Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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I hasten to point out that Richard & Mark claim to be non-reductive naturalists. I would like to find just one paper that exposes the oxymoronicity of non-reductive naturalism. If Darwinism is not reductive it looses most or all its force, I believe. This is being pointed out by the IDers with their irreducible-complexity argument against Darwin. For instance, if any aspect of consciousness is irreducible, then we are faced with the pre-existence of mind and intelligence, obviating the Darwinian thesis.
I have mentioned before that the only way around this anti-Darwinian conclusion is by means of a Sheldrakian 'mechanism' of spontaneous morphogenetic resonance. Such an anti-mechanical mechanism, just in itself, however, would be a large foot in the door for all kinds of teleological mischief. Give us an inch; we take a mile. That's exactly why the wizard's of scientific secularism, Weinberg & Co., are being so hardnosed about reductionism. Don't the 'naturalists' get it? By the way, my singular meeting with Rupert was in a crop circle. Need we say more?
How the non-reductive naturalists avoid this realization is the mystery of the moment. Has no one bothered to clue them in? There must be a reason for the divide between physicalism and naturalism; a reason that is being downplayed, evidently. Why is reductionism so much debated if it does not have far reaching consequences? The naturalists are naturally reluctant to speculate as to how far reaching these consequences are. What then is their motivation relative to the reduction issue? They may think that they are merely are supporting scientific realism, particularly as it applies to the life sciences. But at the very least this makes them vitalists, and even panpsychists. How many inches between these and pantheism, and then..., you know what?
I recall more than a few theistic authors complaining about scientific reductionism. Is it only ideology which prevents a joint tactical anti-reductive effort?
Back to search mode. Or is it head-scratching mode?
As if in answer to my question, my next click was on Downward Causation by Claus Emmeche [Danish Biosemiotician], et al., of nonsectarian demeanor. But, then go to the Amazon listing, and what do we see? It is paired with a book by Dembski, a ringleader of the neo-Creationists, but with no explanation for the selection. Evidently, I am not the only one anticipating a tactical fusion of anti-reductive interests.
And it appears that Naturalism : A Critical Analysis (Routledge Studies in Twentieth Century Philosophy, 2000) by William Lane Craig (Editor), J. P. Moreland (Editor) might answer some of the above questions. It includes this article: 'The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism' by Robert C. Koons, 1998. But this latter turns out to be one of the most opaquely argued pieces I have come across in recent memory. Too bad. [But here I am in a more congenial mood.]

[11/12]


I am presently reviewing Claus's homepage. I notice that he maintains links to Radical Constructivism (Austrian site, Heinz von Foerster, et al.) as well as to the Creationism debate, quite eclectic. Radical constructivism has strong immaterialist tendencies, with ties to biology and cybernetics. Notice the link to Stephen C. Pepper. Stephen's root metaphors and world hypotheses have been influential for me, from early on.
Clearly biosemiotics is important for us, and Claus appears to be the most eclectic thinker in the field. Gilles Fauconnier is another person on this fringe, yet to be reckoned with.
I have yet to find a point of direct confrontation between biosemiotics and reductionism. There is not the deliberate provocation that we find with Richard Campbell above. I notice that Richard has considerable background in the philosophy of religion. For an academician to stick her neck out in this arena requires more than a little fortitude and experience with the big picture. Being on the verge of retirement is another likely factor. Unfortunately, this is Richard's only publication presently on-line.
I'm reading Alexei Sharov's personal philosophy relative to biosemiotics. He emphasizes his pragmatism, but note the priorities:
Religious experience has proven to be useful for billions of people. But other people may not need it. Because people have different Umwelts they cannot come to agreement on whether the God exists or not. But this disagreement does not prevent them to communicate using overlapping portions of their Umwelts. It is not the goal of science to prove that God does not exist; science has other more important [sic] goals.
