Cybernetics • Regulation In Biological Systems

24 views
Skip to first unread message

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 14, 2019, 5:20:16 PM11/14/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Peirce List, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 1
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/14/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-1/

I'll open with a series of selections from my first and still favorite introduction to cybernetics. Ashby's account of
genesis is bound to bring flashes of recognition and "habitual" associations to well-known passages among readers of Peirce.

<QUOTE>

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

10/3. The foundation. Let us start at the beginning. The most basic facts in biology are that this earth is now two
thousand million years old, and that the biologist studies mostly that which exists today. From these two facts follow
a well-known deduction, which I would like to restate in our terms.

We saw in S.4/23 that if a dynamic system is large and composed of parts with much repetition, and if it contains any
property that is autocatalytic, i.e. whose occurrence at one point increases the probability that it will occur again at
another point, then such a system is, so far as that property is concerned, essentially unstable in its absence. This
earth contained carbon and other necessary elements, and it is a fact that many combinations of carbon, nitrogen, and a
few others are self-reproducing. It follows that though the state of "being lifeless" is almost a state of equilibrium,
yet this equilibrium is unstable (S.5/6), a single deviation from it being sufficient to start a trajectory that
deviates more and more from the "lifeless" state. What we see today in the biological world are these "autocatalytic"
processes showing all the peculiarities that have been imposed on them by two thousand million years of elimination of
those forms that cannot survive.

The organisms we see today are deeply marked by the selective action of two thousand million years' attrition. Any form
in any way defective in its power of survival has been eliminated; and today the features of almost every form bear the
marks of being adapted to ensure survival rather than any other possible outcome. Eyes, roots, cilia, shells and claws
are so fashioned as to maximise the chance of survival. And when we study the brain we are again studying a means to
survival.

</QUOTE>

Reference
=========

* Ashby, W.R. (1956), An Introduction to Cybernetics, Chapman and Hall, London, UK. Republished by Methuen and Company,
London, UK, 1964. Online ( http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/books/IntroCyb.pdf ) .

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 15, 2019, 11:36:20 AM11/15/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Peirce List, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 2
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/15/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-2/

(Please see the above-linked blog post for a much better formatted copy.)

<QUOTE>

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

Survival
========

10/4. What has just been said is well enough known. It enables us, however, to join these facts on to the ideas
developed in this book and to show the connexion exactly.

For consider what is meant, in general, by "survival". Suppose a mouse is trying to escape from a cat, so that the
survival of the mouse is in question. As a dynamic system, the mouse can be in a variety of states; thus it can be in
various postures, its head can be turned this way or that, its temperature can have various values, it may have two ears
or one. These different states may occur during its attempt to escape and it may still be said to have survived. On
the other hand if the mouse changes to the state in which it is in four separated pieces, or has lost its head, or has
become a solution of amino-acids circulating in the cat's blood then we do not consider its arrival at one of these
states as corresponding to "survival".

The concept of "survival" can thus be translated into perfectly rigorous terms, similar to those used throughout the
book. The various states (M for Mouse) that the mouse may be in initially and that it may pass into after the affair
with the cat is a set M_1, M_2, ..., M_k, ..., M_n. We decide that, for various reasons of what is practical and
convenient, we shall restrict the words "living mouse" to mean the mouse in one of the states in some subset of these
possibilities, in M_1 to M_k say. If now some operation C (for cat) acts on the mouse in state M_i, and C(M_i) gives,
say, M_2, then we may say that M has "survived" the operation of C, for M_2 is in the set M_1, ..., M_k.

If now a particular mouse is very skilled and always survives the operation C, then all the states C(M_1), C(M_2), ...,
C(M_k), are contained in the set M_1, ..., M_k. We now see that this representation of survival is identical with that
of the "stability" of a set (S.5/5). Thus the concepts of "survival" and "stability" can be brought into an exact
relationship; and facts and theorems about either can be used with the other, provided the exactness is sustained.

The states M are often defined in terms of variables. The states M_1, ..., M_k, that correspond to the living organism
are then those states in which certain *essential variables* are kept within assigned ("physiological") limits.

