Mar 30, 2012

Scientific method: fundamental truth vs. fluid knowledge

In the discussion of Planck and Mach, it should be considered that Mach was an empiricist, who had partly auto-didactically trained himself before his formal education and furthermore trained in a handicraft as a woodworker, while Planck was of a theoretical bend, declining for himself the 'need' to do empirical research. This seems important as Mach brings the experience of trial and error, tinkering or 'bricolage' to his theoretical and metaphysical views of (the development of) science.

Planck disagrees with his interpretation of Mach's historio-critical view of science at the beginning of his (Planck's) "Survey of Physics" because Mach tries to build his concepts of (physical) science on the notion of fluidity of human knowledge and the limits of models made up by (wo)man, which Mach sees as a currently 'valid' thought economic conceptualization of the known facts (and supporting assumptions resp. theories). Planck understands these as 'more or less arbitrary' constructions (which, I think, they are not as they are historically developed and take account of the currently known facts 'arranged' under the needs of specific world-views of scientists).

Furthermore, Planck disagrees with Mach's basing science in sense-perceptions (which are nevertheless deemed a useful starting point and correction to former exaggerations based on physical research results), but favors a view based on the 'constancy' of the properties of reality, a constancy which persists through all individual and historical interpretative variation. If I am not mistaken (pls. correct if I am wrong) Planck favors a statistical approach to (re-)searching these constant properties of reality, e.g. endorsing Boltzmann's thermodynamics in this context.

(N.B.: To me it seems Planck reduces the notion of Mach's perception complexes, which link properties of reality and their representation in the mind through mutually dependent functional complexes. Even if we use 'modern', extended sense-organs such as microscopes and Large Hadron Colliders, these measurement instruments can, just like our senses, only react to and register what they are 'designed' and constrained to capture - which leads us to issues with particle-wave dualistic appearances of entities.)

In contrast, Mach uses the 'historic-critical method' developed by religious scholars at the University of Tübingen, who put statements from the bible in their historical context, see e.g. his "Science of Mechanics. A Critical and Historical Account of its Development."

 As indicated above, Planck sees the world differently, where the standard of scientific research should be to strive for 'a fixed world-picture independent of the variation of time and people'. He argues that (physical) theory can be built on more 'fundamental' and unchanging concepts such as his Planck constant. Science should (can?) derive fundamental, stable statements or truths in his view.

I do see how Planck's approach works for abstract constructs as theoretical *pictures of the world* - one can build axiomatic, theoretical systems that capture (or seem to coincide with in a more critical reading) observed facts. However, I do not see how this works on a larger scale of several generations of practical researchers and theorists building their theoretical systems based on what they deem fundamental facts - which usually tended to change over the human history of science (which leaves us with the question: are Planck's constants and constancies subject to change?).

Mar 28, 2012

Conference "An Ecology of Ideas" by American Society for Cybernetics and Bateson Idea Group

From the website:

The American Society for Cybernetics (ASC) and Bateson Idea Group (BIG) come together to hold a conference on the relations among ideas as seen from multiple perspectives. We come from many disciplines but have common roots including cybernetics, circularity, reflexivity, language, culture and systems. For many of us these roots are enmeshed with biology, information, pattern, design, art, aesthetics, ethics and more.

In a world rife with factionalism and disenchantment, we will engage in conversations to integrate disciplines of knowing while taking into account our histories and considering our futures. We will regard both the parts and the whole that arises from the relations between the parts — and thus becomes the context for all the parts. We are concerned with the world that arises from how we live our ideas.
ASC and BIG have common interests in dynamic systems of thought, wisdom and learning. We accept that there are many views and value exploring the relationships between them, rather than in insisting that any view is “right”.

Here is the link to the website and the Call for papers

Mar 23, 2012

Conference: The Law & Economics of Organization: New Challenges and Directions

The Walter A. Haas School of Business, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is issuing a call for original research papers to be presented at the Conference on The Law & Economics of Organization: New Challenges and Directions. 

The purpose of the conference is to take stock of recent advances in the analysis of economic organization and institutions inspired by the work of 2009 Nobel Laureate Oliver Williamson and to examine its implications for contemporary problems of organization and regulation. Empirical research and research informed by detailed industry and institutional knowledge is especially welcome. 

Paper proposals or, if available, completed papers should be submitted on line at by March 31, 2012. The deadline for completed papers is November 1, 2012. Selections will be made by the conference organizers, Professors Pablo Spiller (Berkeley), Scott Masten (Michigan), and Alan Schwartz (Yale). Conference papers will be published in a special issue of the Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization.

International Summit and Conference on Enterprises *as* Systems

For the past 6 years the International Conference on Enterprises as Systems: Theory and Theory in Action has been concerned with the treatment of (networked) enterprises *as* systems in constantly changing social, economic, legal and technical environments. It has been held (with varying degrees of success) with the intent to create an environment for the collaborative exchange of knowledge among and between the Systemics Community, the Systems Architecture and Engineering Community (including Enterprise Architecture), and communities that are concerned with any aspect/part or whole of (inter-, intra-) enterprise systems and enterprises *as* systems.

This year, to further the collaboration effort, a(n) (Networked)Enterprises *as*
Systems Summit will be held in conjunction with the conference. Common threads for both the summit and conference include:

(1) (networked)enterprises *as* systems in the (general) systems-theoretic sense (systemics and the systems family of disciplines)
(2) identification and characterization of some of the most complex problems facing (networked) enterprises and potential solutions to which systemics may contribute.
(3) the formal and/or empirical representation of such systems for description,explanation, simulation, prediction and operation(formal/empirical theory)
(4) the use/application of theory in analysis / design, architecture / engineering, strategy, tactics, and operation of (inter-, intra-) enterprise systems and enterprises *as* systems

In general an enterprise may be considered a business, an educational organization, a standards body, a government organization, a federation, a group of enterprises bound by law in some fashion, any group of cooperating / collaborating enterprises such as those in GRID systems and emergency management/response systems, etc. In essence, an enterprise is a socio-technical system with dynamically varying systems characteristics which are dependent on both its' internal environment and its' external social, legal, economic/financial, and technical environment.

