The universe is greebling.

New innovations add more and more layers of details. Those layers of details create new spaces, new possibilities, new ideas.

It happens in ecologies, with evolution. In economies, with innovation. And in thoughtspace – every brilliant new meme, every time a critic gets *just* the right phrase to explain the dynamics of a new movie or the emotions it provokes.

Every new thing that comes into being to fit into a space not only creates new space, new gaps, new niches; that thing can then be used in *new* and innovative ways.

Call it preadaptation, exaptation, or an affordance; using a thing that came into being for one purpose, for a different purpose; new possibilities.

Like the shoreline paradox – the more finely you measure a shoreline, the longer it is – this means our living world is constantly getting bigger and bigger, as it can be measured in different ways.

And every new space creates new sensors which create new worlds of experience.

Everything we do supports the unfolding and self-expression of the universe.

This ongoing complexification, this galactic unfurling, creates new worlds and new possibilities faster than we can imagine.

What’s your favourite new thing, idea, adaptation, possibility?

#innovation #growth #cosmology

Some references:

Greebling is a word which has recently become cool on twitter:

In its original use, it refers to adding details (often taken from existing modelling kits) to Star Wars spaceships to give them an appearance of size and organic detail; ‘guts on the outside’ – now it is used in all kinds of fun ways, with ‘degreebling’ meaning to get to (and potentially steal) the essence of an idea. Most business books are mostly greebling.

About the unfurling; on a ‘building the field of systems change retreat’ at Wasan Island, we worked on our ‘goal statements’ in pairs, and myself and my colleague gleefully came up with the purpose of systems change being “support the ongoing unfolding of complexity of the universe”.

Along the lines of Marv Weisbord’s concept of moving from ‘experts solve problems’ to ‘everybody solves problems’ to ‘experts improve whole systems’ to ‘everybody improves whole systems’ (, one prospect of systems change is applying this self-reference, self-awareness, self-adaption at a wider level still.

The coastline paradox:

I’m indebted to the brilliant Stuart Kauffman for this piece in two ways:

The paper ‘The world is not a theorem’ – Kauffman and Roli which, broadly, argues against a deterministic/mechanistic view (or the competence of such) through the point of view of affordances (affordances from Gibson – “affordances elude a formalization in mathematical terms: we argue that it is not possible to apply set theory to affordances, therefore we cannot devise a mathematical theory of affordances and the evolution of the biosphere.”

And his lecture here: which goes further, talking about preadaptation as a comparable mechanism (still with the anti-mechanistic focus; but if we compare ‘unfurling’ to the rolling-out of a fern, we can see that there will, of course, be one level of description at which a mechanistic analysis is possible – and, as always, it will describe not explain).

The ‘new sensors create new worlds’ is no doubt to be found in the literature (it has echoes of Nicolescu’s Transcdisciplinarity ), but I came to this as a student thinking about Science Fiction; if you have very fine fingers you live in a different world from someone with great big beefy fists.

6 thoughts on “The universe is greebling.

  1. On LikedIn an interesting comments from Michael Garfield:

    Let’s not forget Benjamin P. Taylor that this added resolution comes with a metabolic cost for sensing and computation and that there are bounds to fine-graining imposed by access to the resources that sustain this arms race in modeling. Greebling is a collapse formula as systems end up generating problems at timescales too fast for them to adapt

    I said:

    This provokes at least three responses!

    (And seems well worth a chat).

    1) yes, sensible – new worlds, new meanings require new sensors and envisioning which require new work. And it does rather call into question Heinz von Foerster’s ethical imperative: “Act always so as to increase the number of choices.”!

    2) I wonder about the application of this kind of physics and game-theoretic approach sometimes. Greebling is actually the creation of new worlds – which while they all supervene on the physical, somehow work orthogonally, or even ‘in a different dimension. New possibilities emerge which work in different pace layers, in different energetic ways. It’s not all detail and coastline paradox. i.e. If “affordances elude a formalization in mathematical terms”, that seems to suggest irreducibility in such terms.

    And then… all the possibilities created in any dimensions become affordances in all the others…. so you never know! (I feel there’s a Terry Pratchett quote called for here)

    3) welp. That’s not good news then, is it? -The further working-out of the universe, much like the existence of negentropic entities, turns out to be an entropy accelerator.


  2. Reblogged this on the once-chosen path and commented:

    You know that narrative ‘the world is getting faster and more complex and uncertain than ever before’? I’ve always been deeply suspicious of it, not least because it has been being said since *at least* the 1950s, and the pace of complexification in the second world war was something I think it is hard to see even today.

    However, I’ve now found my own version of it thanks to a twitter in-joke and Stuart Kauffman – a version I’m happy with, for now.


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