Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash- Death Valley, United States — ”I found myself trekking through the dunes in the middle of 33mph winds. It was early in the morning when the winds were less violent, but when the sunrise hit the winds took a drastic change for the worse”….

In search of Ground Truths…

Navigating our Material World

Richard Schutte
10 min readAug 5, 2020


Ground Truth — a term used to refer to the information provided by direct observations or experience (i.e. empirical evidence — Material World) as opposed to information provided by inference ( i.e. abstraction — a theory or pure logic — Model of the World — Mental World )

“If knowledge is information that has causal power”

— Are algorithms knowledge?

Thanks to Roman Mager for sharing their work on Unsplash.

Reason and rationality are anchored in our attempts to abstract regularities that we draw from our perception & actions in a complex emergent Material World.

Our desire for order and prediction.

Despite classical views of Materialism[1] or Idealism[2], the quality of reason[35] and our search for Ground Truths is integrated and combines our Material World experience and Mental World abstraction.

A process of Open Inquiry[3] and Reflexivity— anchored in Abduction[4], Fallibilism[5] and Epistemological Humility[6] — recognising our — Bounded Rationality[7] — and — the inherent nature of the Human Condition[8].

Heinz von Foerster[9] — Austrian American Scientist, Guggenheim and American Association for the Advance of Science Fellow — was the originator of Second-Order Cybernetics — the ability of a system to reflect on itself.

A concern with ethics, epistemology, self-consistency, self-organisation, self-referentially and the autonomy of complex systems.

Later in life, an interview highlighted this phenomenon — his reflexive journey to the essence of his chosen disciplines — Physics & Philosophy — to understand the complex natural world and reality.

…“In the course of my life, the more I concerned myself with physics, I realised that actually I was a “meta-physicist”.

An then I increasingly played with that idea.”[10]…

A profound insight into the reflective nature of human intelligence and consciousness.

Our ability to be aware of not only the world around us but ourselves, our body, our activities and our mental lives — a reflexive Second-Order Cybernetic system.

A shift from Physics to Meta-Physics[11].

“And if you ask me: “My dear Heinz von Foerster, what is meta-physicist?”, I would say the following:

There are questions among those we ask about the world that it is possible to answer: “Heinz von Foerster, how old are you?”Well, you can look that up in a catalog: Born in 1911, that means he is 90.

Or you can ask questions which cannot be answered, like for example:”Heinz von Foerster, tell me, what was the origin of the universe?” Well, then I could give you one of 35 different theories”...

…“ there are so many different hypotheses because the question cannot be answered[10]”…

Thanks to NASA for sharing their work on Unsplash.

In a world of global connectivity — Ai and the internet ( the mesh[12]) — the stark complexity of Reality, an over reliance on deductive reasoning & algorithms and the atomisation of narratives become more and more apparent.

We are awash in a sea of information.

Our Models of the World run the risk of moving further away from the World.

…“How can we let a world-wide networked system of machines grow more or less into infinity, if it based on theories that apparently have holes or are only “good stories”.

I mean such shaky foundations?

Isn’t that dangerous?

Well in this world-wide functioning system of machines all theories are correct[10]”...

Whether it’s the widespread embracement of narratives and stories or the use of deduction, logic, reason, science and mathematics — there are questions we cannot answer.

“And of course that's what people want.

And why are they correct?

Because they can be deduced from other theories and “stories”

But what will it lead to?

How does it go on?

It goes on deducing indefinitely.

But there have to be limits somewhere?

No, not at all, thats the good thing about it. You can go on forever.

In logic…

Yes, precisely..

But in reality?

Where is reality?

Can you show it to me?[10]”…

The interview starkly highlights the challenge we face in the 21st Century — an Age of Entanglement[13] — an Age of Complexity.

A world that is not independent of the observer.

Three new Axioms — foundational truths of Reality — Complexity[14], Uncertainty and the Human Condition.

