We argue that living systems process information such that functionality emerges in them on a continuous basis. We then provide a framework that can explain and model the normativity of biological functionality. In addition we offer an explanation of the anticipatory nature of functionality within our overall approach. We adopt a Peircean approach to Biosemiotics, and a dynamical approach to Digital-Analog relations and to the interplay between different levels of functionality in autonomous systems, taking an integrative approach. We then apply (...) the underlying biosemiotic logic to a particular biological system, giving a model of the B-Cell Receptor signaling system, in order to demonstrate how biosemiotic concepts can be used to build an account of biological information and functionality. Next we show how this framework can be used to explain and model more complex aspects of biological normativity, for example, how cross-talk between different signaling pathways can be avoided. Overall, we describe an integrated theoretical framework for the emergence of normative functions and, consequently, for the way information is transduced across several interconnected organizational levels in an autonomous system, and we demonstrate how this can be applied in real biological phenomena. Our aim is to open the way towards realistic tools for the modeling of information and normativity in autonomous biological agents. (shrink)
We propose an objective and justifiable ethics that is contingent on the truth of evolutionary theory. We do not argue for the truth of this position, which depends on the empirical question of whether moral functions form a natural class, but for its cogency and possibility. The position we propose combines the advantages of Kantian objectivity with the explanatory and motivational advantages of moral naturalism. It avoids problems with the epistemological inaccessibility of transcendent values, while avoiding the relativism or subjectivism (...) often associated with moral naturalism. Our position emerges out of criticisms of the contemporary sociobiological views of morality found in the writings of Richard Alexander, Michael Ruse, and Robert Richards. (shrink)
Both natural and engineered systems are fundamentally dynamical in nature: their defining properties are causal, and their functional capacities are causally grounded. Among dynamical systems, an interesting and important sub-class are those that are autonomous, anticipative and adaptive (AAA). Living systems, intelligent systems, sophisticated robots and social systems belong to this class, and the use of these terms has recently spread rapidly through the scientific literature. Central to understanding these dynamical systems is their complicated organisation and their consequent capacities for (...) re- and self- organisation. But there is at present no general analysis of these capacities or of the requisite organisation involved. We define what distinguishes AAA systems from other kinds of systems by characterising their central properties in a dynamically interpreted information theory. (shrink)
Daniel R. Brooks and E. O. Wiley have proposed a theory of evolution in which fitness is merely a rate determining factor. Evolution is driven by non-equilibrium processes which increase the entropy and information content of species together. Evolution can occur without environmental selection, since increased complexity and organization result from the likely capture at the species level of random variations produced at the chemical level. Speciation can occur as the result of variation within the species which decreases the probability (...) of sharing genetic information. Critics of the Brooks-Wiley theory argue that they have abused terminology from information theory and t thermodynamics. In this paper I review the essentials of the theory, and give an account of hierarchical physical information systems within which the theory can be interpreted. I then show how the major conceptual objections can be answered. (shrink)
Evolutionary moral realism is the view that there are moral values with roots in evolution that are both specifically moral and exist independently of human belief systems. In beginning to sketch the outlines of such a view, we examine moral goods like fairness and empathetic caring as valuable and real aspects of the environments of species that are intelligent and social, or at least developing along an evolutionary trajectory that could lead to a level of intelligence that would enable individual (...) members of the species to recognize and respond to such things as the moral goods they in fact are. We suggest that what is most morally interesting and important from a biological perspective is the existence and development of such trajectories, rather than the position of one particular species, such as our own, on one particular trajectory. (shrink)
A system is autonomous if it uses its own information to modify itself and its environment to enhance its survival, responding to both environmental and internal stimuli to modify its basic functions to increase its viability. Autonomy is the foundation of functionality, intentionality and meaning. Autonomous systems accommodate the unexpected through self-organizing processes, together with some constraints that maintain autonomy. Early versions of autonomy, such as autopoiesis and closure to efficient cause, made autonomous systems dynamically closed to information. This contrasts (...) with recent work on open systems and information dynamics. On our account, autonomy is a matter of degree depending on the relative organization of the system and system environment interactions. A choice between third person openness and first person closure is not required. (shrink)
Integrating concepts of maintenance and of origins is essential to explaining biological diversity. The unified theory of evolution attempts to find a common theme linking production rules inherent in biological systems, explaining the origin of biological order as a manifestation of the flow of energy and the flow of information on various spatial and temporal scales, with the recognition that natural selection is an evolutionarily relevant process. Biological systems persist in space and time by transfor ming energy from one state (...) to another in a manner that generates structures which allows the system to continue to persist. Two classes of energetic transformations allow this; heat-generating transformations, resulting in a net loss of energy from the system, and conservative transformations, changing unusable energy into states that can be stored and used subsequently. All conservative transformations in biological systems are coupled with heat-generating transformations; hence, inherent biological production, or genealogical proesses, is positively entropic. There is a self-organizing phenomenology common to genealogical phenomena, which imparts an arrow of time to biological systems. Natural selection, which by itself is time-reversible, contributes to the organization of the self-organized genealogical trajectories. The interplay of genealogical (diversity-promoting) and selective (diversity-limiting) processes produces biological order to which the primary contribution is genealogical history. Dynamic changes occuring on times scales shorter than speciation rates are microevolutionary; those occuring on time scales longer than speciation rates are macroevolutionary. Macroevolutionary processes are neither redicible to, nor autonomous from, microevolutionary processes. (shrink)
ROBERT LARMER ARGUED THAT EVEN IF ALL PHYSICAL EVENTS ARE SUBJECT TO DETERMINISTIC NATURAL LAWS, MIRACLES ARE POSSIBLE. HE CONCLUDED THAT BECAUSE MIRACLES AND NATURAL LAWS ARE COMPATIBLE, HUME’S ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE RATIONALITY OF BELIEF IN MIRACLES IS FALLACIOUS. I FIRST SHOW THAT EVEN IF LARMER’S ARGUMENT FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF MIRACLES IS CORRECT, IT DOES NOT TOUCH HUME’S ARGUMENT. I THEN ARGUE THAT LARMER’S ARGUMENT IS MISTAKEN.
Anticipation allows a system to adapt to conditions that have not yet come to be, either externally to the system or internally. Autonomous systems actively control their own conditions so as to increase their functionality (they self-regulate). Living systems self-regulate in order to increase their own viability. These increasingly stronger conditions, anticipation, autonomy and viability, can give an insight into progressively stronger classes of models of autonomy. I will argue that stronger forms are the relevant ones for Artificial Life. This (...) has consequences for the design of and accurate simulation of living systems. Keywords: autonomy, modelling, function, simulation, anticipation, emergence DUBOIS’ CONJECTURE Autonomy basically means self-regulation. Self-regulation implies internal control of system states to achieve greater functionality, either internally or interactively with the environment. Functionality, as a teleological notion, implies that the system must be directed by likely future states; that is, it must anticipate and (possibly) adapt to likely future states. Functionality does not require autonomy (assuming functional goals are externally set), but merely that current states of the system can select suitable future states on the basis of suitable input. In this.. (shrink)
Complex systems are dynamic and may show high levels of variability in both space and time. It is often difficult to decide on what constitutes a given complex system, i.e., where system boundaries should be set, and what amounts to substantial change within the system. We discuss two central themes: the nature of system definitions and their ability to cope with change, and the importance of system definitions for the mental metamodels that we use to describe and order ideas about (...) system change. Systems can only be considered as single study units if they retain their identity. Previous system definitions have largely ignored the need for both spatial and temporal continuity as essential attributes of identity. After considering the philosophical issues surrounding identity and system definitions, we examine their application to modeling studies. We outline a set of five alternative metamodels that capture a range of the basic dynamics of complex systems. Although Holling’s adaptive cycle is a compelling and widely applicable metamodel that fits many complex systems, there are systems that do not necessarily follow the adaptive cycle. We propose that more careful consideration of system definitions and alternative metamodels for complex systems will lead to greater conceptual clarity in the field and, ultimately, to more rigorous research. (shrink)
