Archive for November, 2010

Privacy – Politics and Psychology (Blog Post 6)   no comments

Posted at 6:26 pm in Politics,Psychology

PRIVACY ‚Äď Politics and Psychology (Blog Post 6)

This week I have been reading about the modern psychologists and the two main schools of though. I have been focusing on the cognitive revolution that occurred within psychology, from previous books that I have been reading over the weeks. The founding fathers of this epistemology are:-

  • Wilheim Wundt who is mainly associated with structuralism, which was the first main school of thought within psychology. It involves the structure of the mind built from the elements of consciousness- thus encompassing ideas and sensations.
  • Herman Ebbinghaus who purported the empirical approach of memory and the process of learning and forgetting.
  • William James (1842 -1910) and James Angell (1869-1949) who are linked with functionalism which deals with the components of consciousness ‚Äď including ideas and sensations. It is concerned with the process of conscious activity and perceiving and learning. It has biological significance in that it functions are natural processes.
  • Charles Darwin (1809 -1882) ‚Äď Theory of evolution and the ‚ÄėOrigin of the species by means of natural selection‚Äô (1859). This theory revolutionised biology with its concept of natural selection. Thus the consequences of an animal‚Äôs characteristics affect the animal‚Äôs ability to survive.
  • Edward Thorndike (1874 ‚Äď 1949) ‚Äď ‚ÄėLaw of effect‚Äô: Consequences of a behaviour act back upon the organism, affecting the likelihood that the behaviour that occurred previously will take place again.

I have also continued my reading into self ‚Äďpresentation, which although initially considered to be a topic of secondary importance in social psychology; has had notable interest afforded to it in recent years and as such provides invaluable information to my research. It is worth noting that successful self-presentation is usually dependant on the individual conducting accurate assessment of the impact of their behaviour on others and also on others impressions of them. Furthermore self-presentation is a function of both the person and the situation. The kinds of impressions people try to convey are guided by the individual‚Äôs motives and personality as well as the immediate social setting.

Within my politics reading I have encountered different topics which apply to governments on a global scale. Hence I am continuing to read about globalization. This week I have been reading The Globalization of World Polkitics ‚Äď an introduction to international relations (2nd ed.) ‚Äď John Bayliss and Steve Smith. I found this textbook particularly useful as is helped me to question certain aspects of globalization rather than just accept information that I‚Äôve been discovering. Firstly is globalization a new phenomenon / phase within world politics rather than just a continuing long ‚Äď term feature of a long ‚Äď established process. There are also many theories than can directly contribute to the explanation of globalization:-

  • Modernisation (Madelski, 1972; Morse 1976)
  • Economic growth (Walt Rostow, 1960)
  • Economic Interdependence (Cooper, 1968)
  • Global Village (Marshall Mcluhan, 1964)
  • World Society (John Burton, 1972)
  • World Order Models Project (1968)
  • International Society (Hedley Bull, 1977)
  • End of History (Francis Fukuyama, 1992)
  • Liberal Peace Theory (Bruce Russett, 1993; Michael Doyle, 1983)

Regarding the latter theory, this is based on the notion that liberal democracies do not fight one another. This is exampled by no cases where democracies have gone to war. Due to the fact that public accountability is so central within democratic systems, publics will not allow their governments to engage in wars with democratic nations.

I have also started reading into theories of world politics and have started with realism which is considered to be the dominant theory of international relations. It provides the strongest explanation for the state of war (determined as the general condition of life in the international system by the realists). Realists also argue that the basic structure of international politics is one of anarchy in that each of the independent sovereign states consider themselves to be their own highest authority and do not recognise a higher power above them. Therefore domestic politics is often described as a hierarchic structure in which different political actors stand in super and subordination.

Written by Lisa Sugiura on November 30th, 2010

Sociological Thinking: Part 2.   no comments

Posted at 12:09 pm in Discipline,Sociology

This blog is a continuation of my last entry where I discussed classical sociological thinkers. This post continues this theme to explore the ideas of more contemporary sociologists. The main reading for this post was Giddens (2006).

Sociological thinking has developed primarily in the post-WW2 years in order to make sense of an increasingly diverse yet inclusive society. Technological advances in media and transport have led to the emergence of a modern world where geographically distant cultures can interact and share norms with little or no regard for their geographical history and specific community development. Some sociologists, such as Jean Baudrillard, argue that this new world is one dominated by media and icons, where mass consumerism and ‚Äėnew media‚Äô fosters a generic and homogenous culture driven by a small number of values and desires. While this is perhaps a slightly bleak view of modern society, these concerns highlight the importance of maintaining cultural identity in a modern world.

There is an argument to say that while we do indeed live in a world where the majority of human inhabitants are governed by the same laws and social norms (for example; neoliberal economic theory and consumerism) we are able, thanks to the advances in technology within our lifetime, to be aware of the existence of cultures and societies outside our own and attempt to foster relationships with one another. Michael Foucalt was a sociologist who specialised in theories of power relationships and the values that sprung out of increasingly connected networks. His work on changing ideas within medicine, from medieval to the mid 20th century, presents a view that societies establish values and ideals after a long process of expert opinion and debate. As networks grow and organise into factions, certain schools of thought emerge that promote different values. Once these schools gain a critical number of adherents, the value becomes a popular social value. It is important to note that these schools of thought begin life as fringe ideas, and expand to become socially accepted as their number of followers grows. To Foucalt, being familiar with a value is no basis for blind acceptance, and no society has a set of values which are unchangeable.

In a world dominated by capitalism and capitalist thinking, many people would be forgiven in assuming that the socialist ideas of Karl Marx no longer hold sway. However many sociologists believe that, while economic liberalism has put paid to Marxist economics, there is a need for a socialist way of thinking in terms of social organisation. Arguments for this way of thinking come primarily from contemporary sociologists Jurgen Habermass, Ulrich Beck, Manuel Castells and Anthony Giddens.

Habermass argues that the modern world and modern communication techniques have now little in common with traditional governmental institutions. Collective decision making and democracy now needs to capitalise on the new forums for discussion that are available, particularly the using of Internet technologies.

Beck identifies a similar theme of the changing nature of the establishment, and argues that the growing trend of ‚Äėglobalisation‚Äô within economics and social institutions is promoting what he calls a ‚Äėrisk society‚Äô, whereby risks to society become globally connected, and the actions of one particular society, in one particular area, have far reaching consequences for all connected. Beck admits that this situation has always been the case, but in modern times the risks have grown to be truly global and potentially devastating. However, Beck sees hope in the emergence of widely coordinated and distributed networks of ‚Äėactivists‚Äô, people who share the same set of values and work to promote the acceptance of their values in political and social frameworks. Unfortunately these networks also have their dark sides, exampled by global terrorist networks, but these are unlikely to succeed in generating mainstream societal change, whereas issues such as the environment or poverty eradication have a large degree of success when it comes to establishing new social principles.

As a further example of the changing attitudes of Marxist thinkers, we can look to Manuel Castells. Castells has identified, like Habermass and Beck, the emergence of a globally linked societies, but his interest in Marxian economics leads him to identify the increasing role of telecommunications and computer networks as a basis for global capitalist production. This view differs from traditional Marxism which identifies the working class as the basis for societal change, and Castells argues that we are live in a world influenced by technological determinism, where technology is increasingly determining and enforcing the direction of societal progression. This concept is the subject of much contention is sociology, and stems from the ‚Äúhuman action vs social structure‚ÄĚ argument of classical sociologists.

Finally, Anthony Giddens has developed a school of thought, ‚ÄėSocial Reflexivity‚Äô, which places a great amount of importance on the notion of trust within social organisation. Expanding on the ideas of Beck, Giddens agrees that the world we live in has the potential to operate outside of the limits of our control, but that by constantly being aware of actions and decisions regarding lifestyle choices, societies can exert great influence on the underlying economic, political and cultural principles which are endemic to their existence. Giddens sees the path to overcoming the ‚ÄėRisk Society‚Äô as being one of transnational, global cooperation that develops not from inter-governmental relationships, but from the self-awareness and identity recognition of societies, both internally and externally through global communication networks.

What I have learned from my introduction to both classical and contemporary sociological thinkers is that sociology seems to be a discipline that is often in flux. The ideas of classical sociologists maintain core theories which lie at the heart of sociological research, but it is a merit of sociology that sociologists are able to adapt these principles to their own environments and time periods. That is not to say that one can simply make up sociological theories. The analysis of contemporary sociologists appears to show and adherence to principles, or an acknowledgement of past research and theories in their work. For this reason, the study of sociology is one that requires a sound understanding of all genres and theories within the field, relating as they do to all of the various levels and ideologies that exist in our societies.

Written by Phil Waddell on November 30th, 2010

Blog post 6 – Classical Criminology   no comments

Posted at 2:42 pm in Uncategorized

This week I have carried on my reading of Roger Hopkins Burke (2005).

In my earlier blog I talked about the rational actor model, however central to this is the classical school of thought. Ideas of the classical school argued that people are ‚Äėrational creatures‚Äô who look for pleasure while at the same time trying to avoid pain. Therefore, any punishment that is inflicted must significantly outweigh any pleasure that one might have achieved as a result of a criminal act, in order to deter people from committing crimes. The classical school can be thought of as having a significant impact on the influence on the modern day justice system because of the notions of ‚Äėdue process‚Äô (Packer, 1968) and ‚Äėjust deserts‚Äô (von Hirscg, 1976).
There were two key classical school theorists ‚Äď Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham.

Cesare Beccaria (1738-94)
Was the author of an influential book that had a huge impact on European and US legal thought. He disagreed with inconsistencies in the government and public affairs Beccaria suggested that criminals owed a ‚Äėdebt‚Äô to society and that the punishment for criminals should be in proportion to the seriousness of the crime. He recommended that capital punishments was no use and instead imprisonment should be extended, with the conditions of prisons to be improved. However, it is his theory of criminal behaviour that has provided the grounding for the rational actor model, using the concepts of free will and hedonism. Beccaria proposed that human behaviour is based on the pleasure-pain principle, so any punishment should reflect that. Beccaria‚Äôs ideas have had a significant effect on the modern criminal justice system and the doctrine of ‚Äėfree will‚Äô can be seen today in the majority of legal codes, with a major impact on popular ideas of justice.

Jeremy Bentham
He attributed criminal behaviour to their incorrect upbringing or socialisation instead of innate inclinations to offend. Bentham considered criminals as ‚Äėpersons of unsound mind‚Äô who have no self discipline to manage their passions. His ideas are similar to that Beccaria suggesting that people are ‚Äėrational creatures‚Äô who try to avoid pain while looking for pleasure. Likewise, similar to that before, punishment must outweigh any pleasure that is gained as result of committing a criminal act. However the law must NOT decrease the ‚Äėgreatest happiness.‚Äô Bentham also believed in ‚Äėfree will,‚Äô with his work proposing that criminality might be ‚Äėlearned behaviour.‚Äô

The influence of the Classical School
According to Hopkins ‚Äď Burke (2005) the classical school is considered influential in legal doctrine that emphasises conscious intent or choice, (e.g. mens rea or guilty mind), in sentencing principles (e.g. responsibility), and in the structure of punishment (e.g. sentencing tariff). Particular this school can be seen in the ‚Äėjust deserts‚Äô approach to sentencing. This includes four key ideas according to von Hirsch (1976):

‚ÄĘ Only an individual found guilty by a court can be punished for the crime
‚ÄĘ Anyone that is found to be guilty of a crime must be punished
‚ÄĘ Punishment must not be more than the nature of the offence and culpability of the offender
‚ÄĘ Punishment must not be less than the nature of the offence and culpability of the criminal

All of these are founded on the notion first suggested by Beccaria and Bentham. There is importance on the idea s of free will, and rationality, proportionality and equality, with an added importance on criminal behaviour that looks at the crime and not the actual criminal, in relation to the pleasure-pain notion to make sure that justice is done by equal punishments for crimes of the same nature.

According to Packer (1968) the criminal justice system is said to be founded on the balance between due process and crime control. Due process stresses that it is the role of the criminal justice to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt, however the state has a duty to prove the guilt of the accused (King, 1981). This is based around the idea of innocent until proven guilty. This model requires the enforcement of rules that are concerned with powers that the police have and the use of evidence. This due process system recognises that some guilty people may get off scot free and remain unpunished. But this is considered to be acceptable if it means that innocent people are not wrongly convicted and punished. On the other hand, a high rate of aquittal gives the impression that the criminal justice system is inadequate and not performing their jobs properly, and therefore failing to deter criminals.