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Biosemiotics is rather close to evolutionary epistemology in the following aspects. It considers knowledge as a natural phenomenon which can be studied using the evolutionary theory. Biosemiotics is a descriptive science and rejects normative epistemology and normative ethics.
However, most people who develop evolutionary epistemology are realists, including the founders (Campbell, Lorenz, and Popper). Popper thought that scientific language has fixed meaning, and therefore scientific knowledge is objective and absolute. I think that there is no absolute (observer-independent) knowledge. However, there may be levels of "objectivity" depending on the scope of usefulness of knowledge (how large is the group of people who apply this knowledge and how successful this application was in the past). In this sense, scientific knowledge is more "objective" than superstitions.
I see a peculiar (politically correct?) form of quasi-realism at work -- constructive realism? The unaddressed issue is conceptualism. What is the ontology of our concepts? How does semiotics obviate semantics? What is the ontic status of a sign? Why not 'biosemantics'? This might be worth pursuing. Are semiotics and constructivism both reductionistic? Are they just neo-materialist? But wait, what about informatics? Is there a distinction between informatics and semiotics? What is the ontology of the former?
Is the avoidance of ontology deliberate? How long can it persist? Without a realist ontology, science will quickly slide into idealism. With a realist ontology the slide will just be a little slower! Either way, we see that science and realism are on a collision course. Thus the avoidance and denials of the inevitable show down.
OK, back to Google: semiotics & reductionism: and right back to Claus: 'Modeling life- on the semiotics of emergence and computation':
Artificial Life may help us to see that the idea of universality of the fundamental principles of life may be a presupposition, a metaphysical prejudice with a questionable basis.
The dualism between structure and process, form and function, part and whole, inheritance and environment, contingency and necessity, holism and reductionism, vitalism and mechanism, energy and information, concept and metaphor. The construction of Artificial Life may help to dissolve some of these dualisms, or maybe combine or re-invent them in more fruitful ways, and inseminate new ideas about the nature of living beings. In this perspective Artificial Life can be seen as a new way of `reading' the science of biology. Using a metaphor from literary criticism we may call it a deconstructive reading: Alife actuates a deconstruction of the Good-Old-Fashioned-Biological Life.
Oh dear, I'm disappointed with Claus. I would say he is putting too much stock in Artificial Life, whose main function is simply to help us avoid and deny the problem of reductionism.
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Let's try again: 'The cybersemiotic model: An evolutionary view on the threshold between semiosis and informational exchange', Soren Brier:
The present paper discussed various suggestions for a philosophical framework for a trans-disciplinary information science or a semiotic doctrine. These are: the mechanical materialistic, the pan-informational, the Luhmanian second order cybernetic approach, Peircian biosemiotics and finally the pan-semiotic approach. The limitations of each are analysed. The conclusion is that we will not have to choose between either a cybernetic-informational or a semiotic approach. A combination of a Peircian -based biosemiotics with autopoiesis theory, second order cybernetics and information science is suggested in a five -leveled cybersemiotic framework . The five levels are 1 ) a level of First ness, 2 ) a level of mechanical matter, energy and force as Secondness, 3 ) a cybernetic and thermo dynamic level of information, 4 ) a level of sign games and 5 ) a level of conscious language games.
Well, we shall see.....
But Peirce's semiotics is a very good non-reductionistic framework to start from since it takes its point of departure in semiotic mind.
The conception - especially of Maturana and Varela and also von Foerster - also comes close to Jacob von Uexkülls Umweltslehre. It is a kind of bio-constructivism. Unfortunately it tends to be rather idealistic, sometimes even solipsistic in certain formulations while, at the same time, it insists on the material reality of a biological observing system. Von Uexküll is a declared vitalist, who sees living systems as species, stretching theory Umwelt bauplans through time eternal. This makes him an anti-Darwinist. But Lorenz, on the other hand, used part of Uexkülls theory to found ethology. He fitted it into a neo-Darwinian paradigm,....