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 16, 2019, 11:37:10 AM11/16/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 3
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/16/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-3/

Re: Pragmatic Theory Of Truth : 18
::: What are formalisms and all their embodiments in brains and computers good for?
At: https://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/14/pragmatic-theory-of-truth-%e2%80%a2-18/

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

Survival
========

10/5. What is it survives, over the ages? Not the individual organism, but certain peculiarly well compounded
gene-patterns, particularly those that lead to the production of an individual that carries the gene-pattern well
protected within itself, and that, within the span of one generation, can look after itself.

What this means is that those gene-patterns are specially likely to survive (and therefore to exist today) that cause to
grow, between themselves and the dangerous world, some more or less elaborate mechanism for defence. So the genes in
'Testudo' cause the growth of a shell; and the genes in 'Homo' cause the growth of a brain. (The genes that did not
cause such growths have long since been eliminated.)

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 17, 2019, 2:00:12 PM11/17/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 4
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/17/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-4/

All,

We continue in pursuit of a systems-theoretic answer to the question:

* What are formalisms and all their embodiments in brains and computers good for?

Re: Pragmatic Theory Of Truth : 18
At: https://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/14/pragmatic-theory-of-truth-%e2%80%a2-18/

<QUOTE>

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

Survival
========

10/5.[cont.] Now regard the system as one of parts in communication. In the previous section the diagram of immediate
effects (of cat and mouse) was (or could be regarded as)

Figure 10.5.1
https://inquiryintoinquiry.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/ashby-cybernetics-figure-10.5.1.jpg

We are now considering the case in which the diagram is

Figure 10.5.2
https://inquiryintoinquiry.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/ashby-cybernetics-figure-10.5.2.jpg

in which E is the set of essential variables, D is the source of disturbance and dangers (such as C) from the rest of
the world, and F is the interpolated part (shell, brain, etc.) formed by the gene-pattern for the protection of E. (F
may also include such parts of the environment as may similarly be used for E's protection -- burrow for rabbit, shell
for hermit-crab, pike for pike-man, and sword (as defence) for swordsman.)

For convenience in reference throughout Part III, let the states of the essential variables E be divided into a set η
[eta] -- those that correspond to "organism living" or "good" -- and not-η [not-eta] -- those that correspond to
"organism not living" or "bad". (Often the classification cannot be as simple as this, but no difficulty will occur in
principle; nothing to be said excludes the possibility of a finer classification.)
Ashby Cybernetics Figure 10.5.1.jpg
Ashby Cybernetics Figure 10.5.2.jpg

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 18, 2019, 2:10:49 PM11/18/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 5
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/18/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-5/

All,

Referring to the general figure of disturbances D, regulator F, and essential variables E, repeated here:

Figure 10.5.2
https://inquiryintoinquiry.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/ashby-cybernetics-figure-10.5.2.jpg

Ashby now gives us a set of examples to flesh out the abstract scheme.

<QUOTE>

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

Survival
========

10/5.[concl.] To make the assumptions clear, here are some simple cases, as illustration. (Inanimate regulatory
systems are given first for simplicity.)

(1) The thermostatically-controlled water-bath. E is its temperature, and what is desired (η [eta]) is the temperature
range between, say 36° and 37°C. D is the set of all the disturbances that may drive the temperature outside that range
-- addition of cold water, cold draughts blowing, immersion of cold objects, etc. F is the whole regulatory machinery.
F, by its action, tends to lessen the effect of D on E.

(2) The automatic pilot. E is a vector with three components -- yaw, pitch, and roll -- and η [eta] is the set of
positions in which these three are all within certain limits. D is the set of disturbances that may affect these
variables, such as gusts of wind, movements of the passengers in the plane, and irregularities in the thrusts of the
engines. F is the whole machinery -- pilot, ailerons, rudder, etc. -- whose action determines how D shall affect E.

(3) The bicycle rider. E is chiefly his angle with the vertical. η [eta] is the set of small permissible deviations.
D is the set of those disturbances that threaten to make the deviation become large. F is the whole machinery --
mechanical, anatomical, neuronic -- that determines what the effect of D is on E.

