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Eigenbehavior and Symbols (Rocha)

Eigenbehavior and Symbols (Rocha)

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Eigenbehavior and Symbols
Systems Research
Vol. 13, No 3, pp. 371-384.
 Luis Mateus Rocha
 Abstract — In this paper I sketch a rough taxonomy of self-organization which may be of relevance in thestudy of cognitive and biological systems. I frame the problem both in terms of the language Heinz vonFoerster used to formulate much of second-order cybernetics as well as the language of current theoriesof self-organization and complexity. In particular, I defend the position that, on the one hand, self-organization alone is not rich enough for our intended simulations, and on the other, that geneticselection in biology and symbolic representation in cognitive science alone leave out the very important (self-organizing) characteristics of particular embodiments of evolving and learning systems. I proposethe acceptance of the full concept of symbol with its syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic dimensions. I argue that the syntax should be treated operationally in second-order cybernetics.Keywords — Self-organization, Organizational Closure, Semantic Closure, Eigenbehavior, Emergence, Evolutionary Systems, Complexity Theory, Natural Selection. Address: Los Alamos National Laboratory, MS P990, Los Alamos, Nm 87545, USA
e-mail: rocha@lanl.govURL: http://www.c3.lanl.gov/~rocha
1 Eigenbehavior and Self-Organization
In
Objects: tokens for (eigen-) behaviors
, Heinz von Foerster [1977] postulated the existence of solutionsfor an indefinite recursive equation based on Jean Piaget's recursive structure of implications describing anobserver's account of an interaction between a subject and an object. This equation basically asserts thatwhat is observed at one particular time (
obs
) is the result of a cognitive/sensory-motor operation(
COORD
) on the previous instance of observation (
obs
-1
):
obs
 
=
COORD
(
obs
t-
1
)The particularity of this expression is that it is recursive and without any particular starting point, or initialconditions. Thus, any specific instance of observation will still be the result of an indefinite succession of cognitive operations. Infinity is used as the mathematical artifice to express the position that observables donot refer directly to real world objects, but are instead the result of an infinite cascade of cognitive andsensory-motor operations (subsumed in
COORD
) in some environment/subject coupling. The "solutions"(
O
i
) to this equation, which do not exist in a strict mathematical sense as the equation is not given initialconditions, are believed to represent a stability in the chain of 
COORD
operations, that is, those valueswhich maintain their structure (or operation, or function) when cognitive/sensory-motor operations are onthem performed, again and again, as the equation pursues its indefinite recursive chain:
O
i
=
obs
 
=
COORD
(
COORD
(....
COORD
(
obs
t-n
=
O
i
))...)In other words, for a long succession of cognitive operations, the structure of 
obs
 
does not change (frameof stability); when this happens,
obs
 
is called an
eigenvalue
and represented by
O
i
. It can also be said that
 
2
Luis Rocha
eigen-values are self-defining, or self-referent, in their frame of stability, through the operator
COORD
implying a complementary relationship (circularity, closure) between eigenvalues and cognitive/sensory-motor operators: one implies, or defines, the other. "Eigenvalues represent the externally observablemanifestations of the (introspectively accessible) cognitive [operations] COORD". [von Foerster, 1977,page 278]. Further, “Ontologically, Eigenvalues and objects, and likewise, ontogenetically, stable behaviorand the manifestation of a subject’s ‘grasp’ of an object cannot be distinguished.” [von Foerster, 1977,page 280].
 Eigenbehavior 
is thus used to define the behavior of autonomous, cognitive systems, whichthrough the closure of the sensory-motor interactions in their nervous systems, give rise to perceptualregularities as objects [Varela, 1979, chapter 13]."Eigenvalues are discrete (even if the domain of the primary argument
obs
[
]
is continuous)". In otherwords, even if the domain of an observable is continuous, its cognitive representation through
COORD
operators into eigenvalues must be discrete. This is a result of the stability of eigenvalues in the recursivechain of cognitive operators, if an eigenvalue
O
 j
changes its structure, thus ending the frame of stability, itwill either revert to unstable structures (varying at each cognitive operation), in which case the eigenvaluerepresentation is lost, or form another frame of stability with a new eigenvalue representation
O
i
(
O
i
may beequal to
O
 j
 