In Peircian semiotic philosophy these levels can be bound together by Synechism, Tychism and Agapism combined with the evolutionary view of the interaction of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness. The view of Firstness as a blend of mind and matter qualities and as containing qualia and living feeling with a tendency to take habits is crucial to understand the self-organizing capabilities of nature and how, what seem as dead matter, through self-organization in evolution can become autopoietic and alive with cognitive/semiotic and feeling abilities.
The ontology is all over the map. Claus and Alexei reject all ontology; Soren accepts all ontology. I'm not sure that there is any practical difference.
The term quasi-sign suggests an answer to the question whether there can be semiosis in a machine of the kind which Peirce knew. A quasi-sign is only in certain respects like a sign, but it does not fulfill all criteria of semiosis. While some criteria of semiosis may be present in machines, others are missing.
Well, this is something.
When information theory attempts to encompass the area of meaning and semantics it passes and destroys the semiotic threshold too, but now in the other direction blurring the difference between informational and semiotic processes, and thereby between mechanical signal manipulating or quasi-semiotic systems and living systems. This produces all sorts of simplistic theories about intelligences that are not able to grasp the cognitive processes special for embodied living systems, not to speak of conscious socio-linguistic systems.
.....and better still. I suspect that the upper echelons of Semioticians continue to respect these ontological distinctions, in keeping with their Continental phenomenology. It is the worker bees who may try to cut these ontological corners in order not to upset the mainly Anglo-American scientific establishment, which confronts Creationism on a daily basis.
Peirce's view that we cannot with any good reasons split the concepts of mind and matter from the beginning, is very sound and a profound basis. I do not see any good reason why the inner world of cognition, emotions and volition should not be accepted as just as real as the physical world as well as our cultural world of signs and meaning.
Finally to both the spiritualist and the materialistic, embodied life, even with only one cell as the body, has to be a basic part of, or a component of constructing a reality. We are thinking in - or maybe even - with the body. The psyche and its inner world arise within and between biological systems or bodies. With Peirce one may say that there will always be some kind of psyche in any kind of biological autopoietic and code dual system. Still, a partly autonomous inner world of emotions, perceptions and volitions, only seems to arise in multi-cellular chordates with a central nervous system. Lorenz (1973) argues that such a system with emotions and experiences of pleasure is necessary for animals to have appetitive behavior, searching for the objects or situations that can elicit their instinctual behavior and release the motivational urge built up behind it. This is qualitatively different from how reflexes function on a signal, which is a proto-semiotic informational level. Instincts sign function is on a genuine semiotic level.
.....to be perfectly frank about it.
SEMIOSIC BODY-MIND (THE) -- Jesper Hoffmeyer:
20th century life sciences have been characterised by two major trends. One trend is molecular and genetic reductionism. This trend is well known and need no further comment. Beginning as an undercurrent to this trend, however, another much less noticed but in the long run just as important trend has gradually been unfolding: The semiotisation of nature.
.....and in the other corner, Semiotics.
While it is understandable that biology as a profession prefers to base its understanding of basic life processes on a concept of information having been developed in the safe world of physics, this way of saving the life sciences from the muddy waters of interpretative processes nevertheless seems increasingly illusory the more we learn about the true subtleties of those processes.
There can be no doubt that reductionism in the life sciences has been healthy considered as a research strategy, and it should be pursued as such. But when it comes to theory, it seems that reductionism and the dualism on which it is justified, has run into serious problems. To explain life as 'nothing-but-interacting-molecules' leaves out a whole dimension of life, which the reductionist research strategy has itself helped digging out, the dimension of semiosis.
....not to mince words.
A semiotic cosmology
"We must understand our world in such a way that it shall not be absurd to claim, that this world has itself produced us" (Prigogine and Stenger 1984). With this statement Prigogine and Stenger want to remind us to the logical problem implied by a traditional scientific world view: If our physical theories explain nature as a stupid thing, how come that this 'thing' was as a matter of fact capable of creating us? Creativity cannot logically grow out of a non-creative world. Ironical as it is, traditional science therefore needs miracle (or alternatively it may of course eliminate creativity by claiming absolute determinism - but that leads us into the absurdity of believing that we couldn't possibly have believed other than what we believe, which is then not a belief but a kind of mental spasm).