Many other examples will occur later. Meanwhile we can summarise by saying that natural selection favours those
gene-patterns that get, in whatever way, a regulator F between the disturbances D and the essential variables E. Other
things being equal, the better F is as a regulator, the larger the organism's chance of survival.

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 20, 2019, 4:36:15 PM11/20/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Discussion 1
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/20/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-discussion-1/

All,

Here's the beginnings of my attempt to answer Paola's question.
I have a lot more written in a not-so-good draft but may not be
able to get to it this week, so I'll just post this much for now.

JA: We continue in pursuit of a system-theoretic answer to the question:

* What are formalisms and all their embodiments in brains and computers good for?

PDM: Could you also provide a brief answer to the question,
through your analysis of the text you reference -- we all
suffer from attention deficit and may forget what you were
trying to say at the beginning.

My question about the good of embodied formalisms was
intended to call attention to a natural connection
between Pragmatic Truth and Cybernetic Purpose.

Cf: Pragmatic Theory Of Truth : 18
https://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/14/pragmatic-theory-of-truth-%e2%80%a2-18/

Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 1
https://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/14/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-1/

Pragmatic ways of thinking about the role of representations in
relating interpreters to objective realities naturally harmonize
with systems thinking about the role of information in achieving
the objectives of agents. In either mode of thinking we tend
to become quickly dissatisfied with disembodied abstractions,
detached from live context and meaningful purpose.

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 22, 2019, 9:40:14 AM11/22/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 6
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/22/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-6/

All,

Referring to the diagram of disturbances D, regulator F, and essential variables E, repeated here:

Figure 10.5.2
https://inquiryintoinquiry.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/ashby-cybernetics-figure-10.5.2.jpg

Ashby now asks, "What makes a good regulator?"
or "What measures the success of a regulator?"

<QUOTE>

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

Survival
========

10/6. *Regulation blocks the flow of variety.* On what scale can any particular mechanism F be measured for its value
or success as a regulator? The perfect thermostat would be one that, in spite of disturbance, kept the temperature
constant at the desired level. In general, there are two characteristics required: the maintenance of the temperature
within close limits, and the correspondence of this range with the desired one. What we must notice in particular is
that the set of permissible values, η, has less variety than the set of all possible values in E; for η is some set
selected from the states of E. If F is a regulator, the insertion of F between D and E *lessens* the variety that is
transmitted from D to E. Thus an essential function of F as a regulator is that it shall block the transmission of
variety from disturbance to essential variable.

</QUOTE>

Reference
=========

* Ashby, W.R. (1956), An Introduction to Cybernetics, Chapman and Hall, London, UK. Republished by Methuen and Company,
London, UK, 1964. Online ( http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/books/IntroCyb.pdf ) .

--

inquiry into inquiry: https://inquiryintoinquiry.com/
academia: https://independent.academia.edu/JonAwbrey
oeiswiki: https://www.oeis.org/wiki/User:Jon_Awbrey
isw: http://intersci.ss.uci.edu/wiki/index.php/JLA
facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JonnyCache
Ashby Cybernetics Figure 10.5.2.jpg

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 23, 2019, 6:20:21 PM11/23/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 7
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/23/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-7/

All,

Let's pick up the observation Ashby made at the end of the last selection, regarding the job of a regulator, and
continue with his text from there.

<QUOTE>

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

Survival
========

Figure 10.5.2
https://inquiryintoinquiry.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/ashby-cybernetics-figure-10.5.2.jpg

10/6.[cont.] If F is a regulator, the insertion of F between D and E lessens the variety that is transmitted from D to
E. Thus an essential function of F as a regulator is that it shall block the transmission of variety from disturbance
to essential variable.

Since this characteristic also implies that the regulator's function is to block the flow of information, let us look at
the thesis more closely to see whether it is reasonable.

Suppose that two water-baths are offered me, and I want to decide which to buy. I test each for a day against similar
disturbances and then look at the records of the temperatures; they are as in Fig. 10/6/1.

