The Self Organisation of Information Systems, Imaginationland, and the nature of symbolic systems|Chapter 1|Complexity, Information Theory and the Nature of Symbolic systems: The Death of the Gods and the Revolt Against Reason

On the self organization of information systems

The most fundamental question that religion can ask- Is God, or are the Gods subject to chaos? Chaos being the non recurrence of phenomena. Things are happening, but the same thing does not keep happening. In order for you to have planets and stars to then have people and cheeseburgers, you need a consistent structure of reality to scale over. Said another way. Is God, or are the gods a function of the universe Or is he/they the universe.

For the Greeks the answer was simple. Before anything, there was chaos. After chaos, there was the Gods. But these are not the Gods as as you know them. Their names lack capitalization due to their lack of complexity. It is not until the earth and the sky came together to produce time (Chronos) did gaia become Gaia to the Greeks. Time, as the iteration of the changes in space, fits nicely with the Greeks. for them, you need changes in space to get time. If everything is chaotic, and reality has no structure, how can anything happen for you to then have something to register its iteration?

Imagination Land

The Strange Order of Things

However it is worth understanding that humans do use reinforcement learning. But machine learning algorithms do not take advantage of the way nature creates intelligence. You are an information system, on top of a nervous system. It is worth understanding that the evolution of life is also the evolution of intelligence as such. In the sense that, at some point, life was not able to see, smell, hear or have access to any senses. Therefore, it is worth understanding that the first information system was not the neocortex but the nervous system. Feelings have evolved in order to give us a representation of the outside world. I see a tiger, I am then scared, so I then run. 

Feelings as an information system

Feelings give us a way to represent the outside world within our brain. Originally, when something felt good it was because it was good. The cognitive dimension was tied to the physical dimension. The difference between what is perceived as valuable in the cognitive realm and what is actually valuable was non-existent in hunter gatherer times because one evolved based on the other.  Feelings allowe us to represent mentally the state of life within the organism and the state of life outside the organism in the cognitive realm. This is something which helps with evolution.

I felt hungry, so I tried eating some ice cream. That didn’t quite work because I felt sick. I then went to chipotle for some steak guac, and now I feel a lot better. Maybe that Ferari will fill the void in my life. You then get the Ferrari but are just as morabund as ever. But at least, you learnt. So this process of consciously trying to satiate unease is how society scales through time. This is the point of Demasio’s strange order of things. However, Mises wrote Human Action in 1949.

Biological motivation for the fantastical

The biological motivation for the fantastical is the case against reality. It is evolutionarily less expensive to imagine, than to perceive. Imagination is used to fill in the gap in our perception. Humans see the part of the electromagnetic spectrum most conducive to their survival. Other animals, see a part conducive to theirs. No animal sees everything.

At the beginning, living things occupied their exact physical dimension in space (bacteria) through touch, then occupied more space with their other senses (animals), and then their existential dimension in space (humans). The level of that existentialism depends on the mind’s ability to conceptualize information. The ability to do so, is known as imagination.


Information systems as the mapping of chaos, with minimum energy expenditure. Humans think the way they do because it is the least energy-consuming way to move through a physical universe. The human brain needs less energy than a supercomputer to navigate the same domain.

In the language of computer science, your nervous system responds in a binary. Did this human action satiate my felt unease? If yes, repeat, if not then avoid. The nervous system acts as a compressor of information in order to map onto the high-dimensional nature of reality. Compression is a term that originated in the computer science literature but belongs squarely in the discipline of evolutionary biology. Essentially, it is How many thoughts can I have per calorie. It is important to remember that the energy a gorilla uses to lift a car is equivalent to the energy you use to watch that Netflix show.

The goal of compression is to try to reduce a set of data points by understanding the general behavior of the system. For example, if I have the coordinates of all the planets in the orbit of the sun, I could then compress this information by producing the equation which predicts the motion of the object.

The nature of symbolic systems

On the symbolic mapping of objects

Imagination, previously calibrated to local patterns of nature, can be externalized. Symbols increase the complexity of which the brain can interface with reality. Storing and creating outside of baseline levels. After a certain level of complexity, symbolic systems are necessary to organize society. They can be shared among people to homogenize social coordination.

Stanford, the only university with a symbolic system’s degree, defines a symbolic system as “the meaningful symbols that represent the world around us”. Unfortunately for them, they defined a symbol not a symbolic system. A symbolic system, are the rules which define the interaction between symbols. Symbols, being a subset of an image.

Therefore, a better definition of a symbolic system is the set of rules which dictate the behavior of variable images. Variable images being the codification of relevant phenomena. It is the externalization of imagination, given the biological motivation for the fantastical.