Jesper keeps getting better. This is nice! When will creationism discover semiotics? There is probably already a Creationist Establishment which sees Semiotics as a threat to its job security, no doubt.
What I suggest, then, is that the development of individual intentionality in clever animals was preceded by the development of an evolutionary intentionality (which itself was preceded by a cosmic quasi-intentionality (Hoffmeyer 1998)). Rather than excluding unminded bodies from the kingdom of semiosis by applying the rigid criterion proposed by Eco I suggest we accept the idea that semiosis is itself an evolutionary phenomenon exhibiting different degrees of freedom. Evolution might then be seen, as Gregory Bateson suggested, as itself a kind of mind process, and by implication all bodies in the world are in a way minded bodies. As I have suggested earlier one might even say that the unfolding in our universe of increasing semiotic freedom is what evolution is all about.
....teleology, anyone?
'Has Biosemiotics come of age?' -- Marcello Barbieri (2002):
The third paper, by Frederik Stjernfelt, begins with the announcement that "Jakob von Uexkull's theoretical biology is a main contribution to the developmental, or epigenetic, trend in the biology of recent centuries, a lineage involving scholars like Goethe, Saint-Hilaire, von Baer, d'Arcy Thompson, Spemann, Driesch, Waddington, Brian Goodwin, Rene' Thom and Stuart Kauffman". This lineage has been the historical antagonist of the 'mechanistic' approach of Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Lamarck, Darwin, Mendel, James Watson, Francis Crick and Jacques Monod, an approach which has produced what is still the main paradigm of modern biology. This special issue, in short, not only presents a revolutionary idea of biology, but also announces that such a revolution comes from the heirs of the historical opposition to mechanism. And this is no isolated announcement. 41 distinguished academics from 15 different countries have produced a 828-pages-long volume with papers on history, philosophy, theoretical biology, ecology, linguistics, arts, literature and computer science, and all come, by varying degrees, to similar general conclusions. The volume owes in fact its remarkable overall unity to this ideal convergence, and there is no doubt that its aim is to strike at the very heart of the life sciences.
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Mainstream organicists and qualitative organicists may well be responding with enthusiasm to the "United against mechanism?" rallying question that Malte Herwig is launching from this special issue, but I am not. The best chances to solve the new problems of life are still likely to come from where all our solutions have always come in the past: from good, rational, old-fashioned machine-like models.
It sounds like a confrontation to me.
Unfortunately, only two other publications of Marcello's are available on-line. His promise to reduce semiotics to mechanics remains just that. Nor have I found any other mechanists willing to debate the semioticians.

[11/13]


There is no question that semiotics in general and biosemiotics in particular are anti-reductionistic. Semiotics, simpliciter, also has an anti-naturalistic aspect. Should we check that out?
Semiotics & naturalism: and it would appear that we have a date with Robert S. Corrington, Prof. of Philosophical Theology: A Semiotic Theory of Theology and Philosophy (CUP, 2000):
Reviewer: Elena Vishnevskaya from Madison, New Jersey USA
In this beautifully written and concise book, Professor Corrington presents to the reader the capstone of his six previous books as they have developed his unique perspective of ecstatic naturalism. This form of naturalism, while rooted in classical Euro-American forms of naturalism (think of Dewey and Buchler here), makes a decisive break with the past by arguing for the primacy of the unconscious dimension of nature and for the reality of the potencies that enter into the world often when they are least expected. In order to frame his general philosophy, he engages in an ongoing respectful dialogue with psychoanalysis (especially that of Jung, Reich, and Kristeva), semiotic theory in the Peircean tradition, and a universalistic religiosity apparently shaped by his encounters with Hinduism and American Unitarianism.....He has an almost mystical sense of the presemiotic ground of nature and sees it as the birthing ground of the potencies (taking this word from Schelling). The other dimension of nature natured is explored in terms of an evolutionary semiotics that is bold enough to see sign usage in all of the prehuman order of the world.