in which case it is referred to as a stable eigenvalue). In summary, eigenvalues are discreterepresentations of observables maintained by the successive cognitive operations of a cognitive agent.Notice that the representations and their stability are specific to the particular cognitive operations and howthey recognize observables, that is, these discrete representations exist only in relation to the very sameoperators that define them. Also, since in the frame of stability an eigenvalue is "immune" to the cognitiveoperators that define it, we can further assert that the eigenvalue also implies the operators. Any system,cognitive or biological, which is able to relate internally stable structures (eigenvalues) to constant aspectsof its own interaction with an environment can be said to observe eigenbehavior. Such systems are definedas
organizationally closed 
because their stable internal states can only be defined in terms of the overalldynamic structure that supports them and which they define. In other words, amongst the products of thesystem’s operation, are the processes required produce the system itself [Pask, 1992]. Organizationallyclosed systems are also
informationally open
[Pask, 1992], since they have the ability to change theirstructure and thus produce novel classifications of their environments.
1.1 Complexity Theory and Emergent Representation
It is perhaps easier to think about these concepts in the modern terminology of dynamical systems andcomplexity theory. The coupling of many simple elements into a network allows the establishment of highlyrecursive dynamical systems which can observe a wide range of attractor behaviors. An eigenvalue of anorganizationally closed system can be seen as an attractor of a self-organizing dynamical system. Theglobal “cooperation” of the elements of a dynamical system which spontaneously emerges when anattractor state is reached is understood as self-organization [von Foerster, 1960; Haken, 1977; Forrest,1991; Kauffman, 1993]. The attractor behavior of any dynamical system is dependent on the structuraloperations of the latter (say, the set of boolean functions in a boolean network). Speaking of an attractormakes sense only in relation to its dynamical system, likewise, the attractor landscape defines itscorresponding dynamical system. Furthermore, attractor values can be used to refer to observablesaccessible to the self-organizing system in its environment, and thus perform environmental
classifications
(e.g. classifying neural networks). This classification capacity was identified in the cybernetic terminologyas eigenbehavior. Naturally, and this is the crux of the constructivist position [Glanville, 1988], not allpossible distinctions in some environment can be “grasped” by the self-organizing system: it can onlyclassify those aspects of its environment/sensory-motor/cognitive interaction which result in themaintenance of some internally stable state or attractor (eigenvalue). In other words, not everything “out
 
3
Eigenbehavior and symbols
there” is accessible; only those things that a particular physiology can construct with the stabilities of itsown dynamics are.A classifying self-organizing system is autonomous if all structural processes that establish and sustain itsdynamics are internally produced and re-produced over and over again. Autonomy was previously referredto as organizational closure. A computational neural network by itself can classify an environment, but theprocesses (e.g. a backpropagation algorithm) that make it improve its classifying ability are external to thenetwork. In this sense, the network itself is not autonomous, though the network together with the algorithmthat changes its structure may be argued to be. It is precisely the ability of an autonomous system to changeits structure in order to better classify a changing environment that defines
emergent representation
. For aclassifying self-organizing system to change its classification ability, structural changes must be performedto alter its attractor landscape (this point is developed ahead). When the structure responsible for a givendynamics is changed, we obtain a new environmental classification (e.g. weight changes in a neuralnetwork). This process of obtaining novel classifications of an environment, by an autonomous self-organizing system, can be referred to as
emergent classification
(informational openness above). Emergentbecause it is the result of the local interaction of the basic components of the self-organizing system and notfrom a global controller. This
bottom-up
definition of emergence [Langton, 1989] is generally accepted inartificial life and connectionist artificial intelligence as the guiding conceptual framework of models of lifeand cognition. However, and following Cariani [1989] and Pattee [1986], I will adopt a stricter sense of emergence requiring the definition of a semantic level of description to be discussed in section 2.The relationship between the terminologies of complexity theory and second-order cybernetics outlinedabove may be seen in some quarters as commonsensically simple. Most of the cybernetic principles of self-organization as defined by von Foerster and other participants of his program of research at the BiologicalComputer Laboratory in Urbana, Illinois in the 1960's and 1970's, were proposed within largerphilosophical frameworks, with important implications for cognitive science and biology. In any case, theempirical basis for those theories depends on material and computational systems with the self-organizingcharacteristics outlined above. It is this empirical foundation of self-organization that I am exploring here,and not the related higher level interpretations of eigenbehavior.
1.2 Constructivism
Autonomous systems must construct their reality by using stable structures internally available. Objects areconstructed by peculiarities of cognitive operators (the maintenance of stable structures) and are notaccessible through a direct representation of real world categories. Constructivism, the philosophicalcornerstone of second-order cybernetics, does not merely entail the idea that objects are not accessible butthat objects are constructed by cognition and constitute its basic building blocks. Today, most of us agreewith this in principle. However, what must still be addressed is how do these stable eigenvalues becomeeigenbehaviors, in other words, what is the nature of the structural coupling (to use the autopoieticterminology [Maturana and Varela, 1987]) between an autonomous, self-organizing system, and itsenvironment? How do the internally constructed eigenvalues refer to aspects of the environment? How canwe increase the variety of eigenbehavior? Can this variety be open-ended?
2 Emergence and levels of description
There are three levels that need to be addressed when dealing with the notion of emergent phenomena inself-organizing systems, in particular, of emergent classification. First, there is the material, dynamical,substrate which is the causal basis for all other levels that we may further distinguish. Second, we have the

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