Task layer-multiplicity

Sometimes both everyday observations, and scientific observations in more than one field, appear to be telling us the same thing. This page concerns a strategy for which this might be true.

To be more specific, this page is about an integrative approach to the tracking (and also hopefully the support) of community structure. Below you'll find links about early attempts to explore the strategy's applications in everyday life.

Some of these applications are also mentioned in this technical note (e-print & updates) put together for a physics audience. It looks like the approach fits in with observations in many other walks of life, but help will be needed working out the connections and making them accessible since experts in the fundamentals may have only anecdotal experience with the applications.

For instance I know something about statistical-inference and materials-physics, but am only a "lay enthusiast" in topic areas like behavioral science and the study of complex systems. That means that we'll need inputs from experts in other areas, as well as from teachers, if we are going to put these connections across disciplines to good use.

40 second elevator pitch

How about tracking the extent to which organisms manage to work on relationships that look inward & outward from the boundaries of skin, family & culture, i.e. in human terms to spend time on self, friends, family, hierarchy, culture & profession? Some organisms, like tulips and gophers, do not naturally focus on all six.

A long-emergent societal goal has been to empower humans for discretionary participation in all of these areas. Consideration of all layers at once suggests that this may incidentally nurture informed task-layer diversity, since both specialists and generalists of all sorts might improve society's chances to successfully adapt.

This may sound trivial, until one realizes that policies which focus on a single layer of organization sometimes do great damage to other layers in the process of implementation. Moreover, integrative measures of community-health may be key to closed-loop balancing of strategy on important cross-disciplinary issues in the days ahead.

[SpinOffs] [Interactive] [Exercises] [Illustrations] [References]


This page is set up to discuss non-technical applications for a simplex model of layered niche-networks, along with the conceptual connections that underpin it. The model associates six positive numbers (resource fractions directed toward the buffering of correlations in/out relative to skin, family and culture) with each metazoan.

These numbers characterize a community's correlation-network only in terms of the individual time and/or energy resources allocated to each layer. One objective is to explore ways to gather high-quality experimental data on the layer multiplicity of niche structures in a given metazoan community (via e.g. observation of behaviors, communication traffic, and for human communities development of survey instruments).

Primary long-term goals are to examine the robustness of task layer-multiplicity as a measure of community health, and to examine the utility of multi-layer awareness as conceptual tool for tracking the healing effect of communications on communities. Possible application to displaced communities of metazoans may also be considered, with the simple objective there of going one step beyond body count (and GDP) in quantitatively assessing the impact of disasters and policy changes on a given community.



levels of selection?

This approach offers a robust perspective on the role of subsystem-correlations in free-energy driven emergence of both analog and digital complexity. For instance the biological literature has put much energy into thinking about how evolutionary-selection operates on post-pair collections of organisms (like families, interaction-groups, and species) to give rise to altruistic, ethical, and even eusocial behaviors [cf. Okasha 2008].

In both analog and digital complex-systems, pair-correlations naturally arise by ``outward-looking" interaction between subsystems on a given level [cf. Schneidman et al. 2006]. However post-pair correlations in evolving systems often arise instead from selection that looks inward from the next level up. Hence it's no surprise that practical quantitative work may require one to cut through the ``Ptolemaic epicycles" of organism-centricity by focusing directly on the dynamics of molecule and/or idea code-pools [cf. Nowak et al. 2010].

The symmetry-break perspective also seamlessly connects the free-energy driven deviation (i.e. KL-divergence) of simple analog (i.e. code-free) systems from equilibrium (e.g. ambient) to the evolution of digital systems which store (their delocalized portion of) information on subsystem-correlations in replicable (e.g. molecular and or idea-based) codes. This means that unlike most existing literature on multi-level natural-selection, this connection opens the door to models for the decline [cf. Diamond 2005], as well as the bloom, of layered complexity.

Information and available-work flow are thus given a single thread, shared by evolving physical and biological systems. What the formalism does not do is tell us where multilayer complexity will emerge, or how long it will last, leaving plenty for those of us on our rare planet to be thankful about.

divisions of labor

Bloom and decline

Given that communities are comprised of (up to) six layers of correlation-structure looking in/out from the boundaries of self, family & culture, then where feasible it may be advantageous to let organisms explore the mix of tasks to which they are best suited. Put another way, society may benefit from informed task-layer diversity i.e. where some individuals enjoy buffering-correlations in all 6 layers while others focus their energies on a limited few.