Abstract Many anticipatory systems cannot in themselves act meaningfully or represent intentionally. This stems largely from the derivative nature of their functionality. All current artificial control systems, and many living systems such as organs and cellular parts of organisms derive any intentionality they might have from their designers or possessors. Derivative functionality requires reference to some external autonomously functional system, and derivative intentionality similarly requires reference to an external autonomous intentional system. The importance of autonomy can be summed up in (...) the following slogan: No meaning without intention; no intention without function; no function without autonomy. This paper develops the role of autonomy to show how learning new tasks is facilitated by autonomy, and further by representational capacities that are functional for autonomy. (shrink)
We find symmetry attractive. It interests us. Symmetry is often an indicator of the deep structure of things, whether they be natural phenomena, or the creations of artists. For example, the most fundamental conservation laws of physics are all based in symmetry. Similarly, the symmetries found in religious art throughout the world are intended to draw attention to deep spiritual truths. Not only do we find symmetry pleasing, but its discovery is often also surprising and illuminating as well. For these (...) reasons, we are inclined to think that symmetries are informative, and that symmetries contain information. On the other hand, symmetries represent a kind of invariance under transformation. Such invariance implies that symmetrical things contain redundancies. Redundancy, in turn, implies that the information content of a symmetrical structure or configuration is less than that of a similar nonsymmetrical structure. Symmetry, then, entails a reduction in information content. These considerations present us with somewhat of a paradox: On the one hand, many symmetries that we find in the world are surprising, and surprise indicates informativeness. On the other hand, the surprise value of information arises because it presents us with the unexpected or improbable, but symmetries, far from creating the unexpected, ensure that the known can be extended through invariant transformations. How can this paradox be resolved? (shrink)
Since the origins of the notion of emergence in attempts to recover the content of vitalistic anti-reductionism without its questionable metaphysics, emergence has been treated in terms of logical properties. This approach was doomed to failure, because logical properties are either sui generis or they are constructions from other logical properties. If the former, they do not explain on their own and are inevitably somewhat arbitrary (the problem with the related concept of supervenience, Collier, 1988a), but if the latter, reducibility (...) is assured because logical constructs are reducible, by definition, to their logical components. A satisfactory account of emergence must recognise that it is a dynamical, not a logical property of property of natural systems, and that its basis is dynamical rather than logical composition. Collier (1988a) introduced the concept of cohesion as the closure of the causal relations among the dynamical parts of a dynamical particular that determine its resistance to external and internal fluctuations that might disrupt its integrity. Cohesion is an equivalence relation that partitions a set of dynamical particulars into unified and distinct entities, providing the identity conditions for such particulars. Cohesion blocks reduction of dynamical particulars, and is necessary for dynamical emergence. We will give reasons for thinking that cohesion might be sufficient for emergence as well. (shrink)
Formal pragmatics plays an important, though secondary, role in modern analytical philosophy of language: its aim is to explain how context can affect the meaning of certain special kinds of utterances. During recent years, the adequacy of formal tools has come under attack, often leading to one or another form of relativism or antirealism.1 Our aim will be to extend the critique to formal pragmatics while showing that sceptical conclusions can be avoided by developing a different approach to the issues. (...) In particular, we will show that formal pragmatics cannot provide a complete account of how context affects the meaning of utterances, both on its own terms and when faced with evidence of important aspects of natural languages. The focal issue is the relevant kind of context in which pragmatics should examine utterances. Our contention will be that the relevant context of an utterance is determined by the function of that utterance, this function being dependent upon the primary function of language – to convey information. We will argue that the functions of utterances and of language are too broad to be caught by the tools of formal pragmatics of the sort advocated by Montague (1968, 1974), which are an extension the methods of traditional model-theoretic semantics.2 The particular formal approach we will use as the main example is David Kaplan’s position (1979, 1989),3 an extension of Montague’s program. (shrink)
