Anticipatory Systems Theory

The following was a post I put up on Facebook that David Ing suggested belonged here, as well:

In Return of the Jedi, Emperor Palpatine constantly speaks of having “foreseen” what’s going on. But he is ultimately completely wrong in how things end up. So, it’s not prophecy, it’s prediction that he’s using.

And prediction requires models. Accurate predictions require well-encoded models that are being appropriately applied. There’s a lot of room for trouble, there! Especially because time means change, so even what was once an accurate model will phase out of accuracy. And it doesn’t tell you when it does so. That’s one of the ways that error creeps in.

I’ve pointed out that the error signal is proof that there are models at work in a given causal process in biological systems, such as a prediction that proves to be incorrect. This is part of Anticipatory Systems Theory as developed by Robert Rosen. The existence of the capacity for error is inescapable in any activity that involves models and since all life (and mind) uses model-based guidance, that potential for error is exploited all the time by the evolution of species.

What is camouflage? What is a hunting lure? What is mimicry? These behaviors are all around us in the natural world. They are all about causing an error in some other species’ guidance model’s predictions. Garbling another species interpretation of information-- the prediction of what something means, for either protective purposes or for predatory purposes… of maybe for reproductive purposes.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to make these concepts more understandable because I think science and humanity generally needs to understand this stuff. My father’s scientific work isn’t just for people at, or approaching, his level of technical and mathematical prowess! These concepts are universally applicable if you are alive and intelligent, and living in an ecosystem on Earth (or trying to design ecosystems for anywhere else)… Here’s a prediction for you: No matter what you plan to do, you’re going to be using models to do it. It is unavoidable, both somatically and mentally. So, it behooves us to understand fully what that means. I think I’m kind of uniquely place to be able to help with that. But I need to hone my own communication skills to be able to do it well.


Robert Rosen’s diagram of The Modeling Relation. N stands for “Natural System” and F stands for “Formal System” (the model). Arrow #1 represents the entailment by which the Natural System is doing what it is doing; the Causal Entailment. Arrow #3 represents the encoded version of that entailment into a model; the Inferential Entailment. There’s a lot of information packed into this nifty little diagram he created. For one thing, it shows how it is that there is nothing about the Natural System that tells us how to go about building a good model of it. The encoding and decoding arrows represent, among other things, the work of Science or of the human mind (from which Science springs) trying to figure something out. It’s up to us how to model anything-- and how/when to apply the model once we build it. It is our responsibility to keep decoding-- keep checking the predictions against the actual system to make sure it is still accurate and we are still applying it appropriately.

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Thank you for sharing here Judith, very valuable and appreciated.

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:slight_smile: (first …fix the grammar in the sentence that has the words "uniquely place’)…Second …a few questions. Why should we expect the Natural Realm and the Formal Realm to require (or have the capacity ‘to be’) connected and relevant? What benefit(s) is/are in that association? What are the mechanisms of energy and information “redistribution” involved? What mechanisms of coding (aka relevance interpretation) did Robert cite or specify? If he -didn’t- … how would -you- fill in those answers? What do those answers inform you about the qualities of systems a) behaviors, b) capacities for performance and data/information transforming (processing;using usefully)?

What if the N and F realms overlap and are concurrent in some real systems/entities?

For example … an energy “wave” is both the ‘data’ -and- the ‘carrier’ … -of- "data’. That is the [pre-symmetry breaking] composite of any given systems – ‘self relevance’ ‘self recognition’ … within extended ‘non-self’ environments … where "otherness’ and Bateson ‘distinction capabilities’ fundamentally reside.

:-)))) Just asking … But I really -would- like some thoughtful answering … as best as possible.
[Jamie R.] @integrity

I hadn’t thought about how our (mental) models of the world can be used against us.

In our anthropocentric world, we don’t like being tricked. However, maybe we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security in thinking that others (in our species, beyond our tribes) are “mostly good”.

My inference is that all living systems can be tricked.

David,wait a moment. You must know that diversion, feints, subterfuge, “mis-information” .(eg, the phony WWII Army Group A in England to convince Hitler the invasion would be at Callais and not Normandy) … or Genl Washington. keeping false camp fire lit in Brooklyn while his army escaped to Manhattan) etc … are all aspects of …considering the ‘mental models’ … of the "opponents’.

Illusion and .‘false impressions’ are tactical tools.

Even in innocent situations … theatrical costume … help audiences “suspend reality” and imagine there is a different ‘reality’ in the play or film or presentation. Imagery is part of the information “option spaces”. Existence is “impression” and interpretation … not only ''exact realities and dependable data". CGI … crafted imagery … but still … ‘cartoons’. “Experiences” … even and especially “mental experiences” … help shape people’s opinions and attitudes. People and cultures then make choices to accpet the imagery and relations they feel benefit them … versus the ones that don’t .,.(or just “might not” … and that in turn leads to attitudes and judgements and choices regarding how to act and ‘decide’ in certain situations. … At what moment to buy or sell a stock, at what moment to take certain actions versus others in a sports game? Lose a battle at one moment that will lead to a better strategic situtation in the future. All of these are complexities and complications of “information dissemination”… gathering, interpretation, evaluations, actions, goals, … survival/endurance behaviors.

These are all – systems isomorphs … … having shared fundamental behavior-related qualia and properties.

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If I never mistyped anything, I’d be insufferable! So, I’ll leave it as it is. To answer your questions:

My father would never have gotten specific about how any particular species encodes any of their models because that’s a detail that tends to distract people from the common patterns. And one way of doing it is just that. It’s like how various species have different ways of “eating” or “reproducing” etc. Metabolism and Repair are two functional activities of life, but how each species goes about those activities can be radically different.