Contrastingly, a crime control model places emphasis on¬†achieving¬†results with priorities on catching, convicting, and punishing the criminal. In this model there is¬†what’s¬†known as a ‘presumption of guilty’ (King,1981) and there are less controls to protect the offender. It is seen as acceptable if some innocent individuals are found guilty. In this model it is the interests of the¬†victims, and society that are given the biggest priority rather than the accused. Criminals are thought to be¬†deterred¬†due to the shift processing nature of the system, therefore if a person¬†offends¬†they are likely to be caught quickly and punished – therefore¬†what’s¬†the point?! The primary foundation of the crime control model is to ‘punish the guilty and deter criminals as a way of reducing crime and therefore creating a safer society,’ (Hopkins-Burke, 2005).

Written by kd2v07 on November 29th, 2010

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Psychology – The Biology of Behaviour   no comments

Posted at 12:55 pm in Uncategorized

This week I have continued my reading of Carlson et al. (2007) focusing on psychology, but particularly on the brain and its components, drugs and behaviour, and the controlling of behaviour and the body’s functions.

The brain and its components

The brain is the largest part of nervous system and contains 10billion -100billion nerve cells. All of the nerve cells are different sizes, shapes, functions they carry out and chemicals they produce. To understand the brain we need to look at the structure of the nervous system. The brain has 3 primary jobs: controlling behaviour, processing and storing information about the environment and adjusting the body’s physiological processes. There are two divisions which make up the central nervous system: the spinal cord and the brain. The spinal cord is connected to the base of the brain and runs along the spinal column. The brain contains three major parts:

The brain stem ‚Äď controls physiological functions and automatic behaviours
The cerebellum ‚Äď controls and coordinates movements
The cerebral hemispheres ‚Äď concerned with perceptions, memories

The brain and spinal cord float in a liquid known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that provides a cushion like protection. A blood brain barrier, ensures less substances pass from the blood to the brain to reduce toxic chemicals. A cerebral cortex, which is a 3mm layer of tissue, covers the surface of the cerebral hemisphere and has a billion nerve cells. The brain works with the body through the peripheral nervous system.
Sensory information, decision making, and controlling muscles, are all sent to the brain through neurons which make up the nervous system. To receive, process, and transmit information neurons contain; dendrites, soma, axon, and terminal buttons. Support is provided by glia, that also produces chemicals required by neurons, remove chemicals not required and help protect neurons from infections.

Neurons communicate with cells through synapse. When a message is sent from the presynaptic neuron it is received by the postsynaptic. A neuron accept s messages for lots of terminal buttons which results in terminal buttons creating synapses with several all neurons. Communication between synapses is chemical producing called neurotransmitter. When the axon is fires an actions moves down an axon causing the terminal buttons to release the neurotransmitter chemical.

Drugs and Behaviour

Chemicals that can be found in nature can affect people’s perceptions and behaviours. But some of these chemicals can be useful and are used as therapeutic remedies. By understanding how drugs affect the brain, help us to understand disorders and how to develop new methods of treatment.

Drugs can be said to alter our thoughts, the way we perceive things, the emotions we have, and the behaviour we demonstrate. This is achieved by affecting the activity of the neurons in our brain. Some drugs can stimulate or inhibit the release of neurotransmitters (chemical that is realised when neurons communicate) when the axon is firing, e.g. the venom of a black widow spider. Some drugs can stimulate (e.g. nicotine) or block postsynaptic receptors (e.g. cocaine). Finally, some drugs can impede on the reuptake of the neurotransmitter after it has been released, e.g. botulinum toxin or block receptors all together e.g. curare.
There are two important neurotransmitters that help achieve synaptic communication:

Glutamate ‚Äď has excitatory efforts, every sensory organ passes messages to the brain through axons with terminals that release glutamate. One type of glutamate receptor ‚Äď NMDA can be affected by alcohol. This why some ‚Äėbinge drinkers‚Äô sometimes say they have no memory of what happened the night before when they were drunk. Likewise if a person has been addicted to alcohol for a long time this receptor can become suppressed, making it more sensitive to glutamate. So if a person stops drinking alcohol then this can strongly disrupt the balance of excitation and inhibition in the brain.

GABA ‚Äď has inhibitory effects. Drugs that suppress behaviour, cause relaxation, sedation, and loss of consciousness act on a certain GABA receptor. For example if Barbiturates are taken in large quantities they can affect how a person walks, talking, cause unconsciousness, comas and even death.

Muscular movements are controlled by Acetylcholine (ACh) as well as controlling REM sleep (the part of sleep where most dreams occur), activation of neurons in the cerebral cortex and functions of the brain that are concerned with learning. ACh receptors are stimulated by the highly addicted drug nicotine. However the drug curare can block Ach receptors causing paralysis.
Dopamine is important in helping movement and helps in reinforcing behaviours. People with Parkinson’s disease are often given the drug L-DOPA to accelerate the production of dopamine. Drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine stop the uptake of dopamine and with people abusing these drugs would suggest that dopamine plays a role in enforcement.
Norepinephrine is said to increase vigilance and helps control REM sleep. Serotonin helps to control aggressive behaviour and risk taking, and drugs that have an impact on the uptake of serotonin are used to treat disorders concerned with anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Control of behaviour and the body’s physiological functions

A side view of the brain illustrating the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, the primary sensory and motor areas and the areas of the association cortex

Figure 1. A side view of the brain illustrating the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, the primary sensory and motor areas and the areas of the association cortex

Figure 1 shows how the cerebral cortex part of the brain is split up into four parts also known as lobes ‚Äď the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe and the occipital lobe. The areas of the cerebral cortex that receive information from the sensory organs are the primary visual cortex (concerned with visual information), the primary auditory cortex (concerned with auditory information), and the primary somatosensory cortex (concerned with information with regards to body senses).the area of the cerebral cortex concerned with the control fo movement is the primary motor cortex and the association cortex is concerned with learning, perceiving, remembering, planning and moving.

Some functions within the brain are lateralized both hemispheres are responsible for different functions. The left hemisphere takes part in analysis of information, and controls serial events (e.g. talking, understanding speed of other people, reading and writing). Whereas the right hemisphere is responsible for synthesis, puts separate elements together to create the bigger picture e.g. draw sketches, read maps. It is also involved in understanding the meanings of certain statements, and damage to this hemisphere can alter these abilities. Although they are responsible for different tasks, these hemispheres combine information through a bundle of axons connecting the two, known as the corpus callosum.

Behind the central fissure are lobers that are reponsisble for learning, perceving, and remembering:

Occipital lobe as well as lower lobes – information concerned with seeing/vision

Upper temporal lobe – information concerned with hearing/auditory

Parietal lobe Рinformation concerned with movement/sensory

However these lobes also perform other functions such as¬†processes¬†concerned with perception and understanding of the body. the lobes situated at the front are responsible for motor movements, such as planning strategies for action. Similarly, the Broca’s area (left front of he cortex) is used to control speech.

Situated in the Cerebral hemispheres is the limbic system which is key when it comes to learning, memory and emotions. This is made up of lots of areas of the limbic cortex as well as the hippocampus and amydala, both of which can be found in the temporal lobe. The latter is concerned with emotions and such behaviour, e.g. aggression and the hippocampus takes part in learning and memory. People who damage the hippocampus are unable to learn anything new but can remember and recall past memories.

The brain stem is made up of three parts:

The Medulla Рmanages heart rate, blood pressure, rate of respiration

The Pons – manages sleep, and how awake someone is

The Midbrain Рmanages movements when fighting and when involved in sexual behaviour

Sensory information is¬†received¬†by the hypothalamus, this includes information about changes in the¬†body’s¬†physiological status, e.g. body temperature. It also manages the pituitary gland which is attached to the bottom of the hypothalamus. It also manages the endocrine system (endocrine glands).

Hormones are similar to neurotransmitters as there effects can be seen by stimulating receptors, but they work over a much larger distance. When these hormones combine with receptors they result in physiological reactions in the target cells (receptors in certain cells). The hypothalamus manages homoeostatic processes by its control of the pituitary gland and the autonomic nervous system. However, it can also cause neural circuits in the cerebral cortex to perform more complicated, learned behaviour.

My blog post on criminology will follow shortly

Figure 1 taken from http://samedical.blogspot.com/2010/08/nervous-system-cerebrum.html

Written by kd2v07 on November 28th, 2010

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Comte to Communism, I have no idea Weber any of these are right. A tour of Sociological thought   no comments

Posted at 11:34 pm in Sociology

                This week I am going to examine the classical theoretical approaches which have influenced sociological thought for the past two centuries.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The first true sociologist was Auguste Comte. Comte was the first to coin the term sociology, which he introduced after his initial thoughts on social physics contrasted with the thinking of many of his peers. Comte argued that society conforms to invisible laws, and that by following these laws societies becoming functioning bodies. Comte suggested that sociology must follow an agenda of positivism, and be a positive science, that is sociology must use strict research methodology to inform its findings and theoretical models. Comte argued for the use of experimentation, observation and comparative studies on observable behaviour. It was observed that society has evolved from a theological perspective, society focusing on god(s) and religious practices, metaphysical societies, based on natural observations and natural science, observable in early renaissance societies, towards a positive society, based on scientific reasoning. Building on this, Comte suggested that theological religions should be disbanded, and replaced by a religion of humanity, based on a scientific and secular truth, this would fundamentally, in Comte‚Äôs view, improve society as ‚Äúfalse superstitions‚ÄĚ and a belief in gods and daemons were detrimental to society. Although Comte‚Äôs vision has not come into being, his theoretical ideas heavily influenced initial sociological thinking.

                A follower of Comte was Emile Durkheim, who also argued that sociology should follow an empirical methodology, however suggested that Comte himself had not acted or theorised in an empirical manner. Durkheim argued that the main focus of sociological study should be social facts. Social facts are any and all aspects of social life that affect individuals. Societies are gestalt constructs, which are more than a mere collection of individuals. Social facts act in a coercive nature to impose rules and regulations on individuals and impose order. Individuals’ who fail to follow the rules experience a state which Durkheim labelled as anomie, a sense of aimlessness and disenfranchisement.         

                Karl Marx signalled a departure from the approach of Comte and Durkheim. Marx argued that economic systems are central to the formation of societies. Marx suggested that capitalism was fundamentally composed of two factors, capital and wage-labour. Capital is a form of wealth such as goods and money, which can be reinvested to create more capital. Wage-labour is the work of individuals who compose of the proletariat, workers who lack insufficient capital to be employers themselves. Marx argued that this inevitably leads to a two tier system and society. Marx argued that this disparity inevitably leads to conflict between the limited number of capitalists and the much larger proletariat, who are forced into an exploitative relationship. Marx suggested that society is conceptualised by a material conception of history, whereby social change is prompted by economic factors, based on this idea, Marx argued that economic change is inevitable, and that as the proletariat outnumber the capitalists, it would be inevitable that capitalism would fail, to be replaced by communal ownership, in a system Marx labelled communism, a society which due to the lack of competition and conflict would be more innovative and productive, in many ways a utopian society. It is worth noting that theologically Marxist communism was not the same as the communism imposed in the U.S.S.R, by Lenin, and his followers, as soviet communism was still a two tier system with an empowered state, not a workers’ paradise. It is in many ways ironic that the web and the internet, with its basis in capitalism, western defence initiatives and ARPANET could (currently) be seen as a purely communist society, where fundamentally everyone is equal.

                Disagreeing with Marx, Max Weber suggested that despite economic factors playing an important role in the development of society, ideas and vales play an equally important role. Weber also argued, against the ideas of Comte and Durkheim, that society was formed by the actions of individuals, and does not exist outside these interactions, change emerges not from economic changes but shifts in cultural values. Weber suggests that rather than capitalism and class conflict producing change, a cultural shift towards rationalisation, organising society based on efficiency, has lead to large scale fundamental changes in social structures. Weber does argue however that this movement does lead to a danger of crushing the human spirit in a de-humanisation as workers become little more than robots, completing repetitive activities.

                The impact on sociology of the ideas of the founding fathers has be large, with schools of thought and styles of analysis developing around many. The most influential and preeminent school for much of the history of sociology has been functionalism, based on the ideas of Durkheim. Functionalists suggest that society is a set of complex relationships between individuals and groups, and often uses an organic analogy, that is society is a living object, made up of many objects, whereby if one part fails then the whole dies. It clear therefore that the functionalist approach focuses on peace and harmony between groups, drawn together by a morale consensus and agreement on the values that the society should promote. Merton suggests that functionalism can be extended to the individual actions of groups and individuals rather than just looking at large scale societies. Merton distinguishes between the manifest function of an action, and the latent function, manifest functions are the intended or primary function of behaviour, compared to latent function, as unintended or secondary functions, an example of this could be a football fan going to watch their team play, the manifest function of the behaviour is to watch the team, however the individual also gains secondary benefit as being a member of a social gathering and gaining connections to a wider community. Similar examples can be seen looking at online MMORPGs and MMORTS’s, where strong communal ties develop between players in addition to the players playing the games. Merton also suggests that any behaviour may have both functional and dysfunctional attributes associated with it, for example the football fan may gain positive benefit from being in a group, yet the group may engage in anti-social behaviour such as hooliganism. Merton stresses that it is the actions of indivi8duals which create society, rather than society existing as a directing force with a predetermined mandate.

                The second main approach is conflict theories, stemming from Marxist views. Conflict theories state that society is made up of many disparate groups, all of which are forced to compete for resources, such as goods and power. Although the main influence on conflict theories being Marxism, others have influenced this school, such as Dahrendorf who argues that as societies are not utopian there is an inevitability to conflict between groups in a perpetual power struggle, based on Darwinian views.

                The final main influential school is that of symbolic interactionalism, championed by Mead. Mead argues that society is a collection of individuals and groups that share common meaning between a large scale set of symbols, which form a fundamental point of agreement. This has lead Hochshild to suggest that changing social structures is due to a change in the nature of the symbols and the expansion of the accessibility of such symbols. Included she argues that the exchange of symbols has allowed the growth of an emotional labour market, whereby the symbol of happiness can now be made into a financial asset, to the point that many airlines ask stewardesses to complete smile classes.

                As can be seen sociologist have fundamental differences in their approach to answering questions. This gives a wide range of opinions, stimulating further research and diverse range of approaches, to tackling the many diverse issues facing modern society.

Written by ca306 on November 26th, 2010

Economic Fundament   no comments

Posted at 1:11 am in Uncategorized

Having now covered the beginnings of Politics, I turn to Economics (with cyber-warfare ever in mind). To begin my studies in this subject I’m using the text book Foundations of Economics by Andrew Gillespie, which has so far been a reasonably pleasant, if not too challenging read. The book is split in to two sections – one on microeconomics (dealing with firms and individuals etc.) and the other macroeconomics (inflation, economic growth and international trade etc.) I suspect as I delve further into the subject I will focus more on macroeconomics as this is where the economics of warfare and international relationships come into play, and therefore may be the most effected by cyber-warfare. However before I can gain a proper understanding of this, I need to understand some economic fundamentals.

The first thing to understand is what is the problem that led to the birth of economics in the first place (what with economics being a man-made science). The main issue at the heart of economics is that we have infinite wants, but only finite resources with which to satisfy them. Therefore decisions have to be made (along with some sacrifices) and this applies to both individuals and, more conventionally, countries as a whole. Economies in general have 4 resources with which to work with…

1) Land: The physical land along with its minerals (for example oil or diamonds).

2) Labour: Number of people willing and able to work along with the skills they have. It is also important to consider here the value of knowledge and the effects of increasing it or sharing it.

3) Capital: Quantity and quality of capital equipment such as machinery and infrastructure.

4) Entrepreneurship: Ability of managers to think of new ideas and to take risks.

(With cyber-warfare in mind, 2 and 3 (and possibly 4) seem like the most important resources for this issue.)

Now we know what an economy has to work with, a number of decisions have to be made…

1) What is to be produced?

2) How to produce?

3) Who to produce for?

Naturally we can’t produce everything, in a manner that creates the best products all round and can be distributed to everyone. Therefore the problem of opportunity cost arises, that is to say what could be achieved in the next-best alternative? What do we forgo by acting in this way? Nevertheless these questions need answers and there are two diametrically opposed models for answering them: planned economies and the free market.

In a planned economy the government decides what goods and services should be produced, what combination of labour and capital should be used for any given industry and how the goods and services should be distributed. This however can lead to many inefficiencies, with the government not only having to gather lots of information as to what they need to do, but also actually going ahead and making the right decisions Рthey could easily produce the wrong quantity of a particular good or service. Similarly they have no pressure to run efficiently as the consumers of the goods and services have no alternative sources, which leads us on to free markets.

In the free market, the aforementioned questions are answered by the interactions of the market forces supply and demand.¬†¬†The government does not intervene and leaves decisions to be made by firms and individuals. If there is demand for a good and a firm can produce it, and still make profit, then it will go ahead and start producing. Only what is demanded gets produced due to a firm’s desire to make profit and there is an incentive to act efficiently as firms are competing against rivals, with all firms in the market wishing to maximise profits. However, this model also has its problems – mainly that a profit cannot be made from providing many goods and services and yet these goods and services may be required. Therefore the government may need to step in and provide certain essential public goods such as street lighting, or, more importantly, education or health services. On the other hand, the free market may find a profit in providing goods, undesired by society as a whole such as guns or illegal drugs.

Therefore in reality, economies are neither completely free market nor¬†completely planned, they include elements of both. Bringing this make to cyber-warfare, one wonders under which category it may fall in the future. If a country wishes to carry out a cyber-based attack on another – does this fall within something the government provides as is the case with conventional armies, or it could it simply outsource the problem to a more efficient company with its own private ‘cyber-army’? ¬†Also, to bring this down from an international level, could cyber-warfare play a part in industrial espionage/sabotage? A powerful company in one market, may be able to stop smaller companies entering the market using a cyber-attack or harm its rivals already in the market. With cyber-warfare being so unlike traditional warfare in that it is much cheaper and less violent, companies could quite easily partake.

Back to Economics, another concept that is heavily drawn upon is that or marginal cost/benefit. This concept rather simplifies the process of making decisions: if the marginal cost of something is greater than the marginal benefit then don’t do it (although I suppose the problem lies in measuring the cost and benefit and trying to determine which is greater). This type of thinking may be taken into account when considering cyber-warfare however, with the marginal cost of cyber-warfare being much less than that of conventional forces – is the marginal benefit just as good however (e.g. key infrastructure could be taken out using either cyber or conventional means). Also if the marginal cost of warfare is much greater than the marginal benefit, this does not mean the warfare has to stop altogether, the costs could simply be rearranged so that it is at least equal to the benefit – cyber warfare may be a means to achieve this. (I feel I should point out at this point, I am not an advocate for warfare, but I am trying to see the situation from a warring economy’s point of view. In most situations the best way of reducing the cost of the war would be to end it!)

The final concept covered by my readings thus far is that of the production possibility frontier (PPF), a graph which shows rates of production for two different goods or services and how overall production changes when resources are shifted from the production of one to another. An example of a PPF is shown below (image taken from Wikipedia):

A production possibility frontier, highlighting some interesting points.

A production possibility frontier, highlighting some interesting points.

All points on the curve can be described as productively efficient. When the quantity of guns produced is decreased, the resources previously used can be reallocated, resulting in an increase in the production of butter. However a contradiction emerges here Рgun making resources do not make butter. Therefore if the quantity of gun production lowers to that of point A, the quantity of butter produced may only be at point A and the economy operates within the PPF curve, representing productive inefficiency.

The PPF can also represent the advantages of international trade. Say, for example, the economy above is more efficient at creating guns rather than butter. If it reduces the production of guns by 10, the increase in butter may only be 5. However supposing another economy is more efficient at producing butter than guns; the 10 guns could then be sold on to the other economy instead in exchange for, say, 20 units of butter. This allows an economy to operate outside the PPF, as represented by point X. From the cyber-warfare point of view, could cyber-warfare be a service that one country exports to another? (political allegiances would also most likely come into play here.)

The PPF does not always have to be a curve either. The curve represents diminishing returns, with the amount you get from reallocating resources, decreasing the more you shift from one form of production to another. Straight curves are also possible to represent a constant rate of return. PPF curves are also able to shift either to the right or left, depending on a number of different factors. For example, resources can be taken out of production and invested to increase the productive capacity of the economy in the long run. Immigration can also shift the curve to the right, representing increased labour resources. Effects of cyber-warfare however may result in the curve shifting to the left!

This marks the end of my initial readings in Economics and although so far i have only covered the most fundamental concepts in Economics, ideas about the potential use and advantages/disadvantages of cyber-warfare are already starting to emerge. ¬†Next time I shall return to Politics…

Written by William Fyson on November 25th, 2010

Sociological Thinkers – Part 1.   no comments

Posted at 11:14 pm in Uncategorized

Reading:

Giddens, A (2006): Sociology: 5th Edition.Cambridge: Polity.

Singer, P (2000). Marx: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP.

This week my reading has covered various sociological thinkers and their particular theories. The majority of the reading was taken from Giddens (2006), as chapter four of this book covers these thinkers at an introductory level. However, I feel it is important to cover both the thinkers and the theorists in detail, and so this topic is presented in two blog posts, both published this week. This first section details key classical sociological thinkers and their differences between one another. I’ve included below a description of common areas of dispute in sociology, and the arguments or particular authors regarding these disputes.

To begin, Giddens identifies core criteria for sociological thinking:

  • Thinking should be counter-intuitive.
  • Thinking should make sense of a problem.
  • Thinking should be able to be applied to circumstances outside the original topic or study.
  • Thinking should generate new ideas.

These criteria are commonly exampled in the works of the classical sociologists, and the below arguments show that sociological theories and thinking is more difficult than some may think, as a variety of approaches to theoretical thinking exist. Here are the common controversies in sociological thinking, according to Giddens, and their advocates and enemies in sociological thinking. This blog deals primarily with the theories of Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx, although other theorists are discussed briefly. For basic information regarding these three classical thinkers, please see my earlier blog post.

Human Action vs Social Structure.

Thinkers from both camps argue to what extent human lives are controlled by individual action and choice, or influenced by social pressures that exist outside of individual influence.

Max Weber argues in his principle work; The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, that the development of western capitalism was unique to western culture due to the religious, frugal roots of Protestantism and Puritanism in Europe prior to the industrial revolution. The ideals of these branches of Christianity encouraged hard work and allowed for the accumulation of wealth, but disapproved of luxury and spending. Thus those who accumulated wealth were inclined to distribute their wealth through a variety of investments, wages and business purchases, which in turn fuelled the acquisition of more wealth and the eventual creation of a social class of people with a propensity to generate wealth, capitalists.

This theory is important because it is an example of how social development can be influenced by norms and ideas that may at first glance seem distant, whether historically or ideologically.

In similarity with Weber, Emile Durkheim also claims that social structure influences societal development. He perceives society as far more than the sum of its individual components, and argues that the norms and rules that society constructs for us, long before our birth and existence, will have a lifelong effect on how we live our lives, without us ever having had a say or exerted any influence on their construction. Ideas of law, religion, communication and physical interaction have been created over a prolonged societal existence, and Durkheim claims that these societal systems will continue to function independently long after we are gone.

In contrast to these theories, more contemporary thinkers, such as Anthony Giddens, have critiqued the classical arguments and provided their own arguments for human action being the fundamental drive behind societal development.

Anthony Giddens has attempted to critique the social structure arguments of the classicists with his theory of ‚Äėstructuration‚Äô. Structuration argues that while structural models occur in societies, they are only maintained by the predictable behaviour of individuals. Giddens draws parallels with language to argue that rules of use are vital in any social structure. This idea is indeed complex, and Giddens notes the paradoxical ‚Äėduality of structure‚Äô, whereby structure and actions are seen to presume one another. For this reason, arguments regarding social structure and human action are unlikely to be resolved, sociological thinkers must simply attempt to pick a side using well informed reading and analysis.

Consensus vs Conflict.

Sociologists are divided regarding the ways in which humans live in societies. Durkheim maintains that the existence of a society, itself made up of component parts, implies a general consensus of values and norms endemic to the society on question. Therefore if one were to adopt this argument, society is consensual. Families, institutions, governments and nations are all formed out of consensual agreement by their participants and the notion that organising communally brings benefit.

This consensual argument is refuted by Marx, who argues that the inequalities which exist in societal structure foster certain interests, desires and motivations in particular groups. These interests eventually manifest as conflicts within society. According to Marx, so long as these divisions exist, there is no such thing as a stable society, as the society is constantly in flux regarding the dominant group.

Gender ambiguity vs gender specificity.

This is a concern of many of social sciences and humanities. For much of history issues of gender have been treated with an undeniably male bias, for example Durkheim presents the female gender as being of less social significance than the male because the female is more ‚Äėorganic‚Äô, that is to say, closer to nature. Thinking in this way usually leads to a situation where, if not specifically excluded from study, females are usually perceived as de facto in studies of society and the results of male thinking or male exclusive research is simply applied under this catch all notion. This type of thinking was common to classical sociologists, with a notable exception being Marx, who viewed women to be a form of ‚Äėmale property‚Äô, and therefore slaves to class divisions in ways exceeding males.

Classical views may be flawed due to the ideas and social standing of women at the time of their writing, but they do present an indication of the acknowledgement, however implicit, of females and males being independent of one another, and perhaps not subject to identical social pressures and structures. With recent progress in identifying the legitimacy of female concerns, new feminist thinking has emerged which carries with it a dilemma not dissimilar to the problem of the male centric thinking. Do females, now being equals in society, simply remain de facto members of a study, but still not uniquely identified in societal studies, meaning men and women are not judged by gender, or do studies break down societal issues into components of male and female issues, identifying a divide? This question occupies many contemporary feminist thinkers, such as Judith Butler, who argue that gender grouping may ascribe incorrect identities to social groups, for example gay men and women, when developed primarily along biological lines. The role of gender in sociology is, again, a complex one, as it explores to a large degree conceptions and ideas that are rare or even taboo in many societies.

Questions of Modern Social Development.

Debates that arise in this particular area deal primarily in Marxist and anti-Marxist viewpoints, and are concerned with the underlying factors behind the development of the modern, post-industrial revolution society (this idea is confined to Western sociological thought). Marx’s ideas regarding capitalist economics and the migration of labour may influence many sociological, political and economic theories, but other theorists argue that they do not adequately address other factors, political, cultural, environmental, which may influence societal change. In this regards, debates in this field follow a similar argument to human action vs. social structure conflicts.

Marx places high importance on economic development and capitalism, specifically the appropriation and accumulation of wealth. Capitalism is inherently expansionist, as wealth can only be appropriated when someone else has it, and so capitalist markets expand to locate and collect this wealth. In this fashion, capitalism quickly takes over all spheres of a society, as capitalists, being the dominant class, exert political and cultural pressure on the society in order to make it conform to their ideals. With this dominance comes subjugation, and the world then becomes stratified into the divisions that, one could argue, we see today. The have’s and have-nots, rich and poor, labourers and factory owners. These are products of capitalism, and social structures will continue to be shaped by the tenets of capitalism, the search for and acquisition of wealth.

Those that argue with Marx, notably Max Weber, claim that non-economic factors, such as the aforementioned construction of a religious work ethic, are just as important in shaping modern society. Weber presents the concept of ‚Äėpower‚Äô as an important tool in reinforcing established economic and social principles, and argues that the rise of western industrial economies, and the military power which they are able to wield, has enabled a global system to emerge which reflects the economic ideals of these particular nations, and not of universal grassroots capitalism in all societies. Weber also points to the rise of scientific and technological innovation in the 19th and 20th centuries, which have fostered a form of social efficiency regarding labour, communication and interaction which he calls ‚Äúrationalization‚ÄĚ. Whether this rationalization translates as technological determinism is not clear to me at this point.

Conclusions.

This blog post has unearthed some interesting theories and ideas regarding classical sociological thinkers and their disputes with one another. We can see that sociological theories are shaped themselves by the societies, time periods and general socio-economic climate in which they were written. The disputes of the past are of course important, but should serve to remind any sociologist of the need for caution when applying past theories to contemporary issues. That is not to say that these ideas are outdated, as Giddens points out in his criteria the need for theories to be adaptable, but that adaptation should be considered by the sociologist when applying such theories to social settings which were not considered during their inception.
It is also clear that sociology has much in common with economics and politics at an ideological level, and I am keen to explore further the writings of the classical sociologists, particularly of Marx and Weber, to see where their ideas may take my own ideological development and it’s subsequent application to research.

Part two of this blog post will arrive shortly, and I will concern myself with the ideas of ‚ÄėPostmodernism‚Äô in sociology, and present more analysis of contemporary thinkers in this field.

Written by Phil Waddell on November 24th, 2010

Economics 102   no comments

Posted at 7:55 pm in Economics

After spending the last few weeks getting to grips with the very basics of economics i’ve now looked at how the various approaches and mechanisms used by the discipline could more directly be applied to the issue i’m looking at – reputation and its value. I’ve continued to concentrate on undergrad texts, primarily Economics by Parkin, Powell and Matthews, A Course in Microeconomics Theory by Kreps and Economics by Lipsey.

As i mentioned in the last blog economics assumes that individuals act in their self interest; that is, they will do things in a way that will maximise their position according to their values. When you choose to enter into a transaction with person a as opposed to person b, you will do so because you perceive that transacting with person a will leave you in a better position than transacting with person b will. One of the considerations that may lead you to this conclusion will be the degree to which you believe person a will act with integrity, and this integrity will be externally demonstrable by their reputation.  Hence,  reputation can be considered something that affects competition, and the way in which economics deals with competition needs to be considered.

There are four market types in economics:

Perfect competition, where:

  • many parties offer identical goods to many buyers,
  • there are no restrictions on entry into the industry,
  • existing vendors have no advantage over newcomers,¬†and
  • all parties to a transaction are well informed about the prices of products.

Monopolistic competition, where:

  • a large number of parties compete by making similar but slightly different products,
  • production differentiation gives each monopolistically competitive firm an element of monopoly power,
  • barriers to entry are limited.

Oligopoly, where:

  • a small number of firms compete, and
  • natural or legal barriers prevent the entry of new vendors to the marketplace.

Monopoly, where:

  • one firm produces a good or service for which no close substitute exists,
  • natural or legal barriers protect the firm from newcomers to the market.

With these definitions in place it would be possible to draw parallels between the different types of market and instances on the web where reputation comes into play. As a very rough example, an expert forum on Visio could be considered a Oligopoly, as people will only listen to the advice of a small number of recognised experts, and in order to be considered an expert a user must have certain qualities (such as a long and illustrious posting history). Newcomers will struggle to impose themselves.

I next looked at game theory as a way of potentially understanding how people may try and to actively enhance their online reputations.¬†Game theory is something i’d heard about previously, particularly the prisoner’s dilemma, but i’d not really explored it sufficiently to be able to see how it might apply to the issue i’m tackling. Very briefly, it serves as a tool for studying strategic behaviour; that is, behaviour that takes into account the expected behaviour of others and the recognition of mutual interdependence. To take this back to the reputation issue, people building a reputation do not do so in a vacuum; their reputation will only benefit them if it is ‘better’ than somebody else’s. As such, those attempting to enhance their reputation may decide to act in certain ways due in part to their perception of what their competitors may be doing.

. The prisoner’s dilemma is probably the example that most people are familiar with: two criminals have been apprehended on suspicion of committing a robbery and are being held in separate cells. The police know that the two together committed the crime, but lack sufficient evidence to convict. They are each therefore offered a deal –¬†convincingly implicate the partner. If neither implicates the other, each gets no time in jail. If each implicates the other, each receives a short amount of time in jail. If one implicates the other but is not implicated, the implicator gets off (and gets a greater share of the proceeds of the crime) and the implicated goes to jail for a longer period of time. Each ranks the four possible outcomes, with the result that it is best to implicate your partner, next best to not implicate and not be implicated, next best to implicate and be implicated and worst to not implicate but be implicated. Abstracted, this suggests that co-operation is not in one’s best interest if the other party intends to co-operate (in the prisoner example co-operating meaning co-operating with each other by not implicating each other.)

