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AGING, NOISE AND CHOICE STANFORD GOLDMAN* The purpose ofthis paper is to try to throw new light on the problem of aging by exploiting ideas in the fields of random noise, choice, and dynamic stability. A preliminary analysis gives us reason to believe that this may lead to worthwhile new concepts in dealing with many of the phenomena ofaging.1 I. Control Systems and Choice Using the language of engineers we shall define a control system as a mechanism whose purpose is to get something done in accordance with a plan, or to follow instructions. All highly developed organisms have within their structures a very large number ofinterrelated control systems. These control systems do such things as maintain an adequate circulation of the blood, control body temperature, regulate the depth and rate of breathing, and maintain the proper concentration ofvarious chemicals in the blood. There are also local control systems which keep the individual cells functioning in a manner suitable to sustain the over-all activity of the organism or animal. In addition to the foregoing control functions, all of which are carried out automatically or involuntarily, there are the voluntary control systems whose purpose is to enable a man to move * Department of Electrical Engineering, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York 13210. I have benefited from discussion with Virgil Eveleigh, Seymour Fisher, Thomas and Bertie Argyris, Josef Zwislocki, Harold Smulyan, and especially Jay Tepperman. Work was sponsored by the Information Systems Branch of the Office of Naval Research. 1 Originally this paper was planned to include a detailed treatment of some important degenerative diseases from the point of view developed here. Space considerations have made this impractical , in any case. However, quite apart from space considerations, this has not been done because it turned out that this was really a different subject from the general analysis ofthe aging problem given here. In order to deal with specific degenerative diseases, an evaluation must often be made of the state of knowledge concerning the disease, and a stand must sometimes be taken in regard to conflicting points ofview in the literature. Although not reported here, a certain amount of consideration was given to specific degenerative diseases during the preparation of this paper, and this was valuable in guiding our thinking. 12 Stanford Goldman · Aging, Noise and Choice Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Autumn 1968 various parts ofhis body and engage in other activities in accordance with his conscious desires. In this paper we shall attempt to gain insight into the phenomena ofaging by studying the aging ofcontrol systems. The analysis reported here had its origin in our observation in an earlier study [i] thatcontrol systemsinliving organisms characteristicallybecome increasingly subject to certain types ofrandom errors with the passage of time. Translated into the language of a communication engineer, this represents an increase in the noise level ofthe control system. To understand the significance of this, we refer to Figure i. Let us suppose that the control system is able to set a characteristic2 of an organism somewhere in the range between A and B. Then we shall say that 5, the signal range, is the distance between A and B. The noise level, N, is the average Ï A Fig. i precision possible. The number of significant different values at which the control system can be set may then be shown to be typically (i + [S/ N]). Stated differently, the available choice in setting the control system is (i + [5/N]). This elementary illustration is characteristic ofthe general phenomenon that the available choice in the response ofa control system declines rapidly as the noise level rises. There is a great deal of evidence to indicate that the loss of available choice is perhaps the characteristic measure of the aging process both in biological control systems and in sensory perception. In information theory the logarithm of available choice is found to be mathematically similar to negative entropy. As is well known, (positive) entropy in thermodynamics is a measure ofthe disintegration (disorganization) ofa physical system. It is therefore to be expected that available choice will decrease as a system becomes disorganized. 1 This characteristic may, for example, be the rate at which blood is supplied to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 12-30
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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