Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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In regard to semiosis vs. reduction, I am reminded of Wilfrid Sellars's dichotomy (c.1962):
His most explicit account of the central task confronting contemporary philosophy aligns it firmly with the modernist project of achieving a rapprochement between our humanistic understanding of ourselves as free and rational agents, at home among meanings and values, and the thoroughly "disenchanted" picture of the world being painted by an increasingly comprehensive natural science. Sellars thematized this contrast as a confrontation of two "images": the "manifest image" whose primary objects are persons, beings who can and do conceive of themselves as sentient perceivers, cognitive knowers, and deliberative agents, and the "scientific image", whose primary entities are some sophisticated version of "atoms in the void". "The scientific image," Sellars wrote, "presents itself as a rival image. From its point of view the manifest image on which it [methodologically] rests is an ‘inadequate’ but pragmatically useful likeness of a reality which first finds its adequate (in principle) likeness in the scientific image."
Research Project: Rationality and Non-Reductionism (van Tilburg University, NL):
The program takes issue with two trends in the philosophy of science and epistemology: relativism and reductionism. While relativism undermines the rationality of science, reductionism undermines the ontological status of the subject matter of the so-called special sciences and hence their autonomy.
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Emergent properties (15,000 hits):
The biosemiotics of emergent properties in a pluralist ontology -- Claus Emmeche: an excellent summary of the many possibilities.
[11/14]
Emergent properties & causal (2,300 hits):
Here is an outline of Kim's "Epiphenomenal and Supervenient Causation" (1984). He argues against macro or downward causation.
CARL GILLETT was a student of Fodor's at Rutgers. He is a critic of physicalism. Only abstracts of his papers are available.
Henry Stapp is a person to watch. I first met him about twenty years ago. He is a physicist at Berkley. Here is a lengthy excerpt from a letter (1997) of his:
So in this austere quantum ontology there is an element of reality associated with each alternative possible entire classical world. This includes realities associated with each alternative possible state of my entire brain. So we now have some realities that can reasonably be imagined to correspond to the complex structure of human thoughts.
But this complex reality, rich as it is, is only part of the quantum reality: something that lies outside and beyond that physical ontology is needed to complete the full dynamical description. A fair description of this extra thing would probably be to say that it is something like "the mind of God", because it must do such high-powered things.
In each of the various quantum ontologies that has been proposed the other realities must do important things. I will stick here to a Bohr/Heisenberg/vonNeumnn/Wigner interpretation.
The extra reality must do three things: 1. select a question (choose a basis) 2. answer that particular question (actualize one of the basis states) 3. bring the physical state of universe into concordance with that answer.
Most importantly, insofar as we know today, each question must be a question about what some human experience will be, and the answer must bring the state of the brain of that human being into correspondence with that experience. This is the way the theory is set up, in order to account for *all* phenomena, including phenomena adequately described by using the classical approximation.
Although only events associated with human experiences are required by the theory, the theory allows similar events not associated with human beings. But no evidence for their existence has yet been uncovered.
This completes my explanation of why I reject the classical-physics ontology, and how our conscious experiences fit into a quantum-physics ontology.
There is some tension here between a mere quantum physicalism and a full-blown theism. In most of his writing, Henry hews close to the former, conservative position.
'THE NATURE OF AUTONOMOUS AGENTS AND THE WORLDS THEY MUTUALLY CREATE' -- STUART A. KAUFFMAN, (1996):
I point out that "downward causation" is utterly non-mysterious. The last trilobite jumped the wrong way when some starfish caught it for dinner. But with the extinction of the organism - the trilobite - the earth lost its unique molecular species. Hence the extinction event, due to actions and effects among whole organisms, has changed the molecular unfolding of the biosphere. Causes run upward and downward seamlessly.
We'll be hearing a lot of this from the 'anti-mysterians'.
Self-organization & downward-causation (254 hits).

[11/15]


