entropy production and emergence in behavior LO20446

Jon Krispin (jkrispin@prestolitewire.com)
Wed, 20 Jan 1999 17:18:14 -0500

Replying to LO20330 (At de Lange)

-again incorporating contributions from a plethora of posts by a number of
different individuals

Greetings LOers!

First of all, At (Greetings once again), I want to thank you for
explaining the minimality criteria for entropy production once again.
Your comments were very helpful to me in understanding the relationship of
positive and negative reinforcement in introducing energy into behavioral
systems and thereby causing entropy production. I am going to try to
explain some of the connections that I have been trying to make so that
others may question, comment, correct and improve them.

First, some background. In LO20330 you wrote:

>What is the hammering which the surroundings have to take in case 2?
>Since entropy production is the cause of diversification, the
>surroundings will have less opportunity to diversify. It is like a big
>corporation with many divisions. When the one division is usurping
>most of the profits earmarked for expansion, the other divisions will
>stagnate. What is the gain for the system when the surroundings have
>to take this hammering? By increasing the entropy production,
>additional bifurcations can be reached and thus new possible actions
>be explored. This is how human systems gain knowledge of "all possible

In paragraph, you gave the example of a corporation that chooses to invest
its profits (free energy) in one particular division in order to maximize
the entropy production in that division. This is done with the goal of
accelerating the production of bifurcations necessary for the the division
to self-organize into a higher state of order. In doing this, the
corporation chooses to forego opportunities for the other divisions to use
this free energy in their own entropy production, and hence these other
divisions stagnate.

One key observation that I made in this example was that there was free
energy (in the form of profits) available in the corporate system for this
entropy production. In this case, there is no need to introduce energy to
do this work from outside the system. I would liken this illustation in
some ways to the example that I gave of a behavioral system with free
energy (potential outcomes not being realized that are more desired than
the outcomes that are presently being realized) in LO20309. In such a
situation, the system is in a state of labile equilibrium and the
potential exists for the system to spontaneously reorganize into a new
state of equilibrium attracted by these more desired outcomes. Some of
the free energy available to the system must be used to place the system
in contact with the additional potential outcomes (acting as a catalyst
and "guiding" the system to the edge of chaos and to an ensuing
bifurcation), but once this occurs, the system will spontaneously
reorganize (emergence - irreversible self-organization requiring no
further free energy - as At notes in LO20410, this may even be harnessed
as a source of free energy). Leo Minnigh's reservoir example in LO20345
illustrates this beautifully. For the period of time that the free energy
is focused on guiding, or facilitating, the reorganization of the one
behavior, other areas of the system may have to decrease the rate at which
their entropy is increasing to compensate.

At wrote, again in LO20330:

>OK. Human systems can gain much knowledge of "all possible changes".
>History shows that the majority of humans do not worry too much on the
>hammering which the surrounding have to take in terms of reduced
>diversity. But there is a "silent hammering" which the system itself
>takes and which may be worse when it tries to live persistently at the
>edge of chaos. Since it seldom produce entropy minimally, it seldom
>have the opportunity to mature into a dynamical equilibrium with
>respect to that change. This phase is necessary to produce a new
>source of free energy. For example, a young sapling has to grow into a
>mature tree to produce enough fire wood. The system jumps from the one
>revolution to the other like a cat on a hot tin roof, using up all its
>sources of free energy. Eventually the system will collapse with
>little effort. ...snip...

>This is why I have to caution once again that when we are involved in
>the change of other people - please take it slowly. Allow for each
>change to feed and mature into a dynamical equilibrium. Otherwise all
>the immature changes will add up a cause a "burn out". ...snip...

Also, in LO20274 At wrote:

>If the entropy is produced outside the system (requiring the seven
>essentialities) to fill up the system with it, there is no guarantee that the
>seven essentialities will also be sufficiently developed within the system
>to respond with an emergence to the ensueing bifurcation. The mere
>fact that we want to produce the entropy outside the system points to
>the fact that we already are tacitly aware that the system itself
>could not do it. In such cases we usually expect immergences to happen
>and our expectations are seldom wrong. In my opinion we should rather
>guide the system how to produce self its own entropy sufficiently so
>as to reach the edge of chaos where the bifurcations happen. In that
>case we can expect the bifurcations to evolve into emergences rather
>than immergences.

In the last paragraph by you above (from LO20274), you conclude that we
should avoid using energy from outside the system to cause nonspontaneous
reorganization. As you mentioned, this usually leads to an immergence
rather than an emergence of the system. Here, your observations of the
ultimate consequences of increasing the entropy of a system maximally for
an extended period of time are extremely relevant (see the two paragraphs
above this one that I quoted). When we try to force nonspontaneous
reorganization by introducing energy from outside of the system as so
often happens in organizations, and, as you have pointed out, we are doing
with our natural resources as we speak, we are on a path that leads to
"burn out" and the collapse of the system (immergence). The likelihood of
this happening increases in a nonlinear fashion if negative reinforcement
is used as the means for introducing energy into the system.

>From a behaviorist perspective and by adopting a systems perspective, we
can understand why this phenomenon of increasing entropy maximally today
at the sacrifice of the entire system in the future might happen by
revisiting the decay of delay in feedback loops. The more distant the
consequence from the behavior, and the more uncertain it is to occur, the
more that it is discounted in decision making. The ultimate collapse of
the system is far removed in time (you mentioned 30 years for our natural
resources) and is viewed as uncertain (as you also mentioned, many are
placing their faith in the belief that someone will create the
inexhaustible source of energy between now and then). In the immediate
present, we are powerfully positively reinforced by the conveniences that
the technology consuming the natural resources affords us. As a result,
we choose to increase our entropy maximally and ignore the fact that we
are not replenishing the energy that we are using. As Stephen Covey says,
we are too busy driving to stop for gas.

This scenario parallels the dynamics that are established when we use
negative reinforcement to drive change. As I mentioned in LO20081 by
drawing a parallel between the use of negative reinforcement and the
shifting the burden systems archetype described in chapter 6 of the Fifth
Discipline, the use of negative reinforcement to push behavior has many
undesired (but delayed) consequences which ultimately undermine the
behavioral system. It requires a continuous and costly investment of free
energy from outside the system to maintain the change (the system will
never spontaneously reorganize in alignment with the direction established
by the negative reinforcement - one result of the spreading caused by the
pushing force). It results in indeterministic actions in the system as
you point out in LO20330. In LO19894, I described some of these "side
effects" as being an artificially low ceiling for performance (the most
you can expect is the least required to escape or avoid the negative
outcome), the possibility that individuals may choose to exit the
situation rather than endure it, and resistance on the part of individuals
to this method of influence that may increase over time, even to the point
of the manifestation of outright aggression. Those in the system begin to
feel unempowered, boxed in, cynical, and burned out. The harder you push,
the more the system pushes back, and the greater the amount of energy is
required to simply maintain the present state of organization. In effect,
we are using up all of the sources of free energy faster than we can grow
new sources of free energy, and the system will ultimately collapse. We
are "silently hammering" the surroundings to the system, and the price
will have to be paid.

Despite all of these consequences, the use of negative reinforcement is
prevalent in organizations. Why? Because the person who uses negative
reinforcement is frequently, immediately, and positively reinforced with
the compliance of the "target" to the direction of their influence, and
the situation, in the short term, appears to be improving. Everything
appears to be on the right track. The use of positive reinforcement is
usually not reinforced as powerfully as the use of negative reinforcement.
However, more and more resistance begins to manifest itself, and more and
more effort is required to sustain the organization. What is the
individual likely to do? Unfortunately, more of what they have done in
the past (they have been positively reinforced for doing it). Their
common sense and experiential learning (without theory) leads them down
this path. As Deming said, "Working harder only digs deeper the ditch
they are in.".

To this point, most of the dialogue in which we have been engaged has
focused on making connections between the behaviorist perspective, systems
thinking, and entropy production to encourage emergences in behavior.
However, so far, I think that we have spent most of our time talking about
why we should do this, and what we can expect if we don't, but only
recently have we started to discuss how this should be done. I have made
several attempts to explain how to go about doing this (in explaining how
to "build the bridge" using positive reinforcement). Leo Minnigh (LO20246
and LO20345) and John Gunkler (LO20363) have participated in the dialogue
and have begun to open up the "how" question (I originally began this post
with the intent of getting deeper into the "how to apply" issues, but,
given that I have been pecking away at this post for days already, I will
have to save some of what I had intended to say for a later post).

For example, in LO20330, At wrote the following statements:

>Nowadays many people come under the impression that complex systems
>cannot be "deterministic systems". They use all sorts of arguments (like
>linearity and closedness) to vindicate their tacit knowledge that a
>system may lose its deterministic property - that it may act like a
>loose cannon on a ship. The loss in determinism is a fact and thus not
>the issue. The reason for it is the issue. You have identified the correct
>Forcing NON-SPONTANEOUS behavior by negative reinforcement leads to
>indeterministic actions.

[ABSOLUTELY YES!!!! Understanding this is paramount. This is why I made
the bold (brash?) statement in LO20081 that the behaviorist perspective
is, IMHO, the Sixth Discipline (or at least 5.5) necessary for Learning
Organizations. It essentially applies the systems thinking perspective to
the unique context of behavior - an extension that allows us to see with
clarity where the "levers for change" exist in systems of behavior and
human interaction.]

>To regain deterministic behavior, spontaneous behavior based on
>positive reinforcement should be promoted. In other words, the system
>should be allowed to follow its own course of irreversible
>self-organisation by producing its own entropy. This is how every
>living species have been acting since times immemorial. Our task is to
>"guide" human systems to focus on a particular course through
>self-learning. I have used quotation marks to stress that the word
>guide does not give precisely the meaning which I want to articulate.
>When I think of "guide", it excludes regulation, enforcement, ruling
>controlling, authority, dominion or similar things. In other words,
>when I think of "guide" it excludes pushings and includes pullings.

At, I couldn't agree more. This captures the essence of the very reason
that I asserted in LO19894 that the behaviorist perspective is much more
than an amoral technology for changing behavior. It has helped me to see
with a clarity why "doing the right thing" is more than just taking the
moral high ground, but is also the ONLY way that we can truly achieve the
visions of our hearts and minds. And it has enabled me to see HOW to do
"the right things" to the best of my present ability, and to be equipped
to continually learn how to improve my ability to do this. I believe that
there is an appropriate time and place for "aversive methods" to be used
(for example when a behavior MUST stop or change immediately for reasons
of safety), but, as you stated in LO20274, "when the time arrives that we
have to enforce the missing complement, we should do it with compassion.
Thus we need to know what will happen when we are responsible for causing
the entropic force-flux pair and the subsequent increase in chaos.". This
has affected me in my professional life, as I work towards my personal
goals, and in my roles as husband, father and friend. I am forever
changed as a result (I have irreversibly self organized!).

To pick up on a long dangling observation of At's (responding to John
Gunkler) that made an impact on me fairly early on in the "changing
another person" thread. At wrote in LO20074:

>A Systems Thinking (ST) should give a coherent and consistent account
>of why one person should not change another person without "permission
>based on a sound knowledge". If the ST cannot give such an account,
>then using such a ST will change another person without "permission based
>on a sound knowledge".

At went on to explain this point from an understanding of entropy
production, but I think that we have also been able to explain this from a
behaviorist perspective. This also brings me to another point that I have
been wanting to make regarding the exclusivity of entropy production or
the behaviorist perspective as means for understanding the process of
change. In short, I don't believe that these (or any other) approaches
are exclusive in the sense that they provide the only path for
understanding these underlying "truths" (dare I say "truths"?). Having
said this, I do want to say that, for me, the behaviorist perspective has
provided an awfully good place to begin my search for understanding, as I
think entropy production has done for At. I once asked a good friend of
mine for his recommendations as to a good place to start investigating
some of these ideas. His response was "Start anywhere - its a system."
This fits well with the SCIENCE MAP as explained by Leo Minnigh in 20331,
or, as At mentions in LO20274, "...we must open ourselves up to more and
more topics. But we have to do it along a web and not haphazardly. Thus
we need a web that encompasses all of reality.".

In LO20353, John Gunkler wrote the following regarding "our founding

>It is the ideas of systems dynamics, with emphasis on feedback loops
>and trying to understand reality in ways similar to the way those who
>live in it understand it, that gave rise to the idea of creating a learning
>organization. And it is system dynamics that offers hope that we, simple
>creatures that we are, might be able to actually understand and control
>(to some degree) the complexity in which we find ourselves. ...snip...

>Many of the difficult questions posed on this list find answers, or at least
>find hope of creating answers, in the discipline of system dynamics. Other
>disciplines (chaos theory, general systems theory, analogies from
>biological and other sciences) have much to contribute - but, at this
>early stage, I think system dynamics is the only one that comes close to
>providing real tools, structure, and the ability to handle complexity in
>an understandable way. The other disciplines provide analogies, language,
>creative ways of thinking about things - but few solutions, few process
>descriptions, and little practical help.

This post, in its entirety, must have really struck a chord amongst those
on the list, judging by the amount of reaction that is has caused. I
happen to agree to a large extent with what John has written, but I might
broaden the context of his statements a bit. In my own thinking (and I
may be reading more into John's words than he intended to say), the thrust
behind his message is the desire to expose others to a framework that he
(and many others) have found very useful in helping them to integrate the
many other disciplines that inform organizations and management (I think
that this would also include such fields as psychology, organizational
behavior, and even marketing, economics and finance as well as those
mentioned by John). This is at least my own motivation in sharing my
understanding of the behaviorist perspective and trying to connect it with
systems thinking, entropy production, etc... Some of the objections to
John's post have centered on themes such as 1)there is evidence of
learning organizations that predate the inception of system dynamics,
2)many other fields seem to account for many of the factors involved in
creating learning organizations. These observations are true, but I don't
think that these arguments necessarily invalidate his.

On the other hand, given the argument that I made above that no one
perspective has an exclusive grip on providing the path to understanding
the complexity that we experience in our organizations, certainly system
dynamics can't make this claim either (and for that reason, I might temper
what John has said above slightly). I think that richness of the dialogue
on the list demonstrates that others, in their quest for learning, have
created their own "web of reality" that has lead them to their own deep

[On the other, other hand, I think that there are still many who may feel
that they are floundering in the face of the complexity and have been
drawn to this list in search of some way to pull this all together.]

In considering all of this, I think that it might be helpful to revisit
the process-structure, form-mechanics, or content-dynamics complementary
duals that have been the topic of some discussion recently. For example,
in LO20344, At wrote the following:

>In all problems concerning the incomplete, the "form-content" duality is
>essential to obtaining the solution. The problem is either an incomplete
>form or an incomplete content. The solution is to generate a complete form
>(by using the dynamics of the content) or to generate a complete content
>(by using the mechanics of the form). Thus the "form-content" duality is
>very important to systems thinking.

We can link this idea to numerous examples from a number of threads over
the past several months. For example, in the continuous vs continual
improvement thread, At observed that continual improvement had to do with
the process of improvement, while continuous improvement had to do with
the structure of improvement. In the knowledge management in academia
thread, John Gunkler called for a focus on process (dynamics) descriptions
rather than state (structure or mechanics) descriptions (recall from
LO20324 his example of the recipe description of the cake vs the physical
description). I think that this may also be related to John's call for
renewed emphasis on system dynamics, the attempts of At to help us
understand entropy production, and my desire to introduce some of the
principles from behavioral psychology to the list. All of these provide
avenues through which we may understand the PROCESS of change, and are
fields that have already been formalized to some extent. This absolutely
doesn't rule out the possibility that anyone may develop a tacit
understanding of this process in their own terms (which they may have
formalized for themselves) and it also doesn't exclude the possibility
that there may be a number of entirely different avenues for explaining
the process that have not yet been introduced to the list. I think that
all three of these areas provide an excellent framework which can guide an
individual along a "web of reality", allowing them to incorporate the
pieces from different fields which may have spent more time delineating
the structural side of organizations. This is the value of adopting a
process or systems perspective. It doesn't invalidate what we knew before
so much as it informs it.

For what its worth,

Jon Krispin


"Jon Krispin" <jkrispin@prestolitewire.com>

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