Introducing system philosophy

Idealisation of system description from reality

Copyright 2017 Graham Berrisford. One of about 300 papers at http://avancier.website. Last updated 17/02/2018 11:08

 

 

The role of enterprise architects is to observe baseline systems, envisage target systems, and describe both.

And you might assume philosophers agree what it means to describe realities, but this is not so.

This paper presents a coherent and consistent philosophy, compatible with Darwin (biology), Ashby (systems) and modern science.

Contents

Preface. 1

1: How are things described?. 2

2: How to know a thing matches a description?. 4

3: What is the role of a describer?. 4

4: How accurately do describers describe things?. 5

5: What does it mean to exist?. 6

Mental models. 8

Recap. 8

The philosophy of science?. 9

The philosophy of system and enterprise architecture. 10

Other triangular philosophies. 11

 

Preface

Philosophers have looked at description and reality in many ways – both overlapping and contrary.

Many people’s instinct is to divide the universe into mental and physical worlds.

The view taken today in cognitive science and psychology is that the mind has a physical biological basis.

 

First, one has to shake off:

·        the mental/physical dichotomy presumed in Cartesian Dualism

·        a human-centric view of the universe

·        a language-centric view of philosophy.

 

Then acknowledge that:

·        describers are actors who have some intelligence about their environment

·        the ability of actors to describe the world is a side effect of biological evolution

·        the first description was a biological model of some kind, and brains evolved to retain descriptive mental models of perceptions

·        in natural intelligence, the mental world is physical – though the bio-chemistry of that is deeply mysterious

·        in artificial intelligence, the most notable ability is the ability to abstract descriptive types from observations of similar things.

 

And finally, acknowledge that:

·        descriptions include all signs, all models, all encodings of perceptions, private and public

·        mental, spoken, written, audio, visual and physical models are all descriptions

·        humans and their machines can translate a description of any kind into a description of another kind

·        describers and descriptions are themselves part of reality - and can themselves be described (if need be).

 

The philosophy here can be expressed in a triangle.

 

The nub of our philosophy

Descriptions (private & public)

<create and use>                   <idealise>

Describers        <observe & envisage>         Realities

 

The process of observing reality starts in perception.

The process of envisaging reality starts in dream-like or consciously-directed brain activity.

Both processes result in the creation of descriptive/mental models.

Describers translate descriptions from private to public forms, and back again.

 

Today, there is little debate about the existence of material realities.

Most presume that there is physical matter/energy out there.

The questions to be answered are rather the ones listed below.

 

1.      How are things described?

2.      How to know a thing matches a description?

3.      What is the role of a describer?

4.      How accurately do describers describe or measure things?

5.      What does it mean to exist?

1: How are things described?

Describers describe the structures and behaviors of a system by typifying them.

This triangle represents relationships between describers, types and things.

 

Type theory

General qualities (types)

<create and use>         <idealise>

Describers <observe and envisage> Particular things

 

The premise here is that descriptions first appeared within biological organisms.

A Darwinian explanation of description must start before words.

It starts from the notion that organisms can recognise family resemblances between things.

Human have formalised family resemblances into the form of types we use to describe things.

Given one type, several things can match it

We can always conceive of several things that match one type; e.g. cosmologists now talk even of parallel universes.

 

Read Introducing description theory and Description for more about the use of types to describe things.

Key conclusions can be summarised as below.

 

How are things described?

A particular thing is described with reference to general qualities (types).

 

Examples

Describers can describe things with reference to their color qualities.

 

Description

Yellow flower

<say>                            <idealises>

People                     <observe>                     Daffodils

 

Colors are interesting because they are purely mental phenomenon.

The sun emits radiation across a wide range of the electro-magnetic spectrum.

A tiny part of that spectrum is visible to humans in the form of a rainbow.

There were no colors in the rainbow until organisms could perceive them.

Newton divided the spectrum into seven colors (for reasons not discussed here).

 

Rainbow colors

Rainbow colors

<defined>            <abstracted from>

Isaac Newton     <observed>  The visible spectrum

 

Other describers have divided the rainbow into differently-named colors.

Other animals see a different rainbow.

systematic testing of bird vision revealed something unexpected: Many bird species can see UV light.”

http://www.nwf.org/news-and-magazines/national-wildlife/birds/archives/2012/bird-vision.aspx

 

Describers can describe a system of interest in terms of the roles that actors play in it.

E.g. astronomers named the planets and defined their roles in orbiting the sun.

Their definition of planet as type tells us next to nothing about any particular planet.

The planets carry on being what they are and doing what they do – uninfluenced by any typification of them as planets.

 

Our solar system

“Planet”

<define & refer to>                <idealises>

Astronomers <observe and predict> Orbital motion

of bodies in space

 

Similarly, business system architects define roles played by employees.

A role defines only a tiny percentage of a person’s behavior.

Thankfully, employees carry on breathing, eating and drinking, regardless of their role descriptions.

 

Business system

Roles

<creates and uses>             <idealise>

Employer     <observes and envisages>   Activities

of actors

2: How to know a thing matches a description?

That is an easy question to answer; since it is the basis of the scientific method.

Having described the qualities of a thing; we can observe and measure the values of those qualities in things we observe.

Having described a daffodil as yellow, we can measure the wavelength of sunlight reflected by the flower.

Having described the orbit of a planet, we can measure its position in the sky at regular time intervals.

Having described the role of an employee, we can measure their performance of that role (e.g. products delivered, or customer satisfaction survey).

 

How to know a thing matches a description?

By observation and measurement of quality values.

3: What is the role of a describer?

Our philosophy of description and reality must include describers.

The solar system had no description, awaiting discovery, before mankind.

Rather, astronomers created a description to help them understand and predict the reality.

 

To navigate the world and predict its behavior, describers name and describe things they observe and envisage.

They describe a particular thing (say, a rose), by referring to abstract types (say, thorny) previously learnt or created.

This triangle expresses some essential relationships between describers, descriptions and realities.

 

Description theory

Descriptions

<create and use>         <idealise>

Describers <observe and envisage> Realities

 

To name a thing is merely to register its existence and identify it.

To describe a thing is not merely to register its existence, it is to typify it.

 

“In describing a situation, one is not merely registering a [perception], one is classifying it in some way, and this means going beyond what is immediately given.”

Chapter 5 of “Language, truth and logic” A J Ayer.

 

Describers describe particular things by relating them to general qualities (types).

E.g. We may describe a two-dimensional shape in terms of types such as “circular” or “rectangular”.

We describe other things with reference to types such as “beautiful”, “yellow”, “planet-like”, “dangerous” and “friendly”.

Such qualities or types are also known as concepts, properties or universals.

 

What is the role of a describer?

To select the qualities of a thing relevant to some aims(s) or concern(s).

To encode those qualities in a form that others can decode.

To translate a description from one form into another form.

 

4: How accurately do describers describe things?

How accurately do describers describe things?

We test the truth of a description by either:

a)      pure logic – starting from some presumed axioms – as in mathematics

b)      measuring that the properties/qualities of a thing match its typifcation(s) – which is necessary in most practical situations.

 

Pure logic: strict instantiation of types in pure mathematics

In pure mathematics, types are perfect, incontrovertible, immutable forms.

Consider these types: number, prime number, ratio, triangle, quadrilateral, rhombus, parallelogram, rectangle, square.

Mathematicians often treat types as strict - or monothetic.

They presume a thing conforms to a type if and only if it instantiates (gives a value to) every property type of that type.

 

Discussion of types tends to be dominated by mathematicians and philosophers who live in a world of abstract description.

They devise logical rules for manipulating abstract types and things.

Given the diameter of a circle, we can derive its circumference, and vice-versa, using the ratio called pi.

Even that purely logical calculation is only as accurate as the given measurement and the value used for pi (3.1? or 3.14159265?)

 

Measurement: fuzzy instantiation of types in applied mathematics

There are no perfect circles in the natural matter and energy of universe.

There are only countless shapes that are measurable as approximating to the "circle" type.

 

As soon as the "circle" type was first conceived, many things were measurable as approximating to it.

Suppose you try to calculate the value of the C, the total number of circles in the universe today?

The answer will depend on how accurately the radius of each shape from its central point is measured, and is required to be measured.

Moreover, the number will change during the measurement and counting process.

So, the value of C could only ever be an approximation – a fuzzy truth.

 

The fuzziness of types in the natural world

How would Charles Darwin have looked at “the problem of universals"?

He might have said the problem only arises from the presumption that types are “universal”.

He would see the process of typifying things (e.g. into food, friends and enemies) as a natural biological process.

The survival of biological entities is enhanced if they can remember types and recognize things that conform to them.

 

So, types are descriptive tools that evolved because they help organisms to survive.

However, animals do not classify things into types in a strict, perfect or universal way.

Rather, the types important to them are fuzzy and their pattern matching process is fuzzy.

E.g. birds peck at things that look to match the food type, and sometimes mistakenly swallow inedible items

 

It seems likely that fuzziness in descriptions of the world is essential to life.

Animals cannot adapt to their experience unless their mental models are flexible, and can evolve.

 

How accurately do describers describe or measure things?

With a degree of truth that may be less than perfect.

Description, knowledge and truth are fuzzy and/or ephemeral.

5: What does it mean to exist?

Today, there is little debate about the existence of material realities.

Most presume that there is physical matter/energy out there.

So the obvious answer to the question is that to exist means to be found in physical matter/energy.

A question philosophers ask is: Do descriptive qualities, properties, concepts, or types exist?

 

Three possible philosophical positions are:

·        Platonic realism: a descriptive type exists in a metaphysical form independently of life and record of it.

·        Aristotelian realism: a descriptive type exists only when things of that type exist.

·        Idealism: a descriptive type is a property constructed in the mind, so exists only in descriptions of things.

 

What about the descriptive types “predator” and “prey”?

Surely these types were first encoded in the biology of an animal’s brain or body?

And before life, these types had no place in the universe?

 

What about simple types like “yellow” which have been observed by mankind?

Surely, if all memory and documentation of colors were lost, these types would be lost, at least for a while?

Though being so common in human in experience, they might soon be reinvented.

 

What about imaginary types like “unicorn”, which have been envisaged by mankind?

Surely, if all memory and documentation of it were lost; then the type would be lost, at least for a while?

Though being dramatically simpler than a Beethoven symphony, it might soon be reinvented.

 

What about Beethoven’s 9th symphony, a complex type that is realised in many symphony performances?

Surely, if all memories and copies of the symphony were erased, then the type would be lost forever?

 

What about Newton’s second law of motion (f = ma), a type that is realised in the motions of matter?

Surely, Plato would have said the law exists in an ideal or ethereal form independently of any mind or description.

And if you think  law is universally true, you might side with Plato.

However, Einstein showed Newton’s laws are not universally true.

 

What about mathematical types like “circle” and “ratio”.

Do you side with Plato: The “ratio” type exists in an ideal or ethereal form independently of any mind or description?

Do you side with Aristotle: The “ratio” type exists only when perceived by a person?

Do you side with Idealists: The “ratio” type is constructed in the mind, and so exists only in description?

Or adopt some other position?

 

Is there any good reason to suppose the type “ratio” existed before life, in some metaphysical form?

Why suppose types exist in an eternal, ethereal or Platonic form outside of physical matter and energy?

This is a metaphysical idea we simply don’t need.

The position here is that types exist in the physical form of mental models, documented models and other kinds of model or token.

 

What does it mean to exist?

To be found in physical matter/energy.

Descriptions are physical: whether organic or inorganic, internal or external, mental or documented.

Recap

How are things described?

A particular thing is described with reference to general qualities (types).

 

How to know a thing matches a description?

By observation and measurement of quality values.

 

What is the role of a describer?

To select the qualities of a thing relevant to some aims(s) or concern(s).

To encode those qualities in a form that others can decode.

To translate a description from one form into another form.

 

How accurately do describers describe or measure things?

With a degree of truth that may be less than perfect.

Description, knowledge and truth are fuzzy and/or ephemeral.

 

What does it mean to exist?

To be found in physical matter/energy.

Descriptions are physical: whether organic or inorganic, internal or external, mental or documented.

 

The last is counter intuitive to people who believe their thoughts are immaterial.

Many people’s instinct is to divide the universe into mental and physical worlds.

The view taken today in cognitive science and psychology is that the mind has a physical biological basis.

Mental models

Nobody knows exactly how brains work or how memories are stored.

Or understands the processes by which animals idealise, or abstract concepts from, realities.

One may speculate the brain has a communication stack from chemistry to consciousness, with different processes at every level.

But none of those things matter here.

All that matters is that we can prove the existence of a “mental model”.

 

It is easy to obtain evidence of mental models.

Can an animal maintain a memory that is accurate enough, for long enough, to recognise things it perceived before?

Can it find food, avoid danger, find a mate and reproduce?

Can it recognise similar events and respond to them by acting appropriately - to achieve a desired effect?

Tests show yes - it can.

 

How do we acquire mental models?

Animals may inherit mental models of things important to their survival.

We surely don’t inherit, for example, a mental model of pink roses, which have no impact on our survival.

We can acquire a mental model of pink roses by perception: by remembering our perceptions of pink and rose-like things.

Or by education: by hearing or reading descriptions that associate “pink” and “rose with other type names we already have mental models of.

 

Our mental models bear no resemblance to the realities they describe – they are instead encoded representations of them.

And the degree to which we share mental models of the same thing is variable.

In a domain like pure mathematics, concepts inter-relate, and things are true, by the logic of that domain.

In more everyday experience, our knowledge of most things has only a degree of truth.

The philosophy of science

This table draws correspondences between philosophy and science.

 

Descriptions

Idealise

Realities

Philosophy

A general quality or type

helps people to understand and describe

particular things

Science

A scientific theory

helps people to understand and predict

real world events

 

Some view the philosophy of science as variety of materialism or realism (perhaps “critical realism”).

This paper makes a case for saying that science is a kind of idealism (which is not necessarily to contradict those other views).

 

The word science is rooted in an old word for knowledge.

Scientific hypotheses are descriptions that idealise how entities are expected to behave in reality.

When they successfully predict real-world behaviors, those hypotheses are regarded as knowledge.

 

The relational interpretation of quantum mechanics

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle says we cannot accurately measure both the position and speed of a particle, since any measurement affects its properties.

In this connection, the famous double slit experiment produces counter intuitive results.

If the position of one particle (at one or other slit) is measured, it goes through only one slit, and does not produce an interference pattern.

If the position of one particle is not measured, it must have gone through both slits, since an interference pattern appears on the screen

In the latter case, the particle’s path is not so much uncertain as certain – it has travelled two paths and been in two places at once.

The largest entities for which the double-slit experiment has been performed were molecules that each comprised 810 atoms.

 

According to the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics, first proposed by Carlo Rovelli,

“Observations such as those in the double-slit experiment result specifically from the interaction

between the observer (measuring device) and the object being observed (physically interacted with), not any absolute property possessed by the object.”

 

In other words, a description arises from the interaction between the describer and the thing observed.

A description is not any absolute property possessed by the thing itself.

 

Scientific idealism

Science might be simplified to three propositions that can be mapped to our description theory triangle.

1.      Scientists <observe and predict> the universe

2.      Scientists <create and use> hypotheses and knowledge

3.      Hypotheses and knowledge <conceptualise> the universe.

 

Scientific Idealism

Hypotheses & Knowledge

<create and use>               <conceptualise>

Scientists      <observe and predict>    The universe

 

Why call this triangle Scientific Idealism?

It is “idealist” rather than realist in either Platonic or Aristotlean senses.

It matches how the terms idealisation and realisation are used in enterprise architecture frameworks.

Read other triangular philosophies for more.

 

Whatever we call it, this triangular view provides a platform for system theory and EA

The philosophy of system architecture

This table draws correspondences between different flavours of system architecture.

 

Descriptions

Idealise

Realities

General system architecture

An abstract system description

helps people to understand and build

concrete systems

Enterprise architecture

A business system description

helps people to understand and build

operational systems

Software architecture

A software program

enables computers to make

run-time systems

 

Classical system theory started before computers.

Perhaps the pinnacle of our descriptive ability is the ability to write a description so precise that a computer can read it and realise it in an operational system.

But all business system descriptions define processes to be followed by actors playing business roles.

 

In short: every system description abstract facts important to the describer, from the infinite describable facts that could be found in the reality of the system that runs.

Scientific idealism can be generalised as follows.

1.      Describers observe and envisage realities (which they perceive as composed of discrete entities and events).

2.      Describers create and use descriptions (stored in memories and conveyed in messages using brains, speech, writing, pictures and other forms).

3.      Descriptions idealise realities (either mimic selected features of things, or represent them in some encoded form).

 

And the philosophy here can be expressed in a triangle.

 

The nub of our philosophy

Descriptions (private & public)

<create and use>                   <idealise>

Describers        <observe & envisage>         Realities

Other triangular philosophies

The two-way mental/physical dichotomy of Cartesian dualism (after Descartes) has long been rejected by philosophers and scientists.

Others have proposed various three-cornered views of description and reality.

Read other triangular philosophies for notes on:

·        Saussure’s dyadic sign relation

·        Ogden and Richards semiotic triangle in “The Meaning of Meaning”

·        Peirce’s triadic sign relation

·        Karl Popper’s three worlds view

·        The ISO 42010 standard

 

 

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