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Thomas Fischer’s Paper Proposal

Learning: Variety-Amplification in Autonomous Systems

The premise of this conference, and of this proposed paper is that understanding is a basis for action, that action is a basis for understanding, and that these two relationships together form a circular relationship. Through development of this paper I aim to investigate the following:

a) I imagine this cyclical relationship assuming that understanding is internal to the learning system/organism in question, while action is external to the learning system/organism in question. Is this an oversimplification? Is this a valid assumption? Is this a crude but helpful (simplifying) way of thinking about these things?

b) If the assumption stated under a) is agreeable (if only for the sake of being able to think in simple terms), then it can be stated that the move from understanding to action and the move from action to understanding are both boundary-crossing, the first one in the form of output from, the second one in the form of input to the system/organism in question. In both these boundary-crossing moves, learning hinges on variety amplification.

c) If this is the case, then how does the system/organism in question learn (amplify variety) where action is a basis for new understanding? How can a system, autonomously, amplify its variety (move from “seeing less” to “seeing more”)?


  1. C) I think the learning does rarely take place effortlessly but is the result of a laborious process, external or internal. Without active reflection variety is not amplified.

    But then again this reminds me of a proverb i read a few days ago:

    “Three methods through with we may learn []: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter. Confucius
    (I took the liberty of taking out [wisdom] because i think its more about learning ‘anything’ than learning ‘wisdom’.)

    I think through imitation you learn a method, but do not necessarily understand. So what remains is the laborious process.

  2. Tom, I think I see the theme differently. For me, acting is an exploratory process, understanding is trying to make sense of it (I think of humans as pattern finders—Latin, homo designans). Pattern making allows us to move out the Heraclitian stream. Of course, understanding can be seen as acting, too (like my practice is building theories). I don’t see it as about boundaries (though I certainly see there is value in your way of looking), but rather means: acting is a means to understanding, understanding is a means to acting. I think that learning is a (rather than the) way that we transfer one to the other, though I’m not quite so sure about this.

    I’m not trying to correct you, but to point to a difference I think might helpful in our discussions.

    I like Michael’s Confucian quote.

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