Re: Self-sealing Thought LO1362

Wed, 24 May 1995 07:39:01 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO1355 --

In his customary well-mannered and thoughtful way, Michael has forgiven my
aggressive communique, and raised some questions about my attack on Santa
Fe Institute.

Unlike my normal style, I choose not to answer this question on email
because it would be too accusative, and involve an extended background.

However I will make this rather abstruse comment: A few years back I
coined a term (at least I think it was new) called "supersumption".
This term, as I see it, is more or less the opposite of "subsumption".

I invented this term as a new weapon for me to use against a certain kind
of behavior or use of language. The specific groups I flailed away at
are "interdisciplinarians" and "economics faculty". The weaker of the
two diatribes was focused on the former.

The word "interdisciplinary" means almost nothing, in my opinion.
Literally, it says that you get some people together from different
disciplines to talke about the same subject from different points of
view. In other words, it is outcome-free. I proposed instead to use the
term "subsumption", which involves the joining and integration of ideas
coming from different directions under a unifying "chunk". This term is
not outcome-free, but it is relatively silent on process. If I could
sell the use of "subsumption" in this way, then I could proceed with
guerilla cybernetics to introduce a process that is supereffective in
carrying out the subsuming activity.

The word "supersumption", as I herewith Webster it, means to place a
topic of investigation or a title of a field well above its proper level,
e.g., "economics" supersumes itself over all of social science, by
dealing with one-dimensional individuals. Now it is trying to use that
supersumption as a base, by gradually creating a language mutation, where
economics terms begin to subsume more than they originally conveyed.

The most reprehensible impact of this is to force anyone who might
possibly want to take advantage of their modernity to learn economics
first before taking advantage of their newer results.

As to the Santa Fe Institute, I see their work on "adaptive systems" as
supersuming "complexity". If they had set themselves up as an adaptive
systems study institute, all of my criticism would have been foregone,
unless they tried to work from that perspective into complexity itself.

A friend of mine used to talk about people who "worked in answer space",
as opposed to "working in issue space" or "working in problem space".
Stated another way, I believe that complexity has to speak to us, and we
have to listen to it. By its very nature, we cannot expect to corral it
instantly, and giving it the pseydonym "adaptive systems" thus creates a
double-bind. First it seems to allege that adaptive systems has been
determined to be a synonym for "complexity", and second, assuming that
the SFI can actually make progress with adaptive systems study, the very
likely possibility that they will then try to pull an economics-like
revolution, forcing the rest of us to learn there prior work,
in order to learn about complexity.

Those are the more or less abstract thoughts. I will save the detailed
particulars for more private conversations.