On the computational nature of capital and the pure time theory of interest

The role of feelings in information processing, save for the recent work of neuro-scientist Antonio Damasio, is completely absent in modern literature. However, it does have a corollary surprisingly in the economics literature. Specifically, the work of the Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises whose theory of human action is predicated on the notion that humans act because they want to satiate felt unease. This unease is generated by the nervous system and it is up to the information processing system to try to determine it.

intelligence stems from the human’s ability to interface accurately with reality. People, with skin in the game, do better without skin in the game not because of incentives (the point of the book Skin in the Game) but because of their feedback to reality. Feedback is then compressed by your nervousness into a binary. It is up to the information system to then process.

The satiation of felt unease, takes place through time. This information processing takes place through time. Time, an increasing the de emphasize topic in economics with theories of the trade cycle replaced by macro economics classes. Classes, on time preference, relegated to behavioral economics. To Mises, human action is a computation with regards to how long one can satiate felt unease for. It’s a matter of intelligence to be able to model felt unease over a time horizon. From an artificial intelligence perspective, the pure time theory of interest seeks to model the returns to time.

Economics as a symbolic system

Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources. This can be expanded as: economics is the study of the allocation of scarce means (inputs) towards desired ends (output). This allocation is done at a price. Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce means at a price towards desired ends. Ideally, one does not allocate resources once. Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce means (inputs) allocated at a price towards desired ends (outputs) through time.

The fundamental point of the Misesian portion of the Austrian school of economic thought is that the symbolic systems used in economics are inappropriate. As these symbolic systems are those inherited from natural science and mathematics. These symbolic systems, when applied to economics, lead to faulty conclusions. As economics, the youngest of all the sciences, requires a different set of symbolic systems.

The Economics of Mises

The above point, made by Mises, was uttered prior to the days of the computer. Therefore, the language of information theory was limited. Information theory was not fully developed until after Mises. Despite this point, Mises was making a point about the nature of computation. Where one takes a computationalist view of the universe. Thereby characterizing human intelligence as a specific instance of intelligence as such. The language of artificial intelligence then becomes available to economics. Specifically, economics is the study of the estimation of a cost function.

This is in stark contrast to neoclassical economics which is completely devoid of any notion of computation. The closest thing to it comes from the notion of creative destruction. Theorized by the oft mischaracterized as Austrian but squarely Walrasian-Joseph Schumpeter. In which he acknowledges that it is the entrepreneur which takes the economy from one state of equilibrium to the other. 

Language as a symbolic system

Alphabetical symbols

The mapping of variable images onto phonetics allows the common information communication to propagate over a geographic area. The rules governing the symbolic system of language is known as grammar.

Human beings navigate this high-dimensional nature, not by mapping their reality to a set of 1s and 0s, but with words and images. It is less computationally expensive to tell a human being “the sky is blue” than it is to run a machine learning algorithm that determines the sky is blue. Specifically, I only need 8 bytes of information (the amount of information needed to store the ASCII keyboard) to tell a human almost everything I need to know about his universe. However, to a computer, the sentence “the sky is blue” means nothing other than the 1s and 0s that it needs to retrieve to generate that sentence on the screen. Needless to say, it takes several hundred orders of magnitude to run a machine-learning algorithm to understand there is such a thing as a sky and that it is blue.

Jungian archetypes

The gods are the symbolic mapping of different natural phenomena. Religion, fundamentally, is a reflection of the environment. The Mesototamians, flanked by the violently erupting Tigirs and the Euphrates, viewed their gods as capricious and vengeful. The Egyptians, with the gently flooding Nile, viewed themselves as a favored civilization.

Religion as a symbolic system

These gods and their stories represent ergodic habit formation. The habits that we use to survive across time. With the best habits, being propagated across time. Those with improper habits would perish with time.

Another term for the word God is the nature of reality is what Buda calls the law. Which is why, in Buddhism,  there is no prayer. One cannot pray to the nature of reality. One obeys the nature of reality. The Greek epic of the Odyssey is what happens when one does not obey the nature of reality. Odysseus, the principle protagonist is lost at sea after disrespecting Poseidon. The morale of the story, is that if one is to go against the nature of reality, one is to pay the cost.

On the Death of God and the Disneyfication of myth

Religion, by this interpretation, is the codification of ergodic habit formation. Said another way, formalized religion is the process of symbolizing the acts which lead to the continuation of the species. When people lament the death of God, they are lamenting the death of ergodic habit formation. The death of the habits that got us this far. It is unclear if our new habits will take us anywhere.

