Student performance in a digital tablet enabled Education Initiative

February 22, 2018


Technology is going to play an important role in personalized education moving forward. Several Middle Schools’ iPad enhanced education is a pioneering effort to scale up use of technology to offer a more deeper insight into student’s needs and offer adequate guidance in order to accelerate learning and development of a rounded responsible and caring individual. From what I understand, there has been significant investment in infrastructure and people to help roll out iPad enhanced education at our local Middle Schools

In this essay, I wish to bring to notice some hidden challenges in this initiative. In particular, transition from a non-tech based elementary school to an almost completely tech-driven middle school can be particularly challenging for some students. I am putting forward some of the points that I believe will help iron out some of the crinks in the initiative making it better suited for such a large scale deployment. Attention to these details will, I believe, will help educators adapt pedagogy to take into account social and emotional aspects of entering middle schoolers and build a stronger confidence in them to succeed in a tech infused education system.

Good news.

iPad, as a digital tablet example, is a channel to help students have personalized attention and stimulate each student to explore to their potential. Making tablets safe for middle school children requires detailed study of what should be permitted and what not within an educational setting. Middle Schools has done a great job in structuring how tablets can be rolled out taking into account various choices parents can make – bring your own, rent or even choose not to use tablets.

Tablet based education allows for teachers to monitor what students are working on and how engaged they are during instruction time. This can lead to collection of data that will allow educators to craft out simpler and effective modes of knowledge transfer that offers personalized enrichment to each student. Since we have all signed up for this initiative, I will go with a general consensus that this option and opportunity is a good one and is worth investing in.

Challenges and issues.

Technology enhancement of Middle School pedagogy has been a challenge for our 11y old son Peter (name changed to protect identity) and equally challenging for parents who have a high schooler who had graduated from the same middle school in 2015. We can see that this has been a steep learning curve for our child on several topics as he entered Middle School. This burden of tablet based teaching and monitoring has created an additional cognitive hurdle that he is struggling to cope with. Let us look into various potentially different aspects that have consequences when taken together that are worth pondering on.

We need to be on the same page before we start to look at challenges that tablet based education system has to address. For that let’s first list down context of a child entering Middle School in 6th Grade coming from one of the other public elementary schools either through residence criteria or through lottery.

  1. Elementary School Foundations: To my understanding elementary school system is a gradual graceful introduction of children k-5 to what it means to work in larger groups and learn collectively. In my understanding, these are points that an elementary school emphasises on:
    1. Fun and social aspects of learning and lesser emphasis on performance in courses.
    2. Explaining in own words to encourage independent thinking instead of rote learning.
    3. Focus on written answers instead of spoken answers to encourage good written communication and good handwriting. This point is worth revisiting in a tablet enhanced education initiative.
    4. Increasing sense of being responsible for one’s own success by instilling discipline to focus and deliver on what is expected by teachers.
    5. Single class run by a single teacher covering all subjects offering less change in terms of instruction style and more all round emphasis on child’s growth and development.
  2. Middle School Changes: When successful elementary school child enters Middle school the student is faced with these changes that have only been briefly introduced – if at all – in elementary schools
    1. Concepts of Teams and Core Teachers to offer different tracks delivering relatively similar quality of education.
    2. Electives for children to choose and explore different dimensions they otherwise did not get a chance to explore before or otherwise.
    3. Moving from classroom to classroom that requires children to be better organized in terms of carrying their things, making sure to submit their school work, settling down and focusing.
    4. Multiple teachers with different pedagogy styles and approach to schoolwork coming from their own unique experience.
    5. Grading system designed to encourage students to be more responsible about submitting their work and showing what it means to do well. This point is worth revisiting in a tablet enhanced education initiative.
    6. Disconnected systems with a mix of paper and digital assignments and evaluations.
  3. Tablet enhanced Educational Foundations: This is an additional topic over and above the above changes that a child faces in schools that have embraced tablet enhanced education system. We will come back to these assumptions and themes as we look deeper into what could be some unintentional impact that can undermine
    1. Using tablets as a means of delivering instructions implicitly assumes that tablets are so easy to use that “even a child can succeed” without too much of training.
    2. Continuous grading and monitoring of what children are doing in class gives instructors better visibility into what child wants and thereby “scaling up personalized education” on a technology infrastructure
    3. Children “will figure out” right ways of using tablets for education since Cupertino society is considered more tech savvy being located in the heart of Silicon Valley, California.

Advantages of Digital Tablet as a Teaching Aid.

User friendly design of digital tablets – particularly Apple’s iPad – is a wonderful step up in how digital devices can help relieve people of several repetitive cognitively stressful tasks. Some of these are

  1. Active Research as a learning aid: Children can explore not only what is taught through books but, with teacher’s guidance, explore topics that push boundaries of what they can discover in a specific topic.
  2. Online real-time collaboration: With appropriate tools and apps, students can interact remotely and collaboratively. This vastly increases social network that we would like to develop in a child.
  3. Real-time assessment and transparency: Teachers now have a way to monitor and work with children in real-time. Issues that occur – either positive or negative – get logged into technology infrastructure and can be used to work with students to improve their overall growth and conduct.
  4. Alternate responses: Multimedia responses that are possible on a digital tablet cannot be replicated on paper and pencil without investing a lot of time and effort. What used to take days of work can now be done in hours and minutes due to advances in tools that can be used on a tablet. For example, creating a video movie as a response is possible at scale now than it was before. Similarly, teachers can invest in alternate ways of responses including speaking our answers instead of writing them out.

I am sure there are many more which are relevant in this context. Before we get to how to reduce friction of digital tablet adoption by entering middle schoolers, let us look into some fundamental aspects of introducing such a technology at school.

  1. Identity and Security: This is by far the most pressing concern. Here I applaud the approach taken by Middle school to provide a safe and productive environment at School.
  2. Monitoring: Without knowing much about Middle School’s specific infrastructure, I understand that a good amount of monitoring safeguards have been placed in the system.
  3. Communication options: Digital Tablets have opened up new ways of communicating including wi-fi, bluetooth, airdrop, near-field-communication, proximity detection, apps, etc. Progressively, we can only expect more such innovations entering into the system requiring continuous improvement on educating appropriate use of these devices.

Graceful incorporation of Digital Tablet into school curriculum.

While a significant population of entering middle schoolers have used digital tablets before, elementary school use has primarily been using tablets as entertainment devices. While using a channel of fun to deliver education is well intended, there is a cognitive shift and compartmentalization required for a child to understand when a tablet is used for education and when for fun. In my view, this is not very different from how preschoolers use paper and crayon for fun to start with, before written responses are taught to the child. The difference here is that digital tablets are active modes of entertainment compared to paper and pencil which is student directed engagement. Meaning, a child chooses to use paper only when there is an expression that needs to be captured. It is not unusual to see children passively consuming information from digital tablets for hours which can be argued as being non-productive use of time. In fact digital tablets can lead to device addiction which is a growing threat all over the world.

Having given such a powerful tool in the hand of entering middle schooler demands more responsibility to be taken up by the institution and parents in order to get children to succeed. The first questions we need to ask are, now that digital tablets are being used, what effort can be reduced or eliminated that will make a child feel successful as a digital student. These are some points that we can discuss further:

  1. Responses: Given that children now have access to device that can record their responses, we could consider using spoken responses as an alternative to written responses.
    1. A case in point is Physical Fitness course. This is a course designed to educate children on values of being physically fit. It is not a language course. So, voice responses could be considered good enough to check understanding.
  2. Scribbling instead of writing or typing: Having given a digital tablet, there are challenges in responding to online exercises that only allow responses in touch sensitive boxes. Child who has to write is used to resting their wrist on paper in order to write. However, touch-sensitive response boxes on digital tablets require hand to hover when writing since resting wrist would bring up another line in the response sheet! Adults struggle to write well on whiteboards that require hover-to-write technique. Expecting this from middle schoolers is not appropriate to the skill levels they have been previously trained on.
    1. All responses should either be typed – if it is online – or written on paper with a pencil. Hover-to-write to responses is a poor design of online material.
    2. Apps for school use should have “palm rejection” mode on by default. Existence and use of such a feature needs to be taught to children.
    3. Responsiveness of App to stylus is another issue – children are used to seeing a mark when they write. Any lag in performance from the stroke to the appearance of the line is a distraction and creates time delays.
  3. Grading: The essential purpose of grading needs to be revisited – even outside the context of digital tablets. Grading, being introduced for first time in middle school, is a great self-motivation tool. It is also a mechanism for comparison and categorization. As parents we are confused on what is the emphasis we need to lay on grades.
    1. Undue penalization can demotivate a child.
    2. There are successful grading models available in high schools and community colleges. Study of those grading systems to encourage students to perform should be considered.
  4. Fairness in assessment: High schools and community colleges have, in the meantime, figured out what fair assessment means for school work due. In most cases, 80% of possible credits are offered to late submissions. Similarly, given that a 6th grader is being accelerated into grading based evaluation, same fairness guidelines would be recommended.
    1. Children who have assignments due should have a fighting chance to secure grades that they missed. Such a fair scale has to be established in order to keep the relevance of grades as a self-motivation and self-improvement mechanism.
  5. Tracking school work: This is a novelty to entering 6th graders. While I am amazed at the speed of comprehension and adaptation of 11y/12y olds to absorb and respond to new ways of interaction, this is still a huge cognitive overload.
    1. For children who have not been exposed to tracking school work on a digital device, we need a ramp-up to see if children are all on the same page with respect to expectations and deliverables.
    2. Missing alignment here has consequences that tends to hurt a child in an emotionally negative way.
  6. Pranks and bullying: Every generation of students find their own ways to indulge in pranks and bullying. While most are benign and are part of children growing up in a real world, digital tablets takes this to an altogether new level. Children can be intimidated, dared or bullied in ways school or parents cannot always oversee. Children, being young exploratory minds, will find corner and edge cases of use that might be considered inappropriate use. This is a bigger problem than the ones indicated above.
    1. We now have to contend with Cyber-Bullying and Cyber-Dares that get recorded into digital infrastructure, becomes part of child’s educational identity leading to biases that can be detrimental to the child.
    2. Some aspects of these behaviors can be traced to ignorance of appropriate use of digital tablets – understanding their features and situations they can be used. Learning from peers, while good, is also a breeding ground for mischief.
  7. Emotional backlash: By setting up an expectation that every child is gifted to use digital tablet and ones that cannot succeed are laggers is a wrong message to students. As a culmination of all the above additions, students in a digitally assisted education system are feeling more overwhelmed since there is no clear path to success in such a system.
    1. Children tend to be more black-or-white in their self-assessment.
    2. Learning shades of grey is an aspect of maturity that is too early to demand in a middle school child.
  8. Device addiction: In order to succeed in a fiercely competitive consumer market, all digital device manufactures are investing top research dollars to keep a user locked into the device for as long as possible. Marketing materials speak about counting eyeballs, Apps speak about engagement and immersion. When such a device is placed in the hand of a young adult or a middle schooler, device addiction is a constant threat. Recent NY Times article [1] has elevated device addiction to problems on par with drugs or alcohol.
    1. Unfortunately, the bulk of the burden in terms of policing screen time lands on parents!
    2. Use of digital device at school and at home has not improved this challenge. It seems that system’s choice for goodness of many is not fully understood on its long term impact to our community.
  9. Disconnected evaluation: One child is expected to adapt to different pedagogy styles of different teachers which is already a step up from Elementary School style of working with one teacher. To further complicate the issue, each teacher chooses a style that best works for them in order to efficiently scale.
    1. Unfortunately, this results in several channels to be looked into every day and left with a feeling that assessment is all that counts.
    2. For children like Peter, this creates a significant cognitive dissonance and confusion leading to progressive disengagement.
  10. Parent responsibility: Moving from elementary to middle school, one would expect, builds on existing foundations and adds only few enhancements. However, this complete revamp is a challenge for some parents.
    1. High schools have identified a mechanism to inform parents on a daily basis on what happens in school via mail. I am not aware of a automatic mail that can be generated from Middle School’s evaluation infrastructure.
    2. Lack of such last mile monitoring has led to us getting to know of issues rather late and losing time that could have been used to productively encourage my child to adapt to the new system.

