A Semiotic Answer?
The title of this page derives from the article, 'The Status of Biosemiotics', mentioned at the end of the last page. Semiotics provides the closest thing to cohesion on the anti-reductive front. But the answer is not to be found in the article.
[updates to this subject: 12/3/03]
So far I'm not having much luck with semiotics. I'm continuing to peruse the Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, Development Journal. Like the complexity theorists over here, the semioticians are under much pressure to hew to the established reductionism.
Will Claus come to our rescue?
The Chicken and the Orphean Egg: On the Function of Meaning and the Meaning of Function -- Claus Emmeche (2002):
The traditional paradigm in biology which encompasses a number of experimental methods, normal scientific working procedures, neo-Darwinism and its mathematical population models, etc. alone is not and cannot be sufficient to answer the following key question: How did meaning originate in biological systems? And what is it (if not meaning, i.e. the creation of signs, and semiotic processes in general) that makes biology something special, something that on certain points fundamentally differs from the types of systems studied, for example, by physicists and chemists?
(1) biosystems (organisms) contain genetic information;
(2) biosystems (organisms) have functions.
The former, of course, is a cryptosemiotic concept, for even here biologists admit indirectly that it is necessary to use semiotic concepts to describe biological systems. It is just that biologists do not attribute any particular significance to this: after all, they typically say, ‘genetic information’ is just a metaphor for certain molecular processes that are organized in a certain way. Here the biosemiotician steps in and interprets the occurrence of such metaphors more realistically,....
Here is the critical point for biosemiotics. How do we parse this difference between metaphor and reality? Is this where we transgress reduction? How do we do it?
In physics the assertion or question of function (such as the one mentioned above) can be rewritten without loss of meaning to the purely causal question of direct cause-and-effect contexts in the traditional classical mechanical sense, in which a cause precedes an effect in time, but both cause and effect exist on the same ontological level, i.e., they are of the same nature, as in the example of the relationship between the sun and the earth’s climate. This is a matter of material physical processes on the macroscale. As shown by the past 30 years of discussions on the concept of function in the philosophy of biology it is far more complex to state the connection between causality and functionality in biology.
Essentially, the reason for this difficulty is that in biological systems there is an inner connection between the informational (which, without hesitation, we will call here the semiotic aspect of a living system) and the functional aspect. This is a connection that has been largely overlooked in the past and we will examine it in greater detail now.
Inner connection?? An essential internal relation?
The material elements of the system have a certain agency of their own, or a local semiotic capacity to act, if you will, and consequently the cell’s molecular system of signs is self-organizing and self-interpreting, i.e., these signs are characterized better by the Peircean concept of sign as sign action than by the Saussurean concept of sign as an abstract system of differences. To a great extent, the cell is an interpretation system that is controlled by what Peirce called ‘final causation,’ the type of causation in nature that has to do with organization, habit formation, memory phenomena, information, appropriateness and purposefulness, evolution—all phenomena of the category of Thirdness (Santaella Braga 1999).
And where or how do we cross the line between the epistemic and the ontic? If it is ontic then it is vitalistic.
The crux of the matter here is that the relationship between the parts of an organism and the whole organism is a mereological relationship of a particular specific nature: it is also an ‘intrinsic semiotic relationship,’ that is, it is in its very nature semiotic. And, it should be noted, its semiotic character is not merely something attributed to it, just as our consciousness is not just due to the fact that other people attribute consciousness to me, but I am actually conscious and it is part of the concept’s sine qua non that being conscious is not derived from anything else. Apart from this formal similarity, the intrinsic semiotics of the cell has nothing to do with consciousness in the human sense.
'Not merely attributed'?? I'm still not getting the crucial cross-over, do you?
If at first we don't succeed........
Code Duality Revisited -- Jesper Hoffmeyer (2002):
In 1991 Claus Emmeche and I suggested that ‘the chain of events which sets life apart from non-life.... needs at least two codes: one code for action (behaviour) and one code for memory—the very first of these codes necessarily must be analog and the second very probably must be digital.’ This principle of code-duality played a major role in our initial ideas on biosemiotics.
