The Principle of Blind Variation
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The Principle of Blind Variation

At the most fundamental level variation processes "do not know" which of the variants they produce will turn out be be selected

This principle is not self-evident, but can be motivated by Ockham's razor. If it were not valid, we would have to introduce some explanation (e.g. design by God) to account for the "foreknowledge" of variation, and that would make the model more complicated than it needs to be. The blindness of variation is obvious in biological evolution, based on random mutations and recombinations. Yet even perfectly deterministic dynamical systems can be called blind, in the sense that if the system is complex enough it is impossible to predict whether the system will reach a particular attractor (select a stable configuration of states) without explicitly tracing its sequence of state transitions (variation) (Heylighen, 1991).

Of course many interactions are not blind. If I tackle a practical problem, I normally do not try out things at random, but rather have some expectations of what will work and what will not. Yet this knowledge itself was the result of previous trial-and-error processes, where the experience of success and failure was selectively retained in my memory, available for guiding later activities. Similarly, all knowledge can be reduced to inductive achievements based on blind-variation-and-selective-retention (BVSR) at an earlier stage. Together with Campbell (1974), I postulate that it must be possible to explain all cases of "non-blindness" (that is to say variation constrained in such a way as to make it more likely to satisfy selection) as the result of previous BVSR processes.

Reference: Heylighen F. (1992): "Principles of Systems and Cybernetics: an evolutionary perspective", in: Cybernetics and Systems '92, R. Trappl (ed.), (World Science, Singapore), p. 3-10.

Copyright© 1991 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen,

Nov 1991


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Principles of Systems and Cybernetics

Blind Variation and Selective Retention

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