Reducing friction of adoption of digital tablet in education requires us to rethink effort from a child’s perspective. Middle schools are a wonderful test bed for seeing how personalized education can succeed at scale. These are formative years and there are bound to be challenges. However, sacrificing initial batches of students for a system to get progressively better, I think, is not an option. While system can take years to get to a point of effortless success, number of children falling through the cracks would be far more devastating to our community as a whole. We need to start looking more deeply right now by assessing where we are from a child’s point of view. What we are doing in good intent should not perceived as a system versus child – rather is should be seen as a system supporting a child to succeed.

Learner first, evaluation next.

There is a need to lighten cognitive and emotional burden placed on an entering middle schooler in such a way that they don’t give-up in 6th grade! After several years of working to ensure that children don’t drop out from educational system mid-way, we are at a new inflexion point where technology enabled education can lead some children to a dark gloomy choices. While a sample size of one child is not statistically significant for a system to change, one child is one young life. I think we have to redefine what “no child left behind” means in this new pedagogy.

Digital Tablet is a tool that needs to be learnt. As any other response tool, it takes time to get this working for children. While children believe they are good at anything that is tech oriented, they need to be informed that expectations from digital tablet for use at school is very different from what they have previously experienced. To entice students to see value in such an initiative, we should offer new mechanisms of responses that are child friendly first and evaluation friendly next. This fundamental shift will help in using technology initiatives to drive personalized education in years to come building a stronger and better community.



[2] The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them, by Daniel L. Schwartz ,‎ Jessica M. Tsang, Kristen P. Blair, 2016


Vedic Dynamics: Introduction

January 10, 2018

Vedic thought holds a hallowed position in scriptures world as a comprehensive yet inclusive view of life. Upanishads are indicative texts that reveal Vedic gospel. Upanishads derives their conclusions from Vedas which are considered to have been divined rather than composed. Written in Sanskrit, Vedic Word is a comprehensible guide to many of my questions about life in general.

Let’s rephrase some of my understanding from my readings of Vedic texts. From what I have gathered, these texts chart our understanding by deeply reflecting on our life experience. Typically there are a series of metaphysical, psychological and physical relationships established each pushing boundaries of expression and comprehension. Mahavakya are hidden gems that cut through fundamental issues and establish relationships between metaphysical, psychological and physical entities.

Observer is our start point from where we will explore parallels in physics and Vedic thought. Experientially, we exist. This existence can be seen from two perspectives – subjective perception where I experience my world and an objective agreement that I share with others.

Western science requires measurable verifiable facts. Technology today has benefited immensely from measurability and standards. Predictability needs such a foundation. Same is true for life too. Without an actionable determination of evolution a living system, organism, cannot survive. Very existence of life means that at some level of analysis there is a system evolution that can be projected in space and time to deduce what evolutionary trajectories are to be avoided to preserve integrity of an organism.

Unraveling personal experience

In छांदोग्योपनिषद् Chandogya Upanishad chapter seven an interesting analysis of Reality is offered. This conversation between Sage Sanatkumara and Sage Narada sets up a conceptual edifice meandering from psychological to physical to metaphysical. This entire section is referred to as Bhuma-Vidya.

One analysis derives आशा-Aasha (hope) as a driving force that eventually leads to actionable state of prescribed human evolution. Anthropocentricity is obvious. On the other hand, this exploration is not exclusive to human life forms. That conceptual leap is established when बल-Bal (strength), अन्नम-Annam (food), आप-Aap (water), तेज-Tej (fire) and आकाश-Aakash (space) are intertwined in analysis in that order. At this point Sage Sanatkumara introduces स्मर-Smarah (memory) as necessary to set up continuity of existence which is powered by आशा-Aasha to expand in space and perpetuate in time. Supporting आशा-Aasha is प्राण-Prana(life or vital breath). Limit of analysis is reached at Prana as an essential mystery that exists but cannot be explained why [See below: Prana].

Sage Sanatkumara then elucidates an actionable sequence that leads to a different consequence. First is to relook at आशा-Aasha from a reductionist approach, identify components and then tweak them. आशा-Aasha’s inherent tendency to drive expansion and perpetuation is called out as मति-Mati (tendency of movement). Diverting system evolution has to reprogram मति-Mati. This reprogramming is achieved through श्रद्धा-Shraddha(faith) and निष्ठा-Nishta(steadfastness). Second step is to unroll back to our beginning of subject-object dilemma we need another fundamental concept ब्रम्ह-Bramhan (Existence). Here we need to establish ब्रम्ह-Bramhan as a meaningful term.

Existence is self-evident since otherwise non-existence would still need existence as concept to be established to make sense [See below: Existence]. Everything exists. Alternatively, everything is touched by Existence. So, if one touches Existence, one touches every existing thing. This perceptual magnum opus is ब्रम्ह-Bramhan[See below: Touch Bramhan]. We can now agree that ब्रम्ह-Bramhan is real due to self-evidence. ब्रम्ह-Bramhan is infinite as a consequence of existence of everything. ब्रम्ह-Bramhan being substratum for everything means subject-object distinctions are no longer relevant or meaningful.

Sage Sanatkumara now sets ब्रम्ह-Bramhan as goal to be experienced. To establish this goal firmly in our lives, we need to set up a firmness of belief in something that can untangle our instinctive need to expand in space and perpetuate in time. आशा-Aasha needs to be redirected through श्रद्धा-Shraddha and निष्ठा-Nishta. श्रद्धा-Shraddha here refers to my belief that I am ब्रम्ह-Bramhan in reality and that ब्रम्ह-Bramhan is everywhere. निष्ठा-Nishta is then my steadfastness of my belief that I am ब्रम्ह-Bramhan. If everything I can ever perceive is essentially ब्रम्ह-Bramhan, my need to distinguish between me and not-me is a choice. If I choose to not distinguish, then I abide in ब्रम्ह-Bramhan as my reality. With this perspective, my sensory perception of objects as anything other than the commonality of existence is superfluous. Non-distinction means my subjective experience as different from objective existence dissolves. My status of observer dissolves into my participation in life’s play. ब्रम्ह-Bramhan that is in me is in touch with ब्रम्ह-Bramhan outside me and so the primary position of me being an observer outside what is being observed is not tenable. Arriving at this personal conclusion is Sage Sanatkumara’s teaching.

Before I close this reference topic, there is one important relationship Sage Sanatkumara establishes in third step. सुख-Sukham (happiness) is indicated as prime motivation for any action. While previously Sage Sanatkumara established आशा-Aasha as prime cause that प्राण-Life expresses, he now offers another motivation for श्रद्धा-Shraddha and निष्ठा-Nishta. Eventually if मति-Mati is grounded in सुख-Sukham, then आशा-Aasha’s unfulfilled need no longer exists as a motivating factor. Self-contained सुख-Sukham establishes me in a state of no desires. Three parameters influence effect of सुख-Sukham on मति-Mati – (1) Understanding true nature of ब्रम्ह-Bramhan which is supports evolution of all and every system and their interactions, (2) श्रद्धा-Shraddha in this world view and (3) निष्ठा-Nishta to follow through with that deeper understanding to realign related concepts all the way to the surface features. Sage Sanatkumara defines this hierarchy supported by बल-Bal as विज्ञान-Vijñanam (understanding), ध्यान-Dhyanam (contemplation), चित्त-Chitta (conscious memory), संकल्प-Sankalpa (will), मन-Manam (mind), वाच-Vaach (speech) and नाम-Naam(name). This chain from unexplainable Life to informational entity Name needs further study which we will now embark on.