The hen is in all of her behavior, her physiology and her anatomy, as much a message of an eventual egg as the egg is a message of an eventual hen. As a hen the egg is just figuring as an analog coded physical continuous and sensually appealing message. It was exactly this dimension of nature, its swarming plenitude of messages, which natural science eliminated by taking dead nature (the nature of physics) as a model for living nature (discussed in Hoffmeyer 1984)). Logically enough we thereby have ended up being threatened by a ‘silent spring.’
Looking back it strikes me that the concept of code-duality was from the beginning linked to the idea of life as a chain of codings and recodings, i.e. life was not seen as an organismic property but rather as a property of chained codes. Or to say this in other words, the view of code-duality implies that the organism cannot be the privileged unit in biology and neither can the genome. Life is a semiotic process carried forward in time by the lineage in its interaction with changing environments.
It is no wonder that a theory which sees the organisms as causal dead ends in the evolutionary process would sooner or later give rise to the idea that the organisms are in fact just instruments for the strategies of the genes. This was the essence of the well-known theory of the selfish genes proposed by Richard Dawkins (Dawkins, 1976). In Dawkins' conception the individual organisms are nothing but survival machines or vehicles which serve the genes in their attempt at being carried on to the next generation. We thus get the distinction between vehicles and replicators....
As Sterelny and Griffiths put it in their thorough analysis of gene selectionism "if genes are just arbitrary DNA sequences, then most of them will have no more systematic relation to the phenotype than an arbitrary string of letters has to the meaning of a book" (Sterelny and Griffiths, 1999: 79).
We must always divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer . . . . That this boundary can be pushed arbitrarily deeply into the interior of the body of the actual observer is the content of the principle of the psycho-physical parallelism—but this does not change the fact that in each method of description the boundary must be put somewhere, if the method is not to proceed vacuously. (von Neumann (1955), quoted in Pattee, 1997).
Now maybe we're getting somewhere, thanks to a bit of physical intuition.
The point is that the function of measurement cannot be achieved by a fundamental dynamical description of the measuring device, even though such a law-based description may be completely detailed and entirely correct. In other words, we can say correctly that a measuring device exists as nothing but a physical system, but to function as a measuring device it requires an observer's simplified description that is not derivable from the physical description. The observer must in effect choose what aspects of the physical system to ignore and invent those aspects that must be heeded. This selection process is a decision of the observer or organism and cannot be derived from the laws (Pattee, 1997).
Since not only human beings but living systems at large are fundamentally engaged in observations or measuring processes it follows that: "we must define an epistemic cut separating the world from the organism or observer. In other words, wherever it is applied, the concept of semantic information requires the separation of the knower and the known. Semantic information, by definition, is about something" (ibid). And thus according to Pattee in all living systems we must have one part of the system operating in a linguistic and time-independent mode (i.e. the DNA) and one part operating in a dynamic and time dependent mode (i.e. the protein system).
I apologize for these unending quotes, but there has got to be the germ of this idea somewhere.
Pattee underlines that he is not suggesting a Cartesian dualism here but only a ‘descriptive dualism,’ for although a measuring process depends on choices which cannot be derived from laws, such choices are seen by Pattee as functions coded in DNA and ultimately generated by natural selection.
But this appeal to natural selection as the mechanism for bridging the Cartesian dichotomy between knower and known is not convincing. How could a purely mechanical process like natural selection possibly push non-knowing dynamical systems across the logical gap separating such systems from the realm of measurement and knowledge? Many people apparently entertain this illusion of natural selection as a mysterious bridge across the Cartesian Divide.
Rather than taking refuge in such powerless ideas of what for every one of us is life's deepest and most real content, I will suggest that we give up the ontology of natural law by following the lead of Charles S. Peirce who recommended that we see natural laws as themselves a result of a cosmic evolutionary process. "This supposes them not to be absolute, not to be obeyed precisely" and they cannot therefore be expected to explain exhaustively our world. In the Peircean vision nature's tendency to take habits comes first and explains the growth of all kinds of regularities in our universe such as those regularities which we account for by natural laws. Since a habit is essentially an interpretation it follows that in the Peircean vision semiosis has primacy and acts by guiding efficient causation.
As Peirce himself observed: the formation of a habit implies that an event will (nearly) always provoke the same response, so that therefore the response is not just accidental but must be related to the event. Habit formation thus is the core of semiosis.