Gaining an understanding of the economic constructs of markets, competition and game theory has certainly been an interesting exercise, and i’m glad i have had the opportunity to look at them in more depth, but i still worry that the link to my issue area is a little¬†tenuous. I¬†believe¬†they could certainly add something to the understanding of one type of strategy actors may¬†pursue¬†when attempting to¬†enhance and¬†capitalise on their online reputation, but just as likely people could choose to completely ignore any notion of competing with others and still gain a positive reputation. I’ve discovered a little bit on social capital, which will hopefully fill in the blanks, and will write about this next week.

Written by jac606 on November 24th, 2010

Tagged with , ,

PRIVACY (Politics & Psychology) ‚Äď Blog post 5   no comments

Posted at 6:36 pm in Politics,Psychology

PRIVACY (Politics & Psychology) ‚Äď Blog post 5

As my previous readings within Politics have led me to identify the areas of globalization and security as paramount in relation to the issue of privacy I have extended my reading to specific books focusing on this concepts.

Globalisation, Competitiveness and Human Security (1997) ‚Äď Cristobal Kay ,states that globalisation can include political negotiations, cultural trends and increased internationalisation of economic activities. It is also the process whereby enterprises become interdependent and interlinked globally via strategic allegiances and international networks. The book ¬†discusses changes occurring on a global level. Such changes are beyond the influence and henceforth the control of any individual person, community or even the government. It is therefore logical to link these dynamics to society experiencing feelings of insecurity over many related issues, including that of loss of privacy. After the end of the Cold War in 1989, which was predominantly viewed as a positive outcome as it reduced the fear of global military conflict which would have threatened peace and security, many political and economical reforms were instigated within developing countries and at the global level there was an overwhelming sense of security due to the dissolution of the threat of nuclear war. However it has been purported that there are new specific threats to human security, many of which have international or global dimensions as their root causes can be traced to events and processes occurring outside of their territories, namely globalisation and competitiveness. The UNDP (1994):23 produced a list which delineates all aspects of human security; on that list under political security was violation of human rights ‚Äď privacy connotations. The implication is that globalisation and competiveness can be directly attributable to human development and to reduce people‚Äôs insecurities.

Globalization and insecurity ‚Äď political, economic and physical challenges (2002) ‚Äď Barbara Harriss-White, gave the definition of insecurity as ‚Äėunsafe or unreliable‚Äô and¬† determined that there are four areas of physical insecurity which are interrelated:

  1. Threats to persons, property and/or environments
  2. Economic and political autonomy of states
  3. Instability, particularly of market
  4. Vulnerability ‚Äď a susceptibility to damage, closely but not completely aligned with poverty and inequality

This book also discusses globalization as a political process, whereby the main forces producing it have moved away from industry and weapon production towards instead, technology, information and communications, and financial control of everything else. It is suggested that it is the political project that causes insecurity via poverty, regulation of health and the reworking of national politics.

For the psychology part of my independent disciplinary review this week I have been reading : Self ‚Äď Presentation Impression Management and Interpersonal Behaviour (1995) ‚Äď Mark R. Leary. Self-presentation deals with the ways in which human behaviour is affected by people‚Äôs concerns with their public impressions. The norm would be that individuals would prefer that others perceive them in a flattering light rather than in an undesirable manner. Thus people may act in a certain way in order to make an impression on someone e.g. the job applicant in an interview. It is determined that generally people‚Äôs concerns with others‚Äô impressions constrain their behavioural options and so individuals would be reluctant to conduct acts which would be seen as morally/ socially reprehensible in public. This is not necessarily negative though as a world where no-one cares about the opinions of others would be far more detrimental. Consider people saying or doing anything without considering the feelings of others etc. However it is possible for people to be too concerned with what others think about them which can lead to feelings of insecurity building up. The book also discusses the differences between exaggerations and lies in relation to the fact that individuals are multi – faceted and can therefore convey many different aspects of their characters, the majority of which may be genuinely true attributes, depending on the circumstances. Thus rather than lying per se, people may select the images they want others to form from their repertoire of true-self images.

There are two prevalent thinkers in relation to self-presentation: Erving Goffman who was a sociologist and wrote ‚ÄėThe presentation of self in everyday life‚Äô (1959) in which he determined that much can be gained by focusing on public behaviour, and Edward Jones (1990) ‚ÄėThe study of impression‚Äô, in which he discussed management and self ‚Äď presentation being an integral part of the study of interpersonal perception as it is not possible to fathom how people view each other without knowing the dynamic to self-presentation at the same time.

I will be continuing my reading further into these areas within my two disciplines as I feel that there is far more valuable information to be obtained towards the overall research.

Written by Lisa Sugiura on November 23rd, 2010

Tagged with , , , , ,

How to Evolve a Cellular Automaton   no comments

Posted at 12:47 pm in Uncategorized

This week, I’ve been pushing on with “Complexity: A Guided Tour”, and continued attending the Complexity lectures. ¬†Their subject matter are converging towards “in what sense do real-world distributed complex systems compute?” (e.g. ant colonies or the Web). ¬†This is very relevant to my key theme of collaborative problem solving. It builds on last week’s introduction to cellular automata. ¬†Most fascinating was an experiment that used genetic algorithms to evolve cellular automata to perform global analysis despite being highly distributed. ¬†The results was the emergence of Feynman-diagram like particles, operating at the abstracted level equivalent to the programming level of a traditional von-Neumann-style computer. ¬†Obviously, computation has been a key theme throughout, so there’s a happy overlap with the theory of computation COMP6046 lectures. ¬†I’ve enjoyed the introduction to information theory and Shannon entropy, and have chosen Comp Thinking coursework on encryption in order to build on that. ¬†The other key ingredient this week has been thermodynamics, and this has been a happy stroll back to my time in Physics. ¬† Above all the Darwin-like obvious-yet-brilliant central observation of Boltzmann that things will always tend toward the more common state – hence the mighty 2nd law of TD. ¬†So, several really engaging themes have been weaving together. ¬†Looking forward to what comes next.

Written by Jack on November 23rd, 2010