In this context the answer to the ``urgent question" posed by Émile Durkheim in his dissertation on workplace divisions of labor [Durkheim 1893], namely to choose roundedness or specialization, therefore may be ``where possible explore roundedness, but specialize when that works better for you". This is consistent with the trend since Durkheim's time, in societies with increasing free-energy per capita and increasingly-mobile information sources, away from rigid divisions of labor (e.g. based on heritage and gender) at home as well as at work.

If an adaptive society is best comprised of a balanced set of folks who are not all generalists, then of course success in any one area may be often correlated with failings in other areas. What examples of this pop up in your mind?

natural tensions

Given that most organisms (including humans) find themselves taking care of only some part of a community structure that has self-assembled with help from participation by their ancestors, it's no surprise that tension between layers that look in and out from skin, family & culture will develop. Thus specialists at looking outward from the boundaries of culture might miss its importance altogether, just as champions of economic competition might imagine that everything else is irrelevant.

More importantly, electronic communications now allow these tensions (along with other evolved traits) to be manipulated in human communities with a speed heretofore unimagined. There is a good side to rapid communications as well, but perhaps only to the extent that we learn to protect ourselves against the vulnerabilities that it creates.

closed-loop arguments

In this context closed-loop arguments, beyond just stating one point-of-view or arguing for change in one direction, outline a model that's designed to balance all points of view. The problem is that different points of view often operate in quite different parameter-spaces. This is where an integrative measure of community health can be quite useful.

For instance arguments for gun control involve dis-inhibition associated with the modular nature of human brain-function plus media-manipulation of neolithically-programmed xenophobia in the electronic information-age, while arguments against gun control involve dis-incentivizing violence by criminals plus the lessening of political-temptations to abuse an un-armed citizenry. These diverse issues all impact an individual's ability to buffer correlations that look either in or out from skin, family or culture, so that measures like task-layer-multiplicity will allow one to frame (and thus attempt to balance) such issues in a single potentially-quantitative analysis.

In addition to gun-control, other topical issues today that might benefit from closed-loop analyses (mediated by an integrative measure of community-health) include austerity & economic health, birth-control & ethics, and public healthcare-policy. What else?

intelligent machines

Although an ability to answer questions like a human ala the Turing test is a non-trivial accomplishment, a more substantive life-test for machines may be their task layer-multipicity i.e. their knack for buffering subsystem-correlations that look in & out from their own boundaries of (e.g. of skin, family & culture or robot analogs for these things). What's the task-layer multiplicity of your cell-phone today?

If we take a closer look, of course, metazoan skins are 1 (molecule edge), 2 (cell wall), 3 (tissue boundary) and hence 4 symmetry-breaks beyond the atomic-soup in our planetary surface-layer, while robots and viruses are simply large molecule-assemblies and hence little more than 1 symmetry-break from the soup. This difference between ourselves and machines will remain even if the latter (as stand-alone ``organisms'') have a high task layer-multiplicity.

Thus we can think of both viruses and robots as molecular spinoffs of life on earth, the former having drawn benefit from information about the world around contained in molecule-codes, and the latter having drawn benefit from information contained by idea-codes. These are non-trivial advantages.

The fact that in neither case are they ``built from the ground up" with living cells does not mean that they can't benefit from information on subsystem-correlations provided by living cells. Moreover, in places e.g. away from earth's surface that are hostile to living cells they can serve as an important exploratory extension.

Taken alone robots and viruses are thus structurally-shallower excitations. Just as earth-life separated from its home planet may no longer have the fall back (at least historically) to earth-surface chemistry and the sun's diurnal rhythm, so robots and viruses when injured don't have innate cellular repair-mechanisms to give them new life in an earth-like environment. Of course this does not prevent us from trying to build for them analog mechanisms, perhaps even appropriate to other environments, to do just that.

grouped-organism networks

Discussions of task layer-multiplicity focus on the perspective (and mandates) of individual organisms. As discussed there, however, in a community with robust task layer-diversity one expects that many of the individuals in it will be specialists i.e. their mandate will not span the breadth of challenges faced by the community as a whole.

