November 1, 2010
the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected
Stuart Kauffman stresses the invasion of "the adjacent possible" as one of the mechanisms of evolution. Some potentially useful artifact exists outside the current frame of reference, in the adjacent possible, and by some serendipitous happening it is "discovered" and brought into use in the current frame of reference. One example he uses extensively is the rigidness of an engine block that was eventually used as the "chassis" of a tractor.
Colonel John Boyd also discusses a similar idea in his "Destruction and Creation" (analysis and synthesis) briefing. His example consists of four images:
- riding a bicycle on a nice spring day
- riding in an outboard motorboat-maybe even towing water-skiers
- a ski slope with other skiers, and
- taking your son to a department store and that you notice he is fascinated by the tractors or tanks with rubber caterpillar treads
These images are deconstructed to yield four objects
- outboard motor
- skis, and
- rubber treads
which are then reconstructed into a new object:
Unfortunately John Boyd does not provide a method or algorithm for doing this sort of thing on demand but this idea is central to his OODA loop.
It has happened to me on numerous occasions. I have a difficult problem to solve and no solution presents itself during wakeful hours. Then I wake up in the middle of the night with the solution clear in my head. How was this done? Randomship!
Stuart Kauffman asks whether evolution can be algorithmic. Since the algorithm has to be created by someone and because this someone can only work inside a limited frame (no matter how large the frame, it still has limits), Kauffman concludes the answer is no because not all adjacent possibles can be pre stated but that human beings don't seem to have this limitation.
It seems to me that while the homo sapiens might have a rational brain capable of doing boolean algebra, this brain is superimposed on an earlier brain dedicated to pattern recognition which was very useful before modern man came into existence. If our caveman ancestor was walking down a path looking for a rabbit to hunt and he came across a hungry tiger, there was not enough time to put a rational brain to work on the problem. Our ancestor needed an immediate fight or flight response because he did not have the luxury of time. His pattern recognition brain responded: tiger = fight. When on the phone, how long does it take you to recognize the voice? When meeting someone, how long does it take you to recognize the face and distinguish it from hundreds of other faces you have stored in memory?
It seems to me that when you go to sleep, when the brain is not concerned with ordinary activity, it can freely roam its memory banks matching pattern after pattern, exploring the stored "adjacent possible." When it finds something useful, it wakes you up with a solution, or maybe you only see it in dreams and most of these useful solutions are lost as the dreams are forgotten on awakening.
Brainstorming is looking for "randomships" in the wakeful state. Maybe we should do it more often.