Allan Randall’s Paper Proposal

Living in a Cybernetic Universe

Living in a Cybernetic Universe

In Powers’ perceptual control theory (PCT), a control system seeks to make its perception match an internal reference signal, by transforming error (the difference between perception and reference) into an output signal, which then (along with environmental influences) feeds back into the perceptual system, in a closed feedback loop.

In hierarchical PCT, a controller can be decomposed into a hierarchy of subcontrollers. High-level controllers output to lower level systems, setting their references or goals (telling them “what to want,” so to speak). The percept that a higher level controller seeks to control is a combination of the percepts from many lower level controllers.

The result is a possibly very large and complex hierarchy of controllers within controllers, where lower level controllers (closer to the environment) control on a fast time scale with high bandwidth, while controllers higher up control on a slow time scale with low bandwidths.

In conventional engineering control theory, such a system is said to “control” an external environmental variable. In PCT, the system is said to control its perception of such a variable. However, this “environmental variable”, as an object distinct from others in space, is a construction of the control hierarchy, not a feature of the environment per se.

Taking this literally, we might conclude that a control system is actually a closed system, not just a closed loop (which is how radical constructivist cyberneticians might interpret the situation). However, this would seem to deny the reality of the world, as well as any notion of “information flow” from the environment into the control system (a long-standing matter of debate within the PCT community).

This paper will outline how a closed-loop, closed-system view of control allows for “information flow” from the environment into the observer, as well as disturbance of control from the environment, in a context that unifies information flow in control theory with information flow in quantum measurement.

In my doctoral dissertation, I presented a new framework for quantum theory, called “algorithmic synthetic unity” or ASU, in which a universe is the optimal data compression of the perception of an observer. Generally speaking, in data compression, when the criteria for adequate decompression are perceptual, the compression is “lossy” and based on something like a discrete Fourier transform (DFT). ASU takes the most likely explanation for a human perception to be its optimal (lowest-dimensional) DFT compression. In my dissertation, I showed how this yields an elegant reconstruction of quantum theory that reproduces most, if not all, of its “mysterious” features.

In theory, this analysis need not include an “environment” at all. Solipsism is avoided by assuming that

N << L

where N is the dimensionality of the optimal compression of the perception, and L is the dimensionality of its local “uncompressed” representation. We then factor our vector space into three subspaces: (1) observer/controller, (2) observable/controlled-variable and (3) environment/disturbance-source.

The perceptual hierarchy that defines #1 mirrors an environmental hierarchy that defines #2. If N=L, then this is the entire situation, and control could be perfect. Since N<<L, however, the environment (#3) presents “disturbances” to this control, which is imperfect, with timing delays through the control loop.

This analysis unifies the information-theoretic analysis of quantum measurement with that of perceptual control. In quantum measurement, observation or measurement occurs when information from the controlled-variable (observable) subspace enters the controller (observer) subspace. In ASU, this breaks the symmetry of the DFT representation, and corresponds to the “collapse” of quantum measurement, inducing symmetry-breaking and entropy increase. The same information-theoretic process characterizes the act of control.

This view allows for the stability of the external world, without requiring its externality, and makes the entire universe, in fact, the “control system” — at least from the perspective of the optimal compression basis — while requiring a separation between control system and environment from the perspective of the local (uncompressed) basis. Information flow from object to observer is relative to the act of perception that constructs the distinction between that object and its environment in the first place. Thus, we are not only “living in cybernetics”, but our very universe is nothing but a cybernetic system.

Cybernetic traditions:

  • 2) Control systems; automation; systems engineering
  • 3) Experimental epistemology; constructivism; philosophy of science

2 thoughts on “Allan Randall’s Paper Proposal

  1. Tom Scholte

    It would be interesting to see how this intersects with Maturana’s notion of the closed Cognitive Domain of a living system which has no actual access to a mind-independent reality.

  2. Allan Randall

    In my metaphysics and epistemology, a cognitive system is indeed a closed system, and seemingly “external” objects, *as* distinct objects, are constructs of the mind of the observer. This sort of talk, of course, leads to objections of “solipsism”, or “relativism”, and claims that it is only society or social interactions that can be taken as any kind of external reality. These debates are as old as philosophy itself, of course, and come down to the tension between the sheer meaningless of the idea of an external physical reality, and the fact that our apparent “environment” really does resist our attempts to control it. It “kicks back”. Why does a mental construct kick back? Can we explain this without appeal to ineffable externalities?

    In short, there is a tension between metaphysical constructivism and objectivism. I intend to erase that tension.

    I am trying to show that there is no information flowing into the organism, considered as a metaphysical object. But in a relative sense, one can certainly adopt a perspective based on the viewpoint of the observer that permits a useful mathematical analysis of information flow into and out of the organism. These analyses are not imaginary, nor are they purely mental constructs. They are mathematically true. Math and logic, then, are what I take as the “objective reality”. Such mathematical truths are objective, but they are nonetheless objective truths *about* the observer, and so are inherently observer-dependent.

    Given this view, I believe I can show that the mind can be a closed system, while still experiencing a constructed environment that resists control, and “kicks back”.


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