Human experience of Time

Before I get to my speculative mapping of Vedic Dynamics, Time, an essential ingredient of any dynamical system, needs to be addressed. A physicists time is something that is physical and has a before and an after. However, human experience of time is conditioned in many ways. Anthropologist Edward Hall in his book on “The Dance of Life” identifies a time mandala as follows:

Vedic Dynamics_ Introduction

A quick summary of each of these variations of time is as follows:

  • Biological Time: Rhythmic environmental time that led to evolution in biological life forms.
  • Personal Time: Psychological experience of time.
  • Physical Time: Progressive time with measurable past, present and future
  • Metaphysical Time: Transcendental experience, directionless and spatially independent
  • Micro Time: Product of primary level of culture; has monochronic and polychronic variations
  • Sync Time: Mirroring aspects when aspects of culture(people, town, culture) interact
  • Sacred Time: Time as a story; ceremonial time; acknowledge own divinity (of life)
  • Profane Time: Time as commonly (irreverently) used in everyday transactions.
  • Meta Time: Abstract concept of time of which all of the above are variations.

Without a good pivot point based on concept of time, it will be hard to continue with Vedic Dynamics Theory. Instead of debating on the right one to choose, let’s try a tangential approach. The question I seek to address is the relationship between Sage Sanatkumara’s Prana hierarchy to corresponding time variations in order to structure parameter space of Life Unfolding (LU) better. Bhuma-Vidya is the name given to Sage Sanatkunara’s hierarchy. By setting up a relationship between these two conceptual classifications, a corresponding hierarchical relationship emerges between types of Time.

भुम-विद्या hierarchy Meta-Time hierarchy Map reason Remarks
नाम – Name Profane Time Aspect of daily transaction Entities
वाचम- Speech Profane Time Aspect of daily transaction Vocalized relationships
मन-Mind Personal Time Psychology and self-identity Bridge between Personal and Profane time.
सम्कल्प- Will Personal Time Directed intelligence Basis of action
चित्त-Consideration Personal Time Biases and hypotheses Bridge between Personal and Sync Time
ध्यान-Contemplation Sync Time Contemplation before understanding Sensory modalities (uni-, multi-) to support mirroring
विज्ञान-Understanding Sync Time Basis of interaction alignment Reflex action to active responses to stimuli
बलम-Strength Biological Time Perpetuation and survival Includes moment to moment continuity (homeostasis) and perpetuation of species.
अन्नम- Food Biological Time Vegetation that transforms physical forms into All animals can survive only on products of living things. Thus, plants are the last frontier of chemical food based survival.
आप-Water Physical Time Primordial soup Unique Universal solvent that enables a stable environment for life to exist  & evolve.
तेज-Fire Physical Time Chemical reactions Molecular interactions giving birth to Carbon chemistry that is necessary to set up a life form
आकाश-Space Micro Time Coordinate system for state of organism Includes capacity to persist information in space itself– because space is made up of information memory units

Supports existence of things.

स्मर-Memory Micro Time States; analysis of state evolution(reflexive) is possible Information memory without with passage of time cannot be perceived (deep sleep experience)
आशा-Tendency Metaphysical Time Not in equilibrium, not in chaos, in Self-organized Criticality Proto-time due to movement demanded by प्राण
प्राण-Life Metaphysical Time Unexplainable Reality Spatio-temporal independence

Recasting Vedic thoughts as Dynamical Systems

There is one important observation to be made – emergence of symbolic computation is necessary to describe computation and communication of information in a Life system. I have used मति-Mathi to describe आशा-Aasha’s core to identify this tendency as a Self-Organizing Criticality [See below: SOC]. So, enterprise of Life inherently manifests itself as an active responsive open system that responds to stimuli by reorganizing and stabilizing itself as a functional system. The fact that these systems are so delicate to design while Life is rather robust is another mystery to be solved.

Life Intelligence, therefore, has a representation as SOC that has information memory and system wide communication as key ingredients. With different associated time types, this approach creates a natural unfolding of different levels of complexity and evolution. Since SOC offers symbolic representation for study at System level – sandpile instead of coupled pendulums- setting up a coupled dynamical system as a foundational unit does not preclude use of symbolic computation as a natural approach to study these systems core behavior. This alternation between continuous evolution dynamics and symbolic information computation offers a natural phase change between classical flows and information coherence within Life Systems. I have indicated this phase change as a change in time type relevant for that level of system organization.

Time in mathematical physics is another dimension complementary to space. System evolution in time as described so far in western science, or American-European(AE) thought process, is typically of 1 kind – namely Physical time. For our purposes, this is not sufficient. If we are looking at a stacked SOC system model where the essential parameter that defines the granularity of change is itself evolving needs appropriate mathematical substratum to explore. Einstein recalled how, at the age of 16, he imagined chasing after a beam of light and that the thought experiment had played a memorable role in his development of special relativity. Notion of time, transmission of information, perception of observer have all played important role in definition of frames of reference which then led to Theory of Relativity of frames of reference under the constraint that speed of light is constant and is same in all frames of reference. Implicit in all of this is constancy of time as a parameter that needs to be incorporated into observer’s frame of reference leading to Minkowski space-time as a suitable geometric representation that is consistent with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Time changing types as part of phase change will similarly need a geometric representation useful for analysis. At this point in time, I have yet arrived at this formulation.

As I close this blog, let us quickly recap what we have discussed:

  1. भुम विद्या (Bhuma-Vidya) from छांदोग्योपनिषद् (Chhandogya Upanishad) chapter seven gives a metaphysical framework to set up various aspects of human experience with a view to offer an alternate solution to experiencing ब्रम्ह-Bramhan Reality.
  2. Edward Hall’s Time-Mandala defines the various types of time
  3. I have established a speculative relation between Bhuma-Vidya and Time-Mandala to arrive at a stack of Self-Organized Critical systems.
  4. As level of experience changes in Bhuma-Vidya, Meta-time takes different variations appropriate to analysis of system at that level. These critical systems have to be analyzed at their own level with their own time model since any other time formulation would destroy SOC character of system under study
  5. There are transition points where time-type changes which I have indicated as a phase transition since the corresponding system changes in its fundamental nature of interaction.

In my freewheeling thought process, I believe that there could be something interesting by looking at this intersection between Vedic thought and Dynamical systems. We would need many more such wild explorations as we endeavor to deepen human understanding of Life’s mystery.

Disclaimer: I am a free thinking human and claim just enough expertise to put together this blog. Any errors in interpretation are purely my own.


[Existence] The Real cannot be non-existent, because even the concept of non-existence would be impossible unless it is related to the existence of the concept itself. ( Jan/02/2018)

[Touch Bramhan] It is so because of the fact that when anyone contacts Pure Existence, that contact is equal to the contact of all things. It is like touching the very bottom of the sea of Reality. Hence, Brahman is All-Existence. [ibid. Jan/02/2018]

[Prana] Life is something inscrutable. Life is really what we are. Here, it is called prana. It is not the breathing process, but the life principle itself, without which there would be neither aspiration, nor self-consciousness, nor anything for that matter.

( Jan/02/2018)

[SOC] Systems in equilibrium cannot evolve as they are stable to perturbations. Chaotic Systems cannot evolve since they have no memory. Self-Organized Critical Systems can respond to stimuli by readjustment. SOC have memory and cannot be reduced to its constituents to explain functional behavior. On the other hand, static environment does not provoke evolution nor does an environment that changes too rapidly to allow an SOC to settle. There needs to be a right dance that system and environment plays in order to arrive at a Self-Organized Critical system.

From primordial cognitive schemata to linguistic expressions

December 13, 2017


So, what does architecture have to do with linguistics? Both of them tap into deep psychological connections that make people express individually and appreciate collectively. While it might seem that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there is overwhelming evidence that people can distinguish between what is beautiful and what is not. Some artists are more successful than others because they have found this deep connection between their own sense of beauty in art that deeply resonates with many more people than other artists.

Investigating good form led Christopher Alexander, of Nature of Order fame, to search for some deep primordial aspects that lead to beautiful buildings. After years of deep soul searching and validation with several people, he came up with these 15 properties that lead to good form.

  1. Levels of Scale
  2. Strong Centers
  3. Boundaries
  4. Alternating Repetition
  5. Positive Space
  6. Good Shape
  7. Local Symmetries
  8. Deep Interlock
  9. Contrast
  10. Graded Variation
  11. Roughness
  12. Echoes
  13. The Void
  14. Inner Calm
  15. Not-Separateness

However, Christopher Alexander did not stop at the properties. He wanted to find what are the processes that lead to unfolding of wholeness. Using the trick mathematicians often use, he identifies each of these properties with a process as well! Thus, these 15 processes contribute to unfolding of wholeness. One could think of these processes as generators of wholeness having a descriptive name of the property they are generating.

The universality of this discovery merits closer attention. Why would these 15 properties occur so often in nature? Why do most of us have no problems accepting these 15 wholeness generating processes? Christopher Alexander Intuition is that these natural processes are so fundamental because they are primordial. It potentially predates life and possibly could be a reason for origin of life itself.

A speculative theory

To move from a qualitative description to quantitative computation and prediction, the standard approach is to find a mathematical model that best fits this requirement. Before we step into realm of mathematical models, one other key insight of Christopher Alexander is in order. He remarks that these processes that enable unfolding of wholeness is an interesting interaction between the whole and it’s parts. This manifests as an increase in “symmetry density” which Christopher Alexander refers to as centers. We shall refer to corresponding generative processes as generators of centers.

