Saturday, May 19, 2012

Grasping Beyond a Physics Worldview.

This is an attempt to understand the acausal nature of evolution - I am very grateful to Kim and a  Google+ conversation her for the inspiration to record this moment of social thinking.


The conversation begins in the middle (I hope it will continue). Kim and I were conversing from the platforms of our own intellectual backgrounds. She is a classically trained scientist - whereas I'm a hybrid mongrel social scientist philosopher.


Her points was that just because we can't define space beforehand, this does not mean that space does not have bounds.


I countered that I thought she may still be thinking 'extensionally' as if the un-pre-stateable space I was referring to about an expansion of the 'edges' of space. But what I understand of Kauffman is that he is talking about the very fabric of the phase space (the place where things happen). So before a microbe moves into the swim bladder, there is a definable 'stateable' ecological space (a phase space) - this would be like the classic physics worldview, and we would try to understand the selection pressures (like understanding position, speed, trajectory of all particles) to 'predict' how selection would work on a fish with a swim bladder. 

But once the microbe immigrates to the swim bladder - all of a sudden there is a new niche that evolution's selection mechanism did not select as a 'fitness function'. This new niche changes the 'phase space' by adding a new niche (a whole new space of being, within which selection can begin to work. There could be no algorithm - no calculus of trajectory to 'predict' this space because it was 'acausally' instantiated by microbes moving in, not through the causal web of selection.

For me it is like suddenly the piece of paper expanding in a 3 dimensional way rather than simply getting bigger in a 2 dimensional way.

None of this, is an argument against structure - of course there is structure - but this is the important part the structure is not prestateable. 

Whatever & whenever we reduce phenomena to energy we lose the structure we are aiming to study - we lose the whole. That is why complex systems cannot be understood through a reductive method - complex systems must understood on the 'holistic' level it occupies and not on the level that the parts/constituents occupy. 

When we cannot pre-state the phase space - we can't pre-state the degrees of freedom. For example, we can never prestate all the possible uses of a screwdriver (ice-pick, spear-head, hammer, lever, stake, paperweight, hole-puncher, etc) - and because of this we can't pre-determine degrees of freedom. Certainly the structure of the screwdriver constrains the infinite range of its infinite possibilities - but infinity is infinite - even though some infinites seem logically to be bigger (e.g. the infinite set of even numbers intuitively seems smaller than the infinite set of all numbers - but infinity is infinity). 

And I think this is where the 2nd law of thermodynamics is always misused. The 2nd law is only applicable to 'closed systems' not to 'open systems' - that is why if you constrain a quantity of water within a completely closed metal container - but apply heat to the bottom of the container (e.g. make it open to energy input - thus making it open) - you get a phase transition from equilibrium to a turbulent chaos - to the new order of Bernoulli cells. The assumption (and it is an assumption) is that the universe is 'closed' and thus will inevitably reach some sort of entropic equilibrium, is not knowable but it fits our current theory. However, its expansion is not an act of equilibriation but an ever expanding reservoir of difference - which is the source of information and eternal energy (as I currently understand - I may be wrong). 

In terms of an ecosystem (defined as an open system - open to the energy of the sun) but also constrained by a finite physical space; We don't know and can't pre-state the limits of 'niche density' that can arise - as long as it continues to be open to the in pouring of energy. As niche density increases - the phase space expands despite being constrained within a physical limit. 

Because the earth is an open system - that is why life has progressed to ever greater degrees of complexity and richness rather than some sort of entropic equilibrium that the 2nd law (for closed systems) has predicted. 

What we have here is both openness and constraint - the very definition of complexity. The little I know of quantum and string theory would agree that there is no 'nothing' and that even at absolute zero there is still quantum and string activity. 

A key thing I think we must remember is that our mathematics & science - don't explain reality - mathematics is a language that has enabled us to powerfully describe reality - in ways that have enabled us to manipulate the reality around us to our ends. But description is not an explanation of causality. Before Einstein - Newton gave us a very good description of gravity - but he didn't explain its causality. Einstein improved this description with a theory (supported first by reason and later by evidence) that asks us to imagine the 'warping of space' as the best description. We still can't access the causality of gravity - despite our theories and their increasingly powerful descriptions.

The menu describes the meal - but it is not the meal. The map is a description of the terrain - but it is not the terrain. Math/Science describes reality - but it is not the causality imbuing reality.

Now when the swim bladder becomes a new niche - increasing the density of the ecology - expanding the phase space of possibilities - this may still follow some fundamental laws. For example the richness of the ecosystem in the swim bladder may follow a power-law distribution and a fractal pattern of unfolding interdependencies. Once an adjacent possible becomes a real virtual possibility it will inevitably follow the known and the yet-to-be-discovered laws of change and transformation as it become a real actual.

In an abstract way one can speculate an inevitable proliferation of niche space in a fractal-power-law distribution. But what we can never do is prestate the particular conditions that are created in life's becoming. 

A screw driver has form and function - which does constrain the infinite set of its adjacent possibles - yet the constraints arising because of its form and structure don't make these adjacent possibles (permutations) finite - the constraints may simply be 'arcs' shaping a strange attractor of its infinite trajectory. Each step yielding new possibles to the arc and the trajectory. But the trajectory is not in the classic 3d or 4d of traditional physics it is in the unfolding phase space of niche densities - a type of proliferation of dimensions.

Perhaps another metaphor - Shannon's information theory was all about sending a 'signal' (pattern) through various 'noisy' mediums in a way where the pattern would not lose integrity (information). But he admitted that the signal being sent - and received without error had no application in relation to the 'meaning' of the signal. Even when the signal is received perfectly without error of distortion - the meaning that can be derived/projected on the received signal is unpredictable. 

This is why when we 'kick a dog' it will obey the laws of physic for a short while - but its ultimate behaviors don't depend on the 'energy transmitted' by the kick - it behaviors depend on the meaning it derives from who kicked it, the context of the kick, the internal state of the dog. This meaning is not determined by energy transfer (though energy transfer is essential). Meaning may ride on energy - but is not derived from that energy. New meanings are like new niches - they are whole new dimensions arising within a constrained yet infinite phase space.

Aristotle spoke of four types of causality - efficient, material, final and formal. Science works in the domains of efficient and material causality. Human intention works in the domain of 'final' (purpose) causality. Aristotle, McLuhan and very recently Kauffman spoke about formal causality. This is where I think our discussion is on separate sides. For McLuhan formal causality is evident when 'effect precede the cause' in a sort of figure-ground dynamic. This is sort of what Kauffman explores in trying to understand that evolution has no 'entailing law' but creates acausal (formal) conditions that 'enable' new adjacent possibles to become actual. The field of adjacent possibles is the cause but we can only see the cause once the possibles have become actual (e.g. effects).

I like the reference to "Even for words not created, we can use the structure of words to define the possibility of new words. No you can't have a word be larger than a book because that would violate the function of a word." 


I think the argument that can counter this position is the impossibility of 'real' translation of one language into another language - even though we can most often get good enough approximation.

Arthur C. Clarke said "A technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic" 

I think reality - especially living/complex systems are sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic - they are not magic - but are beyond the grasp of the reason underlying current math and science. :)I