Disciplines of Systemics include, but are not limited to: General Systems Theory, Complex Adaptive Systems, Cybernetics, System-of-Systems, Systems Dynamics, Systems Thinking, Systems Engineering, Systems Analysis, Autopoiesis, Organization Theory.

The distinction between the summit and conference is that a summit organization committee, with input from interested individuals/organizations, will determine the summit tracks, the summit schedule, duration, etc.
The conference (and workshop) will focus primarily on a special topic and individuals will submit contributions for consideration. It is tentatively planned for the conference to kick-off the summit the first week in Aug. The summit will be virtual and will tentatively last until the third week in Nov.

Conference Dates: August 15-17, 2012
The Summit will run from August 20 - November 21st.

Summit planning is in the early stages. If anyone has any comments/questions, or if any person or organization is interested in planning the *summit* please contact me.

The Science of Complexity: Understanding the Global Financial Crisis

Business-oriented symposium by interesting combination of two 'complexity' institutions: 

The time-honored formulas of mainstream economics no longer capture the complex dynamics of today's financial markets. This three-day symposium offers a view of the recent global financial crises from a new perspective—that of complexity science. Sponsored by two leading complexity research institutes, the symposium will feature several of the world's most prominent complex systems thinkers. These experts will offer insights from non-linear dynamics, social networks, systemic risk, experimental economics, computational social science, and other areas that are vital not only to understand the current crises but to develop policies that address the underlying causes.

The program is open to any interested participants, but is particularly designed for professionals in government, business, and the non-profit sectors. 

May 16-18, 2012, at the new Founders Hall facility at the GMU Arlington, VA campus

For more information see

Mar 21, 2012

Scientific practice and scientific progress: Integration and testing of rival hypotheses

In school I still learned that it is good argumentative practice (and a better strategy) to deal with potential counter arguments and criticisms by taking them apart in the course of your argument. Science is about making decisions about rival hypotheses, interpretations of evidence based on a set of observations, tests, experiments (depending on in which field you work and what is feasible). Thus, it is good scientific practice to compare rival hypotheses / theories (i.e. systems of interpretation of facts, data, or other evidence), by testing them with a set of data.

Rival hypotheses might (or rather often are indeed) special cases of an underlying reality. There is some truth in all observations, some are better than others, some are more suitable than others given a specific context. Think of the parts of an elephant that is examined by several blind men. Everyone comes up with different observations and theories about “reality”. 

That is what we actually often can observe in scientific practice: ideologically 'blinded' representatives of schools of thoughts mindlessly hurling arguments about “reality” at each other – based on selective interpretations of data – without looking for an integrative theory. 

Thus systems of scientific thought have the ability to press observations into procrustes beds that seem to lead to different “proven” true interpretations of reality – which are thus artifacts of more or less subtle differences in scientific worldviews, i.e. perspectives on the underlying reality .

Integration of opposing, rival views can be achieved if scientists (just as “ordinary” people) are able to switch their perspective and manage to develop dialectically the synthesis from thesis and antithesis. A set of literary examples that nicely shows how the integrative method works are Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about Sherlock Holmes. Holmes generates a number of partial hypotheses based on the integration of facts known so far - which are proven 'wrong' by the some new detail until he stumbles across the truth by some coincidence. 

(Arthur Conan Doyle was incidentally influenced by Charles S. Peirce’ pragmatist philosophy, which stresses abduction (something akin to intuition) as source of knowledge. I cannot claim to be an expert on Peirce, but my understanding of Peirce’ abduction is that it is this process of generating new knowledge by integrating controversial elements into a larger picture.)

Resurrected and revised post from the Organization and Markets blog a few years ago.

Complexity Science and Social Science At the Interface to the Real World

Call for Papers and Conference Participation

Coping with the global-scale challenges of financial instability, food security, climate change, sustainability, demographic change and migration, pervasive web technology, transnational governance and security, among others, will involve dealing with large-scale complex systems made up of many parts interacting and adapting in sometimes subtle ways. People are critically important components of them all, which makes studying such systems a topic for social science as well as for natural science and engineering. However, the issues transcend disciplinary boundaries and making progress will require a significant interdisciplinary effort.
Much of the research that is required to address these issues is taking place at a new interface, where collaboration between economists, demographers, sociologists, etc., is supported and catalysed by tools and concepts from the physical sciences, mathematics, computer science and engineering. In the same way that research at the life and physical sciences interface has revolutionised biology and medicine since the turn of the century, research at the social sciences interface has the potential to transform our ability to answer questions about social, socio-economic, socio-ecological and socio-technological systems.
Contributions in the form of papers of 2500 – 8000 words reporting work that straddles the interface between complexity science and social science are invited.  The intention is that a collection of papers will be published after the conference as a special issue of a prestigious journal.  Papers describing applications are especially welcomed.  There will also be an opportunity to present posters.
Date: 24th and 25th September 2012
Venue: Chicheley Hall, Royal Society International Centre, Newport Pagnell, UK.
Link venue

To Attend: Follow the link to a page with further information and to submit an abstract or expression of interest to attend through the online form. 

Deadline: 1st June 2012. Places will be confirmed by 1st August 2012.

Queries to Prof. Nigel Gilbert and Alison Cooper (network coordinator)