In species with a body and a mind, there does tend to be overlap. As humans, we have mind/body interactions where an awful lot of dysfunction ensues because the models are incompatible or the definitions for “self” may be incompatible. I’m very glad I became a meditator, I can tell you that much!

It was PTSD that induced me to go to my first ten day Vipassana course. I already knew that PTSD is a model-based malady. But that didn’t help me reset those models. The exaggerated startle reflex of PTSD which seemed to predict “Anything unexpected is BAD.” At least once per hour something utterly nonthreatening would make me jump out of my skin. There’s nothing like some actual Anticipatory Dysfunction in your life to get you to reread Dad’s book on Anticipatory Systems.

As for differentiating between the natural realm and the formal realm, I’m not sure I follow what you’re asking. The benefits of that association in living system organization, though, are survival. The modeling relation represents entailment that my father called “A Law of Nature”. That all living organisms have somehow internalized that entailment and put it to use within their own organization is remarkable. It is also something that must be true across the universe: All living organisms are Anticipatory Systems. It’s the signature of life.

Your inference is correct. And it’s not just mental models: All living organisms can be put into an error situation, one way or another. Examples are legion!

For instance, there’s a predatory species of firefly called Photuris, where the females deliberately mimic the “Hey Baby!” female flashing response of the Photinus species. When the male Photinus lands to mate, the Photuris female kills and eats him. This is a sophisticated thing she’s doing. She’s using his models against him. This is an insect!

Consider a less horrific example with the Monarch butterfly. It takes about four generations of Monarchs to reach Toronto from the overwintering grounds in Mexico. The fourth generation doesn’t keep flying north-- instead they turn around and migrate from the northern states and southern Canada all the way back down to the same overwintering grounds in Mexico-- and somehow know not only when but how to get there. Those are hereditary models at work.

The more you study nature, the more of these examples reveal themselves. But humanity is a really unusual evolutionary case. Our minds represent, in my view, a second Anticipatory System within the first one. We have a somatic “self” and a mental “self”, and the two are not necessarily the same. I have a transgendered sibling and I am here to tell you… she knew there was something wrong between her body and her mind from like age 3.

Humans have also perfected the kind of malice it takes to deliberately use someone else’s models against them. Read up on Goebbels’ views of what propaganda is and how to do it well. The very fact that there is a Commandment against “bearing false witness” is one piece of evidence of how damaging it is to deliberately twist information into a weapon. This is all model-based stuff, which is why I think this area of my father’s body of scientific work is the most important.

One of the main dangers in Anticipatory Systems is rapid change. Most species cannot recognize when their guidance models are in error, and even if they could most species can’t change those models. It takes evolutionary time for many somatic models to change, for example the air-breathing mammals that are evolving back to marine mammals, like whales. Intelligence offers the ability to recognize error and ignore the guidance of those models, as well as building workarounds to survive such changes to environment in real time. Personally, I think that’s why intelligence has been concentrated over human evolutionary time. Selection pressures have made it a boon to survival in the face of rapid change. However, most species don’t have any other option but to follow the guidance of their internal models, even if it leads off the proverbial cliff. And every species that disappears from a given ecosystem accelerates the rate of change for all remaining species. Extinction cascades are made of this.

It’s hard to grasp the magnitude of the danger that is coming from the rapidity of change that “human-induced, rapid global climate change” represents, without taking the Anticipatory nature of life into account.

So, I keep doing what I can to point it out and illustrate how it applies to what we are seeing and I’m explicitly saying this information has to get plugged into our scientific models, that we are using to try and predict consequences of proposed therapies and so forth… Right now, our scientific models of climate change and how it affects ecosystems are missing this information.

Jamie, just as a PS… A friend of mine who I met through my father’s work once said to me “I’ve figured out what you are! You’re Maxwell’s Demon, in a skirt!” I think that’s one of my favorite descriptions, ever. :~) It also speaks to your question of why models can be a boon to survival. The importance of accurate sensory information coming in and of accurate interpretations of that information… can’t be overstated. Certainly it can be selected for by natural processes, and species whose models are too specific (for instance, only one thing is “food”) tend to not fare well when their environment is rapidly changing.

Let’s see … I wrote a paper where Maxwell’s demon is exactly equal to the ‘read-write’ head of the Turing Machine … that makes you the central comprehender evaluater decision processor of all time and space … (forget the gender association by that “machochist”). :-)))) JNR

I interpreted Maxwell’s Demon to represent the importance of manipulating information by creating a relation with it. In the original thought experiment, the demon was segregating molecules according to how fast or slow they were moving, right? Fast ones on one side, slow ones on the other. So, the temperature rose on the fast side and sank on the slow side. He felt I was doing something similar with the translation of Dad’s scientific work into what it means– for those who somehow can’t absorb the meaning from the original published work. It’s very difficult, I agree. I had my father as my tutor. So, I view it as my duty to pay it forward for anybody else who, like me, needs more examples and applications to help make the concepts “make sense”. Most of the people who need his work are not the kind of people who could just read and absorb the meaning from his books and papers. In fact, I have yet to meet anybody who could do that. Even old students of his.

Hey @judithlrosen, I’m curious how the concept of “Feedforward” relates to Anticipatory Systems? Have you come across this concept? Is there a relationship?

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Hi @judithrosen, please forgive a naive question but could there be an exaptation in evolutionary psychology between anticipatory systems and projection (Freud)?