As wholeness unfolds, there are new symmetries created. And some of these symmetries are dependent on the whole. For example in Echoes, the wholeness property is revealed when a part is compared to the whole. Across specific entities and domains – buildings, shape of ground, light and shadow, and so on. And this global symmetry could change as the system’s Boundaries change. Local relations of centers and Global relations between centers are evolving over time. With evolution of centers is the evolution of Strong Centers. This dance between local and global is behind the fascinating mystery of life.

Salience is what distinguishes these primordial entities. René Thom’s work on Semiophysics clarifies the notion of salient forms. And as a dual is pregnances – “propagating from salient form to salient form which they invest as they go; the invested form consequently suffers a change of state (figurative effect) and can, as a result, re-emit the pregnance which may or may not have been modified, (the coding effect).” Pregnances and Saliences are to René Thom[RT] what Processes and Properties are to Christopher Alexander[CA], respectively. To discern in perception space there needs to be a cognitive property – or center – to latch on to.

Postulate 1: [Centers as Salience] Salience is discernible if and only if there is a center of that salience in the attention field of the perceiver.

Commentary: CA discusses degree of life and concludes that component centers and their densities are key contributors to degree of life. Then he explores the evolution of centers and their densities leading him to discover 15 properties and their corresponding processes. However, in order to identify, or even perceive, a variation or difference in cognitive context, there need to attributes that contribute to degree of life that vary over a manifold even as that manifold evolves. RT uses salience to describe experience of a form clearly separate from the continuous background against which it stands out. It seems useful to consider perception of form as equivalent to perception of salient forms which is then equivalent to perception of salience. If we make center equivalent required for perception of form, we establish that perception of center contributes to perception of salience. RT uses salience as a way to organize relations between component centers. Hierarchies, graphs, interactions, communications, can be realized on centers. In fact, these interactions are essential to existence of centers. So far we have not used anything specific about a visual sense that is most heavily relied upon for architectural decomposition. Thus, in this theory, centers can be discovered and described in any sense that an organism has.

Unfolding of wholeness depends on evolution of centers and their densities. Simultaneously, unfolding of wholeness is continuous in time and new centers manifest themselves after some time of evolution. Just as entropy seeks to increase in a closed system leading to progressive decay of order, life as an evolving system drives in the other direction. Density of centers increases with degree of life. This leads us to relating dual concepts of processes that lead to center creation, or generators, and pregnances

Postulate 2: [Generators as Pregnance] Generators of wholeness unfolding are manifestations of pregnance as salient forms evolve.

Commentary: RT’s pregnance can be described as influences on inductive form. Induction is at level of perception since transformations takes finite time during which centers are managed – created, merged or destroyed – eventually organizing into a stable form that is clearly distinguishable from its predecessor form. It seems then prudent to relate pregnance to unfolding generators to create a new form. Given that this evolution does not presuppose any particular sensory apparatus, pathway or process, it is conceivable to use the same set of properties and processes for any sense. Thus, we can extend implications of this postulate to all senses without loss of generality.

As an organism gets cognizant of its environment and context, there are several downstream processes that get invoked. Starting at a biophysical level, sensory apparatus is tuned to identifying certain features in a specific sense domain. If information potentially recoverable from a scene is considered continuous in space and time, then every instant perceived is a reduction from an infinite level of detail to something that is intelligible to the organism. Representation of information is in itself a computation that is relevant to a subsequent processes that are able to respond or act on that piece of information. Given the finiteness in terms of information sampling, information processing time and information storage, it is pragmatic to assume that there is a dimensional reduction of information to something that is comprehensible and useful to an organism. This leads us to question what is minimally useful for an organism that perceives salience based on centers. While there can be many possible approaches, we make the following claim:

Postulate 3: [Cognitive representation as a compression] Cognitive representation is a compression based on centers and generators of these centers.

Commentary: Unfolding of centers is a generative process. Any generative process can be simplified to a starting set of axioms of the system followed by iterative application of different unfolding sub-processes or generators. Conversely, if a generator sequence is given along with a starting set of axioms, it is possible to recreate that memory within acceptable error range that has been evolutionarily established for organism’s functioning. Within our formalism, this statement can be analogously transformed to a starting set of centers and a sequence of generators that can simulate or reconstruct the original impression. Within error margins, memory can then be seen as a coding based on centers and generators. Like several optimal coding techniques, not every impressions has to be recorded starting from a blank slate and few seeds as centers. Instead, each recording finds a suitable anchor that allows for dense information packing.

Cognitive representation is necessary to support identification and future recall of that experience. Without adequate stability of cognitive representation, several responses of the organism will be impacted. This stable coding of cognitive representation a combination of centers and generators leads to a model of memory.

Having established the necessary foundations for organisms perception mechanics along with memory model that can leverage this information coding model, we are now ready to make the next claim that will help us bridge the gap to linguistic systems.

One primary motivation for a linguistic expression that can be consistently built on top of patterns is the need to communicate in a comprehensible and linguistically acceptable way. Simple interactions like mating, nurturing, hunting, sharing resources etc can be accomplished with little more than stimulus specific responses as is well recorded and studied by several people looking into animal sounds and proto-languages. For humans, the need to communicate transcends these simple functions as is evident from evolution of human groups from tribes to civilizations.

Note that pattern recognition, which is what we have implicitly indicated, is a necessary condition for language to evolve. However, not every pattern recognition system evolves into a language. This is evident from observing that several life forms have far more acute sensory systems providing the opportunity to recognize a wider set of patterns.

Postulate 4: [Words are memory anchors] Words of human language are space-time stable anchors of memories.

Commentary: We have used previous postulates to create a common framework for detection of salience using centers and implication of pregnance to outcome of application of generators. We now address efficiency of such a representation to become useful for a human language function. In this postulate, we claim that using labels that can be efficiently articulated, parsed, and learnt can support a higher order compression of information. By associating a label to a memory fragment, which in our case is a set of centers and a program that applies generators in a certain specific way, we have arrived at a semiotic system that can combinatorially propagate. Furthermore, we claim that these labels take the form of words that can function as anchors to attach further memories in an efficient way. An agreement model between these words as parts of speech facilitates efficient transmission and, in parallel, an efficient reconstruction. Note that neither word nor memory/experience that it is associated with are static – instead they are stable dynamic patterns that can co-exist with several others. On the other hand, there is enough particulate nature to support combinatorial and computational mechanisms that are essential for syntactic agreement rules.

Let’s now explore the nature of word as an anchor and what mechanisms support extensions from that anchor. As is clear from study of linguistics, words come in several categories and forms. Furthermore, every human language comes with agreement rules between parts of speech to create a syntactically valid sentence.  If words are anchors of memories, our next question is about the relationship between word agreements in the context of a sentence and its implication to relationships between memory traces. In our theory, word manifests as a these centers and their associated generators that represent a certain experience. As words string together, this combination of centers and generators interact with other combinations of centers and generators. We will need one more postulate before we can bring these two scenarios together

Postulate 5: [Syntactic agreement is a valid extension of experience] Words can co-exist with syntactic agreement only if the unfolding of centers and generators in the sentence do not lead to reduction in degree of life.

Commentary: As words string together, information content unfolds. This unfolding is governed by the same mechanisms as that which led to the identification of the words in the first place. Two factors are in play – (a) unfolding has to confirm to the degree of life measure and increase center density, and (b) the resulting information pattern has to minimize any contradictory extensions of unfolding. While increase in information center density and measure of degree of life can explain syntactic validity, we need coherence in the unfolding to recover meaning from interpretation of that utterance. However, there exist syntactically correct sentences that are meaningless. This means that the implication of word agreement needs improvement on basic measure of information density but does not require that wholeness is necessarily coherent.

One could imagine this fracture between syntax and semantics as an agreement conflict arising within the dynamical constructs that superimpose as centers and generators combine.  However, this distinction seems to be subtle and rather imposed since so far we have not had the need to distinguish between syntactical agreements and semantic agreements. When we look into the learning aspect of human language we are confronted with even more puzzling phenomena that baby humans exhibit. Every generation literally learns language from scratch. This learning is not genetic or epigenetic to start with but based on information centers and generators that amplify degree of life. It is also worth remarking that the first set of words that children learn in many human languages are mostly irregular in their morphology. Eventually, form and grammar of the language emerge within a baby’s experience. Going back to Christopher Alexander’s observation that form follows function, we can see that such a bottom-up imagination could position linguistic mechanisms as an outcome of centers and generators constantly working towards maximizing degree of life and wholeness.

What next?

This speculative theory is my freewheeling on what I came up with in my attempt to relate deep cognitive structures as hypothesized by Christopher Alexander in his magnum opus “Nature of order” along with fundamentals of cognition as hypothesized by René Thom in his “Semiophysics” to be brought to bear on human language phenomenon. As all speculations go, this is far from rigorous and makes several conceptual leaps. I believe that we are at a point where several great minds all over the world are working to harmonize what I would consider one of the foremost problems of humans from age immemorial – bring consciousness and subject experience on par with objective physical world we share. Eventually, we have to address what an “observer” means. That’s where I seek reader’s magnanimity to forgive my wild explorations presented in this blog.


Space-Time Dynamics of Human Language (4/4)

August 17, 2017

Language has been referred to as a game between a speaker and a listener where the speaker makes an assumption of hearer’s mental context and develops the next utterance to influence hearer’s mental context to come closer to speaker’s mental context. Likewise, the hearer does the same with speaker’s mental context. Good news is that this game terminates rather fast – hearer understands the meaning and intent of the speaker in finite time. Almost every linguistic computation necessarily terminates. Whether the intended effect of meaning and understanding is conveyed or not, the termination of linguistic processing is guaranteed.

The phrase “space-time dynamics of human language” can be interpreted in several ways:

  • A way to measure the complexity of processing human language as a computational process using a certain computational model.
  • Mechanisms to represent space and time dimensions in human language
  • Syntactic and structural constructs of lexical items in order to influence the space-time aspects of the underlying Talent_scene.