This may not be supernatural, but it sounds like Supernature to me. There is certainly nothing here that a scientist, qua scientist, would recognize. Clearly we have to be on the lookout for pantheists attempting to purloin the banner of Naturalism, and, by the same token, be on the lookout for crypto-pantheistic 'naturalists'. 'Evolutionary semiotics' merits examination. Semioticism appears bound for cultic status.
Concerning semiotics and reductionism: Britannica 2001: Semiotics:
This interest in the structure behind the use of particular signs links semiotics with the methods of structuralism , which seeks to analyze these relations. Saussure's theories are thus also considered fundamental to structuralism (especially structural linguistics) and to poststructuralism.
....and Structuralism:
Two important points arise here: first, that the structural approach is not in principle restricted to synchronic linguistics; second, that the study of meaning, as well as the study of phonology and grammar, can be structural in orientation. In both cases "structuralism" is opposed to "atomism" in the European literature.
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Little work on semantics has been done by structural linguists because of their belief that the field is too difficult or elusive to describe.
Did no one apprise the AI community of this latter result?
SEMIOTICS:
Center for Semiotics
U N I V E R S I T Y O F A A R H U S
Semiotics has always been both an inquiry into the nature of signs and-since signs convey meaning-a philosophical field of rational reasoning on world- and meaning-related questions, such as the following: Is meaning part of the world? Or is it the human mind’s own pure invention and therefore not part of the world?
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There are, however, many different versions of this semiotic ‘naturalism’:
One is Thom’s and, roughly, Lakoff/Johnson’s: there is a macro-physical, or ‘pheno-physical’, domain of objectively given spatio-temporal and causal states and processes; these have given formal properties that our minds pick up and interiorise, if they significantly affect our bodily interaction with them; this interiorisation is schematism. The gap separating ‘physis’ and ‘meta-physis’ is thus bridged by ‘pheno-physis’. The rest is metaphor. The rest includes affect, notional meaning, deontic values, linguistic and otherwise semiotic behavior.
Another is Talmy’s and Fauconnier/Turner’s: there is a neurally specialized mental function which can make incoherent, or partial ‘ceptions’ (perceptions, conceptions) into coherent meanings by filling in from a stock of mentally available ready-mades that language helps us store as ‘fictions’; the result is an ongoing process of creative construction that blends the fictive and the referential ingredients into homogeneous, meaningful semantic wholes (a semantic "kitchen"). The central assumption is that there is a mental "cooking-pot", a cognitive mechanism of conceptual integration that neutralizes the difference between semantic domain addresses, modal values, provenances etc. of the ingredients and treats them all alike. The mind is generous. Here, the gap between physicality and meaning is bridged by a neuro-semantic integration; metaphor is just a special case.
Notice the scare quotes on 'naturalism'. This is a very phenomenological version of nature as opposed to scientific. And mind the 'gap', please.
'Semiotics this side and the other side of structuralism: the connection between modern and postmodern, structuralism and poststructuralism' -- Roland Posner, Technical University Berlin (1993)
In the beginning of the 20th century, structuralism has responded to the materialism, atomism, historicism, and naturalism of academic research by introducing a theory of its own, built around the dichotomies of signified and signifier, paradigm and syntagm[?], diachrony and synchrony, langue and parole. Poststructuralism did not reject this theoretical apparatus in favor of a new one, but explicated the paradoxes behind the structuralist dichotomies and tried to overcome them by undermining the first concept of each pair and emphasizing the second concept.
....in case you were wondering, and recalling the seminal relation of structuralism and semiotics.
I had not been sufficiently aware of the anti-reductive motivation for structuralism.
I would speculate that there is already a transatlantic, anti-reductive symbiosis between semiotics and our own computational epistemology.
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