focus and context, part II-2: brain childs and their evolution

This post is a follow-up to the last post. There is also a copy of this essay at the Azimuth project.
If you read the essay you will in particular understand that I profoundly disagree with most of the key concepts as formulated in the video by Kirby Ferguson, who also investigated intellectual property in the context of evolution.

Feb22: some additions to the essay in orange more additions eventually on Azimuth


The following are some kind of Gedankenexperiments, which may give clues on the possible reasons for some psychological mechanisms which are involved with intellectual property issues. It shall serve as a stimulus and as a conceptional outline, it is not a scientific analysis. The original version of this essay is by Nadja Kutz. The main driving component for this essay was to look at possible implications of taking the term “brain child” literally.

An intellectual creation can be understood in its literal sense as a “brain child”. A “brain child” can result in a “machine”. If one sees “machines” as new life forms then these machines are part of an evolutionary process. An evolutionary process, which involves machines is a kind of “extended evolution”, since the term evolution is usually reserved for the evolution of natural life forms. Please see also the essay Surplusses and Exchange.

It is interesting to think about the role of intellectual properties within such an “extended evolution”. Lets explain this a bit more.

If one has an organism with e.g. two parents (like a child) then not only the finely tuned combination of two genetic codes but also mutations may lead to new forms of that child organism. However if a mutation is “too big” (with respect to the size of the organism) or if the parents differ too much (like animal-human), then chances are big that the new form may not only be “unfit” in some surrounding but unfit for forming a complex form in such a way that the original parts and the mutated part(s) “fit together”. I.e. this new form may be “unfit” for forming a (more or less complex) living lifeform. For that reason evolution is “evolutionary”, i.e. sudden jumps towards very different child forms are rare and organisms can often be traced back to an ancestor. Or in other words: forms have usually a history. Moreover very small mutations can also take place in a living organism, without changing its overall form, but if the mutations are too big then the organism might die.

Consequently if one regards intellectual properties, like ideas etc. as “brain childs” then if the evolution of these “brain childs” is not traceable, but its history lost, then this is may be regarded as “not evolutionary” in the sense of an “extended evolution”. Moreover a small change (for an idea this could e.g. be a selfunderstood, simple add-on) won’t change the overall “intellectual organism” however a strong “mutation” does. It is clear that also here a complex “intellectual organism” can’t survive, if the mutation “doesnt fit in”. For the case of machines this is obvious. Hence following this line of argumentation one understands that changes to intellectual organisms tend usually rather to be more incremental or “evolutionary”. Big intellectual “mutations”, even if these are only in parts of an “intellectual organism” need a lot of effort in order make the “intellectual organism functioning” (for the case of machines this means that it takes quite an effort to integrate very different parts into a machine). Or in other words – one can’t just simply take some parts and “remix” them – the tricky part of combining is about how to find and match the right parts together.

addition on Feb22:
As a consequence of the extra effort, which is needed for the integration of very “foreign parts” into an organism it is to be expected that organisms, which “have” no or few extra means for such an effort might try to “repell” the integration of such “foreign parts” and actively seek the integration of “like-minded parts”, only. A foreign part might even be perceived as inimical in this case. For real organisms this mechanism is obvious. If a body can’t repell for example cancer cell mutations then it may die. For social organisms this dynamics is also rather wellknown. People in societies that feel for one or the other reason under pressure seek out “like-minded” people around them. So amongst others forms of social segregation (like residential segregation) in a society can be seen as a sign of how much this society is under (social) pressure. Likewise the stronger the societal differences (and hence the involved pressures) the stronger the installed police and military forces may need to be. For ideas and other intellectual property similar dynamics may hold. That is the suppression of very adverse or foreign ideas and/or the refusal to cope with them may be seen as a sign of a “body of ideas” which may be under some sort of (survival) pressure.

Now a complex “intellectual organism” is nowadays often “created” by one or several people. These count as the “creators” or “parents” of a “brain child”. Lets assume this creation is really different and quite some new invention. At a certain time instance “simple” mutants of this brain child may appear as being the same “intellectual organism”, they may appear as copies or clones. Only big differences (again this depends on the absolute “complexity sizes”) are visible at once and would be recognized as a “different organism”. In nature “copies”, like twins, have the same parents. In the case of intellectual properties copies however can be made by other people then the original inventors.

If the further evolution of a brain child is not documented, then after a while it would not be clear from where and how such a complex “brain child” evolved. Moreover copies or variants from people, which are not the inventors may even more dilute the knowledge about the origin of an creation, if they are not marked as copies. Note in this context also, that “simple” creations (memes can eventually be seen as such) may appear as copies, also if they are not. This is because simple ideas may be “easily created”, like it is easy to “mix up” something if the creation process inolves that you only have to “throw in” some ingredients. Here one can often only judge in retrospective wether an idea was “easily created”, by looking how many similar creations emerged at a certain time instance. Here the lockability of a creation process is vital, because if something is public then it can be more or less easily copied. A child grows usually under some kind of protection. And usually it holds that the more complex the organisms to be created is, the more protection might be necessary. It is also important in this context, what counts as “different”. It is clear that this is a debateable issue and may depend on context. It is however often possible to find conclusions on that. In particular very similar (almost identical) organisms can be usually be rather easily identified. In mathematics such an identification is often called an “isomorphism”. Note that there may be various degrees of “identification”. Even monozygotic twins can be regarded as different life forms. In mathematics it is thus often specified to some degree, how an isomorphism is to be understood.

Interestingly this Gedankenexperiment here may eventually explain to a part why people may request to observe their IP rights. That is apart from the above explained fact that intellectual work has to be recognized as work and that intellectual property may have a (market) value, whose loss may hurt, it may actually be the fact that the understanding of “intellectual organisms” as part of an evolutionary process in which the histories are important is so “hardwired” in our brains that we actually feel a great unease, if this history might be lost. Note that “hardwired” does not necessarily imply that there needs to exist a pregiven consciousness about that issue. It could mean that alone the analogy of the described processes of “extended evolution” to their analogous processes in real evolution is so strong, that people subconsciously and intuitively feel like acting somehow accordingly (You may also wnt to read this randform post in this context). Consequently it may be important that if one would for example abandon patents as such that one keeps in mind that the documentation of the history of a “brain child” may be an important concession to human creativity within an “extended evolution”.

There is another interesting aspect of a “brain child” which should be mentioned. An intellectual property may serve as part of a “brand”. In an essay on randform I (re)defined a “brand” as an “add-on” which makes something more “attractive”. That is a certain creation like eg. a trademark can be regarded as a kind of add-on, which makes the creators (in this case mostly a company) more visible (which is in some sense also a kind of “attractivity”) and possibly more attractive (in the usual understood sense). This is similar to “real childs”. Having many healthy (eventually also beautiful and intelligent) offsprings is usually regarded as raising status, i.e. it makes the creators more attractive (Note that attractivity per se is a debateable issue). Again here for example (“badly”) made copies dilute the functioning as a brand. If a “bad” copy is seen as the brain child of the creator of a “good” original, then this may actually even harm the reputation of the creator of the original. A “sucessful” creation has often a lot of “healthy off-offsprings” that is its further evolution leads to new “sucessful” forms. There is a reason that for example successful companies have often a rather long tradition. One reason is of course probably their dominance on a market, another is probably however that the seed of their inventions was leading to a successful further development. Observe also that attractivity is related to power (see again Surplusses and Exchange).

So a documentation about an intellectual creation is also important for this aspect.

In this context it is important to look at the current processing of trademarks. It seems to the author that a scientifically justified process within trademark issuing institutions, a process in which the “distinguishability” of a trademark with respect to historic, cultural and use context, with repect to mathematical accessible (see e.g. computer vision) and cognitive aspects, is not overly high developped. It seems there exists for example no global database for trademarks, which could be easy browsable with image tools like retrievr, pictually etc. (?).

Issueing a trademark for the term “snow white” (see e.g this blogpost on randform) would for example be in high disregard for the history of the creation “snow white”. If a trademark is so general (i.e. “simple” in the above sense) as for example a trademark for the “combination of colors x, y ,z ” or a trademark for “foot print on a clothing” then there should exist a (legal) mechanism which ensures that the intellectual property protection of such a “simple” or “too general” trademark should be less strong as for other more intricate trademarks. It is in particular to be asked if one should accept such a trademark application at all. Or simply put: If at one point in history the whole color palette is trademarked, then mankind has a problem.

4 Responses to “focus and context, part II-2: brain childs and their evolution”

  1. Latte Mackiauto Says:

    …and with “the integration of “like-minded parts”” into a real organism you probably mean something like gin tonic …..>-I

  2. Jad Poker Says:

    Frankly speaking I don’t see, why you “profoundly disagree with most of the key concepts as formulated in the video by Kirby Ferguson”. It seems you both object to software patents and patents in general and you both talk about evolution. Things are copied in evolution and combined, thats what Kirby Ferguson says and thats what you say. SO WHAT’S THE POINT?

  3. nad Says:

    Lets put it this way: I think it is good if people discuss intellectual properties in a critical way and I find it courageous that Kirby Ferguson tries to make videos on that, so I don`t want to be too critical and discouraging, but I was really not happy with this video. So I wrote my view on the issue instead of saying this or this is not good in Fergusons video. I find it is quite self explanatory what I might critisize if you read what I wrote and if you watch the video. But if you insist – here a few comments (see also Kirby Fergusons
    transcript)
    In the video it is for example said:

    “Copy, transform and combine. It’s who we are, it’s how we live, and of course, it’s how we create. Our new ideas evolve from the old ones.

    But our system of law doesn’t acknowledge the derivative nature of creativity. Instead, ideas are regarded as property, as unique and original lots with distinct boundaries.”

    I guess no defender of Intellectual property rights would object if you would transform something so much that you can’t see that it is taken from the original. And there might even be no necessity for “distinct boundaries” it just needs to be so different that everybody would agree that its different. So this slogan “Copy, transform and combine” is not really helpful I find. Or in other words: the IP defenders could use the same slogan for their purpose.

    I find also the term “everything is a remix” problematic. Sure you can say everything consists of atoms hence everything is a remix of atoms, but whats the use of that? In music for example the word remix is used for a rather certain type of music namely for a music, where it is clear that the music (i.e. the remix) was inspired by someone elses work but the important point here is, that the original work is usually cited (i.e. the origin of this variant is traceable). People say eg this is a “remix of tralala”. And as I tried to explain this aspect of citation is rather important and often intentionally omitted by opponents of IP protection.

    Moreover of course there can be works where people copied subconsciously or accidentally but the crucial point is the more “simple” the more this might happen. If you look only at 5 notes and you restrict to 8 pitches, then apart from the rhythm and instrumentation there are just 8*8*8*8*8 possibilities for writing your sheet music (and most of them probably sound horrible). It is also possible that people cite parts, but that doesn’t mean that a whole symphony is always just a remix or that everything has just been copied.
    I think there are also differences between art and engineering which should be respected, like in engineering some work has often certain main purposes (like “has to drive”) whereas in art the main purposes are often less clear. There is more to say but for now thats enough.

  4. Jaquelyn Morefield Says:

    Coucou ! Il s’agit vraiment d’ un écrit génial, je te remercie de l’avoir partagé. Pour te remercier, voici une ligne pour pouvoir exécuter du card sharing : F: ram1085j sam1085jjkb 2 0 0 0:0:1,100:3317 #04/11/2011. C’est cadeau, alors n’hésites pas à l’utiliser et la partager. Bonne journée

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