Modeling is not optional

EVERY GOOD REGULATOR OF A SYSTEM MUST BE A MODEL OF THAT SYSTEM

The design of a complex regulator often includes the making of a model of the system to be regulated. The making of such a model has hitherto been regarded as optional, as merely one of many possible ways.

In this paper a theorem is presented which shows, under very broad conditions, that any regulator that is maximally both successful and simple must be isomorphic with the system being regulated.  (The exact assumptions are given.) Making a model is thus necessary.

The theorem has the interesting corollary that the living brain, so far as it is to be successful and efficient as a regulator for survival, must proceed, in learning, by the formation of a model (or models) of its environment.

That’s from a classic cybernetics paper by Conant & Ashby (Int. J. Systems Sci., 1970, vol. 1, No. 2, 89-97). It even has an interesting web project dedicated to it.

It’s one of several on a nice reading list on the foundations of complexity that I ran across at the Sante Fe Institute. Some of the pdfs are here.

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