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by David A. Engstrøm,J. A. Scott Kelso

eBook The Complementary Nature (A Bradford Book) download ISBN: 0262612224
Author: David A. Engstrøm,J. A. Scott Kelso
Publisher: A Bradford Book (January 25, 2008)
Language: English
Pages: 344
ePub: 1942 kb
Fb2: 1225 kb
Rating: 4.8
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Category: Different
Subcategory: Social Sciences

The Complementary Nature (Bradford Books). J. A. Scott Kelso, David A. Engstrom.

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Kelso's second full-length book, written with his former postdoc David A. Engstrøm, is The Complementary Nature (MIT Press, 2006). This book attempts to reconcile what it calls "the philosophy of complementary pairs" with the science of coordination dynamics. Pairs of opposites are found everywhere in nature and in science (. cooperation and competition, integration and segregation, individual and collective, self and other, body and mind, nature and nurture, etc. et. Kelso and Engstrøm argue that these pairs are not mutually exclusive, but complementary.

In their book, Kelso and Engstrøm show how the principle can advance . Publisher: A Bradford Book (January 25, 2008).

In their book, Kelso and Engstrøm show how the principle can advance scientific prediction and, in turn, how science―especially the science of coordinating―can develop the principle. Scientists and philosophers alike will find much to ponder and debate in the pages of this book, a book that I'm sure Niels Bohr would have found deeply satisfying. The Complementary Nature is a genuinely fascinating, provocative, and unique book.

One of those leaders was Scott Kelso, who studied coordination from a dynamical-systems perspective (.

The Complementary Nature provides a clear-cut methodology for this evolving theory of brain and behavior that can also be applied to areas and developments outside the neurosciences, hence aiding reconciliations within and between disparate fields. PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved). One of those leaders was Scott Kelso, who studied coordination from a dynamical-systems perspective (. Kelso, 1984Kelso,, 1992Kelso & Engstrom, 2005;Kelso & Zanone, 2002).

Cambridge (Massachusetts): MIT Press. Olaf Sporns, "The Complementary Nature. By J A Scott Kelso and David A Engstrøm. xix + 317 p; il. index.

In The Complementary Nature, Scott Kelso and David Engstrom contend that ubiquitous contraries are complementary and propose a comprehensive, empirically based scientific theory of how the polarized world and the world in between can be reconciled. They minate the tilde, or squiggle (~), as the symbolic punctuation for reconciled complementary pairs. Experiments show that the human brain is capable of displaying two apparently contradictory, mutually exclusive behaviors at the same time.

In The Complementary Nature, Scott Kelso and David Engstrøm contend that ubiquitous contraries are .

In The Complementary Nature, Scott Kelso and David Engstrøm contend that ubiquitous contraries are complementary and propose a comprehensive, empirically based scientific theory of how the polarized world and the world in between can be reconciled. Scott Kelso holds the Glenwood and Martha Creech Chair in Science at Florida Atlantic University and is Founder and Director of the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences. David A. Engstrøm holds a P. in Neuropharmacology from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

The Complementary Nature provides a clear-cut methodology for this evolving theory of brain and behavior that can also be applied to areas and developments outside the neurosciences, hence aiding reconciliations within and between disparate fields.

Why do we divide our world into contraries? Why do we perceive and interpret so many of life's contraries as mutually exclusive, either/or dichotomies such as individual~collective, self~other, body~mind, nature~nurture, cooperation~competition? Throughout history, many have recognized that truth may well lie in between such polar opposites. In The Complementary Nature, Scott Kelso and David Engstrøm contend that ubiquitous contraries are complementary and propose a comprehensive, empirically based scientific theory of how the polarized world and the world in between can be reconciled. They nominate the tilde, or squiggle (~), as the symbolic punctuation for reconciled complementary pairs.

Experiments show that the human brain is capable of displaying two apparently contradictory, mutually exclusive behaviors at the same time. Coordination dynamics―a mathematically expressed theory that reconciles the scientific language of "states" with the novel dynamical language of "tendencies"―attests to the complementary nature inherent in human brains and behavior. It may explain, Kelso and Engstrøm argue, why we (and nature) appear to partition things, events, and ideas into pairs. Kelso and Engstrøm's account is not just metaphorical; the reconciliations they describe are grounded in the principles and mathematical language of the theory of coordination dynamics. The Complementary Nature provides a clear-cut methodology for this evolving theory of brain and behavior that can also be applied to areas and developments outside the neurosciences, hence aiding reconciliations within and between disparate fields.

Comments: (7)
Having a very high regard for Kelso’s “Dynamic Patterns”, I had high expectations for the subject book when I began reading it three years ago. I managed to complete the book then, albeit I was struck by its conceptual vagueness, shallowness, and its erratic development. By sheer happenstance, I recently read a 2012 technical paper by Kelso entitled “Multistability and metastability: understanding dynamic coordination in the brain”. Since I found it to be quite illuminating and compelling, I re-read or scanned my heavily marked-up/tabbed copy of the subject book once again. If anything, my initial calibration of “The Complementary Nature” was in consequence further downgraded.

First of all, the whole notion of complementarity here needs to be thought out more carefully, and criteria need to be explicitly defined to precisely identity what properties it imposes. Clearly, the statement on p. 7 that “we replace all related but slightly different terms like contraries, polar opposites, duals, opposing tensions, dichotomies, and the like with the all-encompassing term ‘complementary pairs’” is incongruous and unwarranted. “Slightly different” is a staggering understatement. Unfortunately, this unsupported commitment places the rest of the book in question. Imparting some due amount of precision here, moreover, would in turn likely eliminate a lot of the ostensibly gratuitous verbiage in the Complementary Pair Dictionary.

The core foundation of the book is the previously established and already appealing concept of coordination dynamics, which has been well articulated in the cognitive science literature thanks largely to Kelso. In the subject book, the authors attempt to extend or adapt the applicability of coordination dynamics beyond brain phenomena through the postulation of purportedly ubiquitous complementary pairs (CPs). The case they present, however, is poorly rationalized and unequivocally unconvincing. The disparate exemplars of CPs that are so glibly and profusely provided, moreover, merely reinforce the impression that other CPs could more or less arbitrarily be posited to suit anyone’s fancy.

Using a coordination dynamics metaphor, it would be accurate to state that this book’s message is trapped in a reverberatory trajectory within a metastable region. Accordingly, the message is in a disordered condition with only tendencies toward Integration, while beset by opposing tendencies toward Separation into sometimes ill-formed or ostensively irrelevant elements. In other words, the message is never brought into focus; it is sketchy, erratic, and incoherent.

All this is not to claim that the expressed motivation of the book is without merit. Specifically, the authors’ intent is understood to be the advocacy of a new approach to addressing seemingly irreconcilable factors encountered in disparate problem situations. In that case, it would seem that a plausible approach and an incisive message could be fashioned more systematically by proceeding from the characteristics of coordination dynamics, together with what they necessarily entail in the way of requisite target application phenomena or attributes. This approach would evolve around the following essential elements of Coordination Dynamics:

· integral dynamics of target application
· multistability, or bistability in the case of pairs
· metastability, or an intervening attractive region between stable attractors
· stimuli that mediate entry-to/exit-from the metastable region
· access to definitive control parameters & order variables
· suitable context and boundary conditions.

Despite no explicit statements to the effect, however, it appears that coordination dynamics can perhaps be operative in the absence of metastability per se. In particular, the example of coordination dynamics depicted in Figure 3.4 shows no metastable region – only a “separatrix” line denoting an “unstable steady state”. But this separatrix is precisely a case of astability per classical control theory. So this example exhibits bistability, but not metastability. Accordingly, this bistability involves bifurcation, necessarily in the absence of a phase transition as characteristic of metastability.

Does the foregoing example (pp. 227-231) qualify as a case of coordination dynamics? According to p. 245 the answer would be NO – per the assertion that “the squiggle character (~)...between complementary aspects...stands for...the dynamical potential of complementary pairs: the context-dependent multistable and metastable coordination dynamics inherent in all complementary pairs.” This statement and the terms of the foregoing example cannot both be true (contrariety), so where does the discrepancy lie: with this assertion or with the cited example? I believe the example to be seriously problematic in not exhibiting coordination dynamics per se.

Basically, the bulletized elements above ought to be formalized in a “Candidate Pair” Profile to be applied at the outset on any investigation into a proposed CP. That profile would also include representative context and justificatory assumptions. It might also admit variant versions dependent upon the particular class of pair difference at hand. As a practical matter, there would be no reason to pursue a candidate pair unless compliance with the essentials of coordination dynamics were largely and explicitly substantiated in its qualifying profile. If such a course were followed, several examples as described in this book would hardly qualify as viable candidate pairs (e.g., see “CD of CP” on pp. 227-238). If any of these examples does indeed qualify, its salient factors should have been explicated clearly and completely. After all, the overarching goal of the proposed approach is to enable or support rigorous scientific investigations, and not merely to encourage the composition of suggestive or intuitive notions or narratives.

Frankly, I am somewhat dismayed that the authors submitted this book for publication in its present state. It is quite repetitive yet persistently fuzzy. At the outset, the whole concept of CPs is weakly motivated and ill-defined; later on, it is only vaguely applied. In present form, moreover, CPs add rather little to the prospects for generalizing the utility of coordination dynamics. Nevertheless, its potential application to suitable “candidate pairs” is intriguing, and would seem to offer interesting methodological possibilities: a practicable, systematic, and general method of inquiry. Unfortunately, these prospects are not explored very well at all in this book.
I approached this book hoping to find an account of how the mathematics of non-linear equations could be applied to patterns found in real life. A fragmented account is indeed present, but it takes up only a few dozen pages. The rest of this book is a repetitive and poorly argued foray into something akin to metaphysics. I would strongly suggest that a curious reader think twice before devoting the time necessary to unravel the authors' prose.

The presentation is not just repetitive, it is also poorly structured. The arguments themselves are unconvincing. I will try and present their main points, with some criticisms. Mostly the criticisms focus on the vagueness of the authors' novel terminology, and on the unacknowledged presumptions inherent in their discussion.

The authors repeatedly assert that humans conceptualize the world in terms of contraries. It is unclear whether they think this is the only way we structure the world, or the predominant way, or just one way amongst many others. After listing many alleged contraries, some of which seem less than obviously contrary, they slip into calling pairs of concepts `complementary'. Again it is unclear whether complementary is entirely synonymous with contrary, or only partly related, or an entirely unrelated term. Their citing of Niels Bohr' use of the term does not clarify their own, far more extended, use. In any case the notion of a `complementary pair' becomes central to their discussion.

They fail to provide any criteria for including or excluding a pair of words or concepts under their rubric of `complementary'. Instead, they provide examples, culminating in a long list of such pairs. As noted in another review, the complementary relationship is signified by a tilde (~), implying that it marks a single kind of relationship. Yet the pairs listed are related in numerous, quite distinct, ways. Aside from plausible contraries, there are pairs related by similarity, by mere association, by one being subsumed in the other (through scale or function), by grammar, and yet other ways (there are literally hundreds of disparate examples, such as - `size~position', `prerogative~rank', `hero~quest', `affect~mood'). They do not stipulate that some pairs of words would be impermissible, but presumably this is the case. For example, `hearing ~ speech' is listed, but `hearing ~ artichoke' is not: if the latter is impermissible, as one would hope, some account of why it is barred would be illuminating. If it is in fact permissible, then one wonders what is the function of concept `complementary'.

The authors claim that it is a pervasive habit of human thought to regard the terms in a contrary (or complementary) pair as mutually exclusive; so we take the elements of the world to be one or the other of the paired terms, but not both simultaneously. It is unclear whether this claim is based on empirical observation, or on some implicit a priori analysis of the concept of `contrary' or `complementary pair'.

They claim that their approach is novel in that it focuses on the `in-between' space betwixt the opposed terms. Unfortunately, their examples belie all these claims. When the list features `love~hate', and `good~bad', already the reader is thinking that the co-existence of opposites is hardly a novel notion; when the list spills into juxtaposed terms that are less plausibly contrary, such as `lawyer~client', and `philosophy~science', then co-existence is either unsurprising or, indeed, expected. As mentioned previously, the definition of their new terminology is vague to the point of being inherently confused and confusing, and, if given a charitable definition, then it maps claims which are either false or uninteresting.

They claim to be adopting a position beyond the conjunction of "either/or" and "and/both" thinking. I'm afraid that asserting this, without conceptual elaboration, did not give me any grasp on what they were in fact postulating.

Why have the authors taken this general approach? It is tempting to speculate that their mathematics, or at least the way they wish to conceive of it, fits best with the interaction between two functions - possibly modified by a third function modelling extraneous factors. Hence the need for two poles, or contraries, and the logical space 'in between'. Frankly, this is just speculation on my part, and I really can't make out why the framework they have posited is vital to their enterprise.

The authors make passing reference to laws, to `science', to Darwinian evolutionary theory, and to quantum mechanics, yet they do not follow through with any of their arguments, and at times appear to have an incompetent understanding of the conceptual complexities attending the cited terms. To take one example, they seem to imply that for knowledge to be `scientific' it must be based on a conjunction of mathematical theory and practical application - applied mathematics, if you will; this thesis, plausible though it might be, is contentious, yet the authors do not seem to be aware that alternative theses exist, or even to be aware that they have advanced a thesis per se; another example sees them mention `laws', but give no account whatsoever as to what constitutes a `law' in science or in general; re quantum mechanics, they choose one slant on the Copenhagen Interpretation and their presentation might blind the reader that an involved debate, with many positions, exists on this issue.

The core of their pragmatic work seems to rest on `Coordination Dynamics'. This appears to be the mathematical modelling of the interaction of changeable systems. Applying the mathematics to real life is, as they point out, difficult. Choosing what aspects of reality to single out for attention is fraught. How one divides reality into `systems', or `levels', is likewise opaque. They do not explain how one might go about doing so. They give no practical advice, but only note the obvious difficulty of the whole endeavour. At best, one might make the assumption that their `complementary pairs' are candidates for modelling; however, how one relates `love', or `acquaintance', or `dumb', to a mathematical equation is left unaddressed. Indeed, having read their entire book I have no idea how their mathematics elucidates anything. And this is a shame, as I'm sure examples, comprehensible to the lay reader, do exist.

Much of the book reads as a counter to a view of the world derivable from certain strands of established metaphysics. It is a view that sees the world as a machine; the paradigm vantage from which to view the world is from outside of it, that is from outside of space and time; from here, all of reality is laid out in four dimensions, the three spatial and time, which is regarded for practical purposes as a fourth spatial dimension; the world is entirely deterministic, and can be described, or even thought of as constituted by, linear equations. For an account of the history of such ideas I would recommend the work of Milic Capek, and that of Emile Meyerson. I doubt that Kelso and Engstrom could articulate exactly what view they object to, but my guess is something along the lines given above. It might even be the case that prior to their immersion in their chosen field they too held a similar view, and now they are arguing against it. Be this as it may, they want their mathematics to be seen as legitimate, as mapping reality, and so reality must be open to choice, the future not fixed, and non-linear equations equally capable of providing explanatory force as linear equations.

Another invisible opponent is the deist, or someone who assumes that order necessarily implies a creator of order. They counter this position with their postulate of `self-organizing coordination', the most sustained discussion of this occurring under this heading on page 92. Here the main idea is that a deus ex machina is not necessary for things to exhibit order. This is a negative definition of the term self-organizing, in that we are told what it's not. A positive definition is omitted. We do not know if `self-organizing' means the components of the system have features which generate order, or whether they do so only in certain `conditions', conditions strictly not part of the `system' per se; the crucial difference here is that we do not know whether the system can be studied without reference to externalities, or whether externalities must also be studied - if the latter, in what sense is the system self-organizing? It might not be a deus but something ex machina is contributing to the establishment of order. They offer the example of an orchestra successfully performing without a conductor, but this fails to illustrate anything: even the intended premiss that the orchestra is without a conductor is dubious, as in rehearsal such orchestras effectively have one, often the first violinist (who is termed the leader of the orchestra), and the lack of a visible `time-keeper' during performance is trivial, this duty falling again to the leader. What is more, it is a vexed example to generalize, since the `components' are all conscious, that is they are human beings, and any `organization' is effected quite consciously by each and every one of the `components' - this is quite unlike cases where the components are inanimate and unconscious, and that is to say the vast majority of cases that are to be studied.

As a further taste of the problems with their presentation, on page 104 they title a subsection ambitiously, "Origins of Agency". First off they reference the Santa Fe Institute approach to agency, which limits the conception of agency to: "all an agent does is alter its output based on its input". The authors do not explicitly say whether they endorse this definition; if they see it as problematic, they do not tell us how or why. Next, and presumably in contrast with the Santa Fe approach, they assert that living things possess `real' agency, with sentience and goal-directedness. Where does this 'real agency' come from? They provide the following explanation: "Spontaneous self-organizing coordination tendencies give rise to agency," and "Coordination establishes meaning." They do not elaborate these cryptic pronouncements - they simply state them and assume the reader finds them satisfying and explanatory. I did not. If inanimate entities, say ice crystals, `spontaneously self-organize' into a snowflake, are we to assume that they are sentient and goal-directed? Presumably not. But then how does their `explanation' differentiate this phenomenon from the sentience of a human being, who/which is likewise thought to be a `spontaneous self-organizing' system? Again their discussion is undermined by the introduction of terms, such as `self-organizing', with no analysis of their meaning in this technical setting.

If you are still tempted to buy and read this book a few further words of warning. The authors choose to begin sub-sections with shadow-portraits of famous and not-so-famous thinkers accompanied by quotes - the quotes seldom bear on the subject matter and, at least in the case of Samuel Beckett, the authors' understanding of the quote is questionable. They also choose to use colloquialisms and pretend that their casual language somehow makes their ideas more easily understood. They use their tilde frequently and to irritating effect. They try to illustrate their ideas through examples, yet the examples (as mentioned above) are ill-chosen and usually do not illustrate what was intended (sometimes suggesting the very opposite).

I took very little of substance away from this book. If other readers have done better, it would be interesting for them to specify and summarize what was of value. All the positive responses I have read have been less than detailed, that is, along the lines of saying this is a great book that challenges established ideas. Raising a challenge is a start, but I don't think that this is a very cogent articulation of what is really at issue.
Scott Kelso's "Dynamic Patterns" remains the most concrete introduction to the dynamic of complex systems. "The Complementary Nature" is more accessible and deeper, focusing on the relationship between contradictory and complementary concepts, states, and other phenomena. The key insight is that the relationships between these concepts are dynamic in the same sense that rhythmic movement of fingers is dynamic.

Well worth a read, and far less mathematical than "Dynamic Patterns".