Saturday, May 19, 2007

The IQ of an ecosystem and other questions of emergence

What is "the IQ of an pond ecosystem"? How clever is Gaia? What kind of desires does a corporation have, as distinct from its stakeholders, owners and managers? These are emergence questions. Once upon a time they were posed in the domain of "Cybernetics", then later in systems theory and the study of complex systems. It's a Santa Fe kind of question and a favorite science fiction theme (explored in great depth by some writers of the past decade). I probably first came upon it reading Analog in my misspent youth. Ecology, game theory, and especially Economics have been the most established homes for studying emergent systems.

I don't know of a shared concept set for discussing these questions, though I'm sure there are many specialist languages. I think of an "emergent" space as quite different from the domain in which we experience and reason, though the two will obviously meet. Looking "down" into the micro our cells, hormones, ionic equilibria, fingers and consciousness clearly interact, but we are not all that conscious of our bladder lining and it's presumably quite unaware of us.

So what does a corporation "see" in economics space? I imagine a world of protozoans and worms, interacting in some n-dimensional world. The corporation has a "will" to live, and solves problems in its "space", to some extent distinct from the prosaic reality [1] in which we live.

So how smart is the American electorate in its "space"? I imagine something almost human, but with a 60-80 IQ. A wide but shallow thinker with vast knowledge but little imagination. It It learns slowly and unlearns slowly; it's fearful, sulky, and sullen with intermittent sunshine.

If we can raise the effective emotional and analytic "IQ" of the abstract entities living in our planet's "political space" from 80 to 120 we might survive the next 60 years. Here's hoping that better communication, connection, search, retrieval, storage and translation technologies will improve the de facto neural net of our political creatures!

[1] I'm being ironic of course. Reality is looking inadequately prosaic.

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