Sequence Memory Constraints Give Rise to Language-Like Structure through Iterated Learning

Human language is composed of sequences of reusable elements. The origins of the sequential structure of language is a hotly debated topic in evolutionary linguistics. In this paper, we show that sets of sequences with language-like statistical properties can emerge from a process of cultural evolution under pressure from chunk-based memory constraints. We employ a novel experimental task that is non-linguistic and non-communicative in nature, in which participants are trained on and later asked to recall a set of sequences one-by-one. Recalled sequences from one participant become training data for the next participant. In this way, we simulate cultural evolution in the laboratory. Our results show a cumulative increase in structure, and by comparing this structure to data from existing linguistic corpora, we demonstrate a close parallel between the sets of sequences that emerge in our experiment and those seen in natural language.


Posted in Evolution, Linguistic | Tagged , ,

Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences: An Introduction

Chaos and complexity are the new buzz words in both science and contemporary society. The ideas they represent have enormous implications for the way we understand and engage with the world. Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences introduces students to the central ideas which surround the chaos/complexity theories. It discusses key concepts before using them as a way of investigating the nature of social research. By applying them to such familiar topics as urban studies, education and health, David Byrne allows readers new to the subject to appreciate the contribution which complexity theory can make to social research and to illuminating the crucial social issues of our day.


Posted in Complexity, Complexity theory, Social sciences | Tagged , ,

Complexity, Methodology and Method

This paper defines a theoretical framework aiming to support the actions and reflections of researchers looking for a ‘method’ in order to critically conceive the complexity of a scientific process of research. First, it starts with a brief overview of the core assumptions framing Morin’s “paradigm of complexity” and Le Moigne’s “general system theory”. Distinguishing ‘methodology’ and ‘method’, the framework is conceived based on three moments, which represent recurring stages of the spiraling development of research. The first moment focuses on the definition of the research process and its sub-systems (author, system of ideas, object of study and method) understood as a complex form of organization finalized in a specific environment. The second moment introduces a matrix aiming to model the research process and nine core methodological issues, according to a programmatic and critical approach. Using the matrix previously modeled, the third moment suggests conceiving of the research process following a strategic mindset that focuses on contingencies, in order to locate, share and communicate the path followed throughout the inquiry.


Posted in Complexity, Methodology, Methods | Tagged , ,

The Intelligence of Complexity

To better appreciate the contribution of the ‘paradigm of complexity’ in Educational sciences, this paper proposes a framework discussing its cultural and historical roots. First, it focuses on Giambattista Vico’s (1668-1744) critique of René Descartes’ method (1637), contrasting Cartesian’s principles (evidence, disjunction, linear causality and enumeration), with the open rationality of the ‘ingenium’ (capacity to establish relationships and contextualize). Acknowledging the teleological character of scientific inquiry (Bachelard) and the inseparability between ‘subject’ and ‘object’, the second part of the text explores the relevance of ‘designo’ (intentional design) implemented by Leonardo da Vinci (1453-1519) in order to identify and formulate problems encountered by researchers. Referring to contemporary epistemologists (Bachelard, Valéry, Simon, Morin), this contribution finally questions the relationships between the ‘ingenio’ (pragmatic intelligence), the ‘designo’ (modeling method) and ethics. It proposes one to conceive the paradigm of complexity through the relationships it establishes between (pragmatic) action, (epistemic) reflection and meditation (ethics).


Posted in Complexity, Complexity & change, Complexity & education, Complexity & learning, Intelligence | Tagged , , ,

When Time Makes a Difference: Addressing Ergodicity and Complexity in Education

The detection of complexity in behavioral outcomes often requires an estimation of their variability over a prolonged time spectrum to assess processes of stability and transformation. Conventional scholarship typically relies on snapshots to analyze those outcomes, assuming that group means and their associated standard deviations, computed across individuals, are sufficient to characterize the educational outcomes that inform policy, and that time does not matter in this context. In its statistically abstract form, the assumption that you can rely on snapshots is referred to as the ergodicity assumption. This paper argues that ergodicity cannot be taken for granted in educational data. The first section discusses artificially generated time series trajectories to illustrate ergodicity (white noise) and three types of non-ergodicity: short-term correlations between observations, long-term correlations (pink noise) and infinite correlations (Brownian motion). A second section presents daily attendance data observed in two urban high schools over a seven-year period to show that these data are non-ergodic and suggest complexity. These findings offer a counter-example to the efficacy of using time-independent measures (‘snapshots’) to measure educational outcomes.


Posted in Complexity, Complexity & education, Complexity & learning, Education | Tagged , , ,

Getting the Teacher Out of the Way: Learning, Risk, and Choice

Students learn best when teachers get out of the way. Unfortunately, university classrooms continue to be intensely teacher-centric, are driven by the teacher’s agenda and calendar, and embrace simple models rather complex alternatives. These simple types of learning environments frustrate students’ development of the risk-taking and choice making confidence they need in the workplace. Bain makes the point that environments embracing choice as a priority, welcoming risk taking, and nurturing students who make mistakes, are better at preparing students for professional success. In this paper, we intend to provide context to the conversation about how learning-risks and agency impact and promote the individual growth of the student when the teacher gets out of the way.


Posted in Education, Student, Student engagement, Teachers | Tagged , , ,

Transforming Teacher Education Thinking: Complexity and Relational Ways of Knowing

In order that teacher education programs can act as significant scaffolds in supporting new teachers to become informed, creative and innovative members of a highly complex and valuable profession, we need to re-imagine ways in which teacher education programs operate. We need to re-imagine how courses are conceptualized and connected, how learning is shared and how knowledge, not just “professional”, but embedded knowledge in authentic contexts of teaching and learning is understood, shaped and re-applied. Drawing on our study of a locally developed program in secondary teacher education called Transformative University of Victoria (TRUVIC), we offer a relational approach to knowing as an alternative to more mechanistic explanations that limit teacher growth and development. To ground our interpretation, we draw on complexity theory as a theory of change and emergence that supports learning as distributed, relational, adaptive and emerging.


Posted in Complexity, Complexity & education, Complexity & learning, Teachers | Tagged , , ,

The great struggles of life: Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary psychology.

Darwin envisioned a scientific revolution for psychology. His theories of natural and sexual selection identified two classes of struggles–the struggle for existence and the struggle for mates. The emergence of evolutionary psychology and related disciplines signals the fulfillment of Darwin’s vision. Natural selection theory guides scientists to discover adaptations for survival. Sexual selection theory illuminates the sexual struggle, highlighting mate choice and same-sex competition adaptations. Theoretical developments since publication of On the Origin of Species identify important struggles unknown to Darwin, notably, within-families conflicts and conflict between the sexes. Evolutionary psychology synthesizes modern evolutionary biology and psychology to penetrate some of life’s deep mysteries: Why do many struggles center around sex? Why is social conflict pervasive? And what are the mechanisms of mind that define human nature?


Posted in Evolution, Psychology | Tagged ,

Updating Darwin: Information and entropy drive the evolution of life

The evolution of species, according to Darwin, is driven by struggle – by competition between variant autonomous individuals for survival of the fittest and reproductive advantage; the outcome of this struggle for survival is natural selection. The Neo-Darwinians reframed natural selection in terms of DNA: inherited genotypes directly encode expressed phenotypes; a fit phenotype means a fit genotype – thus the evolution of species is the evolution of selfish, reproducing individual genotypes. Four general characteristics of advanced forms of life are not easily explained by this Neo-Darwinian paradigm: 1) Dependence on cooperation rather than on struggle, manifested by the microbiome, ecosystems and altruism; 2) The pursuit of diversity rather than optimal fitness, manifested by sexual reproduction; 3) Life’s investment in programmed death, rather then in open-ended survival; and 4) The acceleration of complexity, despite its intrinsic fragility. Here I discuss two mechanisms that can resolve these paradoxical features; both mechanisms arise from viewing life as the evolution of information. Information has two inevitable outcomes; it increases by autocatalyis and it is destroyed by entropy. On the one hand, the autocalalysis of information inexorably drives the evolution of complexity, irrespective of its fragility. On the other hand, only those strategic arrangements that accommodate the destructive forces of entropy survive – cooperation, diversification, and programmed death result from the entropic selection of evolving species. Physical principles of information and entropy thus fashion the evolution of life.


Posted in Complexity, Entropy, Evolution | Tagged , ,

To get Kids to Read more Books—and enjoy it

It has become conventional thought that gamification—the application of game-style challenges and rewards to traditional tasks—is changing the way kids learn. If there’s something being taught, it’s almost certain there’s now a gamified way to learn it.Making teaching methods more entertaining is clearly beneficial for kids; earning badges and unlocking avatars makes online games exciting and engaging, and the same methods can be applied to learning tasks. But as great as it has been in many cases, gamified learning isn’t a long-term solution for children and literacy. Moreover, it’s dragging us away from what the fundamental reward should actually be: reading itself. Parents, teachers, and technophiles must therefore encourage children to develop a love of literature by unlocking a universe of diverse book options where they can find things they want to read. Technology can make a real difference in how any why kids read—but it should do so by expanding the reach and convenience of options, not by adding bells and whistles.


Posted in Children, Children's learning, Reading | Tagged , ,