The fundamental importance of embracing Human’s innate qualities for self reflection — Second-Order Cybernetics[15].

Being open and humble enough to continuously test our Models of the World with the World — a perpetual OODA Loop[16].

Thanks to Krzysztof Hepner for sharing their work on Unsplash.

In our search for a set of classical deductive Inference Truths in uncertainty — a Universal Theory — a Theory of Everything[17] — Are we edging closer and closer to the Matrix?

A generated form of Reality invented by Machines? — Plato’s Allegory of the Cave[18] and Theory of Forms[19].

Thanks to Ashwin Vaswani for sharing their work on Unsplash.

The evolution of Machine and Deep Learning

Nobel Prize Dutch Physicist Gerard’t Hooft[20] has developed a Cellular Automation interpretation of Quantum Mechanics to reconcile the empirical predictive Quantum Mechanical tools with an absence of a unifying Quantum Theory.

Similarly, Stephen Wolfram[21] published in 2002 — A new kind of Science [22]— which outlined the idea that nature runs on a simple set of computational rules can still create a rich, sometimes chaotic and complex system as a whole (e.g. Rule 30 of elementary cellular automation) — A Theory of Everything.

A quote from a recent Scientific American[23] article:

“At its heart, Wolframs new approach is a computational picture of the cosmos — one where the fundamental rules that the universe obeys resemble lines of computer code. This code acts on a graph, a network of points with connections between them, that grows and changes as the digital logic of the code clicks forward one step at a time”…

These ideas have increasingly influenced the thinking and innovation occurring across both Classical and the emergent Quantum domains of Machine & Deep Learning.

By applying advanced statistical computation methods to more and more data and examples — simplified algorithms can be generated that identify patterns and compress the complexity of Reality.

Similar to Quantum Mechanics, a new form of empirical mathematical prediction has emerged.

Powerful new computational tools that unbundle complexity.

Thanks to Umberto for sharing their work on Unsplash.

When combined with these recent Cellular Automata theories in Physics, we now have possible pathways for the convergence of these new Models of the World ( Theories) with these new Empirical Tools.

However, if we don’t incorporate within our emergent frameworks for these complex systems self-reflexive feedback loops anchored in our lived experience and alternative perspectives, including ethics, morals, values — we run the risk of shaping a dystopian future.

A world dominated by Algorithms and Systems of Machines.

A world where we possibly believe that we have somehow overcome the limits of the Human Condition – the limits of deduction and knowing – outlined by Meta-Physicist Heinz von Foerster.

A Reality Gap.

In our earlier article — Synthesis[24]— we illustrated how the Natural Sciences were elevated to the centre of Society including our economy, education system and social power structures as we progressed through the Industrial Revolution.

Will we see a similar shift in the Knowledge Age?

A world where data scientists, computer engineers, and organisations that hold data lakes in the cloud powered by computational machines, algorithms and APIs become the “value” creators.

Thanks to Brian McGowan for sharing their work on Unsplash.

We are already seeing the advanced signs of this shift.

The 5 largest Technology companies in the United States already represent in excess of 30% of the S&P 500 Index.

Deeper and deeper data lakes generated by the internet and ever increasing computation & memory are fuelling the Machines and generating new generations of Algorithms.

Biology and Medicine are increasingly converging with Digital Code & Computation.

Digital Platforms and Ecosystems have become the new Business Models.

Algorithmic Trading has increasingly become the dominant form of harvesting short term “value” in the Financial Markets.

An anthropomorphic narrative has emerged that Artificial Intelligence may replace Humans — Artificial General Intelligence – fast approaching Singularity .

A deterministic computational algorithmic view of Reality.

Nothing more starkly illustrates the accelerating shifts underway than a recent July 2020 Report issued by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence[25] to the United States Congress related to National Security and the Military.

A world where Ai is embedded across all Departments and Agencies.

Where a new University is recommended to be established to train Government Ai Coders.

A proposals reflective of similar approaches being embraced by countries and regions such as China, Europe, Russia and a range of developed countries around the World.

Thanks to Ilya Pavlov for sharing their work on Unsplash.

A Model of the World anchored in abstraction, simplicity & algorithms in contrast to a Real World anchored in the shared lived experience, complexity and interdependencies.

A shift from the Tangible to the Intangible

A new world order where power shifts from Energy to Information — where data and surveillance are the new oil

A world where our Digital and Real Worlds collide and the Reality Gap is expressed through volatility

A world where Algorithms become the primary form of competitive advantage

A world where Intelligence is “Artificial”

But where are the Humans and the Second-Order Cybernetics?

There are limits to such a narrative in a world of Complexity.

In our earlier article — “In search of wisdom in the Information and Knowledge Age[26]” we quoted 20th Century Political Philosopher Hannah Arendt[27]:

“The need for reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning”…

A form of knowledge beyond an algorithm where “context”, the lived human experience and agency are as important as information with causal power.

Sensemaking[28], Collective Sensemaking[29] and the importance of The Public Sphere[30].

A Human Dimension to knowledge creation via creativity , ideas and problem solving.

Thanks to Cherry Laithang for sharing their work on Unsplash.

We are at a critical juncture in the evolution of humanity and are faced with an important societal choice.

We can choose a path that increasingly elevates technology, and algorithms to places at the centre of our economy, power and authority.

A world dominated by big data, information, surveillance , “knowing” and “certainty” despite the Complexity of Reality.

A shaky foundation.

Or we can choose an alternative path.

A world where deductive algorithmic reason is balanced with perception and experience.

The Algorithmic Mind – Abstraction of Ground Truths and Ground Motives – with – Geometric Mind[31]Patterns of Thought[32] – with – Semantic Mind[33] – Relationships of Meaning.

A Harmony[35] between our Ground Truths and Ground Motives.

A recognition of our Human Condition, our interdependencies[34] and that there remains fundamental questions that we simply cannot answer.

The importance of context, morals, values and meaning in shaping our collective reality.

A reflective[36] second-order cybernetic system.

Understanding Understanding [37].

A world where technology is embraced yet anchored in supporting Humanity.

Knowledge beyond algorithms for an interconnected and interdependent world .

Thanks to NASA for sharing their work on Unsplash.


[1] Materialism — What_is_Materialism

[2] Idealism —

[3] Open Inquiry —

[4] Abduction —

[5] Fallibilism —

[6] Epistemological Humility —

[7] Bounded Rationality —

[8] Speech, Action, and the Human Condition: Hannah Arendt on How We Invent Ourselves and Reinvent the World —

[9] Heinz von Foerster —

[10] Heinz von Foerster — Where Is Reality? Can You Show It To Me? —

[11] MetaPhysics — metaphysics

[12] Kevin Kelly (Wired) on The emerging V-Cloud —

[13] The Age of Entanglement —

[14] The Complexity Void —

[15] Second-Order Cybernetics —

[16] OODA Loop — The OODA Loop: How Fighter Pilots Make Fast and Accurate Decisions —

[17] Theory of Everything —

[18] Allegory of the Cave —

[19] Plato: A Theory of Forms —

[20]Gerardus ‘t Hooft —

[21] Stephen Wolfram — /

[22] A new kind of Science —

[23] Physicists Criticize Stephen Wolfram’s ‘Theory of Everything’ —

[24] Synthesis —

[25] Final Report — National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence —

[26] In search of wisdom in the Information and Knowledge Age —

[27] Hannah Arendt —

[28] Sensemaking, the core skill for the 21st Century… —

[29] Collective Sensemaking … —

[30] The Public Sphere … —

[31] The Geometric Mind … —

[32] The Power of the Patterns… —

[33] The Semantic Mind … —

[34] Interdependent… —

[35] The Quality of Reason… — the-quality-of-reason-cc4c5e3dae3a

[36] Reflexivity… —

[37] Understanding Understanding —



Richard Schutte

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid