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Honing an Aspect of Living Systems Theory

[See: forums.isss.org ]

This commentary was prompted by G. A. Swanson’s article, The Study of Pathology and Living Systems Theory, in Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 22, 363-371 (2005).


As pointed out on the home page of ISSS, many people working in systems science are mainly interested in the theoretical and technical aspects of systems, while others are concerned primarily with the application of systems methodologies. Many of the problems where the application of systems methodologies would be appropriate are the most complex, or largest, or intractable ever faced by humanity. They range from the health, physical and mental, of the most complex coherent system known, a human being, to rational, sustainable environmental management, and the project of achieving fair and ethical social, economic, and political systems. It takes courage, hope, and self-sacrifice to tackle these problems, and we need to be grateful to those who do so.

Real problems require real understanding and realistic methodologies. Those of us whose work involves the identification and description of system structure and processes have an obligation to those who apply system science to significant problems of providing them with accurate understanding of the nature of systems. Failure to get it right at our stage, means failure of the methodologies, failure to solve the problems, and the consequent continuance of human misery and the ongoing deterioration of ecosystems and the biosphere.

Organisms, societies, and the biosphere are systems. It is not possible to understand them, to manage, create, or sustain them without the application of systems methodology. Foundational systems science can no longer be considered merely a fascinating intellectual pursuit—there are consequences.


Miller’s Living Systems Theory, published in 1978, is a good example of the general systems approach. It recognizes the hierarchic nature of the organization of material reality. Miller works with seven levels he has selected from the hierarchy of living systems and systems with living systems as components. Living systems theory recognizes the occurrence of patterns of relationships that exist at and play roles at different hierarchic levels, for example, steady state. Swanson points out that, “It might also be expected that certain emergents at one level would not disappear at the next higher level.” (Swanson 2005 p. 369) And the theory recognizes that factors, such as Miller’s critical subsystems, that occur at the various levels develop in complexity as they occur in progressively higher levels.

It is characteristic of factors that occur at different hierarchic levels (a) to develop, to occur in more complex form in one way or another in situations that are more complex, or (b) to occur in various different forms in situations where different sets of other factors are playing roles. Many factors emerge only at certain hierarchic levels where all the supportive factors required for their existence also occur. Those factors do not occur at previous stages of development and lower hierarchic levels where there is insufficient support. However, there can occur at those previous stages and lower levels a pattern of organization that resembles, in an incomplete way, the pattern of organization of a factor that occurs in fully developed form only at a higher level. In some cases the fully developed form emerges from, develops directly from, the prior, lower, incomplete form. In these cases, the previous lower occurrence is a precursor form. A precursor form is not a case of the fully developed factor, and cannot accurately be labeled as such.

Unfortunately, the use of metaphor in systems theory has resulted in the inappropriate labeling of lower level factors with terms that accurately refer only to higher level factors. Metaphor is:

1) “a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance” (Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd. ed. 1993. New York: Random House.)

2) “The figure of speech in which a name or descriptive term is transferred to some object to which it is not properly applicable;” (The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles, Third Edition. 1955. London: Oxford University Press.)

In science and in the philosophy of reality, metaphor is nothing more than mislabeling.

There is another way in which a lower level factor can be mislabeled with a term that is properly applicable only at a higher level. This is mislabeling by decision, mislabeling by way of definition. (See '[www.themoderngeneralist.com]' At that website click the link, Defining, under Contents) In such cases the lower level factor is usually a precursor form or a pattern of organization that is in some limited way analogous to the pattern of organization of the higher level factor. In Miller’s living systems theory this problem occurs with the factor purpose, and with the associated factor goal. As is so common in the rest of biology, living systems theory has a serious problem with inappropriate purposive language.

Purpose and goal are factors that require epistemological support. They cannot occur at levels that do not have the epistemological components that are required to support the existence of purpose and goal. There is a specific reason for this. Purpose and goal are factors with a future reference, and a future reference can occur only in the form of knowledge. For a system to have intrinsic purpose or to have a goal, that system must have a component that involves a knowledge of, or understanding of the relation of the present to the future. Such components are entirely lacking at the cellular level, and are not present at the organ level except in the case of a brain, which is an organ that has evolved to the stage of epistemological development. Prior to that stage, the notion of purpose is neither necessary nor accurately useful for description or explanation.

On page 368 of his article, Swanson makes the following statement in which he quotes Miller. “Purpose in a living system is then defined as ‘A preferential hierarchy of values that give rise to decision rules which determine its preference for one internal steady-state value rather than another’ (Miller, 1978, p. 39).” This definition of purpose does not apply to the cellular or nonepistemological organ levels. Life at these levels does not have preferences or decisions rules, nor does it make decisions. The structural and process components for preference and decision have not yet emerged at these levels. Applying the terms, purpose, goal, preference, decision, and decision rule, to the cellular level is anthropomorphic, for example when Miller says, “...an amoeba has the purpose of maintaining adequate energy levels, and therefore it has the goal of ingesting a bacterium...” (Miller 1978 p. 39) (See '[www.themoderngeneralist.com]' At that website, under Contents, click the link Comments at Other Web Sites. Then click Anthropomorphism Is Not Science.)

Miller took particular care when choosing terms to refer to general factors, such as his labels for the various subsystems that occur at the seven levels. He was concerned that the terms be reasonably applicable at all the levels where these factors, these subsystems, occur and play roles. While he created a conceptual system, a theory, he meant for that theory and its terms to refer to real concrete systems. When it came to the concept of purpose in the theory, Miller applied it to real relations in concrete systems. The mislabeling occurs because, even though that set of relations occurs at all his levels, the lower levels are simpler than the higher levels in that they lack the components that make purpose possible at the higher levels.

Living systems maintain the order of their structure and processes by way of steady states, each of which is generally kept within a range of stability. When a living system’s steady states are operating outside their ranges of stability, the system can become (a) less fit for the requirements of its own continuing-existence, for example, inadequate or runaway metabolic processes, (b) less adapted to its environment, for example, a decrease in tolerance of environmental temperature variations, or (c) the system could die. When a steady state is made to deviate beyond its range of stability, the system is in a state of strain, and adjustment processes play roles that return the steady state to its range of stability.

According to Miller, on pages 39 and 40, purpose in this situation is “...its [the system’s] preference for one internal steady-state value rather than another.” “It is the comparison value which it [the system] matches to information received by negative feedback in order to determine whether the variable is being maintained at the appropriate steady-state value.” “...purpose is defined ... in terms of specific values of internal variables which systems maintain in steady states...”

In an example of general systems thinking, Swanson extends the notion of purpose in living systems theory from specific steady state values of particular variables to “...the relative urgency of reducing each strain in the context of all strains.” “Purpose happens in the flux of the relative urgency of reducing specific strains within the system. Purpose is the expression of the integrating together of the subsystems of a living system ...” (Swanson 2005 p. 369)

The notion of purpose is thus applied in living systems theory to two levels of organization within each of the seven levels Miller chose to study. There is the level of individual steady states, and there is the level of all the individual steady states as an integrated group. In the one case it is a specific value that maintains a particular variable in steady state. In the second case it is the relative significance of each individual steady state in relation to the others such that there emerges a group steady state.

However, at the levels of cells and nonepistemological organs, purpose does not occur with either of these sublevels. The steady state processes there, and their regulation, occur without purpose, without goals, without any reference to the future. An amoeba has no purpose of maintaining adequate energy levels. Such creatures do not have goals such as ingesting bacteria. Everything with cells and nonepistemological organs runs on automatic, solely by way of consequent-existence—what goes before determining what follows by way of its intrinsic nature without reference to the future. (See '[www.themoderngeneralist.com]' At that website click the link to the Glossary, and scroll down to consequent-existence)


With science, observation comes first, with hypothesis and theory following, based on the results of observation. The reason for this order of procedure is because science is about reality. It is a procedure for obtaining accurate knowledge and understanding of the intrinsic nature of what exists. To begin with observation orients the mind and the procedure to something that exists, with repeated observation and experiment maintaining the focus on reality. To begin with unfounded speculation leads to wasted time and effort studying an imaginary something that does not exist.

Miller made an error in defining. He labeled a lower level factor with a term that properly applies only to a higher level factor. It appears that he may have done so because he began with theory rather than adequate observation. It appears that he decided upon the definition first, a definition that can fit nearly all of the levels he chose to study, and then applied that definition to a level where a critical factor, the epistemological reference to the future, was absent. This looks like a theory induced error, which results in wasted time and effort in an attempt to study purpose in a system where it does not exist. For the accurate analysis and understanding of reality, it is incorrect procedure to establish definitions by decision, as when deciding the rules of a game, or as in this case, the decision to apply a theory originated definition to situations where it does not fit. In science, in the modern generalist mode, and in the philosophy of reality, defining must be based on observation, identification, and description. Observation first, definition second.

In the sequence of an argument or an explanation, once an error is introduced all else that follows is contaminated or suspect. This has occurred in living systems theory with the application of purpose to the cellular and nonepistemological organ levels. Once an aspect of cellular function has been labeled as purposive, then it is natural, logical even, to refer to other consequent aspects of cellular function as purposive. There are several examples in Swanson’s article, sometimes in his own statements and sometimes in statements he quotes from Miller.

1) “LST identifies seven general types of adjustment processes used to maintain steady states.” (Swanson, p. 366)

If maintaining steady states was actually a purpose, internal or external goal, intention, or preference of a living cell, then the purposive language “used to” would be appropriate. But as the molecular processes within a cell do not have nor require purpose or goals for their ongoing continuance, that language does not fit the described situation. The adjustment processes do maintain the steady states, but that is not their purpose—it is their consequence.

2) Discussing output processes of matter-energy, Swanson says, “The transfers are classified broadly as products or wastes depending on their relationships to the purposes and goals of the system and those of its suprasystems.” (p. 367)

This statement cannot accurately apply to the cellular level. While the transfers do play various roles in system processes, such as their effects on the continued existence of the system, and while the transfers can be recognized as products and wastes in their roles in system processes, those roles and that continued existence are not purposes or goals of the cellular level, and those transfers have no relation to purpose or goals.

3) “’When disturbed, this state is restored by the system by successive approximations, in order to remove the strain of the disparity recognized internally between the feedback signal and the comparison value’ (Miller, 1978, p. 39).” (p. 368)

At the cellular level all molecular processes occur by way simple of consequent-existence, that which goes before determining what follows without reference to the future. There is nothing in cellular molecular biology that occurs “in order” for something else to occur. Successive approximations may remove the strain of disparity between feedback and some cellular value, but they do not do so in order to have that effect. In cellular molecular processes, events do not occur so that their consequences occur. It just happens that way because of the intrinsic nature of the structural and process organization of the of the components of the cell, the elementary particles, atoms, molecules, and organelles of the cell. If the organization is there, the consequences follow. This occurs at the cellular level without reference to, knowledge of, or any causal relation with the future, other than that the future is a consequence of the present.

The misuse of purposive language has consequences. It is misleading, prompting readers to think a factor is present in the described situation when actually it is not there. Readers can then draw false conclusions based on the false language, similar to the above quotes.

There is additional anthropomorphic language used by Miller and Swanson in their discussions of living systems theory. It is again a case of misapplying terms to levels where the factors do not exist nor play any roles. For example, “Open systems are concrete systems with permeable boundaries that allow the input and output of selected kinds of matter, energy, and information.” (Swanson, p. 364) At the cellular level the action of selection does not occur. Atoms and molecules interact with one another according to what they are, according to their intrinsic qualities. When one molecule joins with another, as on the surface of a cell, it is not an event of selection, but rather the consequence of the natures of the two units. They join, under the appropriate circumstances, simply because they can.

Here is another, with Swanson quoting Miller, “Miller (1978, p. 101) hypothesizes of those critical subsystems, ‘A system cannot survive unless it makes decisions that maintain the functions of all its subsystems at a sufficiently high efficiency and their costs at a sufficiently low level that there are more than enough resources to keep it operating satisfactorily.’” (Swanson, p. 366) The anthropomorphism of cells making decisions has already been mentioned. A second case in this quote is the notion of a cell operating satisfactorily. Cells do not have the components to allow them to know or care about how they are operating. There is no such thing at the cellular level of operating satisfactorily or not satisfactorily. What is happening at the cellular level is nothing more than a chemical cascade driven by a flow of energy in relation to the factors of the organization of the cell. To apply the notion of satisfactory operation to that level is purely anthropomorphic.




Anthropomorphism Is Not Science II

RE: Ten Questions about Emergence
[See: ComDig 2005.40 ]

The following comments are made from the vantage point of a modern generalist.


Jochen Fromm is considering a particularly difficult yet fascinating and important problem, the design and control of large-scale distributed systems. It has been found that emergence and self-organization play significant, often problematic, roles in such systems, and the idea has been put forward of deliberately using these factors in design and management procedures. There is, however, no possibility of success as long as the understanding of emergence is contaminated with anthropomorphism.

The literature on emergence is thoroughly confused and anthropomorphic, and Fromm’s prior paper, Types and Forms of Emergence, is a good example of the problem. (ComDig 2005.25, and Anthropomorphism Is Not Science, www.comdig.org/topic2.php?id_topic=729&id_article=21683) In the following paper, Ten Questions about Emergence, there are some small improvements, he does not mention mysteries like vitalism, he does not mention paradox, and he cautiously eliminates novelty, surprise, and one aspect of anthropocentrism. “Probably you do not need an observer or the notions of novelty and surprise to define emergence.” More significantly, he does not explicitly refer to irreducibility. Nevertheless, the anthropomorphism that remains will effectively prevent control or intentional use of emergence in the design and control of large-scale distributed systems. Anthropomorphism is unrealistic, and real systems require real understanding.

The problem originates first in the history of the definition of emergence, and second in the bad habit of beginning an investigation with an idea, concept, definition, or model rather than an observation—which is where Fromm goes wrong. He begins with an inappropriate definition of emergence, and he does so because he has failed to observe emergence itself with sufficient care to be able to recognize that the definition does not fit the reality.

By way of definition, the term emergence, as used to refer to the relation of the parts to the whole, got off to a bad start. George Henry Lewes, in the 1870’s, gave us the term, and additionally the anthropomorphism. “Thus, although each effect is the resultant of its components, the product of its factors, we cannot always trace the steps of the process, so as to see in the product the mode of operation of each factor. In this latter case, I propose to call the effect an emergent.” (Lewes, George Henry. 1891. Problems of Life and Mind: First Series, The Foundations of a Creed, Vol. II. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. p. 368.)

Lewes introduced the error of anthropomorphism by including an epistemological factor not intrinsic to the emergent product itself. With Lewes, the difference between the stages of development, from parts to the whole, is not based on differences between factors intrinsic to the situation. Instead, the extrinsic anthropomorphic factor supersedes the intrinsic factors such that a system is (a) resultant if we can trace the steps of the process of its origin, or (b) emergent if we are ignorant of the steps of the process of its origin. The problem then occurs that a system can be emergent or not according to the state of an ontologically unrelated system, the state of human knowledge. “We may be ignorant of the process which each [hydrogen and oxygen] passes through in quitting the gaseous to assume the water state, but we know with absolute certainty that the water has emerged from this process... Some day, perhaps, we shall be able to express the unseen process in a mathematical formula; till then we must regard the water as an emergent.” (p. 370)

Lewes was adding a new meaning or reference to the term, emergence, from coming into view or into understanding, to coming into being. By restricting the reference to just the one case, he was trying to combine the original meaning (coming into view) with his new meaning (coming into being), that is, emergent into view when newly existing, thus emergent into being. The emergent product, however, comes into being in both cases, the resultant where we know the process and the emergent where we do not know the process. Since there is no intrinsic difference between the two cases, he should have avoided anthropomorphism, and descriptively defined the new reference as applying to both.

After Lewes, virtually everything published on emergence has been contaminated by his error. An argument or description is only as strong or accurate as the validity of its components. Once a falsehood is introduced, the validity of everything thereafter is contaminated. It was Lewes’s folly that opened the way for further anthropomorphisms—attempts to characterize emergence by way of other extrinsic epistemological factors concerned with human ignorance: unpredictability, irreducibility, indeterminism, surprise, and various degrees of novelty. Later investigators failed to adequately examine and compare the intrinsic natures of various cases of emergence, and instead followed the anthropomorphism of Lewes. They begin their studies of emergence with an inadequate, misleading, nondescriptive definition of emergence, and confused by it, they generated more nonsense.

Fromm follows along. (a) “[A] property is emergent if it can not be comprehended by the underlying system model ...” (b) “Emergence means we can not describe the phenomena completely, although we have a model and description of local rules and actions.” (c) “Emergence is obviously related to hidden causal connections...” (d) “Emergence is inherently unpredictable.”

A realistic definition of emergence is required, as is explained at the web site, The Modern Generalist, and quoted here:

“There are two basic types of defining. One is creative in that to varying degree the definition results from decision, for example, deciding on the rules for a game, or deciding what a term will mean in some special context, such as law. This form of defining plays an important role in the social and cultural context. The other is defining by description. This is both a process describing something that exits, and of differentiation between that something and other things that exist. It is a matter of recognition rather than decision.

“As used by a modern generalist, the second type of defining follows the prime imperative of the accurate analysis of the intrinsic nature of reality. Look to reality itself. Let the nature of reality dictate the nature of the understanding of reality. Let the nature of what is being defined by way of description dictate the content of its description and the manner in which it is differentiated from other things. A term and its definition then serve as arrows directing the mind to the reality referent of the term.” www.themoderngeneralist.com/articles/article_procedure1.htm

The material reality we see around us, and that which we investigate and make use of with our technology, is composed of elementary particles. In simplified description, these particles combine to form atoms, atoms combine to form molecules, molecules combine to form substances, materials, tissues, structures, and these combine to form larger, more complex, aggregates of elementary particles. All these combinations exist as interrelated patterns of material organization.

Foundationally, there are spatial distance and direction relations between the elementary particles that constitute the material reality of these patterns of organization. When any particle of such a pattern moves, that motion alters the distance and direction relations of that particle to the other particles of the pattern. The alteration of spatial relations between components brings into existence an altered pattern of relations, a new pattern of organization. A newly existing pattern of material organization comes into existence—it emerges.

This is emergence in its simplest form—motion changing spatial relations with consequent newly existing pattern. Like most factors of existence, organization, and change, emergence develops, existing in simple form and playing simple roles in situations with few factors, and existing in more complex form and playing more complex roles in situations with many factors. The understanding of the intrinsic nature of emergence, and the nature of the accompanying definition, must develop in concert with the development of emergence, resulting in simpler definitions for the cases of emergence where few additional factors add to the basic nature of emergence, and more complex definitions when emergence situations have greater numbers of additional factors and more complex structural and functional organization.

In those cases where prior stages are still present and playing roles within a more developed stage, the meaning of the descriptive definition of the developed stage should contain the meaning of the descriptive definition of the prior stage. For example, the determinate aspect of reality originates at a stage in the development of reality that is prior to the development-of-origin of cause. Cause is a developed form of determinate reality, and the prior stage exists within the later, thereby making it a stage of this sequence of development. Thus, because the reality referent of the term cause includes within it the reality referent of the term determinate, the meaning of the term cause should include the meaning of the term determinate.

Motion changing spatial relations between elementary particles with consequent emergence of new pattern of material organization is what emergence is, both in its simplest, foundational forms and in its most complex or largest forms, biologically based systems or the infinite universe. No matter how complex or how large a case of emergence is, it is always based fundamentally on motion. All other factors, such as cause, coherence, quantitative magnitude, or complex structural and operational organization, are additional factors, and while the definition at any stage must contain those factors that give that stage its unique character, all stages of the definition of emergence must contain the meaning of the basic definition.

There will certainly be hundreds—almost without doubt thousands—of particular definitions of emergence matching the stages of its development from the simple to the highly complex. The understanding of this definitional situation is mitigated by the occurrence of both major stages and minor stages in the development of this creative factor. That is, there will be a major development, which then is modified in various ways by additional factors, before another major change in the nature of emergence occurs. It will be found that this occurs on both large scale and on lesser scales, providing a means to organize the overall understanding of the development of emergence, and also the ability to discuss it to various degrees of breadth or depth.

It is important to realize that the development of reality is both linear and divergent. The outstanding example of this is biological evolution with its speciation. The history of developing life has, when diagramed, a divergent, a dendritic pattern. Individual species evolve linearly for the vast majority of time, adapting by way of self-organization to the changing conditions of their existence, and diverge into different species only occasionally. Another obvious divergence of development is the separation of the living pathway of development from the nonliving.

The significance of this divergence of development for the understanding of emergence, and for the process of defining its variations, is that the stages of emergence in different developmental pathways can be quite different, and may include forms of emergence that occur in one pathway but not in the other. Thus, there will be descriptive definitions of emergence appropriate for stages in one sequence of development, but which describe no case or form of emergence in a different sequence. Some forms of emergence are essentially universal, some play roles in many different types of situation but not in others, and some forms are unique to specific types of situations. The extent of the meaning of the definitions of the forms of emergence should match the extent of the roles they play.

This bears on the attempt by Fromm to use feedback to define variations in emergence. Feedback is one of those factors that plays a role in diverse forms of emergence—in nonliving situations, in life, and in artificial systems. Yet it is by no means anywhere near universal as a factor of emergence. While feedback is important as a feature of some processes of emergence, it is but one of many and will usually occur in the definitions of emergence in association with numerous other factors. Also, feedback itself develops as a factor of the development of reality, and does so through many stages from very simple to very complex. Any description of the development of emergence intended to display the role of the development of feedback therein will be a major undertaking of great complexity. Fromm’s taxonomy of emergence as based on feedback is simplistic at best. He gives it in his in his paper, Types and Forms of Emergence, and refers to it in Ten Questions about Emergence, where he recognizes one aspect of its limited utility. “In order to understand the phenomena in general, it is possible to start with a crude and coarse taxonomy.” The other limitation, the inadequacy of feedback as a general factor of classification of emergence, renders Fromm’s taxonomy irrelevant even as a starting place.

Fromm is also confused on the relations of self-organization, emergence, and biological evolution. Emergence has two aspects, the process of emergence and the event of emergence. The process is the sequential change leading up to the event, the existence of the newly occurring pattern of material organization. Self-organization is related to emergence in that it often plays a role in the process of sequential change. Thus, in these cases, self-organization is an operational aspect of emergence.

In a situation that is undergoing change and the development of some form of order, it is self-organization if the factors that determine the occurrence, nature, and consequences of the change are intrinsic to the situation. That is self-organization in its purest form. Because most situations and systems are open, involving an input or through-flow of energy, most cases of self-organization are initiated by the effects of extrinsic sources of energy. In these cases the energy flow does not, for the most part, disrupt the organization of the situation, but rather interacts with factors intrinsic to the situation such that it is these intrinsic qualities that determine the nature of the resulting organization. In general, there are usually both extrinsic factors and intrinsic factors that together determine the occurrence and consequences of change in any particular situation or system. Thus, when order is created during change, there is always at least some aspect of self-organization involved, in relation to or in the context of extrinsic factors.

With biological evolution, new patterns of biological organization come into existence, new patterns of DNA, new patterns of molecular organization, new patterns of physiology and anatomy, new species, and new ecological relations. Biological evolution results in the emergence of newly occurring patterns of biological organization. This form of evolution is a form of emergence, the most complex, developed form that is known.

Developments in molecular biology have made it clear that the source of change in biological evolution is change in DNA, which results, quite clearly, by way of self-organization in the following changes in biological organization from the molecular level on up. Self-organization plays a role in biological evolution. It is an intrinsic aspect of this form of evolution.

Fromm says, “Are there any processes similar or related to ‘emergence’ in evolution?” Evolution is emergence. He says further, “...neither the concept of self-organization nor the phenomenon of emergence can really replace evolution...” That is like saying emergence cannot replace itself. And finally his confusion is repeated in his last paragraph, “Yet neither self-organization nor ‘emergence’ is really responsible for overwhelming complexity heights or sudden changes in complexity. Both concepts are often confused with evolution...” Fromm does not have sufficient understanding of the intrinsic natures of these factors, self-organization, emergence, and evolution.

The reason is that he has followed the inadequate, misleading definitions and concepts of others who lacked sufficient understanding. They, in turn, are lacking because they fail to look closely enough at actually existing cases of their subjects of investigation to determine the intrinsic qualities. Fromm gives an example of this issue. “Because self-organization is like organization, pattern and order a vague and ambiguous idea,...” The reality referents of the “ideas” he mentions here are not intrinsically vague and ambiguous, nor is the understanding of them if you look carefully enough.

For the accurate analysis of the intrinsic nature of reality, look first, then describe and define accordingly. That is the scientific method.



There Is a Way to Make General Systems the Unifying Framework of the Sciences

[See: forums.isss.org ]

In 1956, Kenneth Boulding suggested that general systems theory should be the framework of science.

"General Systems Theory is the skeleton of science in the sense that it aims to provide a framework or structure of systems on which to hang the flesh and blood of particular disciplines and particular subject matters in an orderly and coherent corpus of knowledge."
(Boulding, Kenneth E. 1956. General Systems Theory—The Skeleton of Science. Management Science 2:3:197-208.)

He was correct. By their very nature, the principles of general systems should play that role. Nevertheless, they did not achieve that status. Boulding did not provide a way to make it so. It was as if Bertalanffy had presented the key, and while many could see the importance of it, none could see how to use it.

In the early seventies an examination of the literature showed the situation to be the same, and there was the question, Why? The answer was there—in the literature. There were no generalists. All the researchers in general systems had been trained as specialists. Each tended to view general principles from the vantage point of their own specialty, often naming them according to specialist paradigms or terminology. There was considerable confusion about the nature of the principles and the kinds of roles they play in the world at large.

The next question, then, was Why were there no generalists? There were several answers. First, the flood of knowledge produced by science had made it impossible to be a generalist in the traditional sense of knowing nearly everything in most areas of knowledge. There was nothing one could do, except become a specialist.

Second, although Bertalanffy had provided a clue many years earlier, there was still no one who knew how to use that clue to train a generalist. No university offered a course of study leading to a degree that represented achievement of actual generalist understanding. There were no generalists because there was nowhere to go to get that kind of training.

Because all the researchers were specialists, none of them had the breadth or depth of understanding to recognize those general principles that were the most general, those principles that tied the rest together into a coherent body of knowledge and understanding. This is a third reason why there were no generalists. General systems did not become the framework of science because it had not yet found its own framework. It was not a coherent body of knowledge.

In the context that it is impossible to be a generalist in the traditional sense, Bertalanffy’s clue suggests that general understanding can be achieved by way of general system principles. Boulding’s clue can then set one on the track of the framework of general systems, on the track of those factors of existence, organization, and change that are sufficiently general to relate each and every thing that exists to some other thing that has existed, exists, or will exist. Once someone has those factors, and recognizes the framework of general systems, then all else falls into place. And with such understanding, that person is a generalist. Not a generalist in the old sense of knowing virtually everything, but in a modern sense of achieving the ability to understand anything, or everything.

The idea has been passed around that science deals with what and how, but does not concern itself with why. Setting aside the point that that idea is not particularly true, it should be understood that the type of knowledge a modern generalist works with is specifically about the why of things.

There are four necessary aspects of procedure required to find and understand those factors that provide the foundation and the core of the framework of general systems: (1) the prime imperative of analysis, (2) structural logic, (3) realist philosophy, and (4) a biological epistemology.

Intrinsically, general systems principles are factors that play roles in existence, organization, and change. They are factors of the nature of reality, factors that make it what it is. The prime imperative for the accurate analysis of the intrinsic nature of reality is to look to the subject of investigation itself. Let the intrinsic nature of reality dictate the understanding of reality. For the purpose of identifying those factors whose roles in reality universally relate one part to another, and thereby constitute the core of our understanding of general systems, its framework, it is necessary to let the intrinsic organization of reality dictate the organization of our knowledge and understanding.

The prime imperative means that you do not begin with speculation. A modern generalist does not begin with beliefs, assumptions, suppositions, postulates, hypothesis, or theory. Postulates, hypothesis, and theory in scientific method are used to guide further exploration, further looking at the subject of investigation. With correct scientific procedure they are derived from prior examination of the subject—look first, speculate second about what that first look indicates you do not yet know. In this context, it should be understood that theory is not the goal of science in that it contains speculation about what is not known in combination with what is known. Accurate knowledge is the goal of science, a correspondence between ideas about reality and the intrinsic nature of reality.

The term, structural logic, as used by a modern generalist refers to the manner in which the intrinsic qualities of things that exist determine the manner in which those things can interrelate. Structural logic is an intrinsic aspect of reality, an intrinsic aspect of that which exists. It is structural logic that determines the manner in which the qualities of the components of a whole interrelate to create the emergent qualities of the whole. Guided by the prime imperative, a modern generalist lets the structural logic of reality dictate the logical relations of concepts.

Because science and the field of general systems are about reality, the underlying philosophy must also be about reality. Realist philosophy is concerned with what can exist—in the past, now, and in the future. The philosophy of reality is an intellectual activity, one that relates knowledge one part with another. The epistemology associated with science, the field of general systems, and realist philosophy must be realist in nature. The raw data of knowledge comes by way of our senses, is then reworked by the brain, and finally experienced there. The senses, the brain, and the mind are all biological in nature. A realist epistemology, therefore, is a biological epistemology. As the senses, the brain, and the mind are all evolved entities, so too is knowledge an evolved aspect of reality. A biological epistemology concerns itself not only with the anatomy and physiology of the biological basis of knowledge, but also with its long-term origin, its evolution.

Further, to discover, understand, and effectively communicate those factors that constitute the core unification of general systems, it is necessary to avoid various approaches that interfere with the application of the prime imperative and that inevitably lead to error, such as (a) anthropomorphism, (b) thinking in the abstract in the sense of thinking about the relations of concepts rather than thinking about the relations of the reality referents of concepts, (c) any form of mentalism, idealism, or solipsism, (d) any form of Platonism, and (e) metaphor.

And now, to the framework of general systems. For a modern generalist, a factor is anything that exists that plays a role in the nature of reality. Space, time, and matter are factors, as is any form of relation, pattern of organization, or event. The factor that plays a universal role of connecting each and everything that exists with something else that exists, and that does so in an ordered fashion, is development. Development occurs in various forms—a few foundational universal forms, many developed less universal forms, and a multitude of forms that play roles in specific types of situations. The foundational universal forms are (1) extensional development, (2) existential-pathway-development, (3) factor development, (4) change development, (5) emergent development, (6) causal development, (7) through-flow development, (8) coherent development, and (9) situation development. Some general factors that play roles in foundational forms of development are (a) sequential-difference, (b) sequential enhancement, (c) determinate consequent-existence, (d) continuing-existence, (e) self-organization, (f) motion, (g) emergence, (h) combinatorial enhancement, (i) cause, (j) through-flow, (k) coherence, and (l) hierarchy. It is development, then, that can be used as the framework of the understanding of the existence, organization, and change of reality, that is, as the framework of general systems.

Reality is organized sequentially (and thereby developmentally), from place to place in space, from past, to present, to future with time, from stage to stage in processes, and from level to level with hierarchic material organization. Each of these sequential aspects of reality involves a transition from simpler situations, with fewer factors playing roles, to more complex situations, with greater numbers of factors playing roles. Development and the factors that play roles therein are foundationally extremely simple. The deepest foundations occur with space and time. The understanding of the core connecting factors of reality, and thereby of general systems, begins with the utter simplicity of space and time and builds up from there toward more complex situations and systems by way of additional factors and their roles.

Applying the prime imperative of the accurate analysis of the intrinsic nature of reality, observe a portion of space—that directly in front of you will do. Notice that it has the quality of extension. It extends from the left side of the portion all the way over to the right side. The left side is a different part of this portion of space from the part on the right side. These parts are adjacent to one another and organized sequentially, first the one and then the other.

Notice how the part on the left has its own left part and right part, as does the part on the right, allowing you to look at four parts of the portion of space in front of you. These four parts are organized sequentially with one another. Space is not made up of distinct individual units like matter. Instead, the parts of space blend into one another in a continuous manner. There is a continuous sequence of spatial part from the left side of the observed portion to the right side. Note next that all parts of this sequence are coexistent. They are all there together at the same time.

Since each part is there simultaneously, coexistently, with the other parts, and since each exists at a different part of the portion of space under observation, each part is individually different from the other parts. The parts are coexistent, sequentially organized, and different one from another. The observed portion of space is a case of coexistent-sequential-difference. Consider now a row of objects on a table. The objects are coexistent, sequentially organized, and individually distinct, constituting a second case of coexistent-sequential-difference.

Beginning at one end of the row of objects and continuing on to the other end, there is an increasing quantity of objects along the row. There is just the one object at the end. Then, with the second one, there are two, and so on. Two is more than one, two is greater than one, two is an enhancement of the situation from just the one. Down the coexistent-sequential-difference of the row of objects there is a sequential quantitative enhancement, a sequential development of more.

The situation with the coexistent-sequential-difference of spatial extension is the same. From one side of the observed portion of space to the other it is evident that there is an increasing quantity of space. There is a sequential quantitative enhancement from the one side to the other, a sequential development of more. There are here two cases of coexistent-sequential-difference, that of space and that of matter, each with the qualities of enhancement and development. The row of objects on the table occupies space, with the coexistent-sequential-difference, the sequential enhancement, and the sequential development of the row of objects occurring with the corresponding coexistent-sequential-difference, sequential enhancement, and sequential development of the sequence of spatial place occupied by the objects.

The spatial case is the simpler, lacking the substantiality of the material case with its distinct units. Space is place, immaterial place. Matter occupies space, with space providing an existential context, a place-to-be, for the existence of matter. Without space, matter could not exist, as there would be no place for it to do so. Matter has an existential-dependency relation with spatial place. Space, then, is not only simpler in nature than matter, it is the more fundamental aspect of reality.

As space is simpler and more fundamental than matter, so also are its coexistent-sequential-difference and the associated development. In the spatial case the sequential difference, enhancement, and development are based on the extension of space. There are many different kinds of spatially organized material sequential developments, and all those material cases have an aspect of extension as an aspect of their intrinsic nature, as an aspect of their mode of existence. Extension is a factor of both spatial and material coexistent-sequential-difference. Extension is the core factor of this form of development—extensional development.

This form of development is foundational and universal. All cases of the organization of matter in space of whatever stage of development, from the simple to the complex, are cases of extensional development in that the fundamental spatial form is still always present and playing its role of providing a place-to-be for the material forms.

The next universal foundational form of development is existential-pathway-development. With the observed portion of space, from one side to the other of the sequential difference of the spatial extensional development, there is an aspect of continuous existence. Something, spatial place, is there all the way across. With a long board, from one end to the other of the sequential difference of the material extensional development, there is again an aspect of continuous existence. Something, wood, is there from end to end.

The board occupies spatial place, with the continuous aspect of the material extensional development occupying the continuous aspect of the spatial extensional development. A mouse can run along the board, using it to get from one place to another. The mouse uses the continuous sequential difference of the material extensional development to get from one part of the continuous sequential difference of the spatial extensional development to another part, at the other end of the board. The mouse uses the aspect of continuous existence of the spatial and material extensional developments as a pathway. There exists there an extensional existential-pathway-development along which the mouse can run.

There is an aspect of continuous sequential difference to the running of the mouse along the board, and an associated development of the situation as the mouse progresses from one place to another. This is another case of existential-pathway-development, with many additional factors playing roles. It is no longer simple extensional existential-pathway-development, but rather a developed form. With existential-pathway-development, there is a quality of sequentially connected development, be it continuous extension (immaterial or material), or continuous change (as in running).

In this situation there are three forms of this type of development, that of the running of the mouse, that of the extension of the wood of the board, and that of the space occupied by the board. The spatial case is the simplest, existing only as a sequence of immaterial spatial place. The material case is developed in that there is now the additional role of the substantiality of the wood. In these cases change does not play a role, however, it does so as an additional factor in the case of the running mouse.

These three cases of this factor, existential-pathway-development, differ from the simpler to the more complex by way of additional factors. This is factor development. It is common in the existence, organization, and development of reality for factors to occur in simpler forms in simple situations with fewer factors playing roles, and to occur in developed forms in more complex situations where there are additional factors playing a greater diversity of roles.

To find the simplest and foundational form of the next type of development, change development, it is necessary to go back to space. Space exists—and it continues to do so. Pass your hand through the observed portion of space, noting that the space continues to be there the whole time your hand is moving from one part to another. Note also that the parts of the continuing-existence of that space are not coexistent. Your hand passes through one part of the portion of space during one part of the continuing-existence of the space, and passes through the other part of the space during a different, following, noncoexistent, part of the spatial continuing-existence. The continuing-existence of space is a form of change, with following part coming sequentially and noncoexistently after the previous part. This is noncoexistent-sequential-difference—change.

The continuing-existence of space is continuously ongoing, with an ever increasing amount of the continuing-existence that has occurred. Increasing amount by way of noncoexistent-sequential-difference is a form of development, change development. The change development of spatial continuing-existence is foundational and universal first because space is infinite, and second because everything that exists does so in space, with the continuing-existence of each and every factor or thing that exists occurring with, and conforming to, the continuing-existence of space. The change development of spatial continuing-existence forms a core element of the framework of general systems because it plays a role in the existence and intrinsic nature of all more development forms of change. It does so because spatial continuing-existence is the reality referent of the term, time.

Emergent development is next. When two or more units are coexistent in space, there are direction and distance relations between them. The group of units and these extensional relations constitute a pattern of material organization. When one of the units moves, it acquires different direction and distance relations with the other units. The pattern of organization of the group changes. A new pattern of material organization comes into existence—it emerges.

This is the development-of-origin for emergence, the simplest form in which it is known to occur. Like other factors, emergence develops, occurring in simple form in simple situations and in more complex form in situations with more factors playing roles. At whatever stage or level of the development of reality where emergence plays a role, a newly existing pattern of material organization comes into existence, be it a newly formed atom within a star, a seed in a pod, or a galaxy. This occurrence of an emergent pattern of material organization is a form of development—emergent development.

Next there is causal development. When a moving unit of matter collides with a stationary unit, the moving unit pushes against the stationary unit. This push is cause. Cause is push, with this simple case being a development-of-origin for cause. When a unit of matter moves in relation to another unit, the pattern of organization of the two units changes as a consequence of the motion. When one unit collides with another, there is again a change in the pattern of material organization of the units. This time the change is a consequence not only of the motion, but also of the push. The change in pattern is pushed into existence, forced to occur, caused to occur.

The occurrence of an emergent pattern of material organization that is pushed into existence, caused to occur, is a form of development—causal development. Like emergence and most other factors, cause develops, becoming more complex with the roles of additional factors. At whatever stage of the development of reality, though, at whatever level of the hierarchic organization of reality, whatever the degree of complexity of a causal situation, at its core there will be the role of push. That is why causal development is a factor of the core framework of general systems.

Something of particular significance happens when matter pushes against other matter. The matter receiving the push gives way—it begins to move. It is this caused motion that results in the new caused pattern of organization. What is significant in this situation for the next form of development is that the matter delivering the push slows down, loses motion, while the matter receiving the push gains motion. Cause involves an energetic transfer, an energetic through-flow from matter to matter. The occurrence of the acquired motion is a development of the situation due to this energetic transfer, and this transfer situation is a development-of-origin for through-flow and through-flow development. Through-flow development is a particularly significant factor in the framework of general systems because it plays required roles in the creation of systems, their operation, and their maintenance.

Matter bonds to other matter, resulting in coherent development. With this form of development, there are developments of hierarchy, diverse material form, and stable coherent pattern of material organization. Each of these factors are required for the existence and functional aspects of systems. The complexity of systems develops with the developments of coherent hierarchy, form, and stability.

A final example of a foundational form of development that plays a universal role in the nature of reality, and thus in the overall framework of general systems, is situation development. Every individual elementary particle in the universe, as it moves through space and continues to exist with time, undergoes a unique intrinsic existential-pathway-development. These particles interrelate with one another in a variety of ways, from bouncing off in collisions to tight coherent bonding. As they do so, their existential-pathway-developments interrelate, combining momentarily before the particles bounce away, or progressing jointly in coherent bond. The ongoing interrelation of existential-pathway-developments is situation development.

It is characteristic of elementary particles to combine into increasingly larger clumps—atoms, molecules, macromolecules, organisms, crystals, rocks, continents, planets. As all these various clumps of matter move through space and continue to exist with time, they each have a unique intrinsic existential-pathway-development. The units of matter that exist, from photons to stars, interrelate with one another in a variety of ways, from bouncing off in collisions to tight coherent bonding, with a vast diversity of modes of interrelation in between. As they do so their existential-pathway-developments interrelate.

All the units, from particles to stars, are there together, coexistent. All their existential-pathway-developments are at what is the current stage for each. The units together constitute the current situation, and the combined current stages constitute the current state of the continuously changing situation. Situations develop as the existential-pathways of their various interrelating components develop. The existential-pathway of a situation develops as the existential-pathways of the components develop together.

As a unit of matter is moving through space, it is passing through the coexistent-sequential-difference of spatial extension. The unit is moving along the extensional development of space. Also, as the unit continues to exist, it does so with the noncoexistent-sequential-difference of spatial continuing-existence. The unit is continuing to exist with the change development of spatial continuing-existence. Both spatial extensional development and the change development of spatial continuing-existence play roles in the existential-pathway-development of the moving unit.

At the development-of-origin of emergence, the existential-pathway-developments of all the units of matter constituting the emerging pattern of material organization are playing roles. Emergent development plays a role in the development-of-origin of causal development, and causal development plays a role in through-flow development. It is common for prior stages of development to continue playing roles in the origins and continued existence of later stages. Thus, in situation development usually all prior foundational forms of development are still there continuing to play their roles.

A system is a situation. It is a group of interrelating units of matter, which are often from a variety of hierarchic levels of organization, with the combined current stages of the various existential-pathway-developments constituting the current state of the system. The ongoing operation of a system is a consequence of the ongoing interrelations of the existential-pathway-developments of the components of the system.

Systems exist in space, change with time, and are made out of matter. Systems are patterns of material organization. They are composed of elementary particles, which become organized into atoms, which are patterns of material organization. Atoms, apparently, are little systems, their component protons, electrons, and neutrons having bonded into a clump of matter that continues to exist during time and that moves through space as a unit, a hierarchical whole composed of interrelating parts. Atoms bond together into molecules, a higher level of hierarchical pattern of material organization, and molecules join together to form more complex molecules, crystals, and a seemingly endless variety of substances or materials of varying degrees of complexity, which can recombine in increasing levels of hierarchic organization. Complex groupings of matter often have both coherently bonded units and loosely interrelating units as components of the overall pattern of organization of the situation.

All groupings of matter are patterns of material organization. Many of these patterns are persistent, for example asteroids and pennies. Systems, however, are more than just patterns that persist. They are both persistent and dynamic, maintaining their identity despite significant ongoing change. A number of factors have been discovered that play roles in the persistent stability of systems—through-flow, homeostasis, feedback, self-organization, and adaptation to name a few.

These factors occur in various forms in different types of systems, often in simple form in simple systems and in more complex form in complex systems. Like the systems of which they are structural/functional components, the factors that play roles in the existence and intrinsic nature of systems are themselves patterns of material organization. Like most factors of the existence and organization of reality, they develop, and this development can be mapped. Think of all the forms and levels of feedback that play roles in the functioning of a human body, from the molecular levels within a cell, through the hormonal systems, to the overall control of the body by the nervous system.

It would be an interesting research program to map all these cases of feedback. There are probably hundreds of them, of many different types. What would show up in the results of such an investigation is that different types of feedback play different types of roles in the functional processes of the body. Knowing that would provide a deeper, more accurate understanding of the physiology of the human body, from the molecular biology of the cell all the way up to the body as a whole. Think of how useful that knowledge would be to microbiologists and physicians. What if they had access to that kind of understanding for all the general factors that play roles in many different systems? These general factors in their various forms play roles that provide different types of systems their distinct characters.

A number of general systems research programs could be planned by way of this approach that would result directly in practical information for the management of complex systems. Overall it would be a project that identifies and maps factor development within the general development of reality, and more specifically from the more simple systems to the complex systems. For example, at this level a general systems researcher could track down the development of some particular general factor from its simplest developments-of-origin, wherever they might occur, on up through the various levels of the organization of material reality, in both abiotic and biotic situations and systems. In this project the researcher would be following the development of the factor of interest up through the various disciplines, such as from physics or chemistry up through geology or biology.

Another, more restricted project, would be to find and display all the different forms and stages of development of some general factor within a very complex system, such as the roles of feedback in human physiology as mentioned above, or in an ecosystem such as a forest, a grassland, or a coral reef. A large but still limited program would be to map out all the known general factors playing roles in a specific type of system, for example within a single cell. Perhaps mapping out all the known cases of a certain general factor within a simple organism, a bacterium or an alga for example, could be the basis of a graduate thesis.

The compliment of all this exploratory work would be to bring all the results together in one coherent body of knowledge. The product of this synthesis would be a map of the development of reality, and of all the various types of systems therein. This synthesis would be, quite literally, the framework of general systems.

It is well known now that specialization in the sciences has established artificial barriers in understanding within the hierarchy of the disciplines from level to level, from physics up to sociology. There is, therefore, one more component of the modern generalist worldview that is needed here, a factor that goes beyond showing how general factors play roles in the various disciplines, a factor that specifically plays the role of unifying the sciences into a single integrated body of knowledge. That factor is emergent development. The chemical world is emergent from the world of physics. Geology and biology, the reality referents, not the sciences themselves, are emergent from chemistry. The higher levels of the hierarchic order of material reality are emergent from the lower levels.

Up to now, emergence has been considered more mysterious than not, with claims of unpredictability, non-reducibility, the requirement of unique novelty, and so on. These are anthropomorphic attitudes about emergence, and not actual qualities of real cases of emergence. Emergent development is a consequence of interrelating existential-pathway-developments. The manner in which emergent properties and wholes come into existence can be figured out by carefully following those interrelating pathways of development. This presents another realm of research opportunities. For cases that are not overly complex, graduate students can analyze and map out in continuously connected detail the manner in which the intrinsic qualities of the components of an emergent whole determine, within the context of their manner of coming together, exactly how the interrelating existential-pathway-developments create the emergent whole. Research teams can tackle the broad scale emergent transitions from one level to another, from one science to another.




Anthropomorphism Is Not Science

RE: Types and Forms of Emergence
[See: ComDig 2005.25 ]

The following comments are made from the vantage point of a modern generalist.

Anthropomorphism is the projection of personal or human characteristics, qualities, or associated factors onto other people or onto things which intrinsically are not human. In the accurate analysis of reality (that which exists), anthropomorphism is an error. The purpose of science is to achieve an accurate understanding of reality, or some part thereof. Science is a procedure designed to reach that goal by way of careful observation. The intention of that careful observation is to let reality speak for itself, to let the intrinsic nature of that which exists dictate the resulting knowledge about and understanding of reality. With the scientific procedure, you look at the subject of investigation and see what is there. With the projection of anthropomorphism, qualities are claimed to be aspects of the subject of investigation when actually they are not there. When a researcher indulges in anthropomorphism, that researcher is in that manner not behaving in a scientific manner, and that aspect of the investigation is not science.

Research into the nature of emergence is thoroughly contaminated with anthropomorphism. The culprit projected factors are reduction, prediction, and arbitrary factors for the nature of emergence or its relation to humans, such as novelty and surprise. Reduction and prediction are factors associated with humans—they are things humans do. They are not factors intrinsic to the nature of emergent properties, levels, or situations. They are not factors that make these cases of emergence what they are. To attempt to define the nature of emergence by way of reduction, prediction, or novelty is an indulgence in anthropomorphism and not a part of science.

It can be scientifically correct to ask the questions, Is an emergent property or level reducible to its components and the manner of their interrelation? or, Is an emergent property predictable from the nature of its components and the manner of their togetherness? While these questions refer to the cases of emergence, they are not actually about the intrinsic nature of emergence, but rather about the human capacity to perform the operations of reduction and prediction in these cases. To say a particular case of emergence is not reducible or not predictable, is not making a statement about the intrinsic nature of the emergence, but rather the incapacity of the researcher to make the reduction or the prediction. It often is the case that an emergent situation is not reducible or predictable one year, and is so the next because of some development of procedure or technology. These changes of procedure and technology change the capacity to reduce and predict, which are human activities, but they do no change the nature of emergence.

Novelty is certainly a common feature of emergent properties, but it is not universal, and is significant because of its newness, not because the novel feature was not a quality of some lower level. It is characteristic of the development of reality that general factors can occur at different levels of the hierarchic organization of a system. It commonly happens that these general factors occur in simple form in simple situations, and in more complex form in more complex situations where a larger number of factors are playing roles. It is emergence for such a factor when it first comes into existence at its lowest level in a hierarchically organized system, and it is emergence also when it again arises out of the more complex factors at a higher level of that system. The requirement of novelty as a characteristic of emergence is nothing more that an arbitrary anthropomorphic projection.

Surprise and unexpectedness are not actually claimed to be qualities of an emergent property, but rather of the relation of the emergent property to the mental state of a human. This error in defining emergence is not so much anthropomorphism as it is a case of human self-centeredness, anthropocentrism.

The problems with Jochen Fromm’s article, “Types and Forms of Emergence,” is that he apparently does not know the nature of the deep structure factors that make emergence what it is. He knows some things about emergence, but in each case there is usually some limit or confusion involved. “The process of emergence deals with the fundamental question: ‘how does an entity come into existence?’” Emergence is a process by which things come into existence—patterns of material organization, properties, entities, situations. Actually, though, he slips in a bit of anthropomorphism here. The process of emergence does not deal with questions, fundamental or otherwise. Dealing with questions is a human activity. Emergence is the general answer to the question.

Fromm goes on to say, “...we assume causality: every effect should have a cause.” It is true that cause plays a role in developed forms of emergence. That Fromm has to assume so indicates first that he does not really know what cause is, and second, he therefore does not know exactly how cause plays its roles in the process of emergence.

As a conclusion to his first paragraph, he says, “Although the process of emergence might look mysterious, there is nothing mystical, magical or unscientific about it.” The statement is true. Unfortunately, Fromm himself appears not to believe it. Towards the end of the article he states, “Yet there is a spark of truth in the idea that life can not be explained solely by physical processes (“Vitalism”).”

Two more examples of Fromm’s getting it right and then immediately getting it wrong occur in this sentence, “Moreover an emergent property is a part of the system and at the same time it is not a part of the system, it depends on a system because it appears in it and is yet independent from it to a certain degree.” [italics added] This getting it both right and wrong stems from his attitude that emergent properties are paradoxical. He persists in this confusion even when he has the clarification right there. “Emergent phenomena in generated systems are according to John H. Holland typically persistent patterns with changing components [Holland98], i.e. they are changeless and changing, constant and fluctuating, persistent and shifting...” Holland points out that it is a matter of hierarchic organization and modularity, that is, the substitution of equivalent subunits on a lower level that maintains the overall organization, and yet Fromm uses these relations as examples of what he thinks is the paradoxical nature of emergent properties. There are no paradoxes intrinsic to the nature of reality. If you’ve got a paradox, you’ve got it wrong. It is to Fromm’s credit that he states, “The paradoxes arises mainly because we are often only able to see a part of a complex system, if we consider only the microscopic or the macroscopic level, but not both at once, or if we see only the system or the environment, but not both.”

That Fromm has these problems and limits to his understanding is not for the most part his fault. He has clearly proceeded true to his education and the opinions of his teachers and colleagues. But consider now those opinions, and their anthropomorphic contamination, as he presents them in his article.

1) In the following, emergent and emergence are defined like this: a property of a system is emergent, if it is not a property of any fundamental element, and emergence is the appearance of emergent properties and structures on a higher level of organization or complexity (if “more is different” [Anderson72]). This is the common definition that can be found in many introductory text books on complex systems [Flake00, BarYam97].

2) According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “emergent entities (properties or substances) ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them”.

3) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy [Honderich95] defines emergent properties as unpredictable and irreducible: “a property of a complex system is said to be ‘emergent’ just in case, although it arises out of the properties and relations characterizing its simpler constituents, it is neither predictable from, nor reducible to, these lower-level characteristics”.

4) The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy [Audi95] distinguishes between structures and laws, between descriptive and explanatory emergence. Descriptive emergence means “there are properties of ‘wholes’ (or more complex situations) that cannot be defined through the properties of the ‘parts’ (or simpler situations)”. Explanatory emergence means “the laws of the more complex situations in the system are not deducible by way of any composition laws or laws of coexistence from the laws of the simpler or simplest situations”.

5) The concepts of explanation, reduction, prediction and causation are central to a deeper understanding of emergence [Kim99]. Important characteristics of emergent properties are “unexplainability”, “irreducibility”, unpredictability and feedback, although the degrees in different systems vary.

6) David J. Chalmers distinguishes between weak and strong emergence [Chalmers02]. His strong emergence is not deducible even in principle from the laws of the low-level domain, while weak emergence is only unexpected given the properties and principles of the low-level domain.

7) Mark A. Bedau distinguishes between three kinds of emergence: ... [Bedau02]. He uses weak and strong in the same sense as Chalmers, and ... nominal emergence ... the appearance of a macro property in a system that cannot be a micro property.

8) William Seager [SeagerDrafts] emphasizes two kind of emergence: ... ‘benign’ or acceptable emergence - if we can find a descriptive or explanatory scheme which provides a useful kind of shorthand notation for describing the behavior of a system, for example the pressure and temperature of a gas ... His radical emergence corresponds roughly to the strong emergence of Bedau and Chalmers.

9) Yaneer Bar-Yam [BarYam04] ... (“A strong emergent property is a property of the system that cannot be found in the properties of the system’s parts or in the interactions between the parts”).

Fromm also mentions two classification systems for emergence that, at least as he presents them, do not show anthropomorphic contamination.

1) Francis Heylighen has proposed the following classification criteria for emergence [Heylighen91]

amount of variety in the created system (i.e. in the possible states of the emergent system)
amount of external influence (during the process of emergence)
type of constraint maintaining the system's identity (absolute or contingent)
number of levels, multi-level emergence (one level, two levels, or multiple levels)

2) Stephen Jones has used a similar approach to define a comprehensive taxonomy [Jones02]. He uses feedback relations to propose a taxonomy of emergence, and distinguishes between first order (only “feedforward” relations), second order (feedback relations), and third order (“mutualistic feedback” relations) forms of emergence. ... He further tries to apply the different feedback forms known from cybernetics to differentiate his second category of emergence: his taxonomy distinguishes between feedback with error values (in which the output is filtered and limited before it is returned to the input) and feedback without error values (in which the pure output is returned to the input).

It is significant that Fromm criticizes these more realistic classification systems. About Heylighen’s system he says, “This attributes are unfortunately not completely independent: a multi-level emergence process has certainly a much higher variety than an emergence process on a single level.” And about the system presented by Jones he begins with a similar statement, “Unfortunately, the third category is unclear and seems to contain all other cases.” and then goes on, “Moreover strong emergence seems to be completely missing in his taxonomy.” Strong emergence, whether it is of the not deducible in principle form or the requirement of novelty form, is a strong case of anthropomorphism, and it is of special interest that Fromm thinks it a problem that this particular anthropomorphism is not included. Concerning the use of cybernetic forms of feedback he says, “This is not a bad idea, but the explanatory power in the case of emergence is doubtful.”

It is evident why Fromm finds fault with the more realistic work of Heylighen and Jones. He has chosen to perpetuate the anthropomorphisms.

1) “Strong Emergence can be defined as the appearance of emergent structures on higher levels of organization or complexity which possess truly new properties that cannot be reduced, even in principle, to the cumulative effect of the properties and laws of the basic parts and elementary components.” [novelty and reduction]

2) “The proposed classes stay the same if you select predictability instead of feedback as the main characteristic class feature ...” [predictability]

Anthropomorphism is a problem in science and the philosophy of reality not only because it results in distorted, inaccurate, ideas about the nature of that which exists, it also corrupts the process of inferring further understanding from what is already known.

“Because true emergent properties are irreducible, they can not be destroyed or decomposed – they appear or disappear instead. In this sense they may seem to be indestructible and are potentially the only things that really exist, but if they are examined too closely - if we take a deeper look at the components of the system - they do not exist at all and often vanish into nothing.”

If you begin with a falsehood, you can infer any fantasy that is consistent with that original error.

In reality, not in the realm of abstract concepts, but in reality, all emergent patterns of organization, properties, entities, or situations are reducible in principle simply because their emergence, and their existence thereafter, are existentially based on the natures of their components and the manner of their togetherness. The subunits, their intrinsic qualities, and their interrelations are what is-there to play the roles that result in the existence of the emergent, of whatever form or hierarchic level it may be. Emergent properties exist as nothing more than the subunits of which they are composed and the manner in which those subunits are interrelated. Emergent properties are nothing more than patterns of interrelational material organization. There is nothing else there.

Therefore, any emergent property or entity can be destroyed by way of decomposing it, that is, by separating and dispersing the parts. Emergent properties appear because of emergence, because of the coming together and interrelations of the parts. They disappear when the interrelations are disrupted and the parts separated.

First there is the error that emergent properties are irreducible, followed by the fantasy that they cannot be destroyed, and then, based on the fantasy that they are seemingly indestructible, Fromm adds the further fantasy that they “are potentially the only things that really exist, ...” In the light of the work of physicists, chemists, and biologists, over the past one-hundred and fifty years, to the effect that we now know about the hierarchic organization of a living being, from elementary particles, atoms, simple molecules, complex molecules, organelles, cells, organs, organ systems, to the living being as a whole, the idea that the highest level is all that exists is ludicrous. But it gets worse, “... if they are examined too closely - if we take a deeper look at the components of the system – they [emergent properties] do not exist at all and often vanish into nothing.” Fromm states clearly, even bluntly, that if he stops looking at an emergent property, and peers instead at some level of its component organization, the emergent property ceases to exist.

The problem Fromm is having here is the error of being more involved with what is going on in his head than with the actual cases of emergence as they occur in the universe beyond his thoughts. He is focused on his ideas, concepts, and mental constructs, rather than with the reality referents of those mental entities. When he focuses on one concept, other concepts fade into the background of his mind, and even vanish from his consciousness. His mental construct of the whole vanishes into nothing when he focuses on his mental construct of the parts. Thus, when Fromm says “if we take a deeper look at the components of the system,” he is talking about a deeper look at his ideas of the components, not about looking at the actual components in an actual case of emergence.

A modern generalist, www.themoderngeneralist.com, develops the habit of keeping an awareness of the hierarchic organization of material reality ready in the background of consciousness. When the focus is on any emergent level, whether it is low in the hierarchy, mid-level, or the top level, it is always viewed within the context of all the other levels, those that existentially support it and those where it plays a role within a larger whole.

The message here is that emergence research needs a reality adjustment. The various types of emergence must be classified by way of differences in the factors that make the various types distinct. That is, any accurate classification must be based on factors intrinsic to emergence itself, and not anthropomorphically or anthropocentrically on extrinsic relations with observers.

One final point. Even though feedback is a common feature in the process of emergence, it does not always play a role, and is actually too limited in its occurrence to be appropriate as a general criteria for the classification of emergence.




On the False Metaphor, Natural Selection, and What Really Happens When the Factor, Selection, Does Not Play a Role

Comment posted Mar. 22, 2005.

There is a problem in this essay 1 with the accuracy of the language used to describe natural biological evolution, and I cannot help but wonder if this indicates a deeper problem with the accuracy of the understanding of how that evolution takes place. With artificial biological evolution, as practiced by breeders of plants and animals, there is an entity or agent, the breeder, who takes an action, the selection of which plant or animal will be kept for further breeding. With natural biological evolution there is no such agent that makes selections. Natural selection is a metaphor, and a poorly chosen one at that. There is not only no agent making selections, in the vast majority of cases there is no selecting going on at all, the high level case of mate selection being an exception.

This problem originated with Darwin himself, with his persistent use of anthropomorphic language to discuss his theory of adaptive natural biological evolution. For example, in Chapter III of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, he says in the second paragraph, “Natural Selection...is a power...ready for action...” Darwin was well aware of the problems created by the anthropomorphism of the phrase natural selection. His publisher objected to it, and readers had difficulty understanding what he meant by it. Wallace wrote Darwin a letter asking him to stop using the term. And Darwin admitted, in the third edition, that, “In the literal sense of the word, no doubt natural selection is a false term...”

Unfortunately, instead of making the correction, he made excuses and rationalizations. One was the claim that with familiarity the problem would end. This has not happened because people new to the study of natural biological evolution are not familiar with what he actually meant by his misleading metaphor. The term and its associated confusions have been passed down through the literature and educational institutions to the present, and excuses are still being made.

There is a current example on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_selection). "It is important to note that the term 'natural selection' is often used in the inaccurate yet fairly harmless metaphorical sense as having causal status." If it is inaccurate, it is misleading, and thereby not harmless.

Wikipedia is a source for information on evolution for younger students and the general public. But the confusions due to the misnomer natural selection show up in the current scientific literature. This article by Hendry is an example. It is in his title, "The Power of Natural Selection," and in the abstract, "the typical strength of selection in nature." In the text these two are repeated, along with "strong selection," "selection pressures," and "...natural selection... [has] the power to drive..."

This is the same kind of language that caused so much trouble for people trying to understand On the Origin Of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The excuse could be put forth that this language is simply the employment of metaphor for effective communication. The problem is that the metaphors are so completely inappropriate they hinder communication rather than enhance it. Additionally, the question must be asked whether the use of such metaphors implies an inability to say it straight, based perhaps on a shallow understanding that precludes plain accurate description. This problem goes straight back to Darwin, nearly a 150 years ago. While appreciating his achievement of the accurate understanding of how adaptive evolution takes place, we need to get beyond his unscientific anthropomorphisms and their heritage.

If natural selection is disallowed in the accurate description and realistic discussion of natural biological evolution-what then? It was said that a factor, "natural selection," played a critical role in the process whereby life evolves. It was supposed to be the "Power of Natural Selection" that brought living organisms into adaptive alignment with their environment. So what really happens in the absence of the nonexistent role of that nonexistent factor? Why does life come into adaptive alignment with its environment, and particularly with a changing environment? To a modern generalist (themoderngeneralist.com) it is a development of interrelating factors, specifically continuance, intrinsic change, bifurcation, diversity, and continuance.

Life is a continuous, several billion year old, chemical chain reaction. It is a continuously ongoing process. It is intrinsically ongoing. That is, if the process is occurring in an appropriate environment, and if the process has the appropriate interrelations with its environment, and if nothing interferes, it is the nature of this type of process to continue occurring. This aspect of life, its intrinsic continuance, is key to understanding the nature of natural biological evolution when avoiding the inappropriate term natural selection. It is, in part, why selection is not necessary.

If the environment was unchanging, such a process would just continue on. However, the universe is characterized by change. The environment of life changes dramatically over time, becoming in various ways inappropriate for the continuance of the life process. Life, nevertheless, has continued. It does so because, like its environment, it is also characterized by change.

There are a great many different types of change that occur with the life process, most transitory, some more or less permanent. It is those changes that are more permanent in the long run that play roles in the adaptive alignment of ongoing life to its environment. The life process occurs in a great variety of forms from individual living cells to massive living beings like Sequoias and Blue Whales. It turns out, though, that the long-term continuance of life occurs at the level of the individual cell, with the multicellular forms passing through single celled stages. Thus, any permanent changes must occur at the level of the cell. Examples are the addition of the ancestors of mitochondria and changes to DNA sequences.

Because it is the intrinsic qualities of something that exists that determine in large part the nature of the relations of that something with other things that exist, different types of changes will have different effects, both intrinsically on the character of the process itself and on the relations of the life process with its environment. Some changes will render an ongoing life process unfit to continue on, either intrinsically as a chemical process, or extrinsically in relation to the environment. Other changes will have no current significance on the fitness of the ongoing life process to continue, either as a process or in relation to the environment. And some changes will enhance the fitness for continuance as a chemical chain reaction and the fitness for continuance in relation to the environment.

In a stable environment the unfit will die out, and the fit will continue on. That which is fit continues because it is fit, not because it is selected. Life just goes on. There is no selection.

Natural biological evolution can occur in such a stable situation. The changes keep occurring. If they have no current significance on the fitness of the ongoing life process, rendering it neither less nor more fit, those changes can become part of the intrinsic qualities of the life process. Some changes can enhance the life process by providing, for example, structural/functional redundancy, stability, and toughness. Just by continuing on, the life process can change and evolve. It is this ability of life to evolve in a stable environment that enables it to become adaptively aligned with a changing environment. It is essentially the same thing going on, but with two additional factors, bifurcation and diversity.

Life divides. The chemical chain reaction splits, creating two or more ongoing reactions. This bifurcation comes in a variety of forms from the relatively simple division of bacterial cells to the complex routines of plants and animals that reproduce sexually. The changes that play roles in the evolution of the continuing life process occur during the process of division, rendering the two ongoing chain reactions slightly different. Many divisions, each with some changes, results in a diversity of ongoing life chain reactions.

Here simple continuance again plays its role. Those divisions that have changes making them unfit to continue die. The rest continue on. But as the environment changes some will be unfit for those changes, and these also will die out. Others fit both for the conditions before the environmental change and also fit for the conditions of the change will continue.

They continue because they are fit. The dying off of the divisions that were not fit is not a factor of their continuance. The dying off of those that were not fit is not a form of selection of those that are fit. Nor is the continuance of the fit a form of selection-it is just continuance of an ongoing chain reaction. No selection takes place. There is simply continuance due to fitness-fitness to continue as a process and fitness to continue in relation to the environment. It is a matter of continuance, intrinsic change, bifurcation, diversity, and continuance.

Adaptive alignment is a consequence of the production of diverse ongoing life chemical chain reactions and the continuance of those that are fit. Natural selection referred to this continuance of the fit, and we need a term to replace it. Survival of the fittest comes close, but it is limited in scope by its emphasis on the competitive aspect of continuance of the fit. The meaning of this term is in part based on a comparison to the unfit that do not continue. But the fit continue because they are fit, not because the others are unfit and do not continue.

Survival of the fittest is additionally limited in scope due to its focus on the fittest. In one sense it is the fittest that continue, at least compared to those that die. But of those that continue there is a range of fitness form those that are indeed the fittest to those that are only adequately so. To continue, an ongoing life chemical chain reaction need be no more than sufficiently fit. Fitness to continue does not have to be the best, just good enough.

Finally, the term survival carries too much emotional baggage and is not universal. Life is not always a struggle. When conditions are good, life can be exuberant. The accurate and universal term here is continuance. Survival of the fittest can be reworded as continuance of the fit, which can then be used as a replacement for the misnomer natural selection.




Complexity Digest 2005.08, 21-Feb-2005
RE: Evolutionary Biology: The Power Of Natural Selection

Hendry, Andrew P. 2005. Evolutionary Biology: The Power of Natural Selection. Nature 433: 694-695..




On Achieving Artificial Intelligence and Why the Computers in the Article Are Not Learning Meaning

Post by Joseph Brophy-2005-02-05

why are we still using the expression "artificial intelligence"?

Response posted Feb. 6, 2005.

Hello Joseph,

If life and evolution could create naturally occurring biological intelligence out of atoms and molecules, then humans may very well be able to create artificial intelligence from the same source of base materials. However, I get the impression that a great deal of research into creating artificial intelligence involves creating models and simulations of it rather than creating intelligence itself.

I think a large part of the problem is that nobody actually knows the intrinsic nature of biological intelligence. The researchers, then, do not know exactly what it is that they are trying to create.

Google's Search For Meaning.

"Computers can learn the meaning of words..."

That is the problem with the attempt to get computers to learn meaning. As described in the article, the computers are only relating specific code sequences. It is all mechanical, without any relation to meaning.

In my work as a modern generalist, www.themoderngeneralist.com, a great deal of effort goes into mapping the development of complexity. It becomes evident when doing so that each type of complex situation or system, such as intelligence or meaning, requires an adequate stage and level of complex material organization for its existence. There is always a long series of precursor stages building up to the stage that is the development-of-origin of a particular complex system. Sometimes there is the temptation to label a precursor stage with the name of the real thing. To say that computers learning to associate code sequences are learning meaning is a case in point.

Code sequences, or written or spoken words, do not contain meaning within themselves. The letters h, a, and t, when combined in that sequence do not have any intrinsic relation to a hat at all. When the brain receives a word, the meaning is not conveyed by the word itself. Instead, the word triggers a place in the brain that has the meaning of the word. The word is just a triggering entity. The symbol, a circle with a slash through it, does not contain within itself the meaning, no or do not. It just triggers that reaction in a mind that knows that meaning for that symbol. Meaning requires an extra step beyond receiving symbols or symbol association.




Complexity Digest 2005.05, 31-Jan-2005
RE: Google's Search For Meaning

Graham-Rowe, Duncan. 2005. Google’s Search For Meaning. New Scientist 28 Jan 2005. Print edition No. 2484, 29 Jan 2005.




On the False Metaphor, Natural Selection, and the Need for Clear Accurate Description

Post by Bret—2005-01-29

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Group Stability and the Evolution of Moral Tension.

“…the action of natural selection.“ p. 47
“…natural selection may have shaped...“ p. 49
“…the dynamic of natural selection...“ p. 52

Response posted Feb. 3, 2005.

Hello Bret,

That is an interesting article, insightful and explanatory. My concern is with the use of the term natural selection. It originated as a metaphor derived from artificial selection. With artificial selection, as in breeding plants and animals, there is an entity or agent, the breeder, that performs an action, the selection of individuals for further breeding, with the consequence that there is differential survival and reproduction. This is artificially guided evolution.

With natural biological evolution, in stages prior to the emergence of cases of actual selection such as mate selection, there are no entities or agents that perform the action of selecting the individuals that survive and reproduce. Differential survival and reproduction are not consequences of selection, but rather of variation in fitness, hence the accurately descriptive language, survival of the fittest. Natural selection does not describe the intrinsic nature of natural biological evolution in the vast majority of cases.

You point out that the use of the terms altruism and selfishness result in a misleading dichotomy, and that a more precise set of terms would more accurately describe the actual situation. In your article it is clear that care has gone into providing precise descriptive language. In my work I look for modes of analysis and understanding that make it possible to become a modern generalist. A modern generalist is characterized not by quantity of knowledge, as with a traditional generalist, but by type of knowledge, knowledge that connects understanding from the foundations of space, time, and physics to the highest hierarchic levels of complex organization. Because the territory is so vast, I find clear accurate language to be of paramount importance. Your article is a good example—thank you.

As a modern generalist, I find that if I cannot describe a situation in direct language, without metaphors or traditional but ambiguous terms, then I do not have an adequate understanding of that situation. Natural selection is ambiguous and inaccurate. For clarity of understanding and communication it should be deleted from further discussion of natural biological evolution, except in cases where there is an actual agent that makes a selection.




Complexity Digest 2005.04, 24-Jan-2005
RE: The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Group Stability And The Evolution Of Moral Tension

Lahti, David C., and Bret S. Weinstein. 2004. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Group Stability and the Evolution of Moral Tension. Evolution and Human Behavior 26:1:47-63.




On Assumptions, Postulates, and Identifying the Intrinsic Nature of Space

Post by Carlos—2005-01-20

That is if you assume that space exists without matter... If one looks at space as a property/consequence/feature of matter, i.e. as a ‘relation’ of matters, then (I believe) there is no problem with relativity 1

Response posted Jan. 24, 2005.

Hello Carlos,

Assumptions, postulates, presuppositions, ad hoc explanations, and speculation are significant problems in science and the philosophy of reality (the philosophy of what exists). Postulates and assumptions that hang around for a long time become tradition, their origins are forgotten, and a great many people treat them as facts, as accurate descriptions of the intrinsic nature of reality. You are correct in pointing them out whenever they sneak unannounced into a discussion, or the title of a news release.

It is a basic and critical principle of science and the philosophy of reality to look to the subject of investigation itself as the source of information about that subject. This applies to the study of space. Look at space, not at matter.

In the statement, “If one looks at space as a property/consequence/feature of matter, i.e. as a ‘relation’ of matters,..” the words, “looks at space as,” while using the right words, “looks at space,” are not actually about looking at space, but rather about assigning attributes to space through the function of the word, “as.” This is the same as saying, “If one assumes space is a property/consequence/feature of matter, i.e. a relation of matters,..”

By looking at space itself, not at matter, it is evident that space is place, immaterial place, place that the substantiality of matter can occupy and move about in. Matter occupies space, but space does not have to be so occupied. The existence of space is independent of the existence of matter. Matter, however, is existentially dependent on space for a place-to-be.

Post by Carlos—2005-01-26

I believe that there is no "life itself" or "consciousness itself" i.e. independent of an agent relating to its environment. In a similar vein, I believe that there is no "space itself", in the sense that it needs to be relating objects. We can abstractly speak about it, of course, but I don't think that it makes sense to do it in Physics... 1

Hello Carlos,

It is the purpose of science and the philosophy of reality to replace belief with knowledge and understanding. The primary tool of these analytic endeavors is observation, field observation, lab observation, observation of experimental results, observation with unaided senses and with technological aids to observation. To understand the nature of the existence of life and consciousness and the nature of their relation to an agent relating to its environment, one must look at them to see what they are, where they are, how they came to be, and what is the current nature of their relation to the agent and the agent’s environment. Scientists have done a marvelous job of observing life. We now have the basic answers to these questions.

Both life and consciousness are relation systems. They are each processes organized extensionally in the 3-dimensionality of spatial place and sequentially with the ongoing change that is time. Living organisms, the entities that live and have consciousness, are made out of units of matter—elementary particles, atoms, and molecules. Agents that have life and consciousness exist as consequences of the evolutionary process—they are emergent coherent patterns of interrelational material organization.

Living and having consciousness are things that these agents, living beings, do. Both processes occur within living beings, within their skins. They are made out of the same materials, particles, atoms, and molecules, as the agents of which they are internal processes. Life and consciousness, as ongoing processes, are emergent patterns of organization, patterns of material units and the relations between them.

If with your eyes open you look at the place and objects around you, you are relating to your environment. If with your eyes closed you look at an imaginary scene in your mind, you are not in that manner relating to your environment. It is a form of consciousness, an occasion of consciousness, that at the moment is not relating to the external environment. Actually, it is quite possible to do both at the same time, as in the notorious case of getting lost in a daydream while driving a car.

What this means for this discussion is that life and consciousness are internal to the agent, they exist as aspects of the agent itself, and while the agent and its internal processes exist within an external environment with which they can and do have relations , they all three have their intrinsic existence based on the matter of which they are composed and the particular interrelational patterns of organization of that matter. All three evolved in relation to the environment, but as a consequence they have emerged with their own intrinsic existence that is-there and not existentially dependent on the environment.

You compared the nature of the existence of life and consciousness to the nature of the existence of space. “In a similar vein, I believe that there is no ‘space itself’, in the sense that it needs to be relating objects.” So I say once more, Look at space.

Hold up an object of matter before you. It is immediately evident that there is space all around the object, external to the object. Hold up two objects separate from one another. It is again evident that the existence of the space between them is external. In this manner, then, the relation of space to matter is radically different from the internal relation of life and consciousness to matter.

Next look for a moment at what matter is, and then do the same for space. Matter can be experienced as (a) substantial, (b) to occupy space, (c) to move about in space, (d) to occur as extensionally limited units of various complexity, (e) to form patterns of material organization, (f) to have a contact relation one part with another, (g) to have a blocking relation with one part in the way of and altering the motion of another part, (h) to have a push relation with one moving part pressing against a blocking part, and (i) to have the quality of coherence with one part attached to another resulting in coherent structure.

Now look at the space between the objects. At first glance it appears that there is nothing there. Technological aids to observation, however, have enabled us to discover that there are various units of matter passing through, gases, neutrinos, and such. They are passing through—their occupation of the space is transient. The space remains when they have gone on.

The space is the place the units transiently occupy. The place is not made out of these units of matter like life and consciousness are made out of atoms and molecules. Space is not composed of matter. It is not substantial, but rather immaterial.

Matter is observed to occupy spatial place. A unit of matter moves in and occupies a spatial place. Space is not observed to move in and occupy matter.

Because it is nothing more than immaterial place, space cannot move. It lacks any aspect or quality of its existence to move. There is no evident limit to space. Space does not form patterns of organization in the manner in which matter does. Nor can immaterial place have the contact, blocking, push, or coherent structure relations possible for matter.

The mode-of-being of space is different in nature from that of matter, can be external to matter, and is thus distinctly different from the relation of life and consciousness to matter.

To think of space as existing only “as a ‘relation’ of matters”, that is as existentially dependent on matter, is to have it backwards. It is matter that occupies space, being thereby existentially dependent on space for a place-to-be. Space is the foundation of reality, providing an existential context for all else that exists. All else is dependent on space, while space is existentially independent because of what it is.




Complexity Digest 2005.03, 17-Jan-2005
RE: Going Beyond Einstein: Spacetime Wave Orbits Black Hole

Going Beyond Einstein: Spacetime Wave Orbits Black Hole. ScienceDaily 2005-01-13



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