Thus just as a network of subsystem-correlations on the individual level has spontaneously self-assembled which redirects the behavior of neolithically-evolved organisms to the support of communities with more breadth, so networks which operate above the level of the individual organism are likely to have developed as well. In that context we might imagine an employment network between families, which supports subsystem-correlations that look in/out from skin, family and culture, as well as an R&D network between cultures that does the same.

How might we visualize the roles that these employment and R&D networks play? Also, of course, how might we monitor (and nurture) the health of networks which lie on such multi-organism levels?

what stuff counts?

The explicit goal of this task layer-multiplicity work is a formal focus on all levels of community engagement at the same time. However one spin-off of such a "science of real-life" is what it does not consider.

For example your relationship with a specific type of molecule (like alcohol) is not, by itself, automatically a subsystem-correlation type that we count on individuals to take care of. As a result addictive chemicals can distract all of us from real-life, if we are not careful. Task layer-multiplicity thus provides an integrative scientific-context for wisdom that has historically come to us via other routes.

These concepts may similarly help put into context other distractions from real-life i.e. activities that don't help you buffer correlations which look in or out from your boundaries of skin, family & culture. It may even help with the cost-benefit analysis of activities that shift the balance of your attention away from an important (to you) subset of such correlations.

It sometimes takes many decades for folks to say they finally recognize the things that are really important in life. A bit of conceptual help from cross-disciplinary science early on, in that context, might not hurt.

tool for informed management?

Finally, if this approach inspires quantitative strategies for considering the impact of policies on all layers of community at once it could be crucial to informed management of economic and limited-resource challenges in the days ahead. The alternative is a retreat to blind ideology.

There is a biological example of this already, involving molecular-codes instead of idea-codes. We expect one-celled organisms to survive on planet earth long after the sun's evolution makes it uninhabitable for multi-celled organisms (Ward & Brownlee 2004). Just as we expect to eventually lose the informed gene-expression of eukaryotic cells that makes multi-celled life possible, we are even sooner likely to lose the informed idea-expression of a multi-layer society. However there may be good reason to work at slowing down that loss.

Interactive talk notes

These voice-thread fora might be good places for moderated commentary:


Submit your own experience sample

The form below only asks you to click a single radio-button before you submit your "self-reported experience-sample". Downstream, however, random and/or asynchronously-requested inputs like this from specific populations can broaden our understanding of the impact of disasters and policy changes on community health. They might also provide insight into the effects of electronic media on the attention-focus of a community, as well as information on regional and cultural trends.

In addition to reporting task layer-multiplicity for the inputs received above, in the days ahead we also hope to report here on trends in the in/out (e.g. post-pair/pair or "yin/yang") focus-ratio, as well as the breakdown in attention-focus on skin, family and culture for the population of folks reporting in.

For instance, the 15 responses before 7 Jul 2013 evidenced a center-of-mass task layer-multiplicity of just over 5 out of a maximum of 6, an in:out balance of about 47:53 i.e. a slight bias toward focus on outward-looking e.g. pair-correlations, and a level-focus breakdown of 20:47:33 across skin, genepool & ideapool. It will be interesting to see how this changes over time.

Note that for clarity and consistency here we try to use the word level to refer to one of the three physical broken-symmetry boundaries put into play here i.e. your metazoan-skin, the edge of your family gene-pool, and the edge of your cultural idea-pool, while we use the word layer to refer to the six subsystem correlation-layers directed in/out from these three boundaries.

Corollary illustrations

Below find a "technology-invention map" for metazoan communities in general, with roots in an integrative view of evolving complexity. The 3 primary (horizontal) and 9 secondary (vertical) node labels look both inward (up) and outward (down) from a hierarchy of 3 physical boundaries (black). The branches (arbitrarily in triplet form) have been chosen to represent some key features of human communities in particular.

Note that advances to the upper left generally denote post-pair sub-system correlations that look inward from their corresponding physical boundary, while those to the lower right denote mostly-pair sub-system correlations that look outward from their corresponding physical boundary. In making your own list for any given community, we recommend connecting any given "invention" to the lowest-level boundary at which it is likely to have emerged in the cited context.

Q and A


Related references


Related links