Fig. 10/6/1
https://inquiryintoinquiry.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/ashby-cybernetics-figure-10.6.1.jpg

There is no doubt that Model B is the better; and I decide this precisely because its record gives me no information,
as does A's, about what disturbances, of heat or cold, came to it. The thermometer and water in bath B have been
unable, as it were, to see anything of the disturbances D.
Ashby Cybernetics Figure 10.5.2.jpg
Ashby Cybernetics Figure 10.6.1.jpg

Jack Ring

unread,
Nov 24, 2019, 7:00:46 AM11/24/19
to syss...@googlegroups.com
Consider that the regulator blocks information that is detrimental to the system mission.

--
The SysSciWG wiki is at https://sites.google.com/site/syssciwg/

Contributions to the discussion are licensed by authors under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
---
You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups "Systems Science Working Group Discussion List" group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an email to syssciwg+u...@googlegroups.com.
To view this discussion on the web visit https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/syssciwg/faa50a4d-85f2-fc51-1318-d48502deea8e%40att.net.

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 24, 2019, 10:48:24 PM11/24/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Discussion 2
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/24/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-discussion-2/

Re: Systems Science ( https://groups.google.com/d/topic/syssciwg/eBZKZaSHa6k/overview )
::: Jack Ring ( https://groups.google.com/d/msg/syssciwg/eBZKZaSHa6k/rIJu6_mjBAAJ )

All,

In the last selection we found Ashby making what may strike us initially as a surprising inference. Starting from the
assumption that "an essential function of F as a regulator is that it shall block the transmission of variety from
disturbance to essential variable" he draws the conclusion that "the regulator's function is to block the flow of
information".

Ashby's reasoning at this point caused me to do a double take, because I normally think of information as a resource for
reducing variety, in other words, the dispersive quality of entropy. But a little reflection convinced me Ashby is
making sense here, so long as we read him right.

Jack Ring's suggestion, "Consider that the regulator blocks information that is detrimental to the system mission",
serves to point us in the right direction. Strictly speaking, though, it is not the information about temperature
variation that is detrimental to the system's mission but the temperature variation itself. The regulator acts in such
a way as to block the information about variation, but solely as a side effect of damping the real variation.

But we need to keep one thing in mind. When we speak of the regulator blocking the flow of information, we are talking
about the whole system (D, F, E) as a "black box", where the net information flow from input to output is as low as
possible. When we turn to a finer-grained analysis of regulated systems we will see that all sorts of information has
to be processed inside the system in order to achieve its mission.

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Nov 27, 2019, 3:10:39 PM11/27/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 8
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/11/27/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-8/

All,

Keeping in mind our goal to understand how a species might evolve:

(1) Organic means of storing formal structures capable of bearing
information about the state of its being in the world, plus

(2) Faculties for developing artificial extensions of those means,

let's catch our breath and follow Ashby as he stretches his thesis
about the mark of a well-tempered regulator to cover higher forms
of regulation.

<QUOTE>

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

10/6.[concl.] The same argument will apply, with obvious modifications, to the automatic pilot. If it is a good
regulator the passengers will have a smooth flight whatever the gustiness outside. They will, in short, be *prevented
from knowing* whether or not it is gusty outside. Thus a good pilot acts as a barrier against the transmission of that
information.

The same argument applies to an air-conditioner. If I live in an air-conditioned room, and can tell, by the hotness of
the room, that it is getting hot outside, then that conditioner is failing as a regulator. If it is really good, and
the blinds are drawn, I shall be unable to form any idea of what the outside weather is like. The good conditioner
blocks the flow inwards of information about the weather.

The same thesis applies to the higher regulations achieved by such activities as hunting for food, and earning one's
daily bread. Thus while the unskilled hunter or earner, in difficult times, will starve and will force his liver and
tissues (the essential variables) to extreme and perhaps unphysiological states, the skilled hunter or earner will go
through the same difficult times with his liver and tissues never taken to extremes. In other words, his skill as a
regulator is shown by the fact, among others, that it prevents information about the times reaching the essential
variables. In the same way, the skilled provider for a family may go through difficult times without his family
realising that anything unusual has happened. The family of an unskilled provider would have discovered it.

In general, then, an essential feature of the good regulator is that *it blocks the flow of variety from disturbances to
essential variables*.

