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1 Discussion

Dario Nardi video conference. <Doug White>, 1 October 2007 (PDT):- talking with Dario, this example will be of great interest to social science students interested in fieldwork projects, including the new fieldwork for this project next year. Here is the <course welcome message>.

A Word From the Presenter: Thank you everyone for attending and for your wonderful questions at the end. The questions covered numerous aspects of Burning Man, such as how it compares to seemingly-similar events such as Woodstock, how Burning Man could be emergent ritual, the renaming and re-framing of trash as "moop" (matter out of place), and the role of decompression events during the year. If you have questions, please post them here.

--- Dr. Nardi, I asked you this question during the video conference: Given your elaboration of the grid/group typology in social organization of Burning Man, I wonder how authority is embedded and enacted in the social system? More specifically, you say that elements of egalitarianism, hierarchy, individualism, and fatalism comprise the system and are present in some sort degree of tension with one another. I hold that authority is configured differently in each type of organization. If so, how is authority differentially distributed in the organizational system?? Part of what motivates this question is the perspective that Burning Man is, in some sense, anti-authoritarian environment and a truly decentralized environment. Yet at the same time, Burning Man appears to be quite culturally and (maybe to a lesser degree) socio-economically homogeneous. How is this relative homogeneity preserved? Moreover, in your presentation you elaborated on a list of "rules" or, let's call them "ethical imperatives, " since "rules" is probably an evil word at Burning man, and pointed out that every year there is a new theme. You also showed a blueprint of the spatial organization of the Burning Man grounds, indicated that there is some sort of rough time line which culminates in the igniting of the Man. How are these values and norms consistently propagated (well, this year aside when that guy torched the Man prematurely)?* My sense is that a decade (or slightly more?) into the Burning Man happening, these features are not purely emergent from bottom-up processes on-site. Furthermore, they are likely to be regulated in the post and pre Burning Man environment. For instance, the selection of an annual theme and the creation of global awareness of said theme. In this respect, serious analysis of Burning Man festival must encompass the activities and systems of communication at its periphery. *This issue gets to the point. How was this norm violation handled? Someone told me that this premature ignitor was protesting the over-organization of Burning Man that had strayed away from the "old days." It seems like such a symbolic statement could stimulate divisiveness and fragmentation in the system? How did it self-regulate? From: Ashwin Budden (Anthropolog and Cognitive Science, UCSD)

--- User:Ashwin Budden,

  • There is a large organization, an LLC, that puts on the Burning Man event--selling tickets, announcing the theme, building and burning the Man, planning the city and providing interesting opportunities for others to protest their authority. (Some would consider me part of the organization since I manage their census, however, I do not consider myself as a volunteer to be among the staff). There is a great deal of disagreement over how much organization is too much. I would distinguish among the "rules" (such as those regarding safety) and the organization's stated "values" (such as those regarding gift giving). You can explore both the rule and values on the website (www.burningman.com) --look for the Survival Guide, which is sent to those who purchase tickets. I also recommend the Photo Gallery.
  • As Dr. Nardi states--egalitarianism, hierarchy, individualism, and fatalism are in tension with one another. I would agree with him. I would disagree with your statement, "I hold that authority is configured differently in each type of organization. " I think that all authority would point to an element of hierarchy in any system.
  • As for the premature burning of the man, you can see for yourself how mentally unstable is the author of that statement. A fellow anthropology graduate student interviewed him after he was released from jail: ( http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2599911700568845662&hl=en ) And Erik Davis wrote a very fine series of articles on the topic--I recommend reading the addendum to the original article, which incorporates some of the views of the organization: ( http://www.realitysandwich.com/burning_men_addendum_more_sparks )
  • I would be happy to answer any other questions that you might have, as I have decided to make this my dissertation topic.

--Megan Mulet (Anthropology UCLA)

---

  • Megan is definitely a solid source for all your factual questions about Burning Man, as I am only now getting into it.
  • Megan is correct about the role of authority in Cultural Theory, unless we choose to take authority in a broad way, which I then might refer to as leadership or "systemic influence." Whenever there is a structure of authority (1 or more agents that can influence the entire system at once), that bespeaks Hierarchy. Besides that, each CT framework describes actors with systemic influence. In the Individualist framework, experts and celebrities have systemic influence, but this influence is like ripples in a pond or (more accurately) ripples through a network, often resulting in feedback loops, etc. Experts and celebrities by themselves have no way to directly control the entire system at once. In the Egalitarian framework, charismatic leaders often act to negotiate a shared set of values / principles among members. They may influence the whole system at once, but they can't command / control it and any authority they seem to hold is based on charisma and the tacit will of the other members who may choose to dump the "leader" at any time.
  • Regarding ethnicity and socio-economics. My understanding is that there is more of a distribution of income than one might think and there is a certainly a very broad age range (atypical of festivals and more typical of actual cities). I like the idea that the ethnic bias might be due to the history of how the event has grown over the years; that is, if knowledge of Burning Man has spread by rumor diffusion and the original set of agents has mostly European descent, and as we know many social networks are ethnically homogeneous, then it makes sense that the majority of attendees even today remain the same ethnic group. I also suspect that the original set of agents strongly influenced the theme / tone of Burning Man (clearly European pagan, at least from my limited exposure), then those memes might be slightly more appealing to attendees of European descend. Even a small influence such as an attendee being 10% more interested has a major influence when propagated over time (as exploration with genetic algorithms will show).
  • I hope this answers some of the questions!

--Dario Nardi(Human Complex Systems)


---Question: During the presentation, Dr. Nardi touched on the idea of whether Burning Man or a Burning Man-like society could exist in other 'real world' contexts. For example, how feasible is it to imagine an actual village/city that closely follows the Burning Man social organization or ways of life AND is also stable enough to thrive for an extended period of time.
I've never attended Burning Man myself, so I was wondering what participants' attitudes are like near the end of the event? Specifically, can one observe a general feeling that after the 8th day, the community/environment/resources are all pretty much spent? (I'm recalling Dr. Nardi's anecdote about the local bar prematurely running out of alcohol). Or, would most participants feel that the community and structure of Burning Man is something that COULD continue past the 8th day as an adequately stable system?

I do realize the difficulty in answering a question regarding "what most participants feel" at an event where individuals really seem to leave with very different experiences. But I think it could be helpful to determine whether people are approaching the event as something purely temporary that they assume "cannot last," or if they approach it as a legitimate alternative social system that they may even strive to implement into their own previous routines.
In any case, I'd at least be interested in hearing whether Megan or Dr. Nardi were sick of the sand storms after 8 days and ready to embrace "real life" again :)
--Ali Ghandour (Anthropology/Human Complex Systems, UCLA)


Response-- I think that it is important to think of Burning Man events as the annual celebration of a community that exists year-round. It is a pilgrimage to a temporary city, where emerging values are practiced and a sense of global Burning Man community is instantiated. After participating in civic life in Black Rock City, this community becomes visible to participants. Over time, as attendees link up with other “burners” and find out about activities closer to their places of residence, this community becomes even more visible and “real”. They visit their new friends, connect and stay in touch electronically, and find opportunities to practice their newly acquired values—such as giving without an expectation of return. Burning Man is to burners as Mecca is to Muslims and as the Kumbh Mela is to Hindus. We do not ask if Mecca or the Kumbh Mela are feasible and stable in the “real world”. They are, of course, a part of the world, a very important part of the Muslim and Hindu worlds. Rather one might ask, how are Muslim, Hindu or burner values practiced outside these events? How do they intersect with other values (like market values)? And how stable is participation over time?

      • As for the latter question:

Certainly some people who attend Burning Man become more connected than others and have higher participation levels than others. Some, neither participate in burner activities outside the event, nor remain in contact with people they meet there. However, I suspect that attendance drops off for these low-level participants over time. Once the novelty of the visual experience wears off, the event must compensate in other ways for the hassles. The social life is one form of compensation. The values are another. If these do not draw you back, then the hassles of the pilgrimage and the harsh desert environment will outweigh the more pleasurable aspects.

      • As for the intersection of different values:

There is a great deal of controversy around the purity of the gift economy at Burning Man. Some people are opposed to (1) the sale of tickets, (2) the sale of coffee and ice in Center Camp, (3) the illegal sale of intoxicants for cash, (4) barter of any kind, and (5) the copyright of the Burning Man icon. There is also an interesting interpenetration of gifting and market values in “the default world” as the world outside Black Rock City is called. At Decompression events, monetary activities are ghettoized in fenced off areas, in the same way that alcohol is fenced off in beer gardens at other festivals. I noticed that this rule/value at the LA Decompression event was contested by artists outside the fenced off area who wanted to sell their art or be tipped for their services. I also recently came across an interesting online tribe called, “the Black Rock Chamber of Commerce,” where burners could promote their trade or purchases goods and services from other burners. A gift economy purist would probably object to these grey areas.

      • As for how burner values are practiced outside the event:

Unconditional generosity in face-to-face interactions is certainly a simple way to take what one learns in Black Rock City into the default world. But I found this to be more complicated in practice. Things that are quite normal in Black Rock City—such as a spontaneous conversation with a stranger or a request for aid from a stranger—have different connotations in the city of Los Angeles. This is because a person who engages you in Black Rock City is a fellow burner, and you have no such relationship with strangers in LA. Another example of burner values in the default world is the work of Burners without Borders. This group emerged when the Katrina disaster struck during the 2005 event. Lots of funds and supplies were raised at Burning Man and a group went down there to help some small communities along the Louisiana coast. I recently went to a meeting because a chapter is starting in LA, and now a group wants to help the fire victims here. Burners are especially equipped for such work, because they are semi-nomadic. They know how to construct and deconstruct structures that can stand up in strong winds and storms. They know simple ways of bringing art and joy into people’s lives. They also know how to network in order to get goods and labor to the places they are most needed.

Other values include the making of art by non-professionals. There is a different aesthetic sense in Burning Man communities—different because the monetary value of art is irrelevant in the context of the gift economy. Art is valued as a form of self-expression and for the artist's imagination and effort. Burning Man art is of a different scale. It does not fit in museums or on someone’s wall. It might involve fire and therefore does not fit within the boundaries of a default world city (at least according to a Fire Marshall). Other examples include: homemade-looking art, art made from recycled items, silliness and spontaneous performances. The idea that everyone can participate in the making of culture is quite a revolutionary idea in this country, when you think about it. It also frees people to experiment with new identities that may eventually come to supplant the one they had originally—leading to a new hobby or a new career. You might not know that spinning fire and hoola-hooping, for example, are viable career moves, as well as good exercise.

  • The other point I wanted to address pertains to the diversity issue:

I concur with Dr. Nardi’s comments about age, income and race. We have data on these from the Black Rock Census, which although it is not a randomly collected sample, confirms my own observations. I think that a description of diversity at Burning Man should include cultural diversity, as well as these other categories. (By this I do not mean ethnic diversity.) There are big differences in the cultural activities among those who attend. Some are inclined to violence and destruction, such as those who participate in the nighttime brawls in the Thunderdome and those that love to burn things. Some are inclined to healthful activities, such as those who wake up for yoga at sunrise. There are the hard-working types (like myself) who find very little time to play. There are families of three generations camping together. There are singles looking to get laid or to meet their soul mate. There are hecklers harassing people, and there are clinical psychologists helping those who have break-downs. There is an unfortunate stereotype of burners as hippies that does not do justice to the differences in those who attend, and to the practice of acceptance that makes diverse groups compatible at the event.

  • And lastly as for the question about the sand storms…

I was there for nearly two weeks this year and I found that I acclimated very quickly for the first time. It was such an incredibly dusty year, so I was so glad that I made the adjustment immediately. I am not sure why this was the case. In the past I have found them quite exhausting and suffocating. This year I had a good, new pair of googles, but I never even once needed to cover my mouth. My husband and I worked straight through every storm, while others sought shelter.

--S. Megan Mulet, Anthropology UCLA

-- Thanks for all your feedback. These are all really interesting insights and tidbits. Seems like a great field site! Megan, It would be interesting to hear down the road how your own perceptions and sentiments change (or not) in the role of anthropologist, ethnographer, etc. -Ashwin Budden, Anthro and Cog Sci, UCsD

2 Discussion

Laurent Tambayong videoconference

3 Discussion

Larry Li videoconference

Thank you Mr. Li for your presentation.

I am an Anthropology grad student. We learn that ecology is the study of human in his environment.

The history of this relation has been always a kind of adaptation and exploitation of the environment. How do you see the topic of sustainability relevant to the ongoing exploitation of the environment?

Historically speaking, the relation between human and their environment has been going in the direction of increasing complexity; do not you think that our interventions (which aim to sustain the environment) increase the complexity of this relation? Good examples are the genetically enhanced crops, or cloned species.

Khaldun Bshara

4 Discussion Jan 11 08 Helen and Newton Harrison

Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison video conference Article: Public Culture and Sustainable Practices: Peninsula Europe from an ecodiversity perspective, posing questions to Complexity Scientists Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison

A Word From the Presenter: This is Helen Mayer Harrison and I will be happy to answer your questions.Helen Mayer Harrison 16:55, 11 January 2008 (PST)

I very much appreciated what the presenters said about the role of artists in society. Paraphrased: Artists say the unsayable and treat it as normal. This is exactly what artists do at Burning Man. There artists create a temporary city in which everyday behaviors (like buying and selling) become abnormal and the unsayable/undoable becomes ordinary. Jeremey Hockett calls the Burning Man experience a "reflexive experience" and compares it to the experience of doing some kinds of ethnography, in which the ethnographer is challenged by alternative ways of living and is forced to reflect on their own assumptions and habits. I appreciated the presenters ability to bring this experience into a community and precipitate changes in people's ways of thinking. --S Megan Mulet

5 Discussion

Ed Hutchins videoconference

One of the audience -- quite a distinguished scholar in their own right -- told me afterwards this was the best lecture they had heard in the last couple of years. I agree, and I think the approach marks the potential for a major shift in cognitive science, and in cognitive anthropology. I hope this will spark some major discussion in these pages and elsewhere. In addition to the talk he had prepared, which begins about 10 minutes into the streaming video, Ed Hutchins responded to Nick Gessler's presentation on simulation -- and our discussion about how simulation relates to explanation, if at all -- by presenting a simulation done by one of his doctoral students as his phd dissertation project. What it showed was the way that an evolutionary simulation -- John Holland type of maximally simple ABM -- with a replication dynamic generated a great variety of dynamically stable collective behavioral patterns whose patterns of stability could in each case, in principle, be explained by how the agents -- in this case 200 oil-scooping skimmers that are released to clean up a simulated oil slick -- interacted with the environment. This was a beautiful demonstration, and a must-see in the streaming video.

Let me pull back to talk about why I think this kind of result is so important. Many simulation platforms -- Swarm, for example, Repast, or Sugarscape -- emphasize the use of probes inside the simulation that show what is going inside the simulation while the results are shown graphically on the screen. My view is that if you save the probe data as time series, an explanation would consist of relating these time series interactions to the simulation outcome.

In the skimmer simulations, the possible "probes" in relation to "outcomes" are very closely related, and a causal model was foreseen by the researcher in the dissertation. This is because of two factors:

  • first, the skimmers are ALL simply programmed to follow the oil gradient, with mutuations and replication affecting how they respond to other skimmers in their neighborhood.
  • second, the materiality of the oil slick begins with a fluid dynamic description at the outset of the oil slick having a planar Gaussian, i.e., higher oil density in the center thinning toward the edges. As a single skimmer collects oil, it creates a fluid dynamic wake pattern. If two or more skimmers move in tandem, the wake patterns are interactive. They may create wavelet densities that other skimmers can follow as gradients.

The result is that the many patterns of coordination in skimmer movement that develop over successive generations in the simulations can be explained as movement patterns that create oil density and wavelet patterns in the environment that interact causally with stabilizing patterns of movement of the agents. Here we have agent behavioral interaction coevolving with environmental patterns without the mediation of cognition by the agent. This is an illustration of why we should not attribute purpose/cognition/intelligence or thinking to agents from our imagining that their collective behavior is self-organizing. On the other hand, in a thinking organism that does have cognitive representations, Ed Hutchins shows that there a great deal of structure in environment/behavior interactions that could serve as material anchors for cognition. This was also the view of Edmund Leach that is well illustrated in his ethnography on Pul Eliya (1961), a book that nailed the coffin of the "if its kinship it must be a corporation" stable-equilibrium or structure-functional assumptions of the British Social Anthropology (BSA) school of that time.

Viewing the skimmer simulation in the streaming video (hopefully Ed will contact the author to see if skimmer video it can be posted to the web), it looks like as if the skimmers are communicating, in that they may form, for example, circulating spiral arms that move clockwise or counterclockwise, like spiral arms of galaxies, sometimes one pattern in the center of the spill and the opposite on the edges of the spill. But the skimmers software only allowed mutations that affected their local behavior with respect to other skimmers, not their response to oil density gradients. Their only form of communication was to appear by their location in the neighborhood of another skimmer. This is a powerful form of communication, to be sure, but it is not one of consciousness, and the skimmers have not self-representation in which they see themselves as appearing or signaling to others. These are important distinctions.

The beauty of the simulation design is that in each generation of the evolutionary simulation, there is only one "most successful" mutation pattern that is retained in half the population that is replicated. Thus, how each pattern evolves can be measured by the probes for rules of motion, while the probes for oil densities and wavelets can show how these are coordinated with the environmental patterns. By keeping the simulation simple (KISS) the causal interaction between the patterns of skimmer motions and the environmental patterns can be given a succinct description, and a causal description. If you watch the skimmer patterns and the oil patterns in the simulation, you can tune your mind to seeing in the patterns of the red oil (forming wavelets) and the black (oil-empty) tails that result from successful skimming that the two are causally connected. To test whether this is a perceptual illusion, however, one would set up a statistical model to study and verify the interaction between skimmer action and oil reaction, oil distribution and skimmer action, and more elaborate pattern interaction in "emergent" pattern interaction. This would take a separate thesis, as Ed noted.

There is utterly no point or advantage to describing these patterns as "collective consciousness," the evolution of "communication patterns" among the skimmers. The information that gives that appearance is bouncing from skimmers to the environment back to skimmer response, both to the oil density environment and the position of other skimmers.

Part of our conference discussion involved a critique of the Prigogine-Varela-Maturana fallacy of "Dissipative Structures" takes the human perception of stability in dynamical whorls or other patterns, and attributes stable equilibria to them, and then attributing to them "self-reproducing" properties, then going on according to some sources. to attribute "collective intelligence," "collective consciousness," "origins of biological systems," etcetera, to such dynamical patterns, as if they represent an emergent level of evolution. For a critique of bogus results of the original physics experiments in this area, see physicist.statistician Cosma Shalizi's review of the concept of self-organization, particularly his discussion of "Disrecommended" works, "exorcising demons," and see Cosma' earlier notebook on Dissipative structures. Our discussant, after concluding a reading of this paper where he had been warned against reintroducing these demons, can be seen in the streaming video, can be seen being critiqued by our group for his apparently very deep belief in Ilya Prigogine and the Myth of the "Self-Organization of Matter" to justify his belief in "religion as able to think by itself." This is the sort of thing that social scientists are chided for as anthropomorphism. Prigogine, Varela, Maturana are early pioneers who encouraged work on dynamical patterning and are nice people and respected professionals, but the basis of some of their early conclusions, ones which have spawned cult groups, have never been replicated and as Shalizi notes, derived from errors made in the laboratory experiments they carried out. I am happy that these issues came up in the conference discussions because they are a source of much confusion in the literature on "complex systems" and they lead to erroneous conclusions about the role of information, communication, consciousness, and self-organization in thermodynamics.

The nail in the coffin of Brusselism (the structure-functionalism of the Dissipative Structures cult that arose in the wake of Prigogine, Varela, and Maturana is nicely illustrated by the skimmers simulation. It is this: in the physics experiment it turns out that these "far from equilibrium" structural patterns that they were getting out of the errors in their laboratory experiments (or reading out of the spiral arms of galaxies) are not in stable equilibria, and there is no physics to support the idea of "far from equilibrium" Dissipative Structures, no evidence whatever. But our skimmers can establish a stable equilibria in different behavioral patterns because the simulations are structured to create these equilibria. It cannot be inferred, however, that a stable equilibrium of dynamical pattern that can arise in a simulation is necessarily one that can arise in physics. But consider, for example, even the end of the skimmer simulation. Once the oil is gone, the structure of their behavior will also dissipate. That is, if the simulation embodies physical processes that are realistic, the imagined "Dissipative Structure" that seems to be in equilibrium for a time, will also dissipate.