As the reader would have guessed, we are looking into the third interpretation – what are the structural linguistics mechanisms, markers and processes that can help qualify space and time attributes in way to compute the task of meaning evolution? There are two core principles that we will rely upon to build out our argument that follows:

Axiom 4 (Syntax) : Syntactically incorrect statements are necessarily ambiguous or plain nonsense.

Axiom 5 (Sentence): Sentence is the minimal complete unit to transfer meaning from a speaker to a hearer.

Syntax axiom is self evident from language acquisition process of a human child when incorrect statements are corrected to a point by when utterances are usually conformant to the grammar prevalent for that language.

Sentence axiom needs some explanation since sub parts of sentence like words and syllables are often seen as units of meaning. Some useful pointers that support this axiom are as follows:

  • Sanskrit grammarians like Nagesha Bhatta have explicitly stated that fragments of a sentence are in grammarian’s imagination while sentence alone conveys complete meaning.
  • Sentiment extraction as an automated computational linguistic process needs at least a sentence to determine tone and intent of the utterance. An entire discourse helps to determine the sentiment better.
  • Quality of Text processing using Machine Learning improves when longer sentences are parsed.
  • When a speaker utters sentence fragments, a listener fills in necessary wildcards with appropriate ones based on the context in order to follow a speaker’s intent.

Moving from a sentence fragment to a completed sentence has been indicated as context dependent. We can go one step further using the vocabulary we have developed so far. Context of communication for us is a Talent_scene that is shared between a speaker and a listener. More precisely, the same set of Sense_scenes need to be evoked in order to arrive at a successful communication. For example, I cannot point out beauty of birds flying when my teenager is busy looking into his device. There needs to be a shared Talent_scene that has to co-evolve even as language communication points out to nuances of consensus that needs to occur.

In literature shared Talent_scene is referred to as shared attention. Shared attention in classical sense could lead to an infinite regress as mental states of speaker and listener keep approximating each other – much like Zeno’s paradox. And just like how Zeno’s paradox is resolved by resorting to terminating sequences that converge to a limit, shared attention has to necessary converge. Talent_scene offers a simple 2 step convergence by reaching a consensus between the Sense_scenes of a speaker and a listener. First step is to ensure that the same set of Sense_scenes are evoked. Second step is to arrive at consensus between speaker’s Sense_scene listener’s Sense_scene. While feature sets and configurations of speaker and listener can differ, consensus requirement here means coexistence without contradictions. Thus, we don’t seek a perfect equivalence but more a reasonable mapping that is consistent with speaker’s and listener’s experience and attention.

Without communication of any kind, possibility of convergence between Talent_scenes of distinct individuals is random. Predictable convergence is only possible when there is a nudge in the right direction. Since communication exists in almost all species at different levels of sophistication, converging to a shared Talent_scene is a universal observation across all life forms. Here again we remind ourselves that our focus is on human language communication and how human language can accelerate this convergence to a shared Talent_scene across individuals or communities.

What we are looking for in human language is therefore some markers that can align Talent_scenes. By now reader would have guessed that I would be using space-time as my primary dimensions. Objectivity of space-time is well established in physics. Philosophers over the years have grappled with space-time experience of humans and have accepted the inevitable conclusion that we experience space and time in a similar way. In our vocabulary, Sense_scenes are built from senses which have same bio-physics construction and have same bio-chemical basis. Given that sensory apparatus is the same, we can safely assume that for individuals without impairments, there exists a reasonable morphism between features sets and configurations of one individual to another and vice versa. At Sense_scene level, there should be no confusion that similar topographic maps are created. So, applying the yardstick of space-time as a convergence accelerator for Talent_scenes is sound.

Let us now turn our attention to two prominent categories of lexical terms – verbs and nouns. While English as a language has been extremely well studied, it is also notoriously difficult to analyze from a structural linguistics point of view. My own simplification to this conundrum (although I am fluently expressing what I think in English in this blog!) is to revert back to Sanskrit as a classical language. If the reader has not noticed earlier(!), I have repeatedly reverted to Sanskrit grammatical literature to substantiate some crucial points in my argument so far.

Sanskrit (and Latin I am told) offer morphology at the level of verbs and nouns. Without going into too much detail, let me summarize my key observations on Sanskrit Verbs and Sanskrit Nouns are as follows. To keep the focus on the lexical items, I drop Sanskrit as the prefix since for rest of this paragraph, I refer to only Sanskrit Verbs and Sanskrit Nouns.

  • Verbs represent actions. In our exploration context, this encodes time aspect of the scene.
  • Nouns represent entities and their relationships. In our exploration context, this encodes spatial representation of entities.
  • Verb morphology is a result of Mood/Tense (लकार), Number(वचन) and Voice(पुरुष)
  • Noun morphology is a result of Declension (विभक्ति), Number(वचन) and Gender(लिङ्ग)

In short, every sentence has clear space and time representations that scope the alignment criteria for the associated Talent_scene.

Need for Statement axiom becomes clear at this point since spatial representation and interaction model of various entities cannot be deduced successfully based on fragments – all entities and their relations in space and time are needed to construct an unambiguous scene. Here I use success not in the sense of possibility to create a scene – but rather to create a scene the speaker intended. On the other hand, note that there can be several consistent scenes that can come from one complete sentence. Similarly, several possible sentence fragment continuations can be predicted each leading to several consistent scenes. Economy of representation and efficiency of convergence towards meaning demands that as few scenes as possible are realized as part of meaning task evolution. A further constraint on number of scenes is offered by the evolution path of scenes – not every scene can be a valid successor. So, with three dimensions of constraints – spatial, temporal and evolving context of meaning – a speaker is able to successfully convey her intent to a listener.

In summary, we have identified space-time markers embedded in a sentence. These space time markers align Talent_scene of speaker and listener leading to a possible set of scenes that can be derived from a sentence in isolation. This set is reduced to exactly one in the mind of the listener by applying constraints of meaning evolution based on listener’s experience. As meaning task gets successfully executed, the net meaning determined so far is represented as current level of alignment between Talent_spaces of the speaker and the listener which then becomes the evolution constraint for the next sentence.

Even as speaker and listener seek to reduce their differences of interpretation based on their shared Talent_space, misunderstandings can occur. Discovery of misunderstanding is when space-time markers of speaker’s utterance violates some consensus condition in the Talent_scene evolution of the listener. This leads to backtracking to a point where the listener diverged in the evolution of the Talent_scene as compared to the speaker. A few corrective statements that rejig the Talent_scene leads to conversation proceeding as intended.

With this exposition, we have arrived at a way in which meaning is fully embodied and is at most a two-step computation from a linguistic expression to the underlying sensory experience. I have taken a simple route to express the relationship between lexical terms and sensory experience. It does look like a baby’s vocabulary to me – simple nouns and simple verbs that have simple meanings coming from direct sensory experiences.

For English readers, there might be a sense of disappointment since I have used Sanskrit as my language to base my arguments. One observation that I gathered from my study of English language is the plethora of prepositions. With prepositions, English has effectively done away with noun morphology entirely. Thus, with verbs to represent the time argument and prepositions freeing nouns from transforming, English has been able to spectacularly spread across the planet. Two points that I would like to highlight about English are:

  • Prepositions have liberated English from noun morphology. This has led to free borrowing of nouns from other languages or experiences. Furthermore, nominal verbs – or verbs derived from nouns – are constantly being created.
    • For example, Google as a company that made internet search engine has lent itself to a verb form “go google it” to indicate “do a web search”. Xerox in the previous decades enjoyed a similar synonymity with photocopying.
  • Cost of removing noun morphology has been word order and punctuations. Without clear word order, the associated Talent_scene convergence between speaker and listener can quickly go from single evolution steps to multiple evolution steps. And that leads to lower efficiency in transmission of intent from a speaker to a listener.

Several generations of scholars have explored this space seeking to find some tangible pattern to capture the miracle of human language. In my own way, I have put forth a theory that I think is simple enough to understand. Embodied linguistics is a clean way to keep lexical semantics computable in at most two steps. I have demonstrated this for a baby language that is direct and where Talent_scene is a simple union of underlying Sense_scenes. Just as a baby moves from a limited vocabulary and limited grammar to a level of acceptable language fluency, I see this argument improving overtime with more details on various devices we see in human language. Before I close, I would like to remind readers that semantic validation is a consensus seeking protocol and prediction is a possible space-time continuation memory pattern.

This completes my 4 part series that introduced readers to embodied linguistics, explored situated awareness and scenes, introduced concept of Talent_scene that is a foundation for grounding shared meaning and finally identified space-time markers in human language to complete bi-directional mapping between Sense_scene and Linguistic expression.


Talent (3/4)

August 17, 2017

Starting from simple axioms on embodiment of language and perception being grounded in situational awareness, we constructed Sense_scenes as a topographic representation of sensory data. We also accepted use of term scene as relevant due to its spatial (snapshot) and temporal(evolution) aspects. Key observation we pointed out was that Sense_scene is rooted in the reality of sense perception. We stretch the idea of detection and encoding of sensory signal to encode a proto-meaning construct. Sense_scenes are independent of each other due to mutual exclusion on the sensory types. This offers an opportunity to combine the Sense_scenes as long as certain fundamental aspects are preserved.

By construction of the Sense_scene, we know that there are two common dimensions across Sense_scenes namely the spatial and temporal dimensions. Space-time is so fundamental that its importance cannot be under-estimated. As this theory progresses, space-time could be our link to establishing subjective and objective experiences of language.

