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Scientific Method and Pask

At the time of the unfinished "Myth of Invariance" (the purpose of which, perhaps, was to show all systems are adaptive or potentially self-organising in a very deep sense- for many years he held the Patent on Adaptive Systems) paper Gordon and I discussed Scientific Method. He claimed that what he called "sharp" valued results could be obtained of useful applicability comparable to anything that conventional science could manage in any field I cared to nominate (for the so- called Humanities or the more "subjective sciences": psychology, psychiatry, sociology etc). "Sharp" I later took to mean non- fuzzy.

(There is an implication that fuzzy modelling can be easily done- kind of geometrical probability approach. This coheres in some respects with the Real Time Study Group's approach to Public Service Process Modelling wherein an outcome can be interpreted as the likelihood of the membership of a particular set- honours degree holders, successful cancer surgery and punctual train journeys, low street crime rates etc)

His point was that so many assumptions have been agreed in order to say the Earth is 4.5 billion years old or hydrogen 1 consists of one electron orbiting one proton that professional agreements of similar complexity concerning axioms would enable similar statements to be made about cognition, schizophrenia or child poverty, for example.

Quite an assertion but Pask goes on to suggest the axioms. I remember listening to him do this at the end of a days consulting with a favourite client. Out of the mouth of this frail old man was coming a stream of robust assertions that rendered Andragology (the study of human action) tractable. He had put the so-called "soft sciences" on to a basis as rigorous as any for the so called "hard" sciences of physics, chemistry and engineering. He was sparkling and just when you thought he'd better stop he can't sustain or prove all this, I'll never remember all this, he threw in the interrogatives: who, why, what, when, where, which and how as operating on Participant's entailment meshes.

All this, as he related it, with Participants who could in their personal context and from their personal perspective be responsible, respectable, showing amity, agreement, agreement-to-disagree, with a purpose and a unity which did not mean uniformity. The conversations of these participants require a faith between their beginnings and ends which are supported by natural eternally interacting actors exhibiting similarity and difference, evolution or adaptation, generation, kinetic (forces doing work- Interaction of Actors, IA) rather than kinematic (sampled serial streams-Conversation Theory, CT) dependence, conservation, informational openness and organisational closure.

Any suggestion than Gordon was not as able in his decline was falsified. He was a showman and he knew he had been convincing, to say the least, to his client. It was an unforgettable display of the power of his unique and highly distinct approach

There is more: he was determined to explore the vacuity of much of what passes for science today. A theory was fine. A singularity was excellent: but an explosion, change of colour, precipitate, fracture or change of state was preferred. Conventional scientific method tended to exploit linear regions of phenomena. A change of coherence was what was interesting: the production of a new system boundary, as when a new concept is acquired.

I constructed a gedanken model comprising an ethical well of water for a village and asked him to sit at the well as the village wise man. I pointed out to him that if a child looked as though it was going to fall into the well he would extend his arm to try to prevent it. He agreed.

I asked him to keep a record of how much water was in the well every day. He insisted it was a waste of time. Repeatedly I returned to this. Still he would nor record the depth of water in the well. Now given a wiggly line measuring e.g. the temperature of the air outside your house it is not possible to say whether the tendency of the temperature to increase slightly will be sustained, but it might be used to forecast diurnality and, more importantly, seasonality- so important in Northern Climates.

Since assisting Jones with her Gamma Test (for the prediction of error in a smooth model - Proceedings of the Royal Society Series A forthcoming) I am not sure that Gordon's position can be maintained. However there is an easier case to consider. But, sadly, I was never able to challenge him with this case. Replace the well with me tossing a coin. I persuade the Village wise man to write down the outcome of every toss. If its a fair coin "Pointless" Gordon might have said. "No coin is fair!" say I triumphantly. Keep those records properly! It would be a disgrace not to.

Prior to the American Cybernetics Society Conference (Pask's last) the Personnel Director for Hydro Aluminium (now Norsk Hydro) asked for some properties of Self-Organised Systems and their consequences for a company. He suggested the following as properties:

Then followed four axioms.

The Principle of Participation implies the use of CT supported by IA. Straightforward. Variety, however, another matter. State counting requires the full panoply of Second Order Cybernetics to approach. In a complex system we hope to find consensus on what counts as a significant state. This is non-trivial and state counting was usually not allowed or resisted in general as a basis for solving problems when working on a Case with Gordon (Sherlock Holmes' approach was to him paradigmatic in consulting). The selection of proper variety measures may be seen as part of the "Art" of Cybernetics as indeed was Gordon Pask himself.

You didn't need to be a "Yes Man" to get on with Gordon. Dinner with him was always fascinating packed with small remarks not properly followed up. It is possible he consulted with Douglas Adams but his duty of confidence, if it existed, bound him. I described the improbability drive to him. He seemed familiar with it. I suggested a lemma to the "Bistro Theorem" amongst much warmth and laughter. Recently I discovered the radio shows on the web (via Kazaa) The Earth as a computer, pure Gordon (implying a in-joke aimed at Frank George's "Brain as Computer") coherent with M-Individuation theory. The White Mice conducting experiments on Human Beings? Pure second order cybernetics wherein the subject gets bored and experiments on the experimenter (G's objection to standard methods in experimental psychology) Sirius Cybernetics complaints department, the star goat and the Golgafrincham "B" Ark, 42 as a parody of Physics' GUT results, the consciousness jokes: birthplace quantum force tendrils of guilt disturbing space-time, the total perspective vortex. Pask was known as "Doctor Who" by the children in Richmond. Adams learned his trade editing "Dr Who" scripts. They were perhaps serial co-diners and what was the young G doing in Lisbon?