Part 3 — The Social Genotype©


Chapter 8 Models of Evolution

Chapter 9 The Social Genotype©                                                                 Chapter 10 Beliefs and Behaviours

Chapter 8

Models of Evolution

Evolution is a change from a indefinite incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent, heterogeneity.

Herbert Spencer, 1820-1903

Increasing Natural Order

Food and Inheritance

Figure 44. The matrix of life. Food chains run vertically up and down the figure. Inheritance chains run horizontally. Experience tells us that the two orthogonal chains create a highly stable structure, evolving slowly with time. The food chains work both up and down to produce the closed double helix shape. Carnivores reduce herbivores reduce plants. Plants increase herbivores increase predators. Decomposers/saprobionts decompose animals and plants to recycle through the food chain. Reproduced by permission of Plenum Press

Figure 44 shows a typical food chain, reducing entropy as it goes down the page from plant to predator, at least in the sense of building proteins. Similarly, but on a different time scale, inheritance travels with time from left to right, also adapting and refining the species to become more efficient operators within their environment which, of course, includes the other species. We know this complex web of interactions to be very stable and to evolve only slowly over time. While at close quarters, the interactions between the species may seem chaotic, with a multitude of uncorrelated activities, the overall pattern at a distance is stable, survivable, adaptable and indeed powerful. The Second Law of Thermodynamics may apply at the micro level, and at the Universe level, but it seems to be falling short of an explanation at the level of Figure 44.


Figure 45. Prey-predator symmetry

Figure 45 shows a simple but subtle model of prey/predator interactions. Fit predators eliminate weak prey - centre loop - increasing the average fitness of prey. Fit prey breed - top loop - and produce variable offspring, about a mean of survival fitness. Weak offspring fall prey to predators.

The figure is symmetrical, suggesting a very similar story for predator inheritance. Fit prey escape from weak predators, which die or fail to breed, eliminating weak predators and leaving the average predator fitter. The fitter predators propagate - bottom loop - giving variable inheritance to their offspring. Weaker offspring cannot catch fit prey and so die off. The symmetry of this model is striking - prey depend on predators as much as predators depend on prey!

Summarizing, the net results of loop interactions are as follows:—

  • a multitude of concurrent, uncorrelated attempts to improve prey/predator performance are continually in play, leading to...
  • ...elimination of weak varieties,
  • selection of prey-predator combinations best able to survive as complementary sets
  • Gradual improvement in fitness = best use of energy in environment
  • Development of species genotypes, tuned to each other and to environment
  • A continual test environment which, once again may seem to be at the "edge of chaos"? when viewed from close to.

Note the closed double helix in both Figure 44 and Figure 45. This shape keeps reappearing, and will be the subject of further discussion. Also, note that, instead of complex models, we are modelling variety as a commodity. That is an unusual, and powerful, ruse.

Closed Double Helix - Dynamic Model

Fig 46. Simulating Prey/Predator relationships

The model of Figure 45 can be represented in a computer simulation, Figure 46. The simulation is directly mapped from Figure 45, with the same three loops apparent. Starting from fit Prey, the simulation shows Prey Reproduction as a rate, dependant on the number of fit Prey, leading to Prey Variety; this is the path of inheritance, and offspring have a degree of variety as part of reproduction. Some of that variation may result in fit offspring, which rejoins the Fit Prey, but other variation results in Weak Prey. Select Prey allows the modeller to choose the proportion of weak to fit offspring; for the following results, it was assumed that 50% were fit, 50% were weak. Predator population is modelled in identical fashion. for simplicity, prey and predators have been given equal starting numbers; the model executes just as well if it is assumed that, say, there are many more prey than predators.

Double Helix Dynamic Stability

The results of the Predator and Prey simulation is shown in Figure 47. At the top, the predators and prey interact to produce dynamically stable populations. Indeed, the Predator/Prey graphs overlap to produce another double helix.

Perhaps the most surprising result from the simulation arises in the lower of the two graphs, in which the ratio of Fit to Weak Predators is examined. Remembering that the inheritance weak/fit ratio is set at 50% for both Predator and Prey, the resulting overall population shows a ratio of some 300 Fit to about 4 Weak, or about 1.3% Weak only. Why? For both Prey and Predator, the Fit are preserved to reproduce, and the Weak go to feed the opposing Fit.

This interlocked, symmetrical behaviour drives out weakness in each species. It also raises some interesting questions about humans. There is considerable research at present, particularly in the US, aimed at establishing some genetic basis for homosexuality. Homosexuality may be genetic, but it may be a cultural, or a learned phenomenon. The issue is surrounded by controversy, and I have no wish to enter that particular arena. However, the model does suggest that any characteristics amongst offspring that reduce the ability to reproduce - for any or all reasons - would inevitably, over a period of evolution, be reduced to a low level. If that is so, then the percentage of the population genetically unable to breed, for whatever reason, would tend to be very small, and the percentage of genetically homosexual humans even smaller.

Figure 47. Prey/Predator Simulation. Note the different Y-axes on the lower graph

One other aspect of the model is the recurrence of the theme: short-term unstable, long-term stable. The model, distributing the offspring fit/weak ratio about a 50% average, reflects the generation-by-generation variation in actual figures. Within a generation, the behaviour may seem random or chaotic; over many generations, the peaks and troughs are seen as varying about an average.

Some deductions emerge from the simulation exercise; -

  • Individual species "improvements" are unlikely to succeed. For instance, if an improved predator kills more prey, there will be a shortage of prey, reducing the food for the improved predator. As the inter-twined helices of Figure 47 suggest, any variation by prey or predator is countered by a consequent variation in predator or prey.
  • Simultaneous improvements are more likely to succeed, however, such as: improved grass, more able herbivore, smarter predator all arising at the same time
  • There is a low probability of such simultaneous improvements in several species, which may...
  • to explain discontinuous evolution
  • There must be a relatively low variability within a species, generation-to-generation, because...
  • ...high species variability would produce a large proportion of non-viable offspring, reducing prospect of species survival.

We might be able to extract some business lessons from the modelling, too: perhaps we should concentrate more on improving the overall chains of interactions within and between organizations, rather than concentrate on the links as Total Quality Management seems to do; perhaps, too, we should emphasize slow evolution rather than revolution!

Abstracting the Closed Double Helix

The symmetry between predator and prey relationships is so striking that it indicates a path for extending and adapting the simulation model, perhaps into something much more useful.

Figure 48. From Prey/Predator to Red/Blue


Figure 48 shows the first stage of abstraction from Figure 45. Predator and Prey have been replaced by Red and Blue. Otherwise, the model is the same. Figure 48 can be rearranged, effectively by taking part of the lower loop and twisting it up and to the right. This exercise has been executed in Figure 49, ignoring for the moment the dotted lines. This process of twisting into the shape of Figure 49 has two purposes: first, it allows us, should we wish, to generate a chain of links, adding on, say, yellow and green at left and right of red and blue respectively: second, it creates space for the dotted lines, marked nurture.

Up until this point, the model has been simply red in tooth and claw - it has represented the simple savagery of nature. However, birds and mammals in particular protect and teach their offspring how to survive and feed. This nurture element is shown in Figure 49 as enabling inherited variety, some of which may be initially less than fit, to reach a state where it can propagate by being nurtured and protected. This reconfiguration of the model is an essential step in its development, and will allow us to explore social evolution as well as Darwinian evolution.

Figure 49. By twisting Figure 48’s model, room is made both to extend the chain sideways and to add a nurture loop to the nature chain

To go any further along this path requires that we explore the nurture loop. While nurture may seem apparent at the level of individuals, clearly nurture has an effect on the behaviour of groups, and is related to group identity and culture. These factors will be explored next.

Fractal 6. Filigree



Chapter 9

The Social Genotype



Egypt's might is tumbled down, down-a-down the deeps of thought

Greece is fallen and Troy town, glorious Rome has lost her throne

Venice’ pride is nought.

Mary Coleridge, 1861-1907

Identity, Individuality, Pattern, Culture

Consider a human. The human infant has size, shape, and is comprised of organs, fluids, etc. As an adult, many years later, each of the organs may still be in place, but their substance has been largely replaced. Our cells have a life after which they are either replaced or, like brain cells, they simply die and waste. So, in some senses, the adult is not the same as the infant. What has not changed? Genetically, we are identical, that is each replacement cell has the same DNA as its precursor. We would also recognize the person as being the same person, grown up - again, the identity has not changed even though physical size and appearance may have changed quite markedly.

What maintains this individuality? We are what we eat. Our many and varied interacting internal systems grow and stabilize only if they receive a constant supply of varied food (low entropy?) with which to build and replace defective or wasted parts. The replacement is constructed using an individual pattern. Only in this way can complex-variety systems sustain their identity and, as it were, stay the hand of generally-increasing entropy. As it is for the individual, so it is for an organization. A company, association, or society, is comprised of people. Over a period of, say, thirty years, people come and go, so that there may eventually be none of the original people left; but the company retains its identity if patterns of behaviour, culture if you will, have been passed on from generation to generation. New staff with new skills compensate for staff leaving and skills wasting with time; new staff learn the ways of the existing staff, so maintaining the culture, or identity.

Biologists have names for some of these identity features: -


  • "The information that is encoded in the structure of the DNA molecules is known as the genotype, and has to be expressed as the observed characteristics of the cell or organism, the phenotype."-Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Life Sciences.
  • "Phenotype" - set of characteristics determined both by heredity and environment - Penguin Concise English Dictionary

Social Genotype - the Concept

Figure 50. The Concept of a Social Genotype

Rôles and Stereotypes

Complex organisms, then, develop from the discrete patterns in their DNA. We also know that social groups develop patterns of behaviour which survive changes of individuals in the groups. How does this continuity develop? We all carry about in our brains the ability to adopt, and play out, rôles. For instance, we behave quite differently when dealing with our own children than with those of our friends. We adopt a different rôle as a member of a working party than as chairman of a committee, or as a student compared with a teacher. These various rôles are carried around like spare templates in our brains, to be trotted out as the occasion demands. Have you ever gone to a reunion and met people that you have not seen for many years? Did you notice how the original relationships you had with old colleagues and mentors immediately reasserted themselves?

We learn these rôles swiftly, sometimes painfully. At school, we learn to appease the school bully by behaving in a particular manner and, by so doing, lock ourselves into a pattern of behaviour from which we may be unable to escape. Children, and indeed battered wives, often accept bullying, appearing transfixed like a rabbit by a snake, when they could fight back, run, or seek assistance. When we take up our first job, there is often a period of initiation, perhaps official, but often unofficial. We might be sent for a "long wait", or asked to fetch a tin of tartan paint, or a left-handed screwdriver...the list is endless.

New members are inducted into any organization perhaps via some official education or indoctrination process, but definitely through an informal process which we describe as "learning the ropes", or "settling in". We learn how to behave towards those around us, we learn what is expected of us, and because we humans are above all adaptable, we learn quickly. In short, we learn to fit in, and in so-doing we inherit and adopt the rôles and relationships which go with the position which, although new to us, may have existed for some time. Typically, a settling-in period may take as much as six months. Here, then, is a basis of social inheritance.

There is, in all this, a phenomenon that I call the Social Genotype, and it is so like the biological genotype that one might begin to consider whether it is more than just an analogy, and perhaps even an extension of the biological genotype.

Rôles and Relationships

Unlike DNA, where nucleotides and molecular bonds are the building blocks, the social genotype is made up from rôles and relationships. See Figure 50. Each rôle is a place holder, with position, status, rules of behaviour and relationships which bind it to other rôles in a social structure. New members adopt their rôle, or face rejection - immune response. If we imagine a company, a particular rôle might have some purpose or function related to the company’s business. As the chain of rôles and relationships curls up into the organization, individual rôles find themselves juxtaposed with functionally-unrelated rôles.

The complete structure of rôles and relationships develops slowly from its start. The rôles are not established alone. For a rôle to develop, it depends on relationships, and vice versa. Relationships develop rôles, rôles develop relationships. After a period of evolution and adaptation the rôles and relationships settle to a pattern, and the whole structure develops a tight web of interactions that resist change, that transcends the replacement of individuals, that exhibits immune response to rapid change, to people who do not "fit". New employees are selected only if their interviewers see them as "fitting in", so ensuring the geno-typology is maintained. The Social Genotype is established.

For example, two adjacent offices might contain people who are performing quite separate functions. The individuals might, nonetheless, form a bond which also becomes part of the social genotype. This is cross-bonding. Imagine now how one might try to manage change within that company. Every rôle, every relationship, every cross-bond has to be changed in some degree. Suppose a company comprises 1000 employees each, on average, having 7 functional relationships and five cross-bonds. Each employee has a rôle which gives them self-identity, status, position, self-esteem - let us say 5 parameters, each vitally important to the rôle holder. Just working numerically, and with no regard to human emotions and behaviour, we have some 175,000 parameters to consider. Is it any wonder that attempts to change organizations often fail or, when they succeed, take a very long time (typically 7 - 25 years) to have their full effect?

As we explore the notion of a Social Genotype, it offers explanation for culture, identity, change resistance, and it applies to organizations, families, ethnic groups, religions, societies. The Social Genotype is inherited, transcends individuals, evolves slowly over time and exhibits immune response.

Social/organizational "Genotypes"

Once the idea of a Social Genotype is appreciated, it offers a new perspective through which to view familiar, perhaps over-familiar, things. Not only companies, but churches and even social beehives have characteristics which are inherited over successive generations and imply a social genotype.

Consider, for example, Christian churches. If you were to walk into a church you would find the pattern of the service little changed from that which was set in the 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea in Western Asia Minor under the Roman Emperor Constantine. It is from this time that we have the Nicene Creed, the sequence of collects and prayers, even rules for standing and sitting during church services, etc. (Romer, 1988.)

Or, consider the ethos which exists within large companies such as IBM, where it is reputed that, at one time, employees joined in daily prayers, and were expected to wear dark suits and sober ties. Here was the creation of a Social Genotype which, perhaps even today, is resisting change. Could it be that IBM’s present business problems are founded in the genotypical resistance to change which has seen other companies take the market from IBM, while it stuck to its large corporate processor heritage?

Transcendental Genotypes

As the example from the church suggested, not only may we identify a Social Genotype, but there appears to be a genotype in transcendental systems too. Since transcendental systems are part of the innermost thoughts of people, they are worth exploring further. The Ancient Egyptians maintained a concept of deities - Osiris, Isis, Horus, Seth, Toth, Amun-Ra and many more - over a period from 4500BC to about the time of Christ - over twice the duration of Christianity to date. During that time the concepts and the mythology were kept alive, with a belief in life after death based on how well one behaved in life. The priests changed, the people changed, but the transcendental system lived on, providing answers to age-old questions about life and the hereafter. Over the millennia, the representations of some deities evolved, from wholly animal to human bodied but with animal heads. The basic pattern of beliefs, perhaps the equivalent to a genotype, remained broadly constant, while the representations on the artefacts and tombs evolved but with clearly inherited characteristics. Is it stretching the parallel too far to look upon these as some kind of phenotype?

Figure 51. Hathor, Wife of Horus, goddess of festivity, dance and love. Lady of the West (necropolis). Worshipped from 5th Dynasty (c.2560-2450 B.C.). Later identified with Venus and Aphrodite. At left a Hathorian Column. At right, Hathor in a conventional painting, showing her horns - she was identified with the cow.

Figure 51 shows Hathor ("Castle of Horus"), who was a principal goddess in the Ancient Egyptian culture. The Ancient Egyptians had a wide diversity of gods, but there was a strict sense to their makeup. While there were gods for most natural and intangible things, there were few overlaps. The many nomes (counties) within Ancient Egypt tended at various times to propagate their own versions of the various gods, each tending to have its own Enniad, or nine-god pantheon. Each nome felt that its Enniad exemplified the true and original set of gods, and there seemed to be a spirit of competition, although the different sets of gods were all drawn from the same master set, as it were. Cults developed. There were cults of Osiris and of Hathor/Isis (the two goddesses fused into one eventually), both of which lasted long after Ancient Egypt crumbled, in Syria and Rome particularly.

Figure 52. Martial dance of three Anubis’, from the tomb of Inherka, Rameses III

Some of the beliefs were, to our eyes, arcane. Anubis, with the head of a dog, Figure 52, was the god of funerary rites. It was he who supervised the winding of tapes on to the mummy. In life, a Pharaoh was identified with Horus, God of the Air and son of Osiris. In death, the Pharaoh became Osiris, God of Afterlife, and Pharaoh’s son took over as Horus, so preserving transcendental, as well as royal, succession. During the transmogrification from Horus to Osiris, the Pharaoh also took on the form of other gods, including that of Anubis.

Reinforcing the transcendental genotype

Despite these, to us, bizarre beliefs, the gods of Ancient Egypt survived for a very long time. Why? What was it really that did not change? What resisted change, and why?

In searching out the answers to these seeming-enigmas, I came across examples that point the way. Consider the example of Bes, the ugly, dwarf-god of labour. Bes was shown to women in labour; because the god was so ugly, it was believed, his appearance would induce the onset of childbirth and would make the mother quickly forget the pain. Sure enough, almost without exception, it worked and the baby was born. In other words, belief in the god was reasonable, because it worked. Similarly, belief in the god of the Nile (Osiris) was justifiable; was there not a life-giving flood of the Nile each year? Other gods explained creation, the air, the earth and, of course Re, the Sun, giver of all life.

The ancient beliefs were believable, because they worked. They provided an explanation of everyday phenomena. No single god explained everything; instead a pantheon was necessary, and together the capabilities of a set of gods locked together to provide an explanation of the world. Each god had a rôle, each god had a relationship to the other gods - the pantheon was a self-reinforcing transcendental genotype.

Figure 53. Maintaining the Ancient Egyptian Belief System

Figure 53 shows how the transcendental genotype created and sustained itself. Together, the various gods provided a basis for a Belief System, which provided the people with a simple model by which to understand the world around them. Using this world model, they could explain happenings, disasters, successes and failures. It reduced their psychological uncertainty, gave a crutch of faith and, since the gods that worked survived, the beliefs were self reinforcing.

The sophisticated Belief System of the Ancient Egyptians propagated three main features: -

  • Rôle models of good and bad behaviour, contained in the myths and legends of the principal gods, Osiris, his evil brother Seth, Isis, the good wife and mother, Horus the dutiful son, and so on.
  • Promise of afterlife for "good" behaviour in life For the first time, afterlife is for everyone, gods are for common people as well as for the ruler. By behaving well, according to the rôle model, one had hope of eternal life with Osiris in the Underworld.
  • The Pharaoh as the ruler of both the temporal and spiritual worlds

This last bullet presented a rather clever "double whammy"; if one did not obey the Pharaoh in life then, on the day of judgement, one would find oneself facing that Pharaoh, now in the form of Osiris in the final court.

Figure 53 also shows how these Beliefs supported the establishment of a stable society by encouraging social behaviour, enabling time for the growth of social power groups (the priesthood), who also developed systems for indoctrinating new devotees into the ways and views of the Belief System.

Fractal 7. The Bearskin - Decomposition



Chapter 10

Beliefs and Behaviours



If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.

Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

Belief Systems and Behaviour

The Ancient Egyptian example is a low-sensitivity example of extremely powerful influences continually re-inforcing an endemic cultural pattern or identity. there are many parallels today - ethnic, quasi-religious, social and organizational. Do present-day social genotypes lock-in as hard as that of Ancient Egypt? If so, then is it practicable, advisable, or even feasible to force rapid change on a system formed around a genotype? Or, will results lead to some form of breakdown of order? To explore these ideas, the transcendental genotype of Ancient Egypt has been updated to a modern-day equivalent, Figure 54.

Figure 54. The Establishment and Maintenance of a Belief System

Figure 54 is directly-analogous to Figure 53. There is a Belief System which, as before, provides explanations of everyday events, and which reduces psychological uncertainty. For many of us, it may not be based on any religion, but it must give satisfaction to self reinforce. This upper loop is about us as individuals - we may share a Belief System with others, but we need not, and we may not know if we share the same beliefs and values as others around us.

Our Belief System generates three categories of concepts: -

  • Rôle models of "good" and "bad" behaviour, where our perception of good and bad may be very personal, and may even change with context. A member of a New York gang may believe in something as good in the context of gang membership which he may believe, with his local priest, is bad in the context of the church, e.g. killing.
  • Punishment and reward concepts. People who have "done wrong" will accept, even expect, punishment according to a set of personal rules. People who have done something they believe is good will, equally, expect particular kinds of reward
  • Icons - we have already mentioned IBM, and the three letters are an icon. Leaders become icons, as was the Pharaoh. Eisenhower, Montgomery, Rommel, Schwartzkopf - all became icons in their time, representatives of an ideal. Icons form rallying points or provide shorthand representations of a Belief System. In the UK, our Royal family is an icon, representing the British way of life.

Figure 54 shows clearly the three principal loops forming the closed double helix. In pursuing this notion of the enduring belief system and the social genotype, we have identified a model which, in shape at least, is similar to that of Figures 48-49. Let us summarize. The Belief System, which permeates the social/transcendental genotype, is expressed and established by three interacting chains: -

  • a chain reducing uncertainty, worry, fear of the unknown, in the minds of individuals
  • a chain evolving social order and power structures over time
  • a chain reinforcing "good" behaviour

These chains are redolent of the food chain and inheritance chain interactions

Locking to a Genotype - Immune Response

The concept of the Social Genotype proposes why organizational and social systems resist change, but are able to adapt and evolve slowly. This section examines the same issue but from a different angle, using as an example resistance to change in the defence industry, topical at the time of writing

Figure 55 shows the general scheme, highlighted by Peter Senge, 1991. in his seminal book, The Fifth Discipline. I have modified his approach only a little. At the left of the figure is the hoped-for outcome from innovation, sometimes referred to as "the virtuous circle". Innovation and creativity are expected to improve defence business performance in a declining market, so improving the prospects for company survival, enabling further improvements, moves away from dependence on defence contracts, and so on. Unfortunately, the changes create a reaction within the organization, by threatening the status quo. This evidences itself through dedication to the current hierarchy, with its established way of doing business, and its existing tools and methods. All of this resistance to change prejudices any continued innovation. In effect, any thing new is treated as "Not Invented Here", and given the cold shoulder. I call this the immune response.

Figure 55. Immune Response within a defence company. The filled-in arrowhead signifies an inverse relationship; open arrowheads signify positive relationships.

At its most extreme, it results in new members of staff being isolated and ejected from the company, new tools being rejected even though they may be just what the company needs to improve performance. It also presents itself, more subtly, as an apparent acquiescence to new ideas such as major re-organizations, but with no effective change. Typically, middle and senior management may introduce an initiative that affects those below them, but does not affect their own rôle and status. Not surprisingly, the initiative founders, and management blames intransigence or non-co-operation amongst the work-force. As Figure 55 shows, there is a de factoimplicit organizational goal of maintaining the status quo.

Figure 56. Immune Suppression

Immune Suppression

Figure 56 continues the medical analogy, by suggesting that immune suppression may be possible. If there is an explicit corporate goal of change, then that goal might be achieved by infecting the workforce with new ideas, methods and with strategic thoughts. Such thoughts would include, perhaps, the propagation of a shared vision of the organization’s future - an appeal to the Belief Systems of those resisting change. If their beliefs and values can be modified, then change may be welcomed, rather than resisted. Figure 56 falls short of explaining how the process might work in practice, e.g. how long it might take. Evidence to date suggests that these are very uncertain parameters, much depending on the charisma and leadership of the company.

The Recurring Theme

A closer look at Figure 56 reveals that: -

  • the model is yet another closed double helix
  • the model represents a contest between Belief Systems - those of the organization’s employees and the corporate, or employers’, Belief System.

The recurrence of these two themes is remarkable, and suggests a consistent, underlying pattern in evolved systems, which may help to unravel the most complex of issues.


Is there some connection between rôles and beliefs? It seems likely that both may be generated, at least in part, by ideology. Ideologies, our innermost view of "how things are, or ought to be", give us perceptions of the "appropriateness" of rôles. Ideologies provide foundations for the beliefs through which we view and judge the world around us. So, when promoted to the status of manager, we may feel that it is our place to take charge, to give the orders, to be the leader, and we may set about fulfilling that rôle, even although it might be out of character. Our ideology about management has generated beliefs about the rôle we must adopt. In adopting, and acting out (for it is acting) that rôle, we satisfy the expectations of those around us, we gain satisfaction and rôle reinforcement from their acceptance of our new behaviour, and the social genotype reinforces itself. Should we, instead, behave in an unorthodox manner as a result, perhaps, of studying some modern management methods, those around us may react unfavourably, and we will either give up our unorthodox ways or face hostility and rejection.

As we have seen, belief systems need bear little or no relationship to reality, just so long as they work for the believer. Ideologies seem to run even deeper, providing each of us with a fundamental prescriptive model. So, when challenged that she is scrounging off the state, a teenage unmarried mother living on state benefit in a council flat announces (and believes) that she is entitled, because her parents paid income tax and national insurance all their lives. This is simply the payback, she states.

Ideologies are at their most obvious in the political arena. Whenever a politician stands up and announces: "In my opinion...", you may be sure that the following statement is based on ideology since, if he or she had worked the answer out rationally, they would not have to resort to opinion! The most obvious ideologies are between left and right. Both ideologies would claim that theirs is the only sensible way to make the nation prosper. Each is convinced. Neither is prepared to consider that government of highly-complex, dynamically-changing situations using fixed, outdated and/or simplistic ideologies is really rather unlikely to be effective.

Why this adherence to highly questionable ideologies? It may be part of our evolutionary heritage. We evolved through recognizing and reacting to danger instantly, otherwise we would not have survived as a species. We evolved by characterizing situations, by stereotyping people, by assessing rapidly. To do this, each of us carries around a store of characterizations, of stereotypes, and it is virtually impossible for us not to use them. People boast, for instance, of their ability to sum up another person within 5 seconds or 5 minutes of meeting them, but should, perhaps, be more proud of taking their time. Teenagers at a disco sum up members of the opposite sex in rather less time, simply on the basis of appearance, either of person or dress. Social evolution provides us with more sophisticated mental models, ideologies, but with the same purpose of enabling rapid assessment of new situations, people or information.

Consider the current ideology in the western economies concerning competition. In Nature (so politicians may argue), competition results in survival of the fittest, the weak go to the wall. All that politicians need to do, then, is to create an environment where competition abounds, sit back and wait for strong economies to emerge. The inconvenient parts of the analogy between economies and ecologies are not mentioned. For instance: -

  • Natural evolution takes a very, very long time, employing countless mutually-independent reproductions and generations
  • Natural evolution absorbs an enormous amount of energy to weed out weak predators and prey
  • Natural evolution depends for its stability on a large array of interacting species, large and small, predator and prey, fauna and flora
  • Natural evolution develops symbiosis and synergy between species, to their mutual advantage, provided there is a sound and effective infrastructure - the biosphere - to support the interactions
  • Ecologies are highly susceptible to the introduction of alien species from other ecologies, which may decimate them if there is no "ecological antibody"

An examination of the various capitalist governments of the world shows that "free market competition" is interpreted in many different ways. De facto, there seems to be very little genuinely-free competition at international level. But then, no ideology has to relate to the real world, just so long as it works...


Belief System Model

Belief Systems are at the core of resistance to change; they may be thought of as forming the bonds within the Social Genotype.

Where is the "system" in Belief System? Figure 57 illustrates one viewpoint: -

  • The system is a set of mutually consistent beliefs which, together, provide a consistent view or explanation of the world to their advocates.
  • Completeness of the set is essential to reduce entropy in a believer’s mind.
  • The mutually consistent set may be generated by an ideology, and emerge as a theology, a political dogma, or some perceived self-evident "truth". Ideologies need not bear significant relation to any real world.
  • Beliefs generated by ideologies need not be "correct," so long as they comfort the believer, provide satisfactory explanations of everyday events, reducing uncertainty.
  • Ideologies may propagate rôle models of "good," "proper," or "bad/improper" behaviour. These, too, need not be "correct" in any rational sense

Figure 57. Ideology, Beliefs and Rôles

Developing the Belief System Model

Figure 58 brings the strands of modelling together. At the left is one link of the Nature/Nurture model from Figure 49. At the right is a simplification of Figure 54, the Establishment of a Belief System. The similarity between the two is striking. In much the same way that natural species compete and prey on each other, so can belief systems, the seat of second natures. The general form of the model already presented for prey-predator relationships may, with care, be applied to competing Belief Systems.

Figure 58. Comparing the Nature/Nurture Model and the Belief System Model.

The Belief System Battle

Figure 54 outlined a model of the development and sustainment of a Belief System. It is possible to simulate that model, using one of the several system dynamics modelling packages available on the market. However, more interesting is to simulate two competing Belief Systems under various conditions, and to explore such ideas as: -

  • How rapidly can a new belief system capture followers from an established, but moribund, belief system - what might the rates of switching allegiance be?
  • How far can an ailing belief system, under siege from new, or anarchistic ideas, be propped up by increasing the social investment in education, in seeking out doubters and either ejecting them from the social group, punishing them or re-indoctrinating them?
  • Does an ailing belief system behave differently if the social investment is steady, or can a sudden injection of investment reverse the trend of losing believers to the opposition?
  • Can a belief system be unassailable?
  • What is the critical mass for a belief system, below which it will not self-sustain or grow?
  • ...and many, many more...

Figure 59. Model of a Competing Belief System

Figure 59 shows the way the model is developed, and a full representation would show two or more such models, interlinked after the style of Figures 49. For example, Leavers in Figure 59 go to another Belief System, while Joiners come from another Belief System. At centre left is a number of believers, those who share in the particular Belief System. Belief is passed to others who may inherit the belief in some degree - this is shown at the top of the figure, where some of the inheritors join the believers, while some are doubters. Doubters may become leavers (at right) or their doubt may be recognized (policing, a term used in a general context, does not necessarily imply a police force). If their doubt is recognized, they will enter a period of correction (not necessarily imprisonment) before being re-indoctrinated and restored to belief. Alternatively, correction may fail, and failures also become leavers. Leavers are presumed to go to the other half of the model, to the competing belief system, from where also come joiners, entering at the left through a process of indoctrination. finally, but most importantly, believers develop power groups and organizational structures, which in turn establish, inter alia, education systems which teach the belief.

The model parameters may be interpreted and adjusted to address a variety of social structures. For example, at a national level, we could consider the shared state belief system to be founded on Judeo-Christianity, and to have been under attack from a variety of sources: science, media, youth culture, organized crime. The nation has a police force, a judiciary, and a corrective system all based on behavioural rôles and punishment concepts traceable to the Old Testament of the Bible (and beyond to Ancient Egyptian beliefs of justice). Those who share the Christian belief, also share in those concepts of the way people should behave, and the punishment that should be meted out to wrong-doers. It is noteworthy in the UK, at the time of writing, that attempts are being made to bolster the somewhat ailing Christian belief system by invoking a stricter education system: national curricula are being introduced, with attempts to make Christian education compulsory in schools, as it was under the 1948 Education Act. There are also moves to tighten the rule of law, with stricter penalties for crime, and the police force has been increased. Will the education and policing compensate for the erosion of the national belief system?

The model is scale independent. Consider a family, perhaps an Asian family, with their own, inherited beliefs and culture, living in London. The parents seek to pass their beliefs, rules of behaviour, morals, ethics, etc., to their children. The children go to school, watch television, go to discos, and generally experience the multi-ethnic cultural melting pot of London. The family can be represented by the model of Figure 59. All the elements are there. The children, if not the parents, will experience doubts. The parents may try to correct their children, may make them attend lessons in their religious centre, may punish them for perceived wrong-doing. All the time, there is a tension between the belief system within the family and those outside, as the family seeks to preserve behaviour appropriate to its inherited culture.

Some communities go further than families. The Hasidic Jews centred in Stamford Hill in North-east London, for example, have established a community which is largely isolated from those about them. The community migrated originally from eastern Europe, an even today the men wear costumes redolent of Cossacks, with riding breeches and fur headgear. The community polices itself, and can become very hostile towards a member who brings in the Metropolitan Police. The community applies its own strict laws, arranges marriages, and observes their interpretation of the Bible Old Testament rigorously. No mechanical or electrical devices may be touched on the Sabbath, even electrical switches may not be used. They have their own school, and their own teachers, and children learn the scriptures and the laws from infancy, in addition to normal lessons in mathematics and science. Nobody marries outside the community. Nobody joins the community except through birth - the birth rate is very high, a dozen children per mother not being unusual.

How does such a community react with the community around them? Can they retain their "purity"? Will their growth dilute their faith? As they grow, must they inevitably fragment, or will their education system and their punishment/reward system hold them together?

Running the Model

Figure 60. Competition between an ailing and a new, strong, well-supported belief system

These and other questions are typical of the questions that we might seek to address with the aid of suitable models based on Figure 59. Figure 60 shows the results of one, rather general, model run in which the question being addressed is: "how rapidly can a new, strong belief system overrun an existing, but moribund, belief system?"

The new belief system, line numbered ‘1’ in Figure 60, captures the available population very quickly indeed. Initially, there is a seemingly exponential growth in new believers, which the model assumes to be supported by good education, policing and correction systems. The new belief is assumed also to be appealing to potential believers - a new belief system that does not make sense, which does not explain the world in evidently reasonable terms, will never catch on, since it will jar with reality. The beliefs do not have to be objectively "true" of course, but they must make consistent sense, as did the gods of Ancient Egypt. The general shape of Figure 60 suggests an exponential loss of believers from the moribund to the new system, line numbered ‘2’. The initially rapid growth in advocates of the new belief, line 1, tails off to a plateau, as the number of believers remaining to be attracted reduces; line one adopts a sigmoid, or "S’-shape.

Figure 60 represented a simple and extreme case. Life is rarely that simple.

Figure 61. Model of an attempt to prop an ailing Belief System

Figure 61 represents a moribund belief system, line 1, which is being taken over by a more acceptable belief system, line 2. The newer system is making good ground, believers in the older system are falling away. The older system is the establishment, however and, at the time indicated by the vertical dotted line, that establishment decides to do something. Unable to restore their beliefs directly, they invest heavily in renewed policing, teaching and punishment practices. The impact of these measures, although applied at the same time in the model, do not take effect simultaneously. Policing may have a fairly immediate effect, but stepping up the education takes time to put into practice, and still more time to increase the number of believers.

The model suggests that, despite the heavy investment by the establishment to restore the original situation, nothing much happens for a long time, except that the status quo is preserved.

Is it really possible to prop up an ailing belief system, or will it inevitably collapse? Running the model many times, and introducing the sudden increase in policing, punishment and education at earlier and later times suggest that it is possible to leave it too late - that once the two populations have diverged beyond some poorly defined difference, there is no recovery, only a slowing down of loss rate to the new belief. The model also suggests that a really believable belief system, one that is self-evidently valid, has a greater impact than education, policing, and punishment, separately or together. But remember - we are merely employing a computer simulation, and a broadly-based one at that. At best, it can help us to ask questions and to question answers.

Command and Control

The models used above have favoured the idea that we can, in some degree, equate Darwinian evolution models with social evolution models. The parallels between the two types of model becomes even more apparent when we consider man in his primitive, aggressive rôle, particularly in warfare.

Command and Control is the term used by the military to describe what we might loosely call the management of conflict. The term, command and control, came into public prominence during the Gulf War, when the Allied Forces declared their intention to neutralize Saddam Hussein’s command and control HQ. These are the centres where the generals gather information about their enemy and about the status of their own forces, make decisions about what to do next, and then give orders to their forces. Neutralizing an enemy’s command and control strikes at the central nervous system of a force, the notion goes; without command and control, the enemy forces will be unco-ordinated, in disarray, and will be easily beaten. Of course, an enemy might have the same idea, and so opposing forces may end up trying to neutralize each other’s command and control HQ.

Figure 62. Assyrians besieging a City, c. 600 B.C.

Because command and control is seen as so vital to a force, it has been the subject of much analysis. Scientists and engineers have sought to understand the nature (that word again!) of command and control, and to provide technological support to the making of robust decisions. Analysis has proved difficult, however, for three principle reasons: -

  • While the technology might be reasonably predictable in what it does, the humans operating it and working with each other are most definitely not predictable. In warfare, the adrenaline runs high, fear and aggressive instincts vie with training and rational thought for control of behaviour.
  • Armies organize themselves, like authoritarian managements, in hierarchies, with an army comprising several divisions, each division comprising several brigades/battalions, and so on down to company level. The command and control system therefore consists of command centres within command centres within command centres...making conventional analysis difficult
  • The complex interactions between opposing forces creates a typically-chaotic situation, in which the short-term future may be difficult, even impossible, to predict

By examining command and control in history, a technology-independent perspective may be developed. Figure 62 certainly has technology on show. The Assyrians have a splendid siege machine, with a built-in battering ram which is breaching the castle wall. Attackers and defenders are showering each other with arrows. Is it Darwinian or Social Evolution that determines their behaviour? Both perhaps.

Consider the commander of the besieged castle. His concerns must be with many things: -

  • Will the ammunition hold out?
  • Will relief arrive? When?
  • How can he eke out supplies?
  • How can he maintain the morale of the defenders?
  • How can he convince the Assyrians that the siege is futile, that they will never surrender and can hold out indefinitely?

At that time, it was not unknown for the commanders of besieged garrisons to throw food over the ramparts during a lull in the fighting. This was designed to convince the enemy that they were in for a long siege, and perhaps to convince the defenders that their leader had a trick or two up his sleeve. Perhaps the battle is not just about firing weapons, making holes in walls. Perhaps the battle is about a struggle between belief systems. The siege commander faces two struggles: -

  1.  The struggle to overcome the enemy commander’s will to conquer
  2.  The struggle to maintain the belief of his own forces in their ability to succeed

From this perspective, command and control is no longer just a series of nested, self-similar HQs. Instead, it may be viewed more as Figure 63, which shows two opposing forces and the struggle between two Belief Systems. The commander has both to maintain the beliefs of his own force and overcome the will of the opposing commander and his force. The model is "flat", in the sense that hierarchy (although represented in the figure) is not dominant, which makes analysis very much simpler. The flat structure comes about because, in a very real sense, the beliefs must be shared at all levels if the whole force is to act as one.

Figure 63. Command and Control as a Struggle between competing Belief Systems

Like other belief systems, conflict between opposing armies can be analysed using the model of Figures 59 as a basis. Such analysis does not invalidate other kinds of analysis, but it does seem that the modelling of Belief Systems is getting to the heart of the matter. Technology is important in war, but spirit, indomitable will to win, training, experience, esprit de corps, morale - these are the real core of the issue. Leave these out, and we cannot achieve a sensible result. Training is typical. One of the objectives of military training is to make actions become "second nature’, so that the individual or the group continues to perform even when frightened, hungry, injured or tired.


Fractal 8. Strange attractor


Part 4 Towards a Theory of Complexity



Last updated: Sep 2002