Weak emergence (128 hits):
Weak Emergence -- Mark Bedau (1997; his phrase first referenced in 1995):
An innocent form of emergence - what I call "weak emergence" - is now a commonplace in a thriving interdisciplinary nexus of scientific activity - sometimes called the "sciences of complexity" - that include connectionist modeling, non-linear dynamics (popularly known as "chaos" theory), and artificial life. After defining it, illustrating it in two contexts, and reviewing the available evidence, I conclude that the scientific and philosophical prospects for weak emergence are bright.
'Toothless' would be a more accurate description.
'Varieties of Emergence' -- David Chalmers (2002):
We can say that a high-level phenomenon is strongly emergent with respect to a low-level domain when truths concerning that phenomenon are not deducible even in principle from truths in the low-level domain. Strong emergence is the notion of emergence that is most common in philosophical discussion of emergence, and is the notion invoked by the "British emergentists" of the 1920s.
We can say that a high-level phenomenon is weakly emergent with respect to a low-level domain when truths concerning that phenomenon are unexpected given the principles governing the low-level domain. Weak emergence is the notion of emergence that is most common in recent scientific discussion of emergence, and is the notion that is typically invoked by proponents of emergence in complex systems theory. (See Bedau 1997 for a nice discussion of the notion of weak emergence.)
Yes, it is important to note that the Complexity Gang at the Santa Fe Institute has done a professional job of hijacking the once philosophically respectable and objective notion of emergence and trashed it with their postmodern subjectivist spin, to be perfectly frank. How long would SFI's NSF grants have held out if their 'emergence' had not been defanged?
'Strong emergence' clearly separates the foxes from the hens. Any serious anti-reductionist active since '97 would be sure to reference 'strong emergence'. The fact that there are less than 71 distinct entries above, strongly limits the field of us foxes. I am not yet amongst those, and there may be others like me, still not on the radar. We shall soon see.
Here's the list of active anti-reductionists, extracted from weak emergence:
1. Gregg Rosenberg

2. John Collier

3. Carl Gillett

4. David Chalmers and see his list of 15 online papers by others on reduction and emergence.


And that's about it, unfortunately. Next I'll take a look at Chalmers' list:
1. Mark Bickhard

2. Claus Emmeche

3. Tim O'Connor

4. John Post

5. William Seager

6. Larry Shapiro is sitting on an interesting fence.

7. Michael Silberstein, only one paper is online.
This gives a cumulative total of eleven active anti-reductionists. Except for Gregg, they all hold academic positions. The non-academicians may be harder to identify, but they ought to show up on Google. Claus and John C. are the only two not located in this country. This present bias needs correction.
If there were to be a paradigm shift away from scientific materialism, some of the above would be on the front lines. Each one is anticipating some such shift.
This list represents the bottom-line of my Internet sleuthing since 7/10/02. It will be important to maintain and hopefully expand it. One practical question is whether there is any collaboration amongst the listees, or even any sense of solidarity.
Anyone on the lookout for the big shift need only access a few of these websites periodically to check its status.
And moving right along, here are three people to watch from Larry's page: Colin Allen, Malcolm Forster and Valerie Hardcastle. Like Larry, each is on her own fence.
Thanks to Bill: Postmodernism R.I.P. No other relevant links.
I notice that John P. has wide ranging interests.
Clause maintains a lengthy list of possibly relevant people that will have to be perused. Off the top we must add Howard H. Pattee. Howard was first recommended to me about 25 years ago.
Mark has an interesting biographical sketch. Sound familiar?
Carl has collaborated with Barry Loewer.
John C. links to Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, Development Journal which contains a possibly useful article, 'The Status of Biosemiotics', and to this mailing list, Organisation, Complexity, Autonomy List Archives.
There are some interesting leads from the above lists, but there is a dearth of cohesion, just in case any were expected.

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Topical Index
11/3/02

A Semiotic Answer?



The title of this page derives from the article, 'The Status of Biosemiotics', mentioned at the end of the last page. Semiotics provides the closest thing to cohesion on the anti-reductive front. But the answer is not to be found in the article.
[updates to this subject: 12/3/03]
[11/16]
So far I'm not having much luck with semiotics. I'm continuing to peruse the Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, Development Journal. Like the complexity theorists over here, the semioticians are under much pressure to hew to the established reductionism.
Will Claus come to our rescue?
The Chicken and the Orphean Egg: On the Function of Meaning and the Meaning of Function -- Claus Emmeche (2002):
The traditional paradigm in biology which encompasses a number of experimental methods, normal scientific working procedures, neo-Darwinism and its mathematical population models, etc. alone is not and cannot be sufficient to answer the following key question: How did meaning originate in biological systems? And what is it (if not meaning, i.e. the creation of signs, and semiotic processes in general) that makes biology something special, something that on certain points fundamentally differs from the types of systems studied, for example, by physicists and chemists?
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(1) biosystems (organisms) contain genetic information;
(2) biosystems (organisms) have functions.
The former, of course, is a cryptosemiotic concept, for even here biologists admit indirectly that it is necessary to use semiotic concepts to describe biological systems. It is just that biologists do not attribute any particular significance to this: after all, they typically say, ‘genetic information’ is just a metaphor for certain molecular processes that are organized in a certain way. Here the biosemiotician steps in and interprets the occurrence of such metaphors more realistically,....
Here is the critical point for biosemiotics. How do we parse this difference between metaphor and reality? Is this where we transgress reduction? How do we do it?
In physics the assertion or question of function (such as the one mentioned above) can be rewritten without loss of meaning to the purely causal question of direct cause-and-effect contexts in the traditional classical mechanical sense, in which a cause precedes an effect in time, but both cause and effect exist on the same ontological level, i.e., they are of the same nature, as in the example of the relationship between the sun and the earth’s climate. This is a matter of material physical processes on the macroscale. As shown by the past 30 years of discussions on the concept of function in the philosophy of biology it is far more complex to state the connection between causality and functionality in biology.
Essentially, the reason for this difficulty is that in biological systems there is an inner connection between the informational (which, without hesitation, we will call here the semiotic aspect of a living system) and the functional aspect. This is a connection that has been largely overlooked in the past and we will examine it in greater detail now.
Inner connection?? An essential internal relation?
The material elements of the system have a certain agency of their own, or a local semiotic capacity to act, if you will, and consequently the cell’s molecular system of signs is self-organizing and self-interpreting, i.e., these signs are characterized better by the Peircean concept of sign as sign action than by the Saussurean concept of sign as an abstract system of differences. To a great extent, the cell is an interpretation system that is controlled by what Peirce called ‘final causation,’ the type of causation in nature that has to do with organization, habit formation, memory phenomena, information, appropriateness and purposefulness, evolution-all phenomena of the category of Thirdness (Santaella Braga 1999).
And where or how do we cross the line between the epistemic and the ontic? If it is ontic then it is vitalistic.
The crux of the matter here is that the relationship between the parts of an organism and the whole organism is a mereological relationship of a particular specific nature: it is also an ‘intrinsic semiotic relationship,’ that is, it is in its very nature semiotic. And, it should be noted, its semiotic character is not merely something attributed to it, just as our consciousness is not just due to the fact that other people attribute consciousness to me, but I am actually conscious and it is part of the concept’s sine qua non that being conscious is not derived from anything else. Apart from this formal similarity, the intrinsic semiotics of the cell has nothing to do with consciousness in the human sense.
'Not merely attributed'?? I'm still not getting the crucial cross-over, do you?
If at first we don't succeed........
Code Duality Revisited -- Jesper Hoffmeyer (2002):
In 1991 Claus Emmeche and I suggested that ‘the chain of events which sets life apart from non-life.... needs at least two codes: one code for action (behaviour) and one code for memory-the very first of these codes necessarily must be analog and the second very probably must be digital.’ This principle of code-duality played a major role in our initial ideas on biosemiotics.
The hen is in all of her behavior, her physiology and her anatomy, as much a message of an eventual egg as the egg is a message of an eventual hen. As a hen the egg is just figuring as an analog coded physical continuous and sensually appealing message. It was exactly this dimension of nature, its swarming plenitude of messages, which natural science eliminated by taking dead nature (the nature of physics) as a model for living nature (discussed in Hoffmeyer 1984)). Logically enough we thereby have ended up being threatened by a ‘silent spring.’
Looking back it strikes me that the concept of code-duality was from the beginning linked to the idea of life as a chain of codings and recodings, i.e. life was not seen as an organismic property but rather as a property of chained codes. Or to say this in other words, the view of code-duality implies that the organism cannot be the privileged unit in biology and neither can the genome. Life is a semiotic process carried forward in time by the lineage in its interaction with changing environments.
It is no wonder that a theory which sees the organisms as causal dead ends in the evolutionary process would sooner or later give rise to the idea that the organisms are in fact just instruments for the strategies of the genes. This was the essence of the well-known theory of the selfish genes proposed by Richard Dawkins (Dawkins, 1976). In Dawkins' conception the individual organisms are nothing but survival machines or vehicles which serve the genes in their attempt at being carried on to the next generation. We thus get the distinction between vehicles and replicators....
As Sterelny and Griffiths put it in their thorough analysis of gene selectionism "if genes are just arbitrary DNA sequences, then most of them will have no more systematic relation to the phenotype than an arbitrary string of letters has to the meaning of a book" (Sterelny and Griffiths, 1999: 79).
We must always divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer . . . . That this boundary can be pushed arbitrarily deeply into the interior of the body of the actual observer is the content of the principle of the psycho-physical parallelism-but this does not change the fact that in each method of description the boundary must be put somewhere, if the method is not to proceed vacuously. (von Neumann (1955), quoted in Pattee, 1997).
Now maybe we're getting somewhere, thanks to a bit of physical intuition.
The point is that the function of measurement cannot be achieved by a fundamental dynamical description of the measuring device, even though such a law-based description may be completely detailed and entirely correct. In other words, we can say correctly that a measuring device exists as nothing but a physical system, but to function as a measuring device it requires an observer's simplified description that is not derivable from the physical description. The observer must in effect choose what aspects of the physical system to ignore and invent those aspects that must be heeded. This selection process is a decision of the observer or organism and cannot be derived from the laws (Pattee, 1997).
Since not only human beings but living systems at large are fundamentally engaged in observations or measuring processes it follows that: "we must define an epistemic cut separating the world from the organism or observer. In other words, wherever it is applied, the concept of semantic information requires the separation of the knower and the known. Semantic information, by definition, is about something" (ibid). And thus according to Pattee in all living systems we must have one part of the system operating in a linguistic and time-independent mode (i.e. the DNA) and one part operating in a dynamic and time dependent mode (i.e. the protein system).
I apologize for these unending quotes, but there has got to be the germ of this idea somewhere.
Pattee underlines that he is not suggesting a Cartesian dualism here but only a ‘descriptive dualism,’ for although a measuring process depends on choices which cannot be derived from laws, such choices are seen by Pattee as functions coded in DNA and ultimately generated by natural selection.
But this appeal to natural selection as the mechanism for bridging the Cartesian dichotomy between knower and known is not convincing. How could a purely mechanical process like natural selection possibly push non-knowing dynamical systems across the logical gap separating such systems from the realm of measurement and knowledge? Many people apparently entertain this illusion of natural selection as a mysterious bridge across the Cartesian Divide.
Rather than taking refuge in such powerless ideas of what for every one of us is life's deepest and most real content, I will suggest that we give up the ontology of natural law by following the lead of Charles S. Peirce who recommended that we see natural laws as themselves a result of a cosmic evolutionary process. "This supposes them not to be absolute, not to be obeyed precisely" and they cannot therefore be expected to explain exhaustively our world. In the Peircean vision nature's tendency to take habits comes first and explains the growth of all kinds of regularities in our universe such as those regularities which we account for by natural laws. Since a habit is essentially an interpretation it follows that in the Peircean vision semiosis has primacy and acts by guiding efficient causation.
As Peirce himself observed: the formation of a habit implies that an event will (nearly) always provoke the same response, so that therefore the response is not just accidental but must be related to the event. Habit formation thus is the core of semiosis.
This is a rather sharp turn toward idealism.
Code-duality transgresses the Neumann-Pattee thesis by claiming that the linguistic or symbolic mode and the dynamic mode are both fundamentally semiotic modes. The distinction does not separate a semiotic mode from a non-semiotic or dynamic mode but rather posits two different kinds of semiotic coding. Thus semiotic processes characteristic of the ‘linguistic mode’ are based on digitally coded symbols, while the semiotic processes characterizing the dynamic mode are indexical or iconic and analogically coded.
And so is this. A mere panpsychism would not strong enough to cover this, IMO.
Smoke refers to fire and enzyme refers to protein. Is the latter referral more intrinsic than the former? Is functionality the key? Is there also any measurement?
Obviously, analogic codes may eventually become digitized by becoming part of higher order digital codes. In itself, for instance, a drawing of an owl is usually just an icon but in ancient Egypt such a drawing when presented in the context of hieroglyphs came to signify the phonetic value ‘m.’ Or a painting may become part of an exhibition and thereby become digitized into a representative for a given artistic epoch or style of painting so that its reference is now determined primarily by the setting of the exhibition and only secondarily by its original iconic power.
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Considered from above, what happens is that the concentration of cAMP has become a switch by which the cell can turn on and off its energy consumption. In the course of evolution, as the bacterial systems eventually learned to use cAMP, it became more and more detached from its original biochemical setting, namely as a release mechanism for specific transcription processes which provide mRNA strands for a series of enzymes needed for metabolic pathways involved in the degradation of non-glucose sugars.
As pointed out by the Danish biochemist Mogens Kilstrup, cAMP in this case is both an icon (as a specific molecular conformation), an index (for ATP), and a symbol for glucose starvation (Kilstrup, personal communication).
The transformation of analogic codings to digital codings through the evolutionary formation of new contextual settings is probably involved in many or all cases of biological emergence.
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It was one of Gregory Bateson's greatest contributions to show that human or animal communication systems are deeply dependent on paralinguistic or paralogical settings. The concept of code-duality was meant as a tool for conceptualizing this theme as a general theme for evolution. The perpetual accumulation of new mutations in the genomes of the species of this world is of course necessary for the evolutionary process to proceed, but code-duality points to the necessity for a semiotic contextualizing of the process. Following Pasteur's famous saying that ‘only the well prepared will profit from good fortune’ I should like to suggest that evolution is not at all a result of blind mutations, but is caused rather by those semiotic integrations which allowed biosystems to profit from the eventual appearance of ‘lucky’ mutations.
I would gladly continue quoting from Jesper, but unfortunately this is the end of the article. Am I liable for unfair usage? Not whilst visitation is zero!
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