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The Cybernetics of Upper Ontology: a Protolanguage for a risk driven Metalanguage stack

A note on Beer's VSM as guide to Upper Ontology supported by Pask's Protolanguage, Lp.

VSM animation

An increase in risk or failure of performance produces an alert which is escalated after timeout. Risk assessment is at the heart of the model. This work was originally done in the nineteen seventies to apply models of Self Organization or autonomy to management (by Beer) and in the nineties to productive Interactions in general (by Pask). In VSM each level is meta to the supporting autonomous level below producing a metalanguage stack. Operating at a higher level, in a wider more general context, requires more states to be considered as the levels of the VSM are ascended. This complies with Chaitin's Algorithmic Information Theory (more states are necessary to produce more complex results) and suggests the necessary properties of an evolving dynamic upper ontology. The methods are widely applicable to serial/parallel digital processing, operating systems,applications of all kinds and the general field concurrent (continuous) case when taken with Pask's work in Lp at process, rather than management, level.

Pask spoke of his Lp protolangauge or protologic approach as relativistic, with no master clocks, synchronous internal communication and what the Ontology community call "perdurantic" (4D) co-ordinate origins on the Actors which are interacting spin or wave processes (See the IA Manuscript (1992) and para 227 on a coordinate scheme). Interactions produce transfer of meaningful information and where coherence is preserved occur asynchronously in the manner of Petri nets (by contrast imperative acts will produce a bifurcation or differentiation- a new coherence). It is a potentially kinetic field concurrent model of computation which can be applied to the conventional pseudo-concurrent serial/parallel digital (kinematic) computer. Beer's Viable System (VSM) approach is more classical, with master clocked autonomy, and driven by time series. The escalating alerts of his model are, in principle, asynchronous.(see "Brain of the Firm" 2nd Ed. 1994 ISBN 047194839X)

Purpose of this note

Whilst the Categories, relationships and rules of applicability to a domain are not yet clearly identified in this work it is suggested the VSM process model and the Interactions of Actors (IA) process/product model, at least, may be helpful in selecting desirable characteristics for an Upper Ontolgy. We hope to show VSM management driven by Lp processes can be applied as a decision procedure for selecting an Upper Ontology.

Viable System Model (VSM)- a process management model

The model can be seen as a description of an exhaustive heuristic supporting changes to procedure when performance fails. VSM is driven by error and purpose. Briefly there are five parts to the model that may be applied recursively to the first part thus producing a formal multi-level error escalating hierarchy of metalanguage that terminates, top down, when the process in focus is reached (Which supporting level we discuss here with Pask's Lp). Beer makes extensive use of state counting (or Variety as it is known in cybernetics) to match resources to requirement (Requisite Variety).

System Five: Identity or purpose: restricting choices of new objects from System Four to replace failed or failing System Three objects.

System Four: Development: From operating and environmentental considerations alternative objects for operating System Three are selected to correct System Three performance

System Three: The Manager or controller of operations. System Three* (called Three star): Audit or, perhaps, trace.

System Two: Regulation- controlling the flow of products between the underlying System Ones.

System One: This is where branching of the tree structure occurs with System Two maintaining flows between System Ones. This is process level where Pask's Interactions (using Lp) operate.

Alerts: Also called "algedonic signals" from the Greek αλγος, pain and ηδος, pleasure. An alert can be sent for good or bad performance when actual performance deviates from capability by some agreed, noise filtering, amount. Performance has three variables determining actuality, capability and potential: potential being what can be done if best practice is adopted. Alerts are escalated if performance is not returned to within capability within a given timeout.

Viable System Model

Actual running code could be in the VSM autonomic 123 loop. In applying this to the Upper Ontology case “execution” can be seen as users complying with the current standard which is executing in their designing brains. But fully automatic operation can be considered. Potential improving changes to executable objects are held in VSM System 4 repository. At a higher level these are development plans, the outcome of environmentally determined simulations, perhaps. If the new control policy embodied in these objects does not work within capability or greater capability the alert is escalated and objects with the required capability are selected. The process repeats until actual working is restored to capability or increased capability. Potential sets the goals here. Response times to alerts can be anything from nanoseconds to days, weeks etc. at the higher levels. Adopting this exhaustive adaptive approach to an Upper Ontology would permit potential replacement primitives to be registered and applied, as improvements are required while identifying various domains of applicability via the taxonomic hierarchy of System Fives.

Interactions of Actors (IA)- a process/product protomodel

Gordon Pask was an early collaborator of Stafford Beer and later in his life took up management cybernetics with his rigorous process/product approach: Interactions of Actors or "dynamic Lp". Briefly, he established his Complementarity Principle: All products are produced by processes and all processes produce products. Where products are descriptions bounded with beginnings and endings and (thermodynamic) processes are in eternal support. Pask says eternal processes support the production of bounded products. The following properties must exist for any process or product with the distinction that processes have no beginning or end and are eternal. An example might be non-stop serial or parallel digital processors executing instructions or, better concurrently, the process of the universe evolving and producing the bounded products (in time and space) we see around us. This makes concurrent modelling, as seen in physical kinetic constructs, inherently more closely analogical to nature's concurrently interacting coherences than the pseudo concurrent kinematic environment of serial/parallel digital computing. The axioms can be applied to produce more correctly restricted serial/parallel solutions (programs etc) to problems of the actual world (involving life, evolution, adaptation etc) that is essentially truly field concurrent in nature.

  1. Context
  2. Perspective
  3. Similarity
  4. Difference
  5. Respectability
  6. Responsibility
  7. Amity
  8. Faith
  1. Agreement
  2. Agreement to disagree
  3. Purpose
  4. Unity- not uniformity
  5. Eternal support
  6. Beginnings and ends
  7. Adaptation
  8. Generation
  1. Evolution
  2. Kinetic support
  3. Kinematic description
  4. Imperative acts
  5. Permissive acts
  6. Informational Openness
  7. Organisational closure
  8. Void and not void

Within Pask’s “protolanguage” Interactions are regarded as the transfer of meaningful information between coherences and the production of decoherences as potential differentiation if closure is re-established- so it is an evolutionary model. A failure of closure produces waste heat.

Change is accommodated formally in the VSM by System Four. In Interactions of Actors it is implicit that any interaction will produce change which can lead to decoherence and hence new coherences (or coherencies). Coherence here is used in the Rescher set Theory of Coherence Truth sense but as applied in Pask’s new cybernetics these sets can exert a repulsive force at their boundary in order to persist and not diffuse. This is less useful in a serial digital environment but in true field concurrent computing, as Pask would say to me, the orthogonality of the forces involved becomes explicit, as it is in Nature: for every force there is an orthogonal force which can produce closure and thus coherence. Forces never work in straight lines (without an orthogonal force) except in text books that, for example, disregard stress and strain or the curved paths of trajectories.

The validity of the 24 axioms, postulates or properties can be tested by considering balls on a billiard table in various ways. Some attempted definitions follow. Context, Perspective, Similarity and Difference are, I hope, self evident. The distinction of Respectability and Responsibility is that to be observable some coherences require stimulation for visibility others are implicitly visible. Amity means availability for interaction (and may be equated with love- indeed the Love Axiom!). Faith is the time taken or delay for a product (logical or actual) to be produced- runtime. Agreement is equated with dependence and Agreement-to -disagree with a relative independence or distinct coherence. Purpose: a description of the outcome of an intended behaviour. Unity- not uniformity: the need for a coherence principle but not implying lack of differentiation. Eternal Support: the existence of some dynamic process to support the production of bounded products with Begins and Ends also called conversations or descriptions.

Adaptation, Generation, Evolution again, I hope self-evident. Adaptation, an elastic response; Generation, aggregative; Evolution: the product of Adaptation and Generation. Kinetic support another way of speaking of the forces of support. Kinematic description another way of speaking of beginnings and ends or static pictures, samples, of dynamic activity.

Imperative acts invariably destroying a coherence (and producing action) and Permissive acts requiring a Petri condition for synchronous transfer of meaningful information. Imperative acts destroy the torus containing a concept whereas Permissive acts produces a hole in the torus (corresponding to a Petri token and permitting synchronous communication) which leads to a new coherence. Pask modelled his concepts, which exist in any medium, as recursively packed toruses (“like wires in a telephone cable” or the skins of an onion).

Informational Openness means any coherence is open to information transfer.

Organisational closure means internal dynamics must be maintained.

Void and not void that coherences cannot be empty and voids separate them.

Taxonomy disambiguation: a procedure

From IA theory we have entities with vectors of spins comprising process/product coherences and from VSM theory we have entities with vectors of relaxation times characterising autonomies. We see a general purpose disambiguation procuedure: take a spin spectrum with sufficient resolution and observation time to produce the similarities and differences necessary for the classification of the product/process. Be aware that this spectrum will change and evolve with time as a result of interaction thus change of the classification will be necessary for the more rapidly evolving process/products.

From Pask's exclusion principle the "No Doppelgangers" Theorem (also stated "Time is incommensurable for Actors") we are assured no two spin spectra are the same. In other words the spin spectra must be routinely compared and contrasted to accomodate changes in application or interactions history of the process/product entities.

Spectroscopic techniques are routinely used in chemistry over a wide range of time constants and relaxation times. General purpose System Identification was first characterised by Wiener in his "Nonlinear Problems in Random Theory" (1958) and later applied to a mechanism of self-organization (1962). The use of spectroscopy to characterise social or business processes is unusual because of, until recent times, the paucity of necessary data.

An example application to existing Upper Ontology approaches

Continuant and Occurrent Entities

Dr Leo Obrst in Part-2 of his talk (slide 38) on Ontology distingushes Continuant and Occurrent Entities in Upper Ontolgy. He quotes Sowa (Sowa 2000) describing Continuants as recognizable over a long time whereas Occurrants have no stable identity over any interval time. Pask's No Doppelgangers theorem (e.g. § 188) does not allow any two instances of coherences/entities to be the same. Because of their different interactions there are always similarities and differences. This can also be stated (embodying a Relativistic approach) "Time is incommensurable for Actors". See Pask (1996)

Beer's metalanguages use the persisting similarities to define an autonomous identity (System 5) which defines a context and perspective and an unambiguous hierarchical pruning that formally monitors the differences of actual peformance deviating from capability. If the differences are too large an alert is sent saying, essentially, this coherence is in danger: do something or the autonomy of this sub-system may be lost.The higher metasystem with its greater variety must act with minimal lag. If it cannot act, subject again to actuality and capability performance constraints, the alert is escalated. Further escalation may be required for a hard problem. It cannot be emphasised too much that this is a concurrent dynamic theory. It is assumed that forces and processes are acting all the time.

One might say that Interactions of Actors Theory (IA) stands Artificial Intelligence (AI) on its head. AI applies logic and kinematic pictures. Pask took the dual of his kinematic, static "stick and ball" Conversation Theory concept meshes and made the derivations (relations or dependencies) into fields whose intersections became resonance nodes see (Green 2003 p.1435). Consider an AI model of a node triple as a taxonomic object. IA considers it a dynamic resonant entity modelled as a Borromean Ring or Prismatic Tensegrity (see Wikipedia): any two nodes (or concepts) can concurrently produce the third. Each node pair has similarities and differences and is in analogy with each of the other two members. For any pair the third node distinguishes the difference of the analogical pairs. Pask likened this form to tautomeric resonance in structural chemistry.


See Homepage References

There are more references to the Viable System Model and Interactions of Actors at Gordon Pask in Wikipedia. Beer founded his work on neurophysiological constraints whereas Pask saw his approach as more immunocybernetic in character. These matters are subject to further research and interpretation.

The Pask and Beer memorial pages at The Cybernetics Society.

Nick Green 9th. June, 2008 (last update)