do but certainly
not with the knowledge it is the right
thing to do.
Actions, belief and knowledge
Acquiring reliable knowledge takes
time. But recent advances in IT
mean the rate of knowledge
acquisition is accelerating. So today
our homo sapiens culture has two
coupled decision/information
systems, the earlier belief system
and the later knowledge system.
The challenges to cybernetics First is the need to understand the workings
of both the faster acting but high risk belief
system and the slower acting but lower risk
knowledge system.
Second is the need to create more effective
coupling between the two so that our
governance processes might cope with the
crises ahead.
Some readingThe Prehistory of the Mind, Steven Mithen, Thames &
Hudson, 1996
After the Ice, Steven Mithen, Phoenix, 2003
The Long Summer, Brian Fagan, Granta, 2004
The Mind in the Cave, David Lewis-Williams, Thames &
Hudson, 2002
The Political Mind, George Lakoff, Viking, 2008
And of course Hume, Popper, McCulloch, Pask, Beer etc