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Dec 27, 2019, 2:00:16 PM12/27/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Discussion 4
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/12/27/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-discussion-4/

Re: Systems Science ( https://groups.google.com/d/topic/syssciwg/RHG79gnGW30/overview )
::: Jack Ring ( https://groups.google.com/d/msg/syssciwg/RHG79gnGW30/lhUkClhkAgAJ )

<QUOTE> JR:
I share your appreciation of Ashby's work. However it seems to reflect the deductive approach typical of males as
contrasted to the inductive approach typical of females. Make sense?
</QUOTE>

Jack, All ...

A tutorial introduction to a scientific subject is necessarily bound by considerations both rhetorical and logical.

* Rhetoric, classically speaking, concerns those forms of argument which "consider the audience", that is, which take
into account the receiver's operating characteristics and prior state of information.

* Logic, when it comes to the "Logic of Science" as a tradition from Aristotle through C.S. Peirce treats it, demands
"abductive" as well as "deductive" and "inductive" reasoning and divides their duties differently than dualist accounts
of scientific inference do.

The following project report contains more information about the triadic model of scientific inquiry.

* Functional Logic : Inquiry and Analogy
https://oeis.org/wiki/Functional_Logic_%E2%80%A2_Inquiry_and_Analogy

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Dec 29, 2019, 9:10:40 AM12/29/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 9
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/12/28/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-9/

Studies of intelligent systems, natural or artificial, tend to focus on dynamic models or symbolic models, rarely both,
finding it difficult to integrate the two. But here we are asking the synthetic question -- How does a cybernetic
system come to develop semiotic systems, mediated both internally and externally, capable of bearing the information it
needs to survive and achieve its other objectives?

With that in mind, let's return to Ashby's text, picking up the argument where he underscores his thesis up to this
point and continuing from there.

<QUOTE>

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

10/6.[concl.] In general, then, an essential feature of the good regulator is that it blocks the flow of variety from
disturbances to essential variables.

10/7. The blocking may take place in a variety of ways, which prove, however, on closer examination to be
fundamentally the same. Two extreme forms will illustrate the range.

One way of blocking the flow (from the source of disturbance D to the essential variable E) is to interpose something
that acts as a simple passive block to the disturbances. Such is the tortoise's shell, which reduces a variety of
impacts, blows, bites, etc. to a negligible disturbance of the sensitive tissues within. In the same class are the
tree's bark, the seal's coat of blubber, and the human skull.

At the other extreme from this static defence is the defence by skilled counter-action -- the defence that gets
information about the disturbance to come, prepares for its arrival, and then meets the disturbance, which may be
complex and mobile, with a defence that is equally complex and mobile. This is the defence of the fencer, in some
deadly duel, who wears no armour and who trusts to his skill in parrying. This is the defence used mostly by the higher
organisms, who have developed a nervous system precisely for the carrying out of this method.
Ashby Cybernetics Figure 10.5.2.jpg

Jon Awbrey

unread,
Dec 29, 2019, 2:30:12 PM12/29/19
to Cybernetic Communications, Ontolog Forum, Structural Modeling, SysSciWG
Cf: Cybernetics : Regulation In Biological Systems : Selection 10
At: http://inquiryintoinquiry.com/2019/12/29/cybernetics-%e2%80%a2-regulation-in-biological-systems-%e2%80%a2-selection-10/

This brings us to the end of Ashby's Chapter 10.

<QUOTE>

Regulation In Biological Systems
================================

Survival
========

10/7.[concl.] When considering this second form [of defence] we should be careful to notice the part played by
information and variety in the process. The fencer must watch his opponent closely, and he must gain information in all
ways possible if he is to survive. For this purpose he is born with eyes, and for this purpose he learns how to use
them. Nevertheless, the end result of this skill, if successful, is shown by his essential variables, such as his
blood-volume, remaining within normal limits, much as if the duel had not occurred. Information flows freely to the
non-essential variables, but the variety in the distinction "duel or no-duel" has been prevented from reaching the
essential variables.

Through the remaining chapters we shall be considering this type of active defence, asking such questions as: what
principles must govern it? What mechanisms can achieve it? And, what is to be done when the regulation is very difficult?
Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages