Knowledge shielding

In an adaptive system knowledge acquired through interaction with the environment should be protected from the internal dynamics of the system. Practopoiesis is a theory of such adaptive systems, and it states that any higher level of organization within the system cannot change the structures at lower levels of organization. A consequence is that the cybernetic knowledge at lower levels of organization are protected—or shielded—from the activities at higher levels of organization.

Shielding has beneficial consequence for the system because general cybernetic knowledge is protected from the whims of the specific knowledge. Given that general knowledge is more difficult to acquire and the acquisition typically takes longer time, it would be detrimental to the system as a whole if its general knowledge would be readily lost by being replaced with the most recent one.

For that reason, the system must have a way to ensure that no direct “downward” causation occurs from the higher levels of organization towards its lower levels of organization. Implementation of one such protective mechanism is epitomized in F. Crick’s Central dogma of molecular biology, which states that information can travel only from DNA to proteins but not the other way around. Pratopoiesis presumes that a similar rule holds for all other parts of the system— knowledge of the immune system stored in the plasma cells of bone marrow; behavioral knowledge stored in the anatomy of the nervous system. At any given level of organization, changes to cybernetic knowledge should occur only by the actions of the mechanisms at lower levels, and not from those at higher levels of organization.

That way, the system refrains from possessing an internal capability for executing downward causation. Instead, in adaptive systems causation towards down occurs only through the environment i.e, through eco-feedback. This results in a specific form of dynamics known as practopoietic loop of causation.

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