In a market economy, however, what propagates are not the myths best suited for survivability, but those that are appealing to the most number of people. Storytelling, from a means of conveying information. to a means of generating liquid capital. leading to the loss of the stories. Thereby distorting the incentive, of society shared myths. 

Girard-Memetic Desire

From an information theoretic perspective, humans are trying to solve an impossible problem. The information topography of reality is denser than what humans can understand. How do humans survive?

Some of the information, which was conducive to survival, is compressed within the nervous system. A nervous system augmented by an information system to help resolve this information in asymmetry. Humans look to others to determine their goals. Specifically, humans choose a role model. They then adopt the values of the model. Before then, competing with the idol for the objects of interest. The triangle nature of desire can be frustrated by scarcity. As each subsequent generation expects to attain the object of desire. These idols need not be flesh and blood. Girrard himself came up with the theory while reading a novel. Any Jungian archetype therefore bears a viable model for behavior.

A memetic theory of evolutionary biology

It is also worth considering the implications of a memetic theory of intelligence. The evolution of human intelligence followed a gradual path. There is an argument that humans evolved their intelligences as a function of sexual competition. Regardless of the nature of the competition. Humans evolved their intelligence as a function of natural selection.

Said another way, the development of human intelligence was a positive adaptation to evolutionary pressures. In the language of evolutionary calculus,  Humans trade strength for brains. In terms of Artificial intelligence, the goal is compression. To produce the most amount of information processing with the least amount of associated energy. A trade that has turned out quite successfully (as of this writing). Hunter gathering humans went from a local species to a global one.

The more people over an area, the more time humans are able to attend to each other. The more time they compete with each other, the more human intelligence is prioritizing competition versus force, the more energy is associated with the development of intelligence. The greater the level of intelligence of a given population, the more intelligence is prioritised in the evolutionary calculus.

Mathematics as a symbolic system (technical)

The fundamental rule which undermines the symbolic system of mathematics, or the interaction between mathematical symbols are the laws of arithmetic and geometry.

A Number System

Numbers, fundamentally, are for counting things. Different types of numbers can count different things. We use complex numbers in fluid dynamics, because no matter how small the linear scaling of a natural number is, there are places on the number line that it can never get to.

The most fundamental type of numbers are known as the natural numbers. Fundamentally derived from the Hindu-Arabic Number system. Where pictorial patterns are used to label each succession of I.

A symbol is meant to represent a numeric quantity. Prior to this a three was III. If I wanted to count to ten I would need ten I (IIIIIIIIII). Each number system has its corresponding base: Decimal is of base ten, binary base two. Otherwise, we would need a new symbol for each successive digit of ones till forever. The idea of a number base allows you to extend the codification numbers within the same set of symbols.

The variable image revolution

The Matrix

Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, is the intellectual inspiration for the Matrix franchise. The Matrix is a unique point of philosophy in its own respect. It Departs from the book in many ways. The first Matrix film, reflecting the versatility of filmmaking as an information medium with Hong Kong style kung fu. The other films were a poor imitation of the first.

Baudrillard postulates that people get their information not through actual reality but our shared imagination. This shared imagination, externalized through increasingly sophisticated information technologies. With increasingly salient variable images. The book starts off with a map of reality. A map so accurate that it’s confused for the real one. Anybody that’s followed Google Maps, down a bad road, knows the equivalents of this. It is this confusion between this externalized imagination and fundamental reality is the Matrix.

A symbol is fundamentally a subset of an image. It’s just not shared images, but shared symbols which help humans make sense of reality.

The Evolution of variable image technologies

Our ability to produce in addition to the complexity of these variable images, has increased through time. Eventually, we will learn how to automate the process of variable image creation through the printing press. And, be able to send these symbols without having to walk with the telegraph.

The inflection point in variable image technology is the postmodern era with the introduction of the television. The television can be thought of as a one way variable image machine. The shift from satellite to cable, represented a fundamental shift in the cost structure of the content wars. The means of transporting these valuable images shifted from broadcasting via electromagnetic waves via satellite to sending the very same information via fiber optic cables.

The personal computer is a two way variable image machine. Instead of just being able to receive the variable images, one can also create them. Two way variable image was mass commercialized in 1984  with Apple Macintosh. It gave people the greatest externalizing imagination machine in human history, overtaking pen and paper. The Macintosh allows users the use of visual representation associated with computer objects. The iPhone represents an explosion in the ubiquity of variable images. It allows, users to view and create variable images at an unprecedented rate.

Video games can be considered as dynamic images. In the sense, that the images change based on user action.