Sense_scene is sense specific. In neuroscience literature this is referred as unimodal cognition where the single mode refers to the single sense involved. We briefly touched upon many intelligences that human body can express. Since each of these intelligences are built on sensory building blocks, it is reasonable to expect a relationship between Sense_scenes and body intelligences. I will use talent to indicate the a body intelligence. Alternatively stated, multiple intelligences are the same a multiple talents. A simple approach would be to consider Talent_scene as a consistent combination of a selected Sense_scenes. One expectation is that Talent_scene is internally consistent on the primary space-time dimensions. Second expectation is that the derived proto-meaning combination that arises due to Sense_scene combinations leads to meaningful multimodal representations.

Note that I have subtly moved from Sense_scene proto-meaning to Talent_scene meaning the moment we moved from unimodal to multimodal representations. This shift is consistent with the definition of talent – it is susceptibility to encoding or symbolic representation. Coding here is the second order integration of Sense_scene feature sets and configurations that moves past to Talent_scene description which is internally consistent. As an example, the eyes reporting that limbs move in opposite direction to what proprioception is reporting is indicative of either misinterpretation of information or indicative of impairments. Vertigo is a classic situation where proprioception indicates standing on stable ground however, the distance to the ground as computed by eyes creates a sense of loss of balance. Going past these spurious overrides of perception and replacing them with true and consistent acceptance of Sense_scenes that contribute to Talent_scene is what helps a talent to reach higher levels of expertise in that talent.

Conclusion that I am driving towards is that the first cognizable form of meaning arises at the level of Talent_scene, or in general, in a consistent combination of Sense_scenes. Conversely, anything that can be perceived as meaningful will have to eventually terminate in its pointer chasing to a Talent_scene representation. Since the link from the Talent_scene to the Sense_scene is rather immediate, meaning is eventually grounded at Sense_scene level. Thus, our constructive approach from senses to Sense_scenes to Talent_scenes leads to one embodied explanation of where meaning eventually is realized in the linguistic cognition process.

Let us investigate the embedding of Talent_scene in the space-time dimensions. Internal consistency means that Sense_scenes don’t contradict the inferred proto-meaning of each other. This is self-evident based on the fact that senses are by definition independent. In other words, eyes cannot verify what ears hear. At the same time the sampling frequencies of each of the senses can be assumed to be different allowing each sense to accommodate information from other Sense_scenes to get integrated into the Talent_scene. Another advantage of having different sampling rates allows for differential treatment of attention to different Sense_scenes. Attention as a cognitive capability is a study by itself which is not directly related to emergence of meaning from utterance but does have an influence. So, we will not be investigating attention anymore.

As Sense_scenes evolve, so do Talent_scenes. Consequently, the predictive properties of Sense_scenes as learned/experiences continuations offer predictive evolution of Talent_scenes. In order to have efficient recall to support prediction faster than the occurrence of the event, calls for the next axiom on memory representation.

Axiom 3 (Memory): Memory is stored as space-time patterns

The consequence of memory patterns in space-time is that a “thread” of continuity is picked as opposed to assembling a sequence of multi-branch transitions. The continuity thread can have arbitrary look-ahead. Experts in various talents have essentially mastered the multi-step continuity representation in memory as patterns of possible evolutions. This allows them to freely combine various patterns that allows them to predict different outcomes offering them a multiple options to choose from. Think of a freestyle jazz musician or street dancer or a chess Grandmaster. The difference between an expert and an artist comes with the dexterity of scanning through the memory pattern space and stringing together unique expressions that create an aesthetic effect. Without having the possibility of memory as a space-time pattern, these artistic expressions would be harder to explain.

Memory axiom tells us about an efficient form of memory that is useful in our context. At this point we don’t yet have the machinery to describe memory or its recall in more detail. That is why we take as a consequence of memory axiom the possibility of recall of the entire memory pattern. Once I have learned more about human brain and memory systems, I shall come back and revise this section to reflect my latest understanding. At this point, I politely seek excuse from the reader for being not precise here.

Dynamic space-time representation of memory does not mean that state representations are not important. Attentive reader would have noticed that we started with feature sets and configurations that constituted the Sense_scene. At the level of Talent_scenes, feature sets and configuration of the ensemble of Sense_scenes is a good candidate for the state of that Talent_scene. Why are states of Talent_scene important?

We have posited that meaning originates as proto-meaning at the level of Sense_scene as a consistent feature set and configuration. We have transcended from Sense_scene to Talent_scene as an abbreviation of relevant Sense_scenes to be combined to a give rise to meaning at Talent_scene level. At the same time, we have insisted that there should be consistency maintained at all times. Alternatively, evolution of meaning can be seen as a consensus task specification of a distributed system. This formulation opens up a the possibility of interesting ideas from Maurice Herlihy’s work characterizing distributed systems using combinatorial topology. At this point we will not delve into what options that direction of investigation can lead us to. However we note at this point that combinatorial topology could provide some insights into organization of human brain to support computation of lexical semantics.

Our bottom-up constructionist approach has got us to a point of Talent_scene which is a useful construct. It is sufficiently archetypical since it is closely linked to Sense_scene. At the same time, being inherently multi-modal, it offers a concrete setting for lexical meaning to be grounded in. In order to complete the relationship between the meaning representation of Talent_scene to the meaning representation of linguistic expression, we need to approach top-down from language perspective.

In our next essay we will explore structural linguistics to reveal insights that can help establish the connection between meaning embedded in a Talent_scene and the meaning indicated in a linguistic expression.


Situated Awareness and Scenes (2/4)

August 17, 2017

The primary objective we seek to resolve is almost instantaneous miracle of human language generation and comprehension. In my previous post on Embodied Linguistics we started on the journey to explore how lexical semantics can be grounded in human body. We opened up with a self-evident axiom on embodiment of human language, viz.,

Axiom 1(Embodiment of Language): Human Language is an expression of humans.

Embodiment of Language axiom scopes the conversation to focusing on how human language has come to being in the context of human body. The import is that without the confines of human body, human language could have some unexpected consequences. Determination of meaning of a word when language is expressed in other language terms is a case in point. At some level, there is an expectation that meanings of primitive words are just known. And with that basic premise variety of interpretations of a variety of expressions are assimilated into the knowledge base. So, how to establish the primitive meanings?

Psychologists and Linguistics have studied by language acquisition process in human infants to determine when a word is born in a child’s mind. The question that has been raised is whether there needs to be an existing corpus of linguistic knowledge pre-existing in the human brain or is human brain a blank slate. Experientially, understanding language acquisition gives insights into learning processes and working with disabilities. Given that verbal-linguistic is one intelligence of the many intelligences, understanding evolution of linguistic abilities can help children have a better quality of life. One aspect of human child development is related to complete dependence of human infant on its parents. Human babies take about 12 months to achieve independent locomotion and a couple of more years before they can communicate and interact effectively. First 5 years of a human baby development is a beautiful time one can spend with the child.

What ever else we can hypothesise, there is one inevitable fact for a human baby – it is born with a human body. Human body is naturally equipped with senses that allows the human child to interact with the environment. Although the expressed responses of a human child seems limited and basic, we can conclude that there is some perception that helps the child locate itself in the world it exists in. This observation leads us to the next axiom:

Axiom 2 (Situated Awareness): Perception starts with situated awareness.

Approaching perception as an outcome of sensing and making sense of environment of habitation, senses need a substratum to express their determinations. To make it simple and as general as possible, we can let this substratum be the space-time continuum. So, we define situated awareness as the space-time representation of what the senses have sensed.

Let us make this a little more concrete. Humans have 5 senses – auditory, visual, olfactory, gustatory and proprioception. Each of these senses can extract features, and mutual configuration of these features due to their possible co-existence. Dynamic nature of the environment of existence demands a combination of a snap-short representation and possible continuations of those representations. Philosophers have offered several viewpoints and have debated extensively on the nature of these representations. For our purposes, we shall keep it simple and look at two dimensions – a space dimension to support a snapshot of the environment and a time dimension to record the evolution of the snapshot. Having established the relationship between representation and space-time continuum, let us view space and time from how sensation occurs.

Sensation needs a substrate or medium in which it needs to detect an event. Static is boring after the first observation. Most senses have evolved to a point where the only interesting thing that happens to a sense is where there is a change or an event in a medium of expression. The medium defines the scope in which that sense can detect signals from the environment. Expanding on this analogy we get the following (draft version) table for the various human senses:







Space or Medium

Sound conductive medium

Visible Space


Ingested Good


Time or Event




Saliva-Digested Chemical

Musculo-Skeletal movement

The details of the Space-Time continuum to represent the signals detected by the senses is important at a biological level of interaction. However, for our purposes, the fact that the outcome of sense-making of the environment is a set of features and the associated configuration would suffice.

As granularity of perception gets finer, more and more features and configurations emerge. Experience, learning and labeling contribute to this increase in features Sensory information conflicts are eliminated at situated awareness through valid configurations. One can imagine, therefore, a snapshot unfolding for a particular sense as signals are processed at a point in time and over a time period. For sake of simplicity let us make the assumption that snap-shot sampling is slower than sense sampling. Formally, scene is a snapshot of sensory perception across all senses. Thus, we can imagine a scene as a topographic representation of sensory perception limited to a sampling interval that includes the sampling frequency of the senses and the integration time to juxtapose all the topographic representations across all senses.

Scenes are important to our analysis moving forward. Using the term scene seems appropriate in this context as a scene typically contains static aspects and dynamic aspects. Scenes offer time ordering, branching and branch predictions. Some scholarship evidence to support use of scenes in this context include:

  • Leonard Talemy’s Force Dynamics is a visual language that uses spatial representation for entities and interaction forces.
  • Spota theory of Bhartrihari[2] indicates 4 stages in creation-destruction of sound.
    • Parā: The origin and final subsumption part of the lifecycle of language communication
    • Pashyanti : First “picture” – still subconscious – of what needs to be articulated
      • Pashyanti contains the inherent impulse toward expression in time and space.
    • मध्यम Madhyama: First “mental” representation
    • वेकारि Vaikhari : Eventual communication
  • Latest works on Cognitive Grammar are increasing using 2D Visual Representations with annotations to express linguistic operators to go from structural to semantic interpretation of sentences.

With this we have established that at a sense level there is a Sense_scene that gets constructed as a topographic map of the features and configurations deduced from the signals received from the environment. Situated Awareness can be seen as a consistent combination of Sense_scenes. It must be clear that Sense_scene is a construction based on the sensory inputs. To bring back the idea of meaning, Sense_scene are proto-meaning constructs. If a signal is detectable and recognized, that signal has meaning for that sense. This is an important observation as we start to see what can we do next with Sense_scenes.

Interesting experiments have been constructed to show how much human mind can be fooled into believing alternate representations of Sense_scenes. Rubber hand illusion is a classic experiment where visual_scene can led to mistaken proprioception_scene. These and other experiments reveal brain wiring and how human mind works. For our purposes, these are interesting detours about quirks of human brain.

In our next essay we will look into how to move from Sense_scenes and proto-meaning as encoded by senses in their topographic maps to higher order cognitive constructs.


Introducing Embodied Linguistics (1/4)

August 17, 2017

Language – as we common refer to it – is uniquely human. In fact, we can go so far as to say that human without language is no better than a humanoid or an ape. We can very well imagine that the day when language was born was the day when memetic evolution started to dislodge biological evolution. The result of this change in pace of evolution is spectacular as we experience our world today. We have come a long way from being a caveman to an urban citizen thanks to language.

For as long as language has existed, people, philosophers and scientists have been puzzled by how what seems so effortless to a human is so hard to explain in biological terms. Amazing advances in computing and formulation of Alan Turing’s test in the last century has driven a whole generation of scientists feverently looking for computational models that can best approximate human brain functioning and thereby create artificial intelligence (A.I). The efforts are laudable and have recently seen resurgence in the form of Machine Learning. The unfortunate side effect of this line of enquiry has been to promote that human intelligence as a computable entity external to humans. A stretch on the same line of thought is that human cognition can be essentially replicated outside human body. The consequences of disembodied cognition is that human language communication and understanding can be explained as a disembodied phenomenon.

My position is simple – as long as language is seen as a rewriting procedure based on production rules and formalized as a grammar, the computational approaches are sound. Based on description of language syntax, we can design systems that are capable of generating or parsing strings and expressions of a certain grammar. Noam Chomsky’s seminal work on Formal Grammars has led to significant advances on computational approaches, complexity classes and applicability to human language based interactions. The place where things get murky is when comprehension of human language is investigated as a computable entity which is essentially self-contained. In other words, when can I unambiguously say that a sentence is meaningful whether I understand it or not?

Note that I slipped in two words that I have been exploring in the context of language comprehension – meaningful and understanding. Meaning is the limiting condition when gist of a lingual expression is established in accordance with the beliefs and knowledge of the hearer. There can be several meanings to a syntactically correct sentence each of which depends on the level of isolation of that sentence from the context of utterance. Understanding can be seen as a self-reflective state that can be distinguished from meaning in the following sense – “I follow (as the gist or meaning) what you say but I don’t understand it”. In some way my self-realization of my understanding is to establish a coherence between the speaker’s intent, my current listening context and the current expression.

One challenge in exploring human language comprehension is the fact that language is less an individual contribution and more a cultural artifact that establishes a means to communicate effectively. The origin of human language is shrouded in mystery given that all human languages have spoken/sign forms while few of them have written representations. Although the record of written language goes only so far, classical languages like Sanskrit and Latin have been handed down several generations and are rather well preserved in a spoken and written form.

In my quest to establish key tenets of language that can help us relook at language as an embodied phenomenon led me to investigate the amount of scholarship created around Sanskrit as a classical language, its etymology, grammar and semantics. It is widely accepted that Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī is a monumental effort that has, on one side, unified Vedic and Conventional Sanskrit of that age, and, on the other side, is an extensible system that describes how Sanskrit Syntax works. As several Sanskrit scholars have observed, Pāṇini has created a comprehensive treatise around sounds, phonemes, syllables, words and sentences.

One authoritative commentary on Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī is Patañjali Mahābhāṣya which is seen as the fountainhead of all things related Sanskrit language and comprehension. Very early Patañjali makes an astute observation that validity of a word is eventually proven by its usage. Thus, the final completeness or correctness of any human language effort is established by people who eventually use it in their daily life. This is quite consistent with what we currently refer to as a living language – a language that is sustained by a community of people to run their daily lives efficiently. There could be shortcomings or advantages as we compare language expressiveness with regards to latest words or usages in other languages. These comparative points are useful but are not limitations to establish a language as a living language capable of sustaining a culture and worldly transactions.

Taking cue from Patañjali’s observation on validity of a word being proven by usage puts us in a strange situation. On one side there is clear evidence that human brain does some kind of processing to communicate using human language, and on the other side, the feedback from the community of users defines how meaning is established for the terms used in the communication. Another way to interpret this observation leads to the classic dilemma of whether meaning is subjective or objective or both. Human language lands us right in the middle of subjective and objective experiences.

In this essay series, I wish to focus on how lexical semantics – or meaning of words – can be established within an embodied context. So, I start with a self-evident axiom:

Axiom1: Human Language is an expression of humans.

Consequences of Axiom 1 are as follows:

  • Human language, is therefore, embodied in human body.
  • A finer granular exploration can scope human language as a capability of human brain which can use the embodied facilities of being housed in a human body to compute the various aspects of human language.
  • Focus is on processing capabilities of human body as an entire system responding to human language generation and comprehension.

Correspondingly, some points not in scope of my investigations are as follows.

  • I am less concerned whether machines can achieve human language competency or pass Turing’s test for intelligence.
  • It is conceivable that if suitable morphisms are established between human body as the computational system and any other disembodied system, human language could be realized in a way quite close to what we currently see as representatives of human language. How far this can be achieved can be seen only after sufficient progress has been made on current topic of embodied linguistics.

We are in a golden age of neuroscience and machine learning. At some level of discourse we agree that technology serves humans delivering efficiency and improving quality of life on the planet. The more we wish to see disembodied technology becoming more “human” the greater is the necessity to understand human language as one fundamental capability that makes us human.

In my next essay I shall present a way to think about meaning working bottom-up from the senses. I believe such a constructionist approach will be suitable in this context to ensure that the embodied nature of linguistics is not seen as an afterthought but is indeed a primary principle of how human languages work.


Social recommendation is a great slave but a bad master.

May 8, 2017

Lunch conversation on a lazy Sunday is what I look forward to. This is the time when we all get to see each other in an unencumbered way – without pressures that life throws at us. It is my time to reconnect and bond with people in general and family in particular. Yes, I like my Sunday family time.

As usual we had our regular drama of getting together to the lunch table to get started. Unwinding after Sunday Morning activities takes some time and effort – family effort. Anyways here we are, at the lunch table discussing about whether having given sweet mangoes before lunch was a good idea or not. The other contender was cucumber. The point raised by my honey was that cucumber would have kept hunger at bay but mangoes killed appetite of my children. Two of them – one high-schooler and one soon to-be middle-schooler.

With that context, lunch moves forward. My younger one is tooling with his food. Older brother has gotten up and moved on. Wife says she needs to take rest now – the morning was rather full for her. So, I am left to provide company to my to-be middle-schooler. Well, I don’t miss any teaching moment to let my “middle-schooler” know what middle-school means for him ;)!

Something fascinates my son about fire. Interestingly we got to it in a rather interesting way – about how garbage disposers use blades to chop and not a heater to burn. When he started solving the make-garbage-burn problem, I asked him why did he think about burning waste. And he told me that burning, or fire, is “cool”. Oops, my antenna went up!

I asked him to describe what he saw that fascinated him and he told me about a few science experiments on YouTube. Some dude apparently covered his bare hand with hand sanitizer and set it on fire! It was rather clear that someone was trying to look cool on YouTube by doing stunts that can be mis-interpreted as “science” and so repeatable! While both my sons were fascinated by the fact that hand-sanitizer could burn (due to alcohol as my older one confirmed), they dint realize that the person was doing the stunt with his bare hands.

So, how did my to-be middle-schooler find the video? What safety conditions were spoken about? I probed. The answers were not good :(!! The video came up as “related videos” on YouTube.That’s when it hit me – my son was being led by a recommendation engine that has evolved due to social choices. And there was no way to judge whether the recommendation aligned with his age or value system. It was just way too cool for my son to get impressed.

And that is when an old adage flashed into my working memory – “electricity is a good slave but a bad master”. In today’s information age, “electricity” of the 1950’s is “recommendation engines” of the 2010s.  These recommendation engines are curated over large number of social responses – from simple like/re-tweet response to browsing history, transaction history, categories of behavior, recommended due to others’ behaviors, etc. As I heard at a recent seminar on Sense-making and Making Sense,  it just takes 11 likes (sample size) to predict a social personality on par with co-workers.  Of course, a spouse level intimacy needs 200+ likes. This is the current state of art of social personality determination from popular social sites.

Eventually recommendation engines use social categories to compute suggestions. The quality of search has improved to a point that I rarely have to go to my second page because today I get several alternates to explore within the first page. I recall that I used to scan 5+ pages more often in the past than now. These days I barely get past 2nd page by when I change my search criteria. And most often, my search expectations are rather precise.

However, my digital trail is tangible data for recommendation engines. Curated over billions of people, statistics does throw up interesting possibilities to cater to an avid searcher. Now I am getting tuned to the recommendation engine’s behavior. From an unknown entity, I am quickly a social category that has a significant satisfaction score for a certain class of search results. Overtime, the evaluation against my value system gets less rigorous since the results are rather close to what I expect, or else, what I am searching needs to be fine tuned.

On the other hand, for a young mind that is still finding its way in the cyber-world, social recommendations are great escapes into fantasy! Without the compass of values, the outcome becomes unpredictable very fast.

