Experiments in Evolutionary Environmental Ecology


An interesting (if a bit technical) talk by Brodey that illustrates one of the big ideas they were investigating the lab: the complex dynamic between variation (e.g. of individual behavior), constraints, and emergence. What are the minimum constraints needed to imposed on our behavior so as not to impede the process of evolution and becoming?

There is a peculiar thing about talking about evolutionary development. You don't know where you’re going. You know, perhaps, where you've been. You may know where you don't want to go, but you don't know where you're going next.

I recently overheard two architects talking rather intensely and one was saying to the other, “I think I have become obsolete.” And the other one said with a sigh, “Well, anyway, I guess I can make enough money to put my kid into a college, and there he'll learn to press buttons like the people at all the schools seem to be doing.”

Somehow or other I didn't think he was particularly satisfied with this view of life, but I know he was terribly concerned about where the course that we are now taking is leading us. We don't know where we go from here.

Now is the time when we are all in the process of trying to break out, of trying to do something different, and trying to be somewhat more alive than we've been —in our architecture, in our work, in everything we do. The language of aliveness is within us, but so far it hasn't really come out.

In building this machine world we have in fact recapitulated. We have brought ourselves into a metaphor which is a statement of where we have been, and of what science has given us to date. It has given us a way of capturing ourselves so that we become deadened.

What do I mean by that? Let me start the TV monitors. Don't expect anything very fancy, I am only going to present something metaphorical.

Today we are at the end of the road for modern cubes. For the world of cubes is a world without relation. It is a world of matrices where you draw in the right, the left, and you put straight lines between them. Then you do all sorts of permutations and combinations and think that you have come up with relationships. But there is no language of relationships yet.

Now I must cut my tone back in order to reduce myself to the world of squares; you know, the waspish world. The world of sort of being exactly right in every sentence after the next and with as little ambiguity as possible. Now I put myself back in the world of squares where I hardly move my body and where when I say hello to somebody my lips move, but my arms don't.

My eyes don't flash, and I am part of the system that controls us except when we're drunk or excited or when the young people, perhaps, are feeing their oats.

The squares you are looking at were generated by our computer which cost a good deal of money. .. but it makes beautiful squares. Look at the squares and you will see the architecture that lives around us. The computer made these squares. The squares move. You could build buildings out of these squares. You could make them into cubes. You could make all sorts of shapes with them.

They're random, the squares. That is there's a question at each point. You see we've allowed now a sort of a school system, the child can have a choice. He can go to the right of the square. He can go to the left. He can even go backwards. He has choices, not many choices, but he can stay within the system if he's willing to follow the squares and the cubes. The architectural student soon learns how to avoid those kinds of choices that he can't deal with on drafting paper. This makes his life less complicated when it comes to pleasing his teachers and following the tradition.

Now we’ve made the system more complicated. We have larger squares with random kinds of distance between the points at which there are right angle turns. The video system allows us to “draw” a moving picture. If I were doing it on paper you couldn’t see the movement because you would only see the page after the squares, rectangles, and other shapes had been draw. Here with our new media, the television and the computer, we are now able to see action in process. 

Now, the squares have changed. We have allowed all sorts of angels to concur randomly. The computer is generating these designs given a random program. Think that perhaps you might be able to stop the action and choose a particular shape that pleases you and use that shape for whatever purpose you may have in mind. It’s not easy to get that wide a choice, so the computer is useful there.

They stop and we go back again to the familiar. Everybody’s willing to buy squares. You have an open market. You can build them on top of each other as little pigeon holes and you can put all sorts of people and things in the pigeon holes. And you have modern housing, the kind that we are trying to sell to poor people. The poor people somehow are not satisfied with that or perhaps they haven’t learned yet the elegance of living in the style that we're accustomed to. I don’t know whether they're more intelligent or less.

There is another world, a world that many of our young people live in. We are building for younger people, constructing environments for those who are to come. They should have some influence over what we do to their world. The relationships that you hear in their music, for instance, are of a complex nature that can’t easily be simplified by the computer. Computers have developed out of the discipline of science; the discipline of science so far has not been able to handle these kinds of relationships.

By relationships, I mean the kind of communication that occurs between two people as they are grasping each other’s hand in a handclasp. This relationship exists when one person is speaking to another in such a way as to express much more than is in his words, speaking with his face, with his body movement, with his whole demeanor.

Now, here is the obvious problem, or at least it seems obvious to me, namely that science has not provided us with a language of relation, a way of talking about complex systems, a way of dealing with complex systems. We can add simple systems to make complicated systems but we don't know how to deal with complex systems. Complication we have, but complexity is a problem that yet we do not know how to deal with.

The architect is a man who works with complexity. He is forced to deal with it in his artistic maneuvers. The group at my laboratory is also trying to deal with such complex systems. You might find one of our earliest exercises interesting.

Imagine a light moving around on a scope at random. It’s going whatever direction it wants, with whatever kind of movement it wants. Notice that I’m anthropomorphizing it on purpose. This blob of light is sort of like a human creature.

You know, we don’t know how to talk about human creatures. We can't talk sensibly about how they behave. We can't even talk about the real relationships between them with any kind of precision. But on the other hand, we operate in the context of these relationships all the time, so we must know a great deal about them. We use them every day. We have within us an informal language of relationships that is With us all the time. It's so close to us that we have no way of conceptualizing it.

Now here's a small group of eight of those creatures on the screen. They're all standing still-just dots, people, snapshots. What kind of relationships are there between them? With a snapshot of these people you couldn't tell, but once they start to move it appears that there is some kind of organization among these creatures. If you're like the rest of us you'll read an organization in. As far as the computer is concerned, these are just randomly moving dots of light. We carefully programmed the computer not to put in any relationship other than that each creature should walk in its own way, a limited distance in any direction that it wanted. The only control we've put on this system is the distance that each creature can travel in a particular time.

When I look at the scope, these creatures seem very much like bacteria, or like the little animals that live in water. They are really just simply random moving globs of light. I should waste your time with globs that move around at random.

The question we asked ourselves is what are the minimal controls that we could put on these globs that would organize them in some way that was recognizable to us. We assumed that these are free kinds of creatures like people when they're not constrained. We put in a game for them to play. We said to the globs, as you get closer to the center you will have to move more quickly. That's all.

We watched them moving and sure enough, as they get in the center they go zooming across the screen, and they leave a big ^Pace in the middle. So this means that ey did organize in a way.

Now there's nothing so unusual about this organization except that when you think about it, it's fairly complicated. It's easier when you have a media that allows you to express this kind of activity outside yourself on a screen. Complex relationships of this kind are not easy to fathom unless unless you're fairly expert at mathematics and even that won't help much.

Now in the next game we looked at another kind of environmental influence. We said that as soon as the globs of light moved inside a diamond-shaped space they would slow down their speed. We defined the environment in terms of a rule as to whether they move fast or slow, that's all.

Some people think this is sort of like a fair. Once the globs get into the fair, they slow down in their pace. They start getting interested and they start to pile up inside. Some people could make all sorts of complicated, wonderful explanations of this behavior. One could say that they are all trying to get into the space, but this just isn't true. The globs of light are not trying to do anything. They're just randomly move about.

With these experiments, we're trying to control in the most minimal way a variety of possible behaviors. In other words, we're using the computer to study how to minimize this control. If everybody could be allowed to vary in their own particular way, then how would you handle such a situation? Is there a way of thinking of terms of random variation, in terms of using things that aren't organized in the old way?

In this next experiment the only organizing rule was that the more globs of light within a short radius of each other, the slower the globs will move. We didn't intent any grouping behavior intentionally. In fact, we didn't know quite what would happen. Although this rule makes them tend to form groups, we don't know how they are going to group because there is no regularity about it. They get into colonies of globs and then they get out of the colony. They'll escape.

The computer allows us to see these relations in real time. By that I mean that you can program the computer so that these lobs will follow a particular set of rules but then you can change the rules even while the action is in progress.

It would not be possible to do this kind of exploration without a computer. There’s no way to do it by hand. One could do it in terms of building a mathematical model and then “seeing” it in your head if you happen to be that kind of a person. Most of us would find it difficult.

We are approaching a different kind of problem than we’ve ever approached before. We are using the computer to do things that you couldn't do otherwise.

The essence of all I’ve been saying is that we, ourselves, have become programmed. We have become programmed to a way of life, to a way of thinking, that has been organized by the media for representation that we have available to us, the media of computation, the media of drafting boards, and the media of tracing paper and the like. We have been programmed to particular ways of perceiving and recording the world through these symbols.

This programming essentially is only skin deep —if you consider the skin to be quite thick. By that I mean that within ourselves, in our intimacies with each other, and with the world, there are beautiful and complex relationships. We deal with them every moment. We couldn't live without being able to deal with them. But we also have a formal structure, a formal wording, a formal kind of representation that we use for communicating with each other.

That formal structure is highly constrained by a kind of Aristotelian way of organizing. S°me messages do not fit on this kind of box structure, this matrix structure. Some messages will never fit, no matter how small those boxes are made. Thus they cut off certain kinds of relationships we can establish with others.

At this time we must begin looking for new simplicities which will help us find our way mto the language of relation and into the kind of evolutionary thinking which we can °nly approach through understanding the language of relations.