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This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·11 (the reverse side of Chapter 11·) of Turning Signs, as of 23 September 2022. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere.
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The “beauty” of the woods through which I walk is my recognition both of the individual trees and of the total ecology of the woods as systems. A similar esthetic recognition is still more striking when I talk with another person.Walking through the woods, talking through the words: intimologies.— Gregory Bateson (1972, 332)
Self is really an interface between this bodymind and those other systems. [next]
Man is but a network of relationships, and these alone matter to him.— Saint-Exupéry, quoted in Merleau-Ponty (1945, 530)
The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
Every neuron in the net is unique and redundant.— gnox
We are involved with the world and with others in an inextricable tangle.[next]— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 528)
Differentiation refers to the degree to which a system (i.e. an organ such as the brain, or an individual, a family, a corporation, a culture, or humanity as a whole) is composed of parts that differ in structure or function from one another. Integration refers to the extent to which the different parts communicate and enhance one another's goals. A system that is more differentiated and integrated than another is said to be more complex.— Csikszentmihalyi (1993, 156)
Uniformity and conflict are degenerate forms of unity and diversity respectively. Complexity is the logical product of unity and diversity, just as development (or evolution) is the logical product of change and continuity, and information is the logical product of breadth and depth (see Chapter 10· or Fuhrman 2010). [next]
There are of course alternatives to the guess that life began by self-organizing. We might guess that life, or indeed the whole cosmos, could have been created artificially by some pre-existing entity – as we create buildings and machines, only more arbitrarily (and without depending on existing resources as we do). This has the advantage of casting the Creator in our own image, and thus containing creation within the familiar cognitive bubble. This kind of anthropomorphizing may even be instinctive, as Peirce claimed, seeing no more adequate way for man to conceive the Creator ‘than as vaguely like a man’ (CP 5.536).
But the hypothesis of an omnipotent, unconstrained yet purposeful Creator can't be investigated scientifically, since there is no way it could ever be refuted by observable facts. Appealing to an inexplicable Creator does nothing to explain the origin of anything, but rather blocks the road of inquiry – to which we are drawn just as instinctively as we are drawn to the idea of an intentional Creator. The instinct of inquiry calls us to use the best method of investigation we can find, one that is honestly self-critical and self-correcting, and above all, capable of learning from experience. That's the scientific method outlined in Chapter 7, and it requires a testable theory to explain how self-organization could arise from unorganized energy flows. Deacon (2011) is an attempt at such a theory (see Chapters 10 and 11). [next]
As early as 1937, in the new field of population genetics, Theodosius Dobzhansky demonstrated the value of biological polyversity in keeping ‘populations tuned to changing environments’ so that each species is better equipped to occupy a ‘specific multidimensional niche’ (Depew and Weber 1995, 293-4).
Since that time, populations have been shown to be generally polymorphic, that is, to contain at least several variant alleles for each trait … Dobzhansky's abiding concern, and lasting contribution, was to insist not only that populations are in fact full of diversity but that diversity is good for them.— Depew and Weber 1995, 296 (italics theirs).
Any system that starts off simple will tend to get more complex. It has nowhere else to go. Natural selection does not have a lot to do except act as a coarse filter that rejects utter failures. So we get a description of evolution in terms of dynamics and stability, which always belong together. The question is then: Which are the robust forms that emerge from the evolutionary exploration of the space of possible organisms?[next]— Goodwin (1994, 157)
It is the business of the living organism to organize, for where there is life there is not only hope, as the proverb says, but also fears, guesses, expectations which sort and model the incoming messages, testing and transforming and testing again.— Gombrich (2002, 251)
Look, look, the dusk is growing! My branches lofty are taking root.[next]— Finnegans Wake, 213
a gene can evolve by increasing its fitness relative to other genes within the same individual, by increasing the fitness of the individual relative to other individuals within a group, or by increasing the fitness of the group, relative to other groups in the total population.But at any of these levels, since the ‘other’ to which fitness is relative is co-evolving, competition is not necessarily required. What is essential to evolution is a nonlinear dynamic, a feedback process. This entails that the very act of adapting may change its own context as well as the ‘text’ (the specific transform). Besides, natural selection is not necessarily or exactly an adaptive process.
When adaptation is observed, it can be explained by the differential survival and reproduction of variant types being guided and biased by their differential efficiency or resistance to environmental stresses and dangers. But any cause of differential survival and reproduction, even when it has nothing to do with the struggle for existence, will result in some evolution, not just adaptive evolution.… What evolutionary geneticists and developmental biologists have been doing for the last sixty years is to accumulate a knowledge of a variety of forces that cause the frequency of variant types to change, and that do not fall under the rubric of adaptation by natural selection. These include, to name a few: random fixation of nonadaptive or even of anti-adaptive traits because of limitations of population size and the colonization of new areas by small numbers of founders; the acquisition of traits because the genes influencing them are dragged along on the same chromosome as some totally unrelated gene that is being selected; and developmental side effects of genes that have been selected for some quite different reason.— Lewontin (2001, 56-7)
Lewontin (2001, 52) speaks of a ‘vulgar Darwinism’
which sees all aspects of the shape, function and behavior of all organisms as having been molded in exquisite detail by natural selection – the greater survival and reproduction of those organisms whose traits make them ‘adapted’ for the struggle for existence.… Evolutionary geneticists, on the other hand, … and most epistemologists take a more pluralistic view of the forces driving evolution.Gerald Edelman (2004) attributes just such a ‘vulgar Darwinism’ to Alfred Wallace, contrasting this view with Darwin's own:
Wallace, in fact, concluded that natural selection could not explain the origin of our higher intellectual and moral faculties. He claimed that savages and prehistoric humans had brains almost as large as those of Englishmen but, in adapting to an environment that did not require abstract thought, they had no use for such structures and therefore their brains could not have resulted from natural selection. Unlike Wallace, Darwin understood that such an adaptationist view, resting only on natural selection, was not cogent. He understood that properties and attributes not necessarily needed at one time could nevertheless be incorporated during the selection of other evolutionary traits. Moreover, he did not believe that mental faculties were independent of one another. As he explained in his book The Descent of Man, for example, the development of language might have contributed to the process of brain development.It would appear, then, that Darwin was not a ‘vulgar Darwinist,’ and in fact anticipated the co-evolutionary theory developed by Deacon in The Symbolic Species (1997). [next]— Edelman (2004, 2)
The idea that laws of nature are themselves the result of evolution by natural selection is nothing new, it was anticipated by the philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce, who wrote in 1891:[next]To suppose universal laws of nature capable of being apprehended by the mind and yet having no reason for their special forms, but standing inexplicable and irrational, is hardly a justifiable position. Uniformities are precisely the sort of facts that need to be accounted for. Law is par excellence the thing that wants a reason. Now the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature, and for uniformity in general, is to suppose them results of evolution.
This idea remains dangerous, not only for what it has achieved, but for what it implies for the future. For there are implications [that] have yet to be absorbed or understood, even by those who have come to believe it is the only way forward for science. For example, must there always be a deeper, or meta-law, which governs the physical mechanisms by which a law evolves? And what about the fact that laws of physics are expressed in mathematics, which is usually thought of as encoding eternal truths? Can mathematics itself come to be seen as time bound rather that as transcendent and eternal platonic truths?
I believe that we will achieve clarity on these and other scary implications of the idea that all the regularities we observe, including those we have gotten used to calling laws, are the result of evolution by natural selection. And I believe that once this is achieved Einstein and Darwin will be understood as partners in the greatest revolution yet in science, a revolution that taught us that the world we are imbedded in is nothing but an ever evolving network of relationships.
I will say that a sign is anything, of whatsoever mode of being, which mediates between an object and an interpretant; since it is both determined by the object relatively to the interpretant, and determines the interpretant in reference to the object, in such wise as to cause the interpretant to be determined by the object through the mediation of this ‘sign.’The reverse side of this path of determination is a path of representation: the sign represents the object to the interpretant, which then represents the sign – by determining another interpretant sign, or else a ‘habit-change,’ which is both an end of semiotic causality and a governor of efficient causation, i.e. a determinant of future transformations in the physical realm. Any actual occurrence of semiotic determination/representation must itself determine and represent a change in a state of mind, quasi-mind or bodymind: in other words, it must make a difference to that bodymind, and this difference is both semiotically and efficiently caused.EP2:410
In other words, the logical interpretant of a sign, as a ‘habit-change’ or modification of the guidance system which ‘gives direction’ to the subsequent practice of the guided system or bodymind, will determine the energetic interpretants of future signs, which over time will make the path of practice by walking it. This in turn will make a difference to the physical (as well as the mental) context of further semiosis.
In terms of evolutionary biology, the way a type of organism interacts with its environment can effect changes in both organism and environment, which may in turn affect the ability of the species to be represented in another generation of organisms. Over time, then, natural selection will weed out the ethos which does not maintain its viability as an occupant of its ecological niche. But natural selection must have a variety of possibilities to select from, and does not in itself account for that variety. Hence the need for the hypothesis that spontaneity or ‘chance’ is a primal element in an evolving universe such as the one we all inhabit. [next]
1. A mind is an aggregate of interacting parts or components.[next]
2. The interaction between parts of mind is triggered by difference, and difference is a nonsubstantial phenomenon not located in space or time; difference is related to negentropy and entropy rather than to energy.
3. Mental process requires collateral energy. [Note: We might think of Peirce's ‘logical (or semiotic) energy’ as a kind of bridge between his ‘collateral experience’ and Bateson's collateral energy.]
4. Mental process requires circular (or more complex) chains of determination.
5. In mental process, the effects of difference are to be regarded as transforms (i. e., coded versions) of events which preceded them. The rules of such transformation must be comparatively stable (i.e ., more stable than the content) but are themselves subject to transformation.
6. The description and classification of these processes of transformation disclose a hierarchy of logical types immanent in the phenomena.
Wherever there is life, there is twist and mess.— Annie Dillard (1974; Reader, 360)
… it's the muddest thick that ever was heard dump since Eggsmather got smothered in the plap of the pfan.[next]— Finnegans Wake, 296
My Interpretant with its three kinds is supposed by me to be something essentially attaching to anything that acts as a Sign. Now natural Signs and symptoms have no utterer; and consequently have no Meaning, if Meaning be defined as the intention of the utterer. I do not allow myself to speak of the “purposes of the Almighty,” since whatever He might desire is done. Intention seems to me, though I may be mistaken, an interval of time between the desire and the laying of the train by which the desire is to be brought about. But it seems to me that Desire can only belong to a finite creature.This clarifies the difference between the “purposes of the Almighty” and ‘that toward which the actual tends’: the tendencies of nature are real but not intentional. Creation is not meant to mean anything. [next]Your ideas of Sense, Meaning, and Signification seem to me to have been obtained through a prodigious sensitiveness of Perception that I cannot rival, while my three grades of Interpretant were worked out by reasoning from the definition of a Sign what sort of thing ought to be noticeable and then searching for its appearance. My Immediate Interpretant is implied in the fact that each Sign must have its own peculiar Interpretability before it gets any Interpreter. My Dynamical Interpretant is that which is experienced in each act of Interpretation and is different in each from that of any other; and the Final lnterpretant is the one Interpretative result to which every Interpreter is destined to come if the Sign is sufficiently considered. The Immediate Interpretant is an abstraction consisting in a Possibility. The Dynamical Interpretant is a single actual event. The Final Interpretant is that toward which the actual tends.SS 111 (1909 March 14)
misleading engineering metaphor in which independent parts preexist an assembled whole. In biologically evolved systems, however, the integration and complementarity of “parts” come as natural consequences of the progressive differentiation of an antecedent less differentiated whole structure, both phylogenetically and embryologically.’— Terrence Deacon (2003, 105)
According to Depew and Weber (1995, 477-8), Dawkins does not offer much of an improvement over Paley.
… Paley's watchmaker does not completely disappear in Dawkins's version of evolutionary theory (Dawkins 1986). He is said only to be a ‘blind watchmaker.’ From our perspective, however, there is no watchmaker, blind or sighted, for the simple reason that there is no watch. Natural organization is not an artifact, or anything like it, but instead a manifestation of the action of energy flows in informed systems poised between order and chaos. Directionalities, propensities, and self-organization in a thermodynamic perspective actually exclude the notion that evolution is oriented toward an end in the intentional or design sense. The thermodynamic perspective allows biological adaptedness precisely by excluding design arguments. Directionality of informed, dissipative natural processes excludes directedness.
You could say that organic and mechanical are two ways of looking at systems, rather than two kinds of systems. We can look at some systems either way: we are capable of ‘getting personal’ with machines, or conversely of treating organisms as inanimate objects. But we have two ways of looking at systems because there is a real difference between the two kinds, and most systems fall naturally into one or the other. A mechanical system such as a watch, or a missile guidance system, or the transmission system of an automobile, are relatively simple to map because they were actually built from maps in the first place – that is, they were deliberately designed and engineered to serve some conscious purpose. You, on the other hand, are much more complex, having self-organized rather than having been artificially assembled from pre-existing parts for predetermined purposes. As Gendlin (APM IV-A.c) puts it, ‘there are no simply separate parts of the body … a part changes and may disintegrate if the processes (subprocesses and larger processes) in which it is involved stop and never resume. Parts of the body are derivative from process-events.’ [next]
Co-evolution is Thich Nhat Hanh's concept of interbeing mapped onto evolutionary biology. The process of adaptation itself can be mapped, or represented graphically, as a “fitness landscape” depicted in terms of “mountains”: that is, “up” is the direction of greater fitness. This of course is arbitrary, and Murray Gell-Mann (1994) reverses the directionality in his diagram so that the “lowest” or “deepest” level is the plane of greatest fitness for the organism. For one thing, this magically rids the adaptive process of the feeling of struggle, epitomizing the view of Lao Tzu that ‘Highest good is like water.’ D.S. Wilson (2002) offers an account of the Balinese water temples that illustrates such an approach to cultural evolution. [next]
When a fox emerges from its den, it is no longer inside the den. When a part emerges from the whole, it is separated from the whole. But this is not so with emergent phenomena. When something “emerges” from the phaneron, it is thereby included in the phaneron. In perception, figure emerges from ground, and thus the phaneron articulates itself. Likewise continuous practice articulates itself by particular acts.
In the same manner as tonally discrete music, the body-surrounding fit is possible only through discretization of the continuum of possibilities, both in the perception and the action relation. Perception possesses a highly constrained selection of possible environment stimuli – ranging from simple cases like the possibility of sensing only groups of specific chemicals and to more complicated cases like the necessary limit of discrimination ability in any continuous perception spectrum (visual, auditive, tactile, etc.). In short, perception and action both possess a certain granularity which allows them to be pragmatically efficient at the price of a certain imprecision. This imprecision, it is evident, implies certain limitations – larger or lesser – on the perfection of the organism-environment fit. Both more perceptual precision (which is also energetically more expensive), on the one hand, and more perceptual economy (which is also less precise), on the other, may be favored by selection, according to the specific conditions in the single case. In semiotic terms, this implies that in the functional circle, a tension is at stake in embodied semiosis between semiotic complexity on the one hand and semiotic economy on the other.[next]— Stjernfelt 2007, 262
We have seen how the mathematics of information theory allows us to dissect system behavior according to its ordered and disordered attributes: ascendency represents how efficiently a system operates; overhead is the catchall for its inefficiency (but it also encompasses, among other things, its reliability). Whenever a system's development capacity remains constant, any increase in one attribute implies a decrease in the other. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the ordered and disordered fractions – yet they are complementary aspects of what is essential to sustaining the operation and persistence of the system.[next]
… any living system requires some proportion of both attributes to survive. In the same loose sense that the centripetality engendered by positive feedback provides a precursor for selfishness and ego, the relationship between overhead and ascendency prefigures a human dialectic (Salthe 1993). Conflict at one scale can turn mutualistic at the next-higher level.— Ulanowicz (1997, 93-95)
We can do this because we are anticipatory systems, guided by internal models which are simpler than the external world they represent.
The capacity of living systems to anticipate seems intricately connected with their ability to observe and perceive meanings by reducing complexity through signification.— Søren Brier (2008, 32)
Models exist in order to simplify the modeler's relations with the world. We may gain in precision by adding more detail to a model, but this may reduce its usefulness.
We assume that even the most complex symbol system, like the brain, has a correct and detailed physical description, at least in principle, but we recognize that a correct model need not be a useful model. Recall Einstein's reply when asked if everything has a correct physical description. He said, “Yes, that is conceivable, but it would be of no use. It would be a picture with inadequate means, just as if a Beethoven symphony were presented as a graph of air pressure.”— Pattee (2004)
Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (1999, 146) take Einstein's point a bit further:
… complex systems can best be understood by making simple models. … the point of a model is to simplify, not to confuse. … if one constructs a sufficiently complex model one can make it do anything one likes by fiddling with the parameters: a model that can predict anything predicts nothing.
According to Peirce, the main ‘difficulties of explanatory science’ have not been that adequate hypotheses were in short supply, but ‘that different and inconsistent hypotheses would equally acount for the observed facts’ (EP2:467). [next]
is relative to an observer. My complexity may be your simplicity. Chaos is simple from the point of view of the iterative computations used to generate it, but complex from the perspective of someone trying to predict the resultant sequence of states or describe the generic properties of the pattern generated.Solé and Goodwin argue that ‘with the sciences of complexity the process of understanding the world enters a new phase.’ In the past, science and technology were driven by that form of cognitive closure in which predictability confers an ability to exercise control over natural processes. But now our practice ‘in relation to natural phenomena that are thus revealed to be unpredictable but intelligible is clearly open and unprescribed’ (2000, 27). This signals a shift toward
participating rather than controlling, that is, recognizing that we can influence complex systems and proceeding cautiously with such influence because of the fundamental unpredictability of our actions and their consequences. We can no longer be naive observers who live outside the phenomena we manipulate.Yet the intelligibility of those phenomena depends on our ability to observe and perceive patterns in them as if we could see them from the outside. If we couldn't invent and manipulate predictive models of them, and test those models against the observed facts, we would be passengers of the world process rather than active participants in it. Another creative tension. [next]—Solé and Goodwin (2000, 28)
Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify.The scientific method as described by Peirce makes the same kind of common sense.— Walden, Chapter 2
The first problems to suggest themselves to the inquirer into nature are far too complex and difficult for any early solution, even if any satisfactorily secure conclusion can ever be drawn concerning them. What ought to be done, therefore, and what in fact is done, is at first to substitute for those problems others much simpler, much more abstract, of which there is a good prospect of finding probable solutions. Then, the reasonably certain solutions of these last problems will throw a light more or less clear upon more concrete problems which are in certain respects more interesting.This method of procedure is that Analytic Method to which modern physics owes all its triumphs. It has been applied with great success in psychical sciences also. (Thus, the classical political economists, especially Ricardo, pursued this method.) It is reprobated by the whole Hegelian army, who think it ought to be replaced by the ‘Historic Method,’ which studies complex problems in all their complexity, but which cannot boast any distinguished successes.— Peirce, CP 1.63-4 (History of Science, c. 1896)
As we advance further and further into science, the aid that we can derive from the natural light of reason becomes, no doubt, less and less; but still science will cease to progress if ever we shall reach the point where there is no longer an infinite saving of expense in experimentation to be effected by care that our hypotheses are such as naturally recommend themselves to the mind, and make upon us the impression of simplicity,— which here means facility of comprehension by the human mind,— of aptness, of reasonableness, of good sense. For the existence of a natural instinct for truth is, after all, the sheet-anchor of science.But the ‘information storms’ (Odum and Odum 2001) which mark the highly consumptive stage of global civilization make it more difficult to wisely manage the information economy – upon which control of the real economy depends.— Peirce, EP2:108
In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.[next]— Herbert Simon (1971), “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World” in: Martin Greenberger, Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest, Baltimore. MD: The Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 40–41.
My behavior puzzled others, but theirs puzzled me, too. It was not so much that I had no regard for their rules as that I couldn't keep up with the many rules for each specific situation. I could put things into categories, but this type of generalizing was very hard to grasp.Categorizing things was not a problem for her – autistics can deal very well, and often become obsessed, with inanimate objects, which they can count on not to startle them – but categorizing rules is far more difficult for hypersensitive people who are chronically overstimulated. Temple Grandin (1996) gives a similar impression of what it's like to be autistic.
But something like this experience happens to anyone whose guidance system loses its integrity and becomes merely complicated, an ever-growing pile of miscellaneous precepts. “Learning the rules” then amounts to an accumulation of particular laws rather than a continuing modulation of the inner logos which makes sense of the world. The result of this information overload is an ever-spreading sense of anxiety. In the religious context, Isaiah 28:11-13 (RSV) describes it this way:
Nay, but by men of strange lips[next]
and with an alien tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
to whom he has said,
‘This is rest;
give rest to the weary;
and this is repose’;
yet they would not hear.
Therefore the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, and there a little;
that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
Yet baptism (like birth) is a matter of inundation and emergence from it, and as FW 452 has it, ‘We only wish everyone was as sure of anything in this watery world as we are of everything in the newlywet fellow that's bound to follow.’ [next]
Why are we always engaging in inquiry – opening questions and striving for answers that will close them? What makes cognitive closure so important to us? Probably our physical embodiment: we must value closure because we are energetically open systems. Energy flows through you, so that your self-organizing identity depends on that flow and on your ability to make it your own. This complementarity between closure and openness to energy flow accounts for the biocognitive tension between simplicity and complexity.
Biological equilibrium is far from energetic equilibrium. Maybe psychological equilibrium is equally far from biological equilibrium. That would explain why challenges are essential to the experience of flow.
And yet again, as Merleau-Ponty observes, a philosophical question goes deeper than striving for answers:
it intimates that the interrogative is not a mode derived by inversion or by reversal of the indicative and of the positive, is neither an affirmation nor a negation veiled or expected, but an original manner of aiming at something, as it were a question-knowing, which by principle no statement or “answer” can go beyond and which perhaps therefore is the proper mode of our relationship with Being, as though it were the mute or reticent interlocutor of our questions. “What do I know?” is not only “what is knowing?” and not only “who am I?” but finally: “what is there?” and even: “what is the there is?” These questions call not for the exhibiting of something said which would put an end to them, but for the disclosure of a Being that is not posited because it has no need to be, because it is silently behind all our affirmations, negations, and even behind all formulated questions, not that it is a matter of forgetting them in its silence, not that it is a matter of imprisoning it in our chatter, but because philosophy is the reconversion of silence and speech into one another: “It is the experience … still mute which we are concerned with leading to the pure expression of its own meaning.”[next]— Merleau-Ponty 1964, 129; the quotation at the end is from Husserl's Cartesian Meditations.
We are waves whose stillness is non-being.[next]
We are alive because of this, that we have no rest.— Abu-Talib Kalim (Shah 1968, 253)
Virtually every ecosystem ecologist has his or her own rendition of this development scenario. Crawford Holling (1986), for example, emphasizes the cyclical nature of ecosystem development. He portrays ecosystem change as a sequence of four “functions” that follow one another in cyclical fashion. The initial activity is the exploitation of released nutrients by fast-growing species. This function blends slowly into a conservation phase that is dominated by slower-growing, biomass-accumulating populations. The latter become victims of their own success, as these major system elements become linked tightly to each other along obligatory pathways. Such “brittle” configurations become exceedingly vulnerable to external perturbations, and the eventual result is a catastrophic collapse or resetting of the system – what Holling calls “creative destruction.” There follows in the final phase a release of nutrients from dead material, or the process of renewal, which makes possible again the exploitative phase. All transitions are relatively rapid, save for the slow succession from exploitation to conservation.This adaptive cycle model is also ‘relevant for understanding transformations in linked systems of people and nature’ (Gunderson and Holling 2001, 5). Gunderson and Holling gave a slightly different diagram of it in their Island Press book Panarchy:— Ulanowicz 1997, 88-9
πυρὸς ἀνταμοιϐὴ τὰ πάντα καὶ πῦρ ἁπάντων ὅκωσπερ χρυσοῦ χρήματα καὶ χρημάτων χρυσός.If we substitute the element of ‘energy’ for the element of ‘fire,’ we have the basic idea of the universal energy economy which Odum worked out with much more precision in the late 20th century. [next]
All things are requital for fire, and fire for all things, as goods for gold and gold for goods.— Kahn Fr. XL
One way of distinguishing among Aristotle's four ‘causes’ is to apply them to the building of a house. The material cause consists of the construction materials such as bricks or lumber, while the formal cause is the Bauplan or design (perhaps represented by a blueprint) that informs the construction process. The building's form is constrained by the ambient conditions in which the house is built – gravity, climate and so on – so the formal cause can never be made fully explicit in the blueprint, or it would be bigger than the house! The efficient cause is the hands-on, energy-consuming work of the construction crew, and the final cause the purpose for which it is built, namely that somebody should live in it.
Efficient and final causes relate mostly to dynamic functioning or behavior, while formal and material causes relate to embodiment or structure. In terms of process, though, the difference between structure and function is a matter of time scale. A structure can be viewed as a deeply entrenched and consolidated kind of habit. The difference between form and matter is also relative to scale: for instance, cells constitute the matter of which flesh is made, but under the microscope, a cell appears as the form of a system made of molecules.
The final causes of an organism's behavior can be seen as the role played by its whole life in the larger life of its species. The formal causes, which generally appear at the focal level (Ulanowicz 1997), shape the organism's role in the life of the current ecosystem.
‘Final’ cause can be thought of as ‘ultimate context’ so long as we do not take ‘ultimate’ in any absolute sense. A scalar level may be ‘ultimate’ to us because it is above any level we are equipped to focus on. This does not imply that there is no higher level, only that whatever higher level there may be is beyond the reach even of speculation. Nor is any final cause necessarily the only final cause of the phenomenon in question.
The above applies the idea of causality to acts or patterns of behavior. According to Peirce, causality is a matter of facts. ‘That which is caused, the causatum, is … what we call a “fact.” The cause is another “fact”’ (EP2:315; follow link for details). [next]
The practice of changing one variable at a time while holding others constant is important, but it is incomplete. Additional investigation is required, both to show how a causal factor is coupled in a system of causes and to reveal the ways in which these links change over time. It does not require considering everything at once, as some seem to fear, but can be done by coordinating diverse investigations.Lotman likewise points out the limitations of ‘the scientific practice which dates from the time of the Enlightenment, namely to work on the “Robinson Crusoe” principle of isolating an object and then making it into a general model.’ This accounts for the “transmission” model of communication, which takes the sender, the message and the receiver to be separate units. But a working semiotic system has to be ‘immersed’ in a ‘semiotic space’ (or semiosphere), such as ‘the semiotic space necessary for the existence and functioning of languages’ (Lotman 1990, 123).— Oyama, Griffiths and Gray (2001, 4-5)
According to Lotman (1990, 104), ‘symbols with elementary expression levels have greater cultural and semantic capacity than symbols which are more complex.’ The simpler an utterance seems to the interpreter, the less semiotic energy he has to put into interpretation, and the more it seems to mean in itself. But Northrop Frye (1982, 211) observes that in the use of language,
there are different kinds of simplicity. A writer of modern demotic or descriptive prose, if he is a good writer, will be as simple as his subject matter allows him to be: that is the simplicity of equality, where the writer puts himself on a level with his reader, appeals to evidence and reason, and avoids the kind of obscurity that creates a barrier. The simplicity of the Bible is the simplicity of majesty, not of equality, much less of naïveté: its simplicity expresses the voice of authority. The purest verbal expression of authority is the word of command … The higher the authority, the more unqualified the command …Pragmatically, obedience to the voice of authority simplifies guidance, makes an ethos “elementary” – but also incomplete as a guidance system, since any energetic interpretant is only one of many interpretants in practice. [next]
‘Degeneracy’ is defined by Edelman (2004, 43) as ‘the ability of structurally different elements of a system to perform the same function or yield the same output.’ The ‘words’ of the genetic code – triplets of the nucleotide bases G, C, A and T – are degenerate, since a particular amino acid can be encoded by more than one triplet. Immune systems and nervous systems also incorporate degeneracy (Edelman 2004, Chapter 4; more on this in rePatch ·14), and this tends to promote robustness in systems (Page 2011, 228). Another form of degeneracy in this context is pleiotropy, ‘the phenomenon whereby one single gene has an effect on several different phenotypic traits’ (Hoffmeyer 2008, 127). Symbolic (and especially linguistic) texts involve a double degeneracy: different terms may represent the same concepts, and differently named concepts may carry out the same guidance function or yield the same behavior pattern. This is in addition to the kind of degeneracy known as ‘polysemy,’ in which a word with the same literal form (such as ‘pit’) has several meanings.
The term degeneracy is obviously related to degenerate, used in English as both verb and adjective. This word also appeared in Chapter 2, with Thoreau's remark that ‘When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip.’ To degenerate is to ‘become of a lower type,’ according to a definition (probably by Peirce) in the Century Dictionary. The moral sense of the term is related to the mathematical sense whereby a point is a degenerate case of a circle as the radius of the circle approaches 0, and a circle is a degenerate case of an ellipse as the eccentricity approaches 0. You could say it refers to the loss of a dimension of complexity.
In his semiotic analysis, Peirce does not say that one symbol can have many meanings, but rather that two symbols which have the same function are ‘replicas of the same symbol’ (EP2:317). According to this usage, two instances of a word (such as ‘degeneracy’) which look and sound the same may nevertheless be different symbols. Or if they are the same symbol but are understood differently, they may be ambiguous or equivocal – a quality which lovers of precision would eliminate from language if they could. A perfect language (see Eco 1995) would presumably eliminate the word/thought gap, and thus could articulate the one common Logos explicitly and unambiguously. From this viewpoint, the perfect language must be one that hasn't been fractured and frayed by “vulgar” everyday usage, and the ambiguity which is a feature of natural languages may indeed seem almost morally “degenerate” by comparison. So maybe the technical senses of the word are not so far from Thoreau's usage after all.
However, it is unlikely that a “perfect” language could serve as a medium of discovery. If you consider language as a system interacting with biological systems, the degeneracy of each system contributes to the fruitfulness of the interaction.
According to Edelman and Gally (2001), degeneracy is ‘a well known characteristic of the genetic code and immune systems,’ but appears to the most remarkable degree in neural connectivity. Surely it is no fluke that (a) the human brain is the most ‘degenerate’ system we know, and (b) humans are the only systems we know to be capable of generating utterances in natural symbolic languages. The connection is revealed by our gradual discovery that we can't simply map experience or habits onto brain structures (or vice versa), any more than we can map words directly onto meanings or meanings into signs, without considering context.
Although, in the past, variations in the gross shape of the brain were studied carefully in efforts to find correlations between anatomical features and mental abilities or propensities, it now is accepted that these efforts are largely fruitless. Instead, it is recognized that many different patterns of neural architecture are functionally equivalent, i.e., functional neuroanatomy is highly degenerate.By substituting linguistic terms here, we could generate a valid comment on polyversity: Although, in the past, various texts were studied carefully in efforts to establish the proper name or correct expression of a specific concept, it now is accepted that these efforts are largely fruitless. Instead, it is recognized that many different idioms are functionally equivalent, i.e., language in use is highly degenerate. According to Peirce's ‘Ethics of Terminology’, this tendency must be resisted in the sciences, but only a limited community of specialists could actually attain the level of precision recommended by Peirce.— Edelman and Gally (2001)
Biologically as well as linguistically, degeneracy works in both directions, and this is crucial for evolvability:
Applying suitable quantitative measures, we have found that degeneracy is high in systems in which very many structurally different sets of elements can affect a given output in a similar way. In such systems, however, degeneracy also can lead to different outputs. Unlike redundant elements, degenerate elements can produce new and different outputs under different constraints. A degenerate system, which has many ways to generate the same output in a given context, is thus extremely adaptable in response to unpredictable changes in context and output requirements. The relevance to natural selection is obvious.— Edelman and Gally (2001)
A related usage is Ernst Mayr's reference to the ‘degeneracy’ of the genetic code, which makes possible ‘neutral’ mutations – cases where a change in base pairs has no effect on amino-acid production, so that ‘different’ statements in that code make no difference to the development of the organism (Mayr 1988, 141; Loewenstein 1999, 188 remarks that ‘there is synonymity, but no ambiguity in the communications ruled by the genetic code’).
In physics, Boltzmann's definition of entropy makes it measurable in terms of the relation between the possible microstates of a system and its macrostate. To picture this, consider a large number of particles moving around randomly in a closed space. An account of the various positions and velocities of all the particles at any given time describes a microstate of the system. A macrostate of the system, on the other hand, is assessed by measuring properties of the system as a whole, such as its temperature. Many different microstates of such a system can coexist with a single macrostate. For example, when we measure the kinetic energy over the whole space, it makes no difference to the macrostate where the faster- and slower-moving particles are located within the space. If we consider the locations of the fast-moving particles, for instance, very few of the possible microstates will have them all grouped tightly together, while the number of microstates in which they are more evenly distributed will be much larger; in other words, it is ‘much more probable that the energy states will explore the entire range of possibilities’ (Depew and Weber 1995, 262).
As the number of possible microstates corresponding to a given macrostate increases, the macrostate becomes increasingly degenerate, in the sense in which a code or a language is degenerate when it contains multiple, and thus ambiguous, ways of coding the same information. Boltzmann called this measure of degeneracy W.Boltzmann's formula for entropy (S = kln W) thus correlates entropy with degeneracy (Depew and Weber 1995, 262).
The notion of supervenience appears to be closely related: ‘A property is supervenient when the same macrostate can be accessed by any number of microstates’ (Depew and Weber 1995, 471); Deacon (2011, 552) defines supervienience as ‘the relationship that emergent properties have to the base properties that give rise to them.’
Convergent evolution is another manifestation of degeneracy: for instance, different kinds of eyes have evolved in separate lines of descent among animals, but they all serve the same purpose in each animal's life. It has also been noted that plants or animals in one bioregion may be very similar in form and behavior to counterparts in another region – may occupy “the same” niche – even though they are entirely different and unrelated species. Same function, different structures; or same form, different lineage; these too are forms of polyversity, on a larger scale of time.
Polyversity is also crucial to the perceptual process, in proportion to the complexity of the animal's Umwelt. ‘An essential aspect of object-oriented behavior is therefore that the same object has to be simultaneously represented in multiple ways’ (Jeannerod 1997, quoted in Millikan 2004, 178). [next]
And why not let matters rest there? For this way of talking surely says everything we want to say, and everything that can be said. But we wish to say that it can also be put differently; and that is important.[next]— Wittgenstein (1930, 84)
Evolution is an irreversible process, a process of increasing diversification and distribution. Only in this sense does evolution exhibit a consistent direction. Like entropy, it is a process of spreading out to whatever possibilities are unfilled and within reach of a little more variation.[next]— Deacon 1997, 29
That which kills life does not die; that which gives life to life does not live. This is the kind of thing it is: there's nothing it doesn't destroy, nothing it doesn't complete. Its name is Peace-in-Strife. After the strife, it attains completion.— does this not describe how the second law of thermodynamics (or of energetics) works in the world? It attains equilibrium. [next](Watson 1968, 83)
When a worm is suddenly illuminated and dashes like a rabbit into its burrow – to use the expression employed by a friend – we are at first led to look at the action as a reflex one. … But the different effect which a light produced on different occasions, and especially the fact that a worm when in any way employed and in the intervals of such employment … is often regardless of light, are opposed to the view of the sudden withdrawal being a simple reflex action. With the higher animals, when close attention to some object leads to the disregard of the impressions which other objects must be producing on them, we attribute this to their attention being then absorbed; and attention implies the presence of a mind. Every sportsman knows that he can approach animals whilst they are grazing, fighting or courting, much more easily than at other times. The state, also, of the nervous system of the higher animals differs much at different times, for instance, a horse is much more readily startled at one time than at another. The comparison here implied between the actions of one of the higher animals and of one so low in the scale as an earth-worm, may appear far-fetched; for we thus attribute to the worm attention and some mental power, nevertheless I can see no reason to doubt the justice of the comparison.[next]— Darwin, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the action of worms with observations of their habits (Project Gutenberg e-text vgmld10.txt)
An eminent and admirable physiologist concludes a volume of great interest with this sentence: “The idea that mutation is working in a definite direction is a mere anthropomorphism, and like all anthropomorphisms is in contradiction with the facts.” If I were to attach a definite meaning to “anthropomorphism,” I should think it stood to reason that a man could not have any idea that was not anthropomorphic, and that it was simply to repeat the error of Kant to attempt to escape anthropomorphism. At the same time, I am confident a man can pretty well understand the thoughts of his horse, his jocose parrot, and his canary-bird, so full of espièglerie; and though his representation of those thoughts must, I suppose, be more or less falsified by anthropomorphism, yet that there is a good deal more truth than falsity in them,— and more than if he were to attempt the impossible task of eliminating the anthropomorphism, I am for the present sufficiently convinced.Frans de Waal was thinking along the same lines in a 2016 op-ed for the New York Times, entitled ‘What I Learned From Tickling Apes’. [next]NEM 4, 313 (MS 293)
The conscious aspect of any thought is always embedded in a much larger and dominant unconscious aspect, upon which it depends for its existence and its meaning. Conscious aspects of thought are simple, relative to the complexity and intricacy of unconscious aspects.— Turner (1991, 39)
Most of us are in the habit of thinking that consciousness and psychic life are the same thing and otherwise greatly to overrate the functions of consciousness.Consciousness is a dis-ease of the mind. It rides upon the unconscious like foam upon the waves, like words upon meaning. [next]
If Peirce is claiming that the universe is a triadic process of determination (‘working out its conclusions in living realities’), we might reflect that the argument as a ‘triple sign’ is not essentially more complex than the proposition (dicisign) as ‘double sign,’ or even the term (rheme) as a simple sign (see Chapter 18); for all of these (being all signs for their interpretants and thus essentially triadic actions) embody the one universal process of self-transformation. The concluding paragraphs in Peirce's ‘Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmaticism’ (CP 4.572, 1906) seem to point in this direction:
It is a matter of insignificant detail whether the term Argument be taken in the sense of the Middle Term, in that of the Copulate of Premisses, in that of the setting forth of Premisses and Conclusion, or in that of the representation that the real facts which the premisses assert (together, it may be, with the mode in which those facts have come to light) logically signify the truth of the Conclusion. In any case, when an Argument is brought before us, there is brought to our notice (what appears so clearly in the Illative Transformations of Graphs) a process whereby the Premisses bring forth the Conclusion, not informing the Interpreter of its Truth, but appealing to him to assent thereto. This Process of Transformation, which is evidently the kernel of the matter, is no more built out of Propositions than a motion is built out of positions. The logical relation of the Conclusion to the Premisses might be asserted; but that would not be an Argument, which is essentially intended to be understood as representing what it represents only in virtue of the logical habit which would bring any logical Interpreter to assent to it. We may express this by saying that the Final (or quasi-intended) Interpretant of an Argument represents it as representing its Object after the manner of a Symbol. In an analogous way the relation of Predicate to Subject which is stated in a Proposition might be merely described in a Term. But the essence of the Proposition is that it intends, as it were, to be regarded as in an existential relation to its Object, as an Index is, so that its assertion shall be regarded as evidence of the fact.… The Name, or any Seme, is merely a substitute for its Object in one or another capacity in which respect it is all one with the Object. Its Final Interpretant thus represents it as representing its Object after the manner of an Icon, by mere agreement in idea. It thus appears that the difference between the Term, the Proposition, and the Argument, is by no means a difference of complexity, and does not so much consist in structure as in the services they are severally intended to perform.
For that reason, the ways in which Terms and Arguments can be compounded cannot differ greatly from the ways in which Propositions can be compounded. A mystery, or paradox, has always overhung the question of the Composition of Concepts. Namely, if two concepts, A and B, are to be compounded, their composition would seem to be necessarily a third ingredient, Concept C, and the same difficulty will arise as to the Composition of A and C. But the Method of Existential Graphs solves this riddle instantly by showing that, as far as propositions go, and it must evidently be the same with Terms and Arguments, there is but one general way in which their Composition can possibly take place; namely, each component must be indeterminate in some respect or another; and in their composition each determines the other. On the recto this is obvious: “Some man is rich” is composed of “Something is a man” and “something is rich,” and the two somethings merely explain each other's vagueness in a measure. Two simultaneous independent assertions are still connected in the same manner; for each is in itself vague as to the Universe or the “Province” in which its truth lies, and the two somewhat define each other in this respect. The composition of a Conditional Proposition is to be explained in the same way. The Antecedent is a Sign which is Indefinite as to its Interpretant; the Consequent is a Sign which is Indefinite as to its Object. They supply each the other's lack.
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