Re: NASA, TQM, and SPK/Kerr

From: John Conover <>
Subject: Re: NASA, TQM, and SPK/Kerr
Date: Thu, 17 Oct 1996 14:24:34 -0700

Donald Kerr writes:
> >For the relationship of game-theory and human conflict in
> >civilization, see "The Ascent of Man," J. Bronowski, Little, Brown and
> >Company, Toronto, 1973.
> John,
> Could you tell me more about "The Ascent of Man?"

Hi Don. I am an engineer, by profession, and executive. Usually, CTO,
VP of Engineering, or Technology. My academic stuff was in information
theory, which, along with game theory are two of the cornerstones of
contemporary complexity theory, (and make up what is usually called
entropic methodology, which is a firmly founded field in economics-for
example, it is the methodology used in programmed trading of

My advanced studies are in the realm of cultural anthropology, which
has a branch that is the study of industry, technology, and economics.

I suppose that technology and anthropology seem distantly related, if
at all, but, I suppose, that the attempt is to put current technology
in some kind of historical perspective.

Brownowski wrote the book and made a super, IMHO, TV series on PBS in
the 1970's concerning such things. He was a mathematician, worked in
various government QUANGO's on some of the weapons stuff, and created
the field of human specificity, (a branch of anthropology,) which
attempts to quantify the difference between humans and the rest of the
primates, both current and extinct.

"The Ascent of Man" was a "light" presentation on his findings, (and
is the documentation from the lectures in the TV series,) and
chronicles the history of human thought-particularly scientific

Its a classic book that is available in most book stores, in the
history, or anthropology sections. (Also available in the big
paperbacks.) My hard cover has an ISBN of 0-316-10930-4.

His contributions to the field of mathematics are many, among them,
significantly advancing the interpretation of game theory. He was one
of the first to recognize the significance of information theory as a
methodology of analyzing rule based systems, like mathematics, itself.

For example, it can be shown that the next theorem of mathematics can
never be deduced by a mechanical, rule based process, (which has led
some industrial grade thinkers, like Roger Penrose-of Stephen Hawkings
fame-to conclude that there is something qualitatively different
between the human mind and a computer-ie., we can never make a
computer that is the equivalent of the human mind.)  It can also be
shown that most mathematical theorems can not be proven true or
false. Likewise, it can be shown, that if a system is sufficiently
complex-ie., something as simple as the arithmetic is-that the system
will give incomplete or inconsistent results. For example, it can be
shown that addition is complete and consistent. The same can not be
said for subtraction-at least using only the theorems and postulates
of the arithmetic.

What all this means, in a practice sense, is that, although science is
a useful tool, that there is limitations to what science can do.  For
example, if we can not build a system that is as simple as the
arithmetic, that is logically self consistent and complete, then how
would we write a normative document for a society, (normative document
is a legal term for the Constitution.) How would we set up a
management system? How can we verify that Liberal Democracy works?

Big questions, that are all too often argued on the grounds of logical
merit-at least by those that don't know any better.

The essence of Bronowski's book is the lay introduction of such
concepts, (besides being a compendum on the history of scientific

Since Bronowski's death in the mid 70's a lot of mathematical
formality has been dedicated to these issues.

Probably the most formidable is the economist Kenneth Arrow's so
called "Impossibility Theorem," which is an extension of Bronowski, et
al's, work. Arrow showed that there was no way that 3, or more,
people, could, logically, rank conflicting priorities. (He used the
game-theoretic methodology of linear programming to prove this-and
pop'ed a Nobel for it, while at RAND in the 50's.) It is not clear
what this means to rule based social systems. (Actually, the authors
of the US Constitution were savvy to such things-the original
Constitution is logically consistent-in a strict and formal sense. If
you look at the differences in word smithing between the drafts and
the final document, it is absolutely astonishing that they understood
such concepts, 3 centuries before it was formalized. What has happened
since the penning of the document, well ...)

Taken in the context of historical perspective, the 20'th century has
been, at least in some sense, the century of anti-science, since we
entered the century with the prevailing concept that everything could
be deduced, logically, and it was only a matter of effort to formalize
the GTOE, (Grand Theory of Everything.) A very Leibnezian, (of
calculus theory fame,) concept. None other that David Hilbert-the
greatest mathematician of the 20'th century-thought this.

In 1928 the young Austrian logician Kurt Godel proved him wrong.

Physists were also having their trouble in the 20's, specifically, Leo
Szilard's troubling formal discovery that the universe itself may not
be quite so predictable as clockworks, and may, indeed, operate by
chance. (Re: Einstein's comment about the quantum mechanics, which
Szilard was formalizing at the time, which was "God does not play
dice," and, I think it was Fermi-or was it Bohr-that replied
"Einstein, stop telling God what to do.") Heisenberg formailzed the
issue of "universal chance" further, into the science of entropy, (and
Heisenberg uncertainty,) as introduced earlier by Boltzman-he proved
Boltzman's concepts of "disorder in the universe," ie., entropy,

Astonishingly, (Szilard won a Nobel for his discovery of information
theoretic concepts, so did Godel,) these works were only the tip of
the iceberg of a far larger structure, the nature of which is not
clear today, although there is much theoretical work being done on the
structure in an attempt to figure out what it means.

As it turns out, Boltzman's concept of entropy, Godel's incompleteness
theorem, and Szilard's information theory have been found to be all the
same thing. Entropy is an information-theoretic concept that has
physical meaning and interpretation, like mass, force, etc.

The guy that formalized these issues is Gregory Chaitin, et al, and
the "Information-Theoretic Incompleteness" theorem, which simply places
limits on what scientific (eg., rule based,) methodology can do.

Which, in a nut shell, brings things up to date from the Brownowski
book to the present.

Actually, there is a new information-theoretic formal proof that
assuming the speed of light to be constant and scientific induction to
work is, logically, contradictory. (Note that the quantum mechanics,
the "queen of science," is based on scientific induction and the speed
of light being constant.)

I would not venture an interpretation as to what this means.

As the mathematician John Casti said, "Mathematics is a religion. It
is unique among the religions in that it can prove itself a religion."
And as the logician, (and science fiction writer,) Rudy Rucker stated,
"the laws of logic are pitifly few." (You could count them on both
hands and feet.)

There is a new realization of science. IMHO, 500 years from now,
mathematicians will look back at the 20'th century, and see that a new
age dawned. Hilbert never understood that. Godel Von Neumann,
Bronowski, Szilard, Heisenberg, Boltzmann, et al, did. (Some, like Von
Neumann, claimed the comprehension was a religious experience.)


BTW, Re: the previous email where I made the statement that of all of
NASA's technical achievements, the contributions to the management of
large, dispersed, projects was its most significant. Now, you can
probably understand why I made that statement.

For example, for the Apollo missions, there were never more than
30,000 NASA employees, but these managed 400,000 other workers,
granted 200 colleges $100 million for basic research, awarded
contracts to 16 major industrial firms, and 20,000 subcontractors, and
made it all work. They had to re-define what management meant. It was
the largest project ever attempted in the history of humanity. (Refer
to the above paragraph on ranking of priorities. I mean, how did they
do it? How did they make it all work? Astonishing!)

And if that wasn't enough, consider the differences between the NASA
of 1967, (and the Apollo spaceship fire, killing several astronauts,
which was do to "sloppy" operations,) and the NASA of Apollo 13.  Big
difference. Not only could NASA build an organization, they could
"turn it," which is a far more formidable proposition.


John Conover,,

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