This is a rather sharp turn toward idealism.
Code-duality transgresses the Neumann-Pattee thesis by claiming that the linguistic or symbolic mode and the dynamic mode are both fundamentally semiotic modes. The distinction does not separate a semiotic mode from a non-semiotic or dynamic mode but rather posits two different kinds of semiotic coding. Thus semiotic processes characteristic of the ‘linguistic mode’ are based on digitally coded symbols, while the semiotic processes characterizing the dynamic mode are indexical or iconic and analogically coded.
And so is this. A mere panpsychism would not strong enough to cover this, IMO.
Smoke refers to fire and enzyme refers to protein. Is the latter referral more intrinsic than the former? Is functionality the key? Is there also any measurement?
Obviously, analogic codes may eventually become digitized by becoming part of higher order digital codes. In itself, for instance, a drawing of an owl is usually just an icon but in ancient Egypt such a drawing when presented in the context of hieroglyphs came to signify the phonetic value ‘m.’ Or a painting may become part of an exhibition and thereby become digitized into a representative for a given artistic epoch or style of painting so that its reference is now determined primarily by the setting of the exhibition and only secondarily by its original iconic power.
Considered from above, what happens is that the concentration of cAMP has become a switch by which the cell can turn on and off its energy consumption. In the course of evolution, as the bacterial systems eventually learned to use cAMP, it became more and more detached from its original biochemical setting, namely as a release mechanism for specific transcription processes which provide mRNA strands for a series of enzymes needed for metabolic pathways involved in the degradation of non-glucose sugars.
As pointed out by the Danish biochemist Mogens Kilstrup, cAMP in this case is both an icon (as a specific molecular conformation), an index (for ATP), and a symbol for glucose starvation (Kilstrup, personal communication).
The transformation of analogic codings to digital codings through the evolutionary formation of new contextual settings is probably involved in many or all cases of biological emergence.
It was one of Gregory Bateson's greatest contributions to show that human or animal communication systems are deeply dependent on paralinguistic or paralogical settings. The concept of code-duality was meant as a tool for conceptualizing this theme as a general theme for evolution. The perpetual accumulation of new mutations in the genomes of the species of this world is of course necessary for the evolutionary process to proceed, but code-duality points to the necessity for a semiotic contextualizing of the process. Following Pasteur's famous saying that ‘only the well prepared will profit from good fortune’ I should like to suggest that evolution is not at all a result of blind mutations, but is caused rather by those semiotic integrations which allowed biosystems to profit from the eventual appearance of ‘lucky’ mutations.
I would gladly continue quoting from Jesper, but unfortunately this is the end of the article. Am I liable for unfair usage? Not whilst visitation is zero!
People certainly are groping for something. One ought to be able to reach out and touch it. Touch what?
A recurring theme is the primal distinction. I am reminded of Spencer Brown's 'Laws of Form' with is 'mark of distinction'.
There are no purely physical distinctions. Distinction comes only with function and information. We are so embedded in semantics that we can imagine neither a pre-semantic nor even a proto-semantic state. That super-imagination is what the semioticians are groping for.
The whole point of theism is that this quest is futile. There is no such thing as half of a meaning. There are no demi-gods. The mind of God is indivisible. The closest thing to a proto-God is a toti-Potency. The toti-Potency is the proto-Creator. As creatures it is logically impossible for us to imagine a creationless Creator, except as the ultimate mystical state of empty bliss: the Alpha and Omega of all distinction. And it's all down hill from there! Mostly kidding.
The 'Holy Grail' of Semiotics is exactly the Holy Grail. Sorry 'bout that! Realizing that is the hardest thing we will ever have to do. The Eschaton will then just be an anti-climax. Upon realization, our first act is to kick ourselves for not realizing it sooner.
Semioticians are looking for God in all the wrong places. They strangle themselves in words, trying to avoid the obvious. It is a painful but necessary exercise. Theirs is lesson well learned.
What I just said from yesterday raises an obvious issue. To what extent is semiotics purely intellectual, as opposed to being, let's say, 'extracurricular', e.g. political, emotional, etc.?
Europeans tend to be more subtle about a lot of things, but particularly about religious matters, we may suppose. Even with that caveat, the fact that I have not yet encountered any theism in the semiotic context seems remarkable. The other European philosophies of existentialism, phenomenology and idealism, all have strong and explicit theological dimensions.
Perhaps the structuralist provenance of semiotics is partly to explain this. Structuralism was intended as a quasi-mathematical theory of language and ritual. It was meant to be purely descriptive in the fashion of, say, mathematical physics. But semiotics is definitely pushing that purely clinical(?) envelope, to the extent that metaphysics comes to the fore, and with that must come all the usual metaphysical suspects. That they don't come is perhaps due to a European version of a Gentleman's Agreement. Well, us 'Amurricans' have a tad less couth. And I think I noticed a similar lack on the part of the Muslims in this same context. Perhaps the Europeans are overplaying their role, or is it just their parole, so to speak. The Europeans allegedly learned their subtlety at the wrong end of a Hundred Years war. Now that we are headed for another one, perhaps we should all be their students, a development that would certainly meet their expectations. In other circumstances, this might be good advice, but there is the small matter of the Eschaton and its disposition. I continue to labor under the impression that its disposition is at least partly up to me, until such time as I am relieved of said task. The semiotical evasions are not helping, quite frankly.
Having said all this, thank you very much, I do now recall Raphael Capurro with his angelical semiotics. How could one forget? I guess we'll have to ascertain the degree of Raphael's anomalousness. [5/21/03 - I just received a brief note from Raphael acknowledging my acknowledgment of his work. This would not be terribly noteworthy were it not the first spontaneous communication I have received in reference to these pages. May I conclude that Google has finally stumbled upon my humble abode? Raphael points out that more of his work is available, including some in English, here. I will be investigating further, but now I must resume with photo-realism lest I lose that thread. I can only wonder if Raphael garnered a clue as to what transpires hereabouts.]
From Robert Corrington I notice this article: "My Passage From Panentheism to Pantheism," The American Journal of Theology and Philosophy," Vol. 23, # 2, May 2002. Too bad it's not available, but I'm not sure that was a good move, though.
Along these lines I was struck by the following:
Philosophy -- based increasingly since the last century on theories of language -- has begun, in people like Eco, to shift its position in order to encounter a post-modernist scepticism and irony which has not always proved fatal to theism. Eco's notion of irony is profoundly creative and liberating: in The Name of the Rose, it is God who has the last laugh. For who are they which survive the apocalypse? Against all odds, Baskerville and Adso emerge from the intended death-trap: the first, to become Holmes' great-great ancestor, the other to chronicle the human condition faced with the mysteries of the cosmos: we can not know, yet we continue to hope, and to believe.
It is important to note that William of Baskerville is no sneering ironist himself, but a faithful Christian monk and priest, devoted to the "poverty of Jesus" in the Franciscan order to which he belongs. While he questions, doubts, expresses dismay over the lostness of the Church in some of her ways, at no time does he mock. An interviewer writes, "I ask Eco -- a lapsed 'militant Catholic' -- about the notion of an absent deity that haunts his writing. Laughing, he offers only the mischievous retort, 'God hides because He doesn't want to appear in Vogue!'"21 In Foucault's Pendulum, the Eco-character, Caussabon, pronounces tellingly on those who would love secrets more than faith in a possible truth:
"Hadn't Agliè spoken of the yearning for mystery that stirred the age of the Antonines? Yet someone had just arrived and declared himself the Son of God, the Son of God made flesh, to redeem the sins of the world. Was that a run-of-the-mill mystery? And he promised salvation to all: you only had to love your neighbor. Was that a trivial secret? And he bequeathed the idea that whoever uttered the right words…could turn a chunk of bread and a half-glass of wine into the body and blood of the Son of God and be nourished by it. Was that a paltry riddle? And then he led the Church fathers to ponder and proclaim that God was One and Triune and that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, but that the Son did not proceed from the Father and the Spirit. Was that some easy formula for hylics? And yet they, who now had salvation within their grasp…turned deaf ears. Is that all there is to it? How trite…The mystery of the Trinity? Too simple."22
To laugh is not to mock; Eco so loves humour, and attributes great health of mind to seeing the humour in any given situation, that even his most technical textbooks on semiotics manage to produce a smile now and then; yet the dignity of certain subjects is never sacrificed to humour. And this is because it is precisely the "sense of the sacred, of limits, questioning and expectation", which provides the basis for his profound humanism. He writes:
"Accept for a moment the hypothesis that there is no God: that man's appearance on earth is the result of an unfortunate mistake, that not only is he consigned to his mortal condition, he is also condemned to be aware of this, and is thus the most imperfect of creatures… -- he achieves, in the fullness of time, the religious, moral, and poetic power to conceive of the model of Christ, of universal love, of the forgiveness of enemies, of a life offered in human sacrifice for the salvation of others. If I were a traveller from a far-off galaxy and I found myself facing a species that had been able to offer such a model, I would fall down in admiration of such God-creating energy; yet discovering it to be responsible for so many atrocities, I would deem it pathetic and despicable and would see its redemption only in the fact that it had succeeded in wanting and believing its story to be the Truth… but let us admit that if Christ was only the subject of a great story, the fact that this story was imagined and desired by immature fledglings who knew only that they knew nothing, would make it every bit as miraculous (miraculously mysterious) as the fact that the son of a true God was truly incarnate."23
Not bad for a lapsarian, huh! Is not Umberto arguably the best known semiotician? It was in regard to him that I recall first hearing this word mentioned, maybe only ten years ago. This lengthy passage and quotes are from 'God, Truth, and Meaning, in the Post-modernism of Umberto Eco' by Niki Lambros, [I've seen a lot on the web, but this is something else...] and let me not stop here:
Philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, "masters of suspicion1;" yet he also notes that though they sought to undermine traditional ideas, they were able to "clear the horizon for a more authentic word, for a new reign of Truth, not only by means of a 'destructive' critique, but by the invention of an art of interpreting2". In a similar way, Umberto Eco can be seen as both a post-modernist sceptic and a champion of truth and meaning. From a Christian point of view, one must be very suspicious of a post-modernist philosophy that will not allow the possibility that God, truth and meaning can exist: in a conversation sponsored by the Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity last year, Rowan Williams and George Steiner noted that the "suspicion" or scepticisms of Derrida and Foucault are not suspicious enough for this reason: they do not allow themselves to suspect that truth may indeed exist. We must read Eco in the light of just such a suspicion; while Eco is sceptical of simply accepting traditional religion or modernist conclusions, he yet shows himself to be even more suspicious of philosophy which does not seek truth and meaning, but is content with nihilism and the void. The "art of interpreting" or, "deduction" in Eco, still leads a careful reader, if not to an absolute knowledge, at least to hope; and Eco sees a profound meaning in hope.
Then, of course, there is Charles Saunders Peirce, the mere father and Godfather of semiotics and pragmatism, providing some interesting gleanings besides the above:
Favorite Quotations -- Kevin Jessup:
"Shortly before he died, Carl Sagan wrote to say he had reread my 'Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener' and was it fair to say that I believed in God solely because it made me 'feel good.' I replied that this was exactly right, though the emotion was deeper than the way one feels good after three drinks. It is a way of escaping from a deep-seated despair. William James's essay 'The Will to Believe' is the classic defense of the right to make such an emotional 'leap of faith.' My theism is independent of any religious movement, and in the tradition that starts with Plato and includes Kant, and a raft of later philosophers, down to Charles Peirce, William James, and Miguel de Unamuno. I defend it ad nauseam."
-- Martin Gardner
The following is from William James:'Glory Met in Unspeakable Flux: A Critical Comparison of the Semiotics of Religious Experience in the General Theory of Signs of Charles Morris, the Semiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce, and the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms of Ernst Cassirer' -- Paul Burgess (Burgess as in Burgess batteries).
A glance at the history of the idea will show you still better what pragmatism means. The term is derived from the same Greek word [pi rho alpha gamma mu alpha], meaning action, from which our words 'practice' and 'practical' come. It was first introduced into philosophy by Mr. Charles Peirce in 1878. In an article entitled 'How to Make Our Ideas Clear,' in the 'Popular Science Monthly' for January of that year [Footnote: Translated in the Revue Philosophique for January, 1879 (vol. vii).] Mr. Peirce, after pointing out that our beliefs are really rules for action, said that to develope a thought's meaning, we need only determine what conduct it is fitted to produce: that conduct is for us its sole significance. And the tangible fact at the root of all our thought- distinctions, however subtle, is that there is no one of them so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice. To attain perfect clearness in our thoughts of an object, then, we need only consider what conceivable effects of a practical kind the object may involve--what sensations we are to expect from it, and what reactions we must prepare. Our conception of these effects, whether immediate or remote, is then for us the whole of our conception of the object, so far as that conception has positive significance at all.
This is the principle of Peirce, the principle of pragmatism. It lay entirely unnoticed by anyone for twenty years, until I, in an address before Professor Howison's philosophical union at the university of California, brought it forward again and made a special application of it to religion. By that date (1898) the times seemed ripe for its reception. The word 'pragmatism' spread, and at present it fairly spots the pages of the philosophic journals. On all hands we find the 'pragmatic movement' spoken of, sometimes with respect, sometimes with contumely, seldom with clear understanding. It is evident that the term applies itself conveniently to a number of tendencies that hitherto have lacked a collective name, and that it has 'come to stay.'
The title says it all? ---
In the years since then, and especially since the early 1960's, the field of semiotics has undergone considerable development. Thomas A. Sebeok distinguishes three major strands in this course of development, which he designates the biological, the philosophical, and the linguistic traditions. The first tradition is rooted in medical practice and diagnostic methodology; Baltic biologist Jakob von Uexküll brought this approach to explicitly semiotic form in his study of animal behavior and perception between the two world wars. The second tradition leads from Plato and Aristotle through Augustine and the medieval scholastics via Leibniz, Locke, and others to thinkers such as Peirce, "the real founder and first systematic investigator of modern semiotic." The third tradition in its overtly semiotic form leads from Ferdinand de Saussure to writers such as Louis Hjelmslev, Roman Jakobson, and Roland Barthes. Although there has been creative borrowing among these traditions, Sebeok notes a continuing tension between more linguistically oriented and more philosophically oriented semiotic approaches.
Charlie's theism, whatever it may have been, has left an interesting paper trail, or provides a major cross-link in many such trails.
Given all of the above, how are we to explain the studied, silent agnostics of someone like Emmeche? How can he dig this deep without hitting pay-dirt? What is this game? Oh, yes, now I recall something about radical constructivism and shamanism. What do those two danglers add up to, pray tell? Claus does neither, it would seem.
So I guess the ball is back in his court: 'Closure, Function, Emergence, Semiosis and Life' (Emmeche 2000):
The aim of this brief note is to consider partly hidden ideas about theoretical biology and its subject matter, living beings, organisms in their ecosystems -- which means beetles, cows, worms, bacteria cells, green algae, and dinosaurs, their history and interactions, their development and evolution, their structure and function, their origin, self-organization, the extinction of individuals as well as species, and the genesis of higher modes of life. In other words, an extremely multifaceted subject. First, however, recall an observation on the fate of general systems theory, which in the 1960s and 1970s had the ambitious goal of synthesizing the general fields of cybernetics, information theory, operation analysis, and specific fields, such as evolutionary theory and thermodynamics. That goal was not achieved and various reasons may be given for the failure, but an important factor might have been a too high level of theoretical generality in accounting for the highly different types of systems included in the ambitions of systems theory . With this in mind, we could ask for the possibility of facing a similar situation with respect to the current trends in systems thinking.
Or, perhaps there was insufficient generality, insufficient to point to or include anything transcendental.
EXPLAINING EMERGENCE (Emmeche, 1997):
We argue that what is needed is an ontological non-reductionist theory of levels of reality which includes a concept of emergence, and which can support an evolutionary account of the origin of levels. Classical explication of emergence as `the creation of new properties' is discussed critically, and specific distinctions between various kinds of emergence is introduced for the purpose of developing an ontology of levels, framed in a materialistic and evolutionary perspective. [...] Recent research in self-organizing non-linear dynamical systems represents a revival of the scientific study of emergence, and we argue that these recent developments can be seen as a step toward a final `devitalisation' of emergence.
Am I the only one confused? Claus is a shamanic, non-reductive materialist? Whatever!
...let us as an example look at Friedrich Engels and his so-called dialectical materialism. According to Engels, it is not possible to reduce