I am rather sure that this critique of Malcolm's views on grand unification and "religions that can think for themselves" because his is not a scientific perspective in which hypotheses and theories are evaluated relative to empirical data. Rather, he has read thousands of papers by scientists and put together a narrative that he considers consistent in order to make his point. Science is not constructed in this manner. I don't mean to be unkind to Malcolm, nor do I find his ideas uninteresting. Doug 09:37, 13 January 2008 (PST)

This back from Ed

Reverse-engineering emergent collective behaviors in an evolved swarm system

Hayward, Michael Brent.  Proquest Dissertations and Theses 2003.  Section
0033, Part 0984 281 pages; [Ph.D. dissertation].United States -- California:
University of California, San Diego; 2003. Publication Number: AAT 3112831.
http://www.proquest.com/products_umi/dissertations/
http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=765154641&Fmt=2&clientId=79356&RQT=309&VName=PQD&cfc=1
24 page Preview
Reverse-engineering emergent collective behaviors in an evolved swarm system
by Hayward, Michael Brent, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, 2003, 281 pages; AAT 3112831 

Abstract of the thesis (Summary). This study examines collective behaviors in large numbers of simple, identical software agents. The motivation for studying this architecture is the possibility of future "intelligent" technologies based on the same mechanisms of adaptive self organization observed in social insect colonies. In this study, a "swarm" is applied to a simulated spatial task loosely based on marine oil spill containment. The swarm consists of hundreds of identical individual software agents acting together without a system of communication. Each agent bases its actions only on information from its local surroundings. Despite the homogeneity and the restriction to local information, the swarms develop strategic, globally-coordinated spatiotemporal structures. We refer to these structures as emergent collective behaviors. "Emergent" refers to the fact that the intricate behavioral patterns observed in the swarms are neither centrally controlled, nor directly attributable to the internal mechanisms of the agents alone; they arise only through a combination of internal processes and interactions.

There is no general design theory for such swarms. This study introduces a method for developing swarm solutions by using a genetic algorithm to evolve the weight matrix for a recurrent neural network. Identical copies of this network control each individual agent in the swarm. The evolved swarms exhibit a variety of structured collective behaviors on the oil spill task. These solutions are reverse-engineered through multi-level analyses that correlate the collective behaviors, the individual behaviors, and the activity of the individual agents' artificial neural mechanisms. We test the hypothesized mechanisms exposed in the analyses by using them to hand-build state-based agent designs that replicate the behavior of the evolved solutions.

The analyses of the swarm activity uncover the use of stigmergy: instances in which the swarm's effects on the environment serve to coordinate and guide its future behaviors. We find that organized behavior emerges from a dense web of interactions in which each agent's behavior constantly shapes, and is shaped by, its environment. This reflects one of the basic tenets of the Distributed Cognition approach: that real cognitive work takes place both inside and outside the individual.

Discussion by Joel D. Gunn

Nick Gessler videoconference

Malcolm Dean discussion

6 Discussion

LAURENT MATHEVET Discussion IMBS Designing mechanisms with learning properties

Dwight Read Discussion UCLA CLASSIFICATION OF THINGS: BEYOND QUANTITATIVE METHODS IN THE NATURAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCES

Luce-Raiffa 50 Year Conference Discussion

7 Discussion

Laurent Tambayong videoconference

8 Discussion

Gerd Gigerenzer Calit2 videoconference

9 Discussion

Mark Handcock videoconference

10 Discussion

Michalis Faloutsous videoconference

Steve Lansing videoconference

William Newman videoconference

Paul Jorion videoconference

11 Discussion

Norm Johnson videoconference

The following question is for Dr. Johnson or to anyone else in the community who cares to address. The question is basically, how does the model proposed for emergent and collective leadership account for agent intentionality related to prestige maximization and/or avoidance of exposure to failure and the social means for achieving these goals? In theory, it seems that these would be important psychosocial dynamics shaping collective problem-solving and resultant emergent patterns of leadership. Ashwin Budden

12 Discussion

Cosma Shalizi videoconference

This note posted to the french eJournal Contre Info, an article (in French) by Paul Jorion on the financial implosion, praising the Cosma Shalizi talk on methods for complex systems.