Our Year 2014

I. Forming a Global Consciousness: The Role of Information Technology (IT)

Source: Alex J. Halderman, Fast internet-wide scanning, 30C3, 2013

see also: Jan Burian, "Complex Systems Tutorial" (in cache)

Marianne (with her training in IT) and I have been following information on what influence IT might have on the future of our societies. Main sources of that information are the annual Chaos Communication Congresses (30C3 in December 2013, 31C3 in December 2014), where socio-political implications are presented. Our question is: How could we interpret these developments in terms of neurobiological models?

I. 1 Interpretation in terms of neurobiological models

I.1.1 Neurobiology

The neurobiologist Gerald Edelman's Theory of Neuronal Group Selection (TNGS) and e.g. the equivalent IT-based model developed by Joscha Bach describe the basic processes within the brain. Edelman and coworkers constructed DARWIN, a series of automata that work on the basis of 5 tenets. DARWINs' brains consist of large numbers of coupled "neurons" modeled after their biological counterparts as known to neuroscientists today.

When the system contains feedback coupling ("reentry") it responds to external stimuli with forming stable patterns similar to Chladni sound figures, cavity oscillations or atomic orbitals.

Visualisation: Response to white noise (video).

The patterns are discrete and transitions between them are abrupt. Oliver Sacks has observed such abrupt transitions in the minds, most visibly in the minds of neurologically disturbed patients.

Edelman conjectures that the emergence of consciousness is a phase transition, i.e. it comes abruptly into existence when the complexity of the neural network exceeds a certain threshold.

I.1.2 Internet

All 5 tenets of the TNGS are equally met by the entity internet. In this picture our civic activity is the activity of global neurons in a global brain (a new part of Gaia's mind). So, it might well be that the global society is able -or even about- to develop an internet-based consciousness that -like in a newborn child- is gradually growing and eventually shaping the future of human society. Mathematically models of this complex adaptive system might influence the way we will govern ourselves.

This is part of the research objectives at the Global Brain Institute, Vrije Universiteit, Brussel.

The Global Brain Institute uses similar scientific methods to better understand the global evolution towards ever-stronger connectivity between people, software and machines ("global brain"). Instead of building a DARWIN the Global Brain Institute developed the software package ChallProp (Challenge Propagation).

ChallProp Domain Model

click on figure to enlarge
Source: ChallProp

"Domain model of challprop graph: A graph is a collection of vertexes and edges between them. The Property Graph Model is a graph structure which allows for multiple directed edges between two vertexes and arbitrary number / type properties on both vertexes and edges. Every edge in the graph represents an atomic event of the simulation. Every event is attributed a timestamp (in nano seconds of system time) so events can be ordered in time. Generator of diversity is a vertex which keeps all the parameters of the simulation as its properties, generates new situations and sends them to agents (i.e. creates a link between situation and agent)."

"We see people, machines and software systems as agents that communicate via a complex network of communication links. Problems, observations, or opportunities define challenges that stimulate these agents to act.

Challenges that cannot be fully resolved by a single agent are propagated to other agents, along the links in the network. These agents contribute their own expertise to resolving the challenge. If necessary, they propagate the challenge further, until it is fully resolved. Thus, the skills of the different agents are pooled into a collective intelligence much greater than the intelligence of its individual members.

The propagation of challenges across the global network is a complex process of self-organization. It is similar to the "spreading activation" that characterizes thinking in the human brain. This process will typically change the network by reinforcing useful links, while weakening less useful ones. Thus, the network learns and adapts to new challenges, becoming ever more intelligent."
Source: Global Brain Institute, 2015

Demonstrations (video lectures)

II. Renewable electricity

A central part of German politics and activity is the transformation of electricity generation from fossil fuels to renewables. The Scientific Council on Global Change (WBGU), a German think tank installed by the government, speaks of a necessary Social Contract for Sustainability, a paradigm shift in view of the planetary boundaries which humans have touched. The council recommended guard rails for the transformation. On the other hand, societal self-organization guided by "pioneers of change" has started an exponential growth of renewable photovoltaics and wind power.

Marianne and I were asked to actively take sides in this, and for that I summarized information from the large spectrum of pros and cons.

III. What do we do for money?

We have started renting out rooms in our house in the "Mecklenburg" Pampa (exactly 100 km north of Berlin, right in the middle between Berlin and the Baltic Sea) via airbnb ...




... thereby meeting wonderful people we'd have never met otherwise. It is a welcome intellectual challenge, as most of them are less than 35 years of age and so we need to find the right balance between talking and active listening.

IV. My Research

As far as I can see, after 2 decades of silence in the area, last year Valentina Prigiobbe, Marc Hesse and Steven Bryant (University of Texas at Austin) continued research on the topic "contaminant accumulation during transport" on which I had started my research at Stanford and continued at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences (part of New York University). Their paper ...

Prigiobbe V, Hesse MA, and Bryant SL

Hyperbolic theory for flow in permeable media with pH-dependent adsorption

SIAM J. Appl. Math., 73, 1941-1957 (2013)

(in cache)

... presents beautiful "streetmaps of the chemical system". Their exact mathematical solutions of the transport equations show graphically under which conditions contaminant plumes will assume the form of concentration shock waves. The amplitudes of these waves do not decrease with distance traveled, so when immobilized in traps such shocks become secondary contaminant repositories. Conventional radionuclide repository assessments (the ones used in the public debate about where to locate our German high-level radioactive waste repository) exclude such shocks at the outset. Conventional geochemistry models are too rudimentary, and unfortunately surface geochemistry researchers cannot do much about that: Since the 1980s they are stuck with fitting, i.e. compressing experimental results using models that have too many adjustable parameters to give us insight into the physio-chemistry on the mineral surfaces. The researchers say they do not see a way out, their tools -although much more sophisticated than 3 decades ago when this research started- can only produce ambiguous results. I keep communicating this dilemma to the German public and politics.

With their research the Austin people could bring light into the darkness of ambiguities: they are able to show geochemistry researchers, which of their possible surface complexes might cause troublesome migration behavior, thus allowing a classification of surface complexes. This will open wider the door to the surprises geochemistry has up its sleeve, some of which -temporal and spacial oscillations- Peter Ortoleva had revealed a decade ago.

V. Video recommendations

Here is a list of videos we have studied in 2013 - 2014.

Version: 4 April 2015

Address of this page


Jochen Gruber