With so much thought going on, I had to act fast. I seized on the teaching moment and told my to-be middle-schooler about what it means to evaluate a YouTube video that can give him confidence as being within the boundaries of his emerging value system. And it had to be in a form that is easy to evaluate – my child’s identity is still evolving and this means that anything that is not efficient or not easy or both, he will not do. My response was a “buddy-system”. As part of Boy Scouting, one rule the Scout Masters enforce early on is to always work with a buddy. Even to go to the rest-room, a scout needs a buddy.

Internet exploration needs a buddy too. My first advise on being safe in an internet environment to my to-be middle-schooler is to do anything on the internet with a buddy – a peer, responsible caring adults at school (I believe in the teachers, otherwise my child would be studying elsewhere), elder brother, me, anyone who has actually explored similar topics and confirm that the topic is ok. That, I told my son, will make his argument defensible when I ask him what he is looking into.

A young mind is not easily convinced – so after several patient exchanges of what-if’s we finally agreed that the situation is not as rosy as it looks – social recommendations are  good slaves but bad masters. While he can get to some new information reasonably fast,  he has to constantly evaluate the value/quality of the result before pursuing that.

After a while, he shared that all this talk is making him rather anxious. That eased me up a bit – a to-be middle-schooler must be anxious on how internet is out to get him. Having seen different kinds of kids at school, my son has a fair understanding on what group psychology is all about. At least the elementary school level of children groups – group leader, sub-groups, moving across groups, keeping stable groups, behavior models of different groups vis-a-vis the group leader, one or many leaders, and so on. (Actually, it is rather fascinating to talk to my child about elementary school groups – how they form, change, sustain or disperse).

All this effort did break a sweat, I tell you. It is hard enough unraveling true from fake news these days. If we have to compound that with social recommendations that are trying to become friends of our children, then our scope of engagement increases from physical context to internet context. From what I have heard so far, the suck-out to the other end happens very very fast. Every few hours there are some pockets of biased opinions that surface out in the internet – some sustain as ideas or memes generating feverish supporters while others just remain as digital memory.

Recommendation engines are logic driven – there is no emotional content. And logic always does not mean rational – at least not in a human sense. At best, a recommendation is a close approximation of what a category of people best prefer as their next action in the internet. The only value is statistical convergence over large numbers. This bland and mechanistic determination of what I am to be served can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what level of control I let go or offer. The laziness of thought a recommendation engine advocates is like reading glasses – recommendation engines fix the weak muscles of thinking by serving what many others think as useful. Overtime thinking muscles just get more lazy and become subservient to the recommendations.  This flip from being a master running a tool to becoming a conforming data point is the risk I see.

There is clearly an inner threat to our cyber-society that warps our value system and presents it as Machine Learning and recommendations. Does the Machine have a heart? What does It learn and regurgitate back to me? How much can I believe that what I get back is what is coherent with human good?

What is good?



Evolution and Computation

October 3, 2016

Charles Darwin’s celebrated Evolution Theory has had its fair share of debate – both for and against. In particular, “survival of the fittest” that describes natural selection has been criticized for not being precise enough. Well, this is not the only concern expressed in that theory. However, to my knowledge, Evolution Theory is the only defense against Intelligent Design where there is an invisible Designer of Destiny. (This view point of an Intelligent Designer has been taken to an absurd comedy by Douglas Adams in his science fiction series”Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy”!).

So, is evolution formalizable as a theory that can be actively debated? Surprising answer to this is Yes! Leslie Valiant’s Probably Approximately Correct (PAC) approach to learning and evolution has been a wonderful eye-opener for me.

The points that Leslie Valiant highlights as the challenges of Charles Darwin’s evolution theory are:

  • Rate of evolution: It is unclear how many generations would be required to evolve complex mechanisms from simple one. For example, think of eye!
  • Maintaining an evolved feature: The environment that an organism thrives in is constantly evolving – with different levels of change including immediate, daily, seasonal, and catastrophic events.

Even more difficult to explain is the amount of biological variations we see that seem to have occurred in a relatively short period of time! So, what are the mechanisms that drive evolution?

Leslie Valiant approaches evolution as a computational learning scenario. Just as learning proceeds without a need for an intelligent designer – purely based on the computational and statistical features of learning context – similarly, Valiant proposes a framework to define Evolvability in learnability terms. With his characteristic clarity, Leslie Valiant uses precise terms to navigate the murky waters of Darwin’s Evolution Theory:

  • Performance: This is the measure of fitness of a certain organism.
  • Target:  Casting Evolution as a special class of Learnability allows Valiant to set up a target for evolution just as there is a target for learning. The target of evolution is simply higher performance.
  • Ideal Function: The elusive but existential function that can specify the most beneficial course of action for any evolving entity(or species) at any instant in any specific environment.
  • Evolvable Target Pursuit: The course of evolution is guided by the succession of opportunities that arise as the species and the environment change.
  • Evolutionary Convergence: When target if accessible and beneficial, convergence will occur at a predictable, perhaps rapid rate determined by the pace of the evolutionary algorithm. Since the system is in the state of flux, emergence of new beneficial targets is considered part of the convergence process. The convergence, however, is constrained by the environment.

Having set up these definitions, Valiant differentiates Evolutionary Algorithms from PAC Learning Algorithms as follows:

  • Evolution can proceed independent of experience: Darwinian evolution postulates that the sequence of experiences should have minimal influence of genetic variation. Instead, the role of the experience is to compare the performance of various offsprings.
  • Evolution has to succeed from a fixed starting point: The process of PAC learning is relatively independent of initial hypothesis. However, biologically, the possibility of reinitializing to a start point that is evolutionarily convenient is not realistic! It seems that biological entities cannot afford arbitrarily large decrease in performance. It is believed that mutations that have been adopted have been mostly beneficial or at least close to neutral when adopted.

By setting up a goal to uncover any evolution algorithm that nature might be using anywhere  in the universe, Valiant studies the class of functions that can support evolution.

  • Arbitrary but fixed starting point: The point at which a certain evolution starts is taken as random. Once the point is chosen, there is no freedom to change it based on convenience to long-term evolution.
  • Modest size population: The set of variation mechanisms (for e.g. living systems offer asexual, sexual and lateral mechanisms for gene pool to evolve) are expressed in a limited size population.
  • Modest number of generations: The evolutionary progress should be realized in rather smaller number of generations rather than larger.
  • Computational cost of creating variants must be polynomial: There is limited space and time available in the universe for organisms to evolve.

Having set up the constraints, Valiant searches for possible evolvable functions that are also robust. Some observations made are:

  • Boolean functions can be viewed as limited set of options
  • Success in discovering evolvable boolean functions for all distributions seems low.
  • Generalizing to real-valued functions and convex loss-functions seems to show promise

So where have to got so far? Leslie Valiant’s PAC based Evolution Algorithms offer us a concrete way to reason about computability of evolution and its limits. Valiant leaves us with some interesting thoughts:

  • Why does competition increase functionality?
  • How to account for biological circuits and their evolution?

Valiant leaves us with a feeling of awe that remains undiminished in his critical examination of Evolution as a Computational Process.

[This material has been compiled from Leslie Valiant’s book Probably Approximately Correct, Chapter 6. Mistakes in interpretation are entirely my own!]



Life is an arrangement

October 2, 2016

Is it amazing that the most on-the-face fact is the one that is most difficult to explain? Forget explain, we are not event close to knowing the origin of Life. So, what is Life anyway?

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev uses the term arrangement frequently –

So what if Life itself is an arrangement – a representation in a geometry?

There is another perspective to arrangement – one that is more closer to our physical experience –  Architecture. Christopher Alexander identifies 15 properties of wholeness. In his book series on Nature of Order, the first book that identifies the 15 properties is aptly titled “The Phenomenon of Life”. Christopher Alexander sees  geometric arrangements as the essence of life. What more, each of these properties is also an operator. Thus, the same 15 properties of wholeness also contribute to the unfolding of wholeness.

If a Mystic and an Architect agree, there must be something to it right?

Geometry has been fundamental in our understanding of physics. Without Albert Einstein’s conception of space-time continuum, I wonder where we would be in our understanding of physics. Space-time continuum and the impact of gravity on space-time is one of the outstanding achievements of human mind.

So, having said that, is Life only an arrangement? There is far more dynamism, expressiveness and responsiveness to Life that an arrangement seems to fall short. There is an essential “Life-ness” or Cit that is hard to explain. Maybe Life is too big a problem to attempt right now. Let us scale it down. How about consciousness? Or even better cognition. What is cognition?

Let us start from what we perceive. Immanuel Kant proposed two innate intuitions: space and time[link]. What can explain these intuitions in us given that any sense organ can at best finitely sample our environment in finite time? What leaves us with a feeling that there is a continuum of space or time? I am not sure whether we perceive time – a better way would be say we perceive the passage of time – or events. So, lets redefine our intuitions to space and events.

I posit that our intuitions of space and event are a result of Computation! Without computation, I don’t see a way in which a finite bunch of signals can be generalized to a seemingly infinite spread. Some “filling up” is happening. And that “filling up” is the result of a Computation.

But wait a moment, is it not a representation – a geometry that is being born here? Well, yes and no! The fact that there is computation does not always imply a representation. However, purely for economy of cognitive activity, representation is useful[link]. Already our brains are energy hogs. If we let every neural activity to be computed from first principles every time, that is all our neurons will ever have time for – from the time they come to action till the time they retire. So, representation follows computation as an outcome of cognitive optimization. And representation is as relevant as its subsequent use is. Representation is not an end in itself – it is a means to an end!

So, if Cognition has computation to supply its intuitions, what can we say about Life? Does computation – or more generally – information processing turn out to be more fundamental to Life than arrangement or geometry?