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Vicarious Selectors

Knowledge is a mechanism that makes systems more efficient in surviving different circumstances, by short cutting the purely blind variation and selection they have to do.

A selector is a system capable of selecting variation. (Thus a selector can be understood as as agent of will. ) Knowledge functions as an anticipatory or vicarious selector . A vicarious selector carries selection out in anticipation of something else, e.g. the environment or "Nature" at large. For example, molecule configurations selectively retained by a crystal template are intrinsically stable, and would have been selected even without the presence of a template. The template accelerates, or catalyses, the selection, and thus can be said to anticipate, or to vicariously represent, the naturally selected configuration.

One can also imagine anticipatory selectors making different selections under different circumstances, compensating different perturbations by different actions. This kind of anticipatory selection has the advantage that inadequate internal variations will no longer lead to the destruction of the system, since they will be eliminated before the system as a whole becomes unstable. Thus anticipatory selectors select possible actions of the system in function of the system's goal (ultimately survival) and the situation of the environment. By eliminating dangerous or inadequate actions before they are executed, the vicarious selector forgoes the selection by the environment, and thus increases the chances for survival of the system.

An vicarious selector can be seen as the most basic form of an anticipatory control system or indeed of any model. A model is necessarily simpler than the environment it represents, and this enables it to run faster than, and thus anticipate, the processes in the environment. It is this anticipation of interactions between the system and its environment, with their possibly negative effects, that allows the system to compensate perturbations before they have had the opportunity to damage the system.

Copyright© 1995 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen, & C. Joslyn,

Jul 14, 1995 (modified)
Jan. 1992 (created)


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