Friday, November 03, 2006

patterns of self-organized systems

Before starting I'd like to say that 1) it's almost midnight here on a cold night in which my truck has broken down; 2) the youngest guy was sick so spent some time with me, actually in the truck & tow truck, rather than at work; 3) a long week winding down, I lost the piece of paper I had scrawled the notes below on; I had put them in a pocket during a test I was giving, and now have to recreate them. But this project is a kind of passion. I know other people are doing this kind of work, and are probably doing it more scientifically; I'll bring the links soon. But, rather than buy or get those books, I really want to put it in order myself, completely originally. I'm open to other variations, other theories. It's just that I think that:

-the mind is basically very simple, very efficient, very short on space that it is willing to allot to language;
-the systems it creates must always be in harmony with large numbers of people in the community and so must have a kind of mass logic
-there are plenty of examples in nature that we can use to figure this out; the laws will be self-evident and will be physical laws.

Briefly, cars and traffic are not the best model, because we approach traffic with the idea that the law is above us, that it's always been there, when in fact the primary motivation for most of our actions in cars is what other nearby cars are doing. Though the law is a minor consideration, when making a model for language it's better to find a self-organized system in which law is not even a consideration, as that will be more similar to what we see in language. I truly believe that all this talk about "restriction" and "universal restriction" genetic or otherwise, is crap. Why would a language have a restriction? A language is a construct of humans. A restriction serves no earthly purpose. The only restriction on language is that the brain has only so much space & energy that it's willing to devote to it; after that, it becomes inefficient, and humans' ability to do other things effectively is compromised. So we, a community of language speakers, work collectively to simplify, constanty, to adjust for other changes that we've been forced to accept and integrate.

One good model for what happens is a large crowd of fans leaving a stadium after a game; the walkway may slope down, but is bordered on both sides by walls. People walk at optimum speeds knowing that walking to slow will impede progress and walking faster would be impossible. People who need to tie their shoes wait, if possible, until there is more space, but if not, an occasional mother stops to tie a son's shoe and the crowd finds a way to work around her until progress is back to normal. It cannot be quite normal, as hundreds of people are fitting through a narrower space, but it adjusts naturally so that each person can make reasonable forward progress and get out of the stadium at the same time. People are very sensitive to each other's moods; a kind of heightened awareness permeates though naturally what happens to the people in front of you is far more important than what happens to the people behind you.

Some physical laws in the situation that are not mentioned above:

-Each person gravitates naturally and subconsciously to space that is equidistant from the people around; thus he/she has as much space as possible to manouver while walking. If the person on the left squeezes right, he/she naturally squeezes right also in order to optimize space and keep traffic going, avoid bumping.

-People are aware that certain actions are bad for the group: trying to go too fast; weaving; turning around; veering off; such actions inconvenience hundreds and are therefore to be avoided. A kind of peer pressure keeps the traffic going at optimum speeds and forward, and generally prevails.

-The vast majority of movements are adjustments to other movements. For example, the woman who stops to tie her child's shoe causes thousands of minor adjustments, in people going back several tiers; one action of hers, that was not an adjustment itself (in terms of the crowd and its collective action) may have caused hundreds that were. Yet to a person way back, who experiences the person in front of them adjusting slightly, they may not see that movement as an adjustment, yet they adjust themselves, not worrying about the reason. Traffic jams are like this. We assume that some accident is the cause of the jam, yet it may be anything; we adjust to each other constantly and steadily.

-We should not confuse the collective action- the movement of the crowd, movement of the traffic jam, or change of language- with the actions and motivations of the little actors within it who cause everything. Each individual, acting with his/her own motivation, makes the changes that change the system. But the system can be studied as a collective whole- and can be changed, or manipulated, collectively.

-Systems can interact with other systems, for example when the crowd coming down from the bleachers encounters the crowd coming up from the boxes. Still, everyone acts with their own motivation; they want to get out & go home. They have a different pattern to integrate now, but they do it.

-Like water that seeks another channel and occasionally finds it, people will sometimes find another shorter way to get to their cars, and break off from the group in small numbers in this other direction. There is a name for this when rivers do it. It's a natural process; nature encourages it because the original riverbed has built up sediment and is no longer as easy as a passageway as a new route could be. Water is actually a good metaphor also for what is happening, because the system is truly natural, but it's also self-replicating- no matter how fast and successfully the water goes down, there's always more, upstream, waiting to do the same thing. Nature replaces it.

-We learn the laws of behavior from basic cause-effect science and behaviorism. We do what works. We're just trying to get to our cars. We assume that other fans think like we do (they do). We assume that, with the exception of the panhandler at the bottom of the stairs, their motives are as simple as ours. And generally, they are. We do what works, because it works. We have learned the optimum speed to seek; we have learned how to manage the crowd and its obstacles.

Enough for one night- see you in the morning!



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