[FRIAM] What is an agent [was: Philosophy and Science}

Roger Critchlow rec at elf.org
Tue Jul 18 00:27:01 EDT 2023

On Mon, Jul 17, 2023 at 2:35 PM David Eric Smith <desmith at santafe.edu>

> [...] [Yoshi Oono's The Nonlinear World]
> in which he argues that the phenomena you mention are only
> “pseudo-complex”.  Yoshi, like David but with less of the predictable
> “Darwin-was-better; now what subject are we discussing today?” vibe, argues
> that there is a threshold to “true complexity” that is only crossed in
> systems that obey what Yoshi calls a “Pasteur principle”; they are of a
> kind that effectively can’t emerge spontaneously, but can evolve from
> ancestors once they exist.  He says (translating slightly from his words to
> mine) that such systems split the notion of “boundary conditions” into two
> sub-kinds that differ qualitatively.  There are the “fundamental
> conditions” (in biology, the contents of genomes with indefinitely deep
> ancestry), that mine an indefinite past sparsely and selectively, versus
> ordinary “boundary conditions”, which are the dense here-and-now.  The
> fundamental conditions often provide criteria that allow the complex thing
> to respond to parts of the here-and-now, and ignore other parts, feeding
> back onto the update of the fundamental conditions.
> I don’t know when I will get time to listen to David’s appearance with
> Sean, so with apologies cannot know whether his argument is similar in its
> logic.  But Yoshi’s framing appeals to me a lot, because it is like a kind
> of spontaneous symmetry breaking or ergodicity breaking in the
> representations of information and how they modulate the networks of
> connection to the space-time continuum.  That seems to me a very fertile
> idea.  I am still looking for some concrete model that makes it compelling
> and useful for something I want to solve.  (I probably have written this on
> the list before, in which case apologies for being repetitive.  But this
> mention is framed specifically to your question whether one should be
> disappointed in the demotion of the complexity in phenomena.)
> [...]
> On Jul 18, 2023, at 4:37 AM, Stephen Guerin <stephenguerin at fas.harvard.edu>
> wrote:
> [...]
>    1. Teleonomic Material: the latest use by David Krakauer on Sean
>    Carroll's recent podcast
>    <https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2023/07/10/242-david-krakauer-on-complexity-agency-and-information/>
>    in summarizing Complexity. Hurricanes, flocks and Benard Cells according to
>    David are not Complex, BTW. I find the move a little frustrating
>    and disappointing but I always respect his perspective.
> Okay, I listened to the podcast.

DK says that real complexity starts with teleonomic matter, also known as
particles that think.  He says that such agents carry around some
representation of the external world.  And then the discussion gets
distracted to other topics, at one point getting to "large language model
paper clip nightmares".

My response to Eric's description of Oono's  "Pasteur principle" was that
it sounds a lot like "Attention Is All You Need" (
https://arxiv.org/pdf/1706.03762.pdf), the founding paper of the
Transformer class of neural network models.

The "fundamental conditions" in a Transformer would be the trained neural
net which specifies the patterns of attention and responses learned during
training.  The "ordinary conditions" would be the input sequence given to
the Transformer.  The Transformer breaks up the input sequence into
attention patterns, evaluates the response to the current set of input
values selected by the attention patterns,  emits an element to the output
sequence, and advances the input cursor.

Anyone else see the family resemblance here?

-- rec --
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