Every manifestation of information, semiosis and meaning we have been able to study experimentally has a physical form. Neglect of their dynamical (energetic) ground tends towards dualism or idealism, leaving the causal basis of semiosis and the causal powers of representations mysterious. Consideration of the necessary physical requirements for the embodiment of semiotic categories imposes a discipline on semiotics required for its integration into the rest of science, especially for the emerging field of biosemiotics, as well as any future extensions (...) to chemistry physics or other realms that might constitute a general, primal semiotics. Without this discipline, or something equally strong, there is a risk of projection of anthropomorphic semiotic terminology onto unsuitable hosts, leading, if unchecked, to the sort of animism that biology in particular has only recently escaped. The problem is suspect whenever teleological notions are used outside of mental or social contexts.1 Although our animistic ancestors may have had a closer rapport with Nature than modern scientists, contemporary scientific explanation requires an understanding of causal structure (Salmon 1984). On the other hand, unless the causal rendition of semiosis can capture full blown cognitive semiosis, it is likely to be too restrictive for the evaluation of primal semiosis in general. (shrink)
Progress has become a suspect concept in evolutionary biology, not the least because the core concepts of neo-Darwinism do not support the idea that evolution is progressive. There have been a number of attempts to account for directionality in evolution through additions to the core hypotheses of neo-Darwinism, but they do not establish progressiveness, and they are somewhat of an ad hoc collection. The standard account of fitness and adaptation can be rephrased in terms of information theory. From this, an (...) information of adaptation can be defined in terms of a fitness function. The information of adaptation is a measure of the mutual information between biota and their environment. If the actual state of adaptation lags behind the state of optimal adaptation, then it is possible for the information of adaptation to increase indefinitely. Since adaptations are functional, this suggests the possibility of progressive evolution in the sense of increasing adaptation. Keywords: evolution, information, adaptation, fitness, entropy, progress.. (shrink)
Examples of successful linguistic communication give rise to two important insights: it should be understood most fundamentally in terms of the pragmatic success of each individual utterance, and linguistic conventions need to be understood as on a par with the non-linguistic regularities that competent language users rely upon to refer. Syntax and semantics are part of what Barwise and Perry call the context of the utterance, contributing to the pragmatics of the utterance. This full and distributed multichannel context determines meaning (...) if anything does. On the standard account of context, context disambiguates the meaning of language, but it is at least as apt in many situations to say that language disambiguates context. In practice, the two work together, sometimes with more emphasis on one than the other. Reference should be understood in pragmatic terms and, since success is often achieved in non-standard, creative ways, any formalisation of pragmatics can only be partial. The need for such an inventive approach to referring traces back to the need for language to be highly efficient, with expressions underdetermining their interpretation. Next, the shared semantic and syntactic regularities, which might seem to be independent of the context of an utterance, should be understood as also being part of that context. Past usage underdetermines how terms can be used since it allows for multiple projections. Successful reference with novel uses that are disambiguated by context can become the ground for new conventions. (shrink)
Causation can be understood as a computational process once we understand causation in informational terms. I argue that if we see processes as information channels, then causal processes are most readily interpreted as the transfer of information from one state to another. This directly implies that the later state is a computation from the earlier state, given causal laws, which can also be interpreted computationally. This approach unifies the ideas of causation and computation.
Kuhn's incommensurability thesis has generally been interpreted by friends and foes alike so as to preclude direct rational communication across revolutionary divides in science. In this paper, a weaker form of incommensurability is sketched which allows eventual comparison of incommensurable theories, but is consistent with Kuhn's model of science. Incommensurability occurs whenever the knowledge or ability to translate from the language of one theory to that of another is lacking. It can be resolved by acquiring the necessary knowledge or ability.
Complexly organized systems include biological and cognitive systems, as well as many of the everyday systems that form our environment. They are both common and important, but are not well understood. A complex system is, roughly, one that cannot be fully understood via analytic methods alone. An organized system is one that shows spatio-temporal correlations that are not determined by purely local conditions, though organization can be more or less localizable within a system. Organization and complexity can vary independently to (...) some extent, but they are interconnected: organisation requires some complexity, but complexity cannot be maximum in an organized system. I will define complexity and organization more precisely, and show how these definitions imply the above properties. Next I will discuss how organized complexity can be modelled, with an eye to limitations on the tractability of both the models and the modelling process. I will finish with some remarks on the limits of our possible understanding of complexly organized systems. Keywords: complexity, organization, modelling, holism, information theory.. (shrink)
Emergence has traditionally been described as satisfying specific properties, notably nonreducibility of the emergent object or properties to their substrate, novelty, and unpredictability from the properties of the substrate. Sometimes more mysterious properties such as independence from the substrate, separate substances and teleological properties are invoked. I will argue that the latter are both unnecessary and unwarranted. The descriptive properties can be analyzed in more detail in logical terms, but the logical conditions alone do not tell us how to identify (...) the conditions through interactions with the world. In order to do that we need dynamical properties – properties that do something. This paper, then, will be directed at identifying the dynamical conditions necessary and sufficient for emergence. Emergent properties and objects all result or are maintained by dissipative and radically nonholonomic processes. Emergent properties are relatively common in physics, but have been ignored because of the predominant use of Hamiltonian methods assuming energy conservation. Emergent objects are all dissipative systems, which have been recognized as special only in the past fifty years or so. Of interest are autonomous systems, including living and thinking systems. They show functionality and are self governed. (shrink)
The paradigm of Laplacean determinism combines three regulative principles: determinism, predictability, and the explanatory adequacy of universal laws together with purely local conditions. Historically, it applied to celestial mechanics, but it has been expanded into an ideal for scientific theories whose cogency is often not questioned. Laplace’s demon is an idealization of mechanistic scientific method. Its principles together imply reducibility, and rule out holism and emergence. I will argue that Laplacean determinism fails even in the realm of planetary dynamics, and (...) that it does not give suitable criteria for explanatory success except within very well defined and rather exceptional domains. Ironically, the very successes of Laplacean method in the Solar System were made possible only by processes that are not themselves tractable to Laplacean methodology. The results of some of these processes were first observed in 1964, and violate the Lapacean requirements of locality and predictability, opening the door to holism and nonreducibility, i.e., emergence. Despite the falsification of Laplacean methodology, the explanatory resources of holism and emergence remain in scientific limbo, though emergence has been used somewhat indiscriminately in recent scientific literature. I make some remarks at the end about the proper use of emergence in its traditional sense going back to C.D. Broad. (shrink)
In these notes I want to address some issues concerning self-organization that seem to me to apply generally from the micro-physical through the biological and social to the cosmological. That is, they are a part of the general theory of self-organization. I prefer to distinguish the theory of selforganization from the analysis of the concept of self-organization (which Maturana claims is oxymoronic, since there is no self that organizes1). General usage gives us something to which the term 'self-organization' refers. We (...) can set aside the question of whether or not selves can really do such a thing until we know what it is they are supposed to do.2 This approach also allows the possibility that self-organization does not pick out a single natural kind, but may refer to a range of things that are grouped together by a Wittgenstein style “family resemblance”. (shrink)
Anticipation allows a system to adapt to conditions that have not yet come to be, either externally to the system or internally. Autonomous systems actively control the conditions of their own existence so as to increase their overall viability. This paper will first give minimal necessary and sufficient conditions for autonomous anticipation, followed by a taxonomy of autonomous anticipation. In more complex systems, there can be semi-autonomous subsystems that can anticipate and adapt on their own. Such subsystems can be integrated (...) into a system’s overall autonomy, typically with greater efficiency due to modularity and specialization of function. However, it is also possible that semi-autonomous subsystems can act against the viability of the overall system, and have their own functions that conflict with overall system functions. (shrink)
In this critical notice, I argue that the semantic view championed by Thompson no logical advantage over the syntactic view of theories, especially in the area of interpretation. Each weakness of the syntactic view has a corresponding weakness in the semantic view. In principle the two are not different in power, but it is sometimes better to adopt one rather than the other, for practical reasons. I agree with Thompson that many issues in the philosophy of biology can be illuminated (...) by the semantic view, but that other things, especially deriving specific prediction, are best understood with the syntactic view. (shrink)
Speculation about the evolutionary origins of morality has yet to show how a biologically based capacity for morality might be connected to moral reasoning. Applying an evolutionary approach to three kinds of cases where partiality may or may not be morally reasonable, this paper explores a possible connection between a psychological capacity for morality and processes of wide reflective moral equilibrium. The central hypothesis is that while we might expect a capacity for morality to include aspects of partiality, we might (...) also expect these same aspects of the capacity to produce systemic forms of performance-based error. Understanding these errors helps point the way toward a theory of moral competence that includes aspects of both partiality and impartiality. (shrink)
Wisely, the authors begin this book by describing it as a polemic. They argue that most contemporary analytic metaphysics is a waste of time and resources since contemporary ‘neo-scholastic’ metaphysical theorizing cannot hope to attain objective truth given its penchant for making a priori claims about the nature of the world which are backed up by appeal to intuition. In engaging in this activity, metaphysicians have, the authors claim, abandoned hope of locating any interesting connection between their metaphysical pronouncements and (...) how our best empirical theories describe the world. Moreover, the success attained by empirical science just cannot be matched by metaphysical theorizing and so, faced with this asymmetry, empirical science wins: a priori metaphysical theorizing must give way to a naturalistic form of metaphysics, a positive account of which the authors attempt to elucidate in the second and third, rather lengthy chapters of the book.The first chapter consists of a statement of the authors’ negative view, a vigorous, sustained and sometimes withering attack upon contemporary a priori metaphysics. Most ire is reserved for those who indulge in what the authors call ‘pseudo-scientific metaphysics’; that is, those who pay lip service to keeping their metaphysical speculation in tune with physics, only to constrain their ontology in such a way that the entities and processes within it do not even play a role in current physical theory, or are in straightforward contradiction with it. Much philosophy of science and scientific metaphysics is too superficial and simplistic to deserve the name and bears more relation to ‘the philosophy of “A” Level chemistry’. The guilty in this respect include David Lewis, Jaegwon Kim, Jonathan Lowe, Donald Davidson, Jerry Fodor, Crawford Elder, Trenton Merricks among …. (shrink)
After distinguishing reductive explanability in principle from ontological deflation, I give a case of an obviously physical property that is reductively inexplicable in principle. I argue that biological systems often have this character, and that, if we make certain assumptions about the cohesion and dynamics of the mind and its physical substrate, then it is emergent according to Broad's criteria.
The target article proposes an error theory for religious belief. In contrast, moral beliefs are typically not counterintuitive, and some moral cognition and motivation is functional. Error theories for moral belief try to reduce morality to nonmoral psychological capacities because objective moral beliefs seem too fragile in a competitive environment. An error theory for religious belief makes this unnecessary.
Systematics, along with the other comparative biological sciences and certain astronomical disciplines, is much more concerned with form and organization than other biological and physical sciences, in which dynamics plays the central role. Within the biological sciences, Nelson (1970) characterizes disciplines that study diversity and patterns “comparative” and those that search for process and dynamics “general.” The goal of “general” science is to uncover the mechanisms that unify observed phenomena. Whether the physicist sees herself, like Newton (1953: 3-5), to be (...) discovering fundamental causal explanations, or like Duhem (1962: 19-30), to be uncovering a natural classification, dynamical concepts referring to essentially hidden processes are indispensable. Much of comparative biology, in contrast, is primarily descriptive, with explanations taking a secondary role, at least until the diversity is described and comparisons made. Unlike the general sciences, in which elegance and quantitative analysis have long been major indicators of truth, the comparative sciences stress complexity, happenstance and qualitative analysis. In systematics in particular, theory and explanation are often thought to play a minimal role, if any at all1. (shrink)
Rhythmic entrainment is the formation of regular, predictable patterns in time and/or space through interactions within or between systems that manifest potential symmetries. We contend that this process is a major source of symmetries in specific systems, whether passive physical systems or active adaptive and/or voluntary/intentional systems, except that active systems have more control over accepting or avoiding rhythmic entrainment. The result of rhythmic entrainment is a simplification of the entrained system, in the sense that the information required to describe (...) it is reduced. Entrainment can be communicated, passing information from one system to another. The paradigm is a group of jazz percussionists agreeing on a complex musical progression. The process of rhythmic entrainment is complementary to that of symmetry breaking, which produces information. The two processes account for much, if not all, of the complexity and organization in the universe. Rhythmic entrainment can be more or less spontaneous, with the completely spontaneous form being uncontrollable. A balance between the two forms can produce a more robust system, requiring less energy to maintain, whether in physical, biological or social systems. We outline some applications in physics, chemistry, biology, measurement and communication, ending with the especially interesting case of social and economic order. First though, we must introduce some basic principles. (shrink)
Ronald Giere's analysis of causal effectiveness in populations involves the comparison of two hypothetical populations, one in which every individual has the suspected causal factor, and the other in which none do. Elliott Sober has argued that in cases where causal effectiveness depends on relative population sizes, Giere's analysis breaks down. I take issue with this claim, and argue to the contrary that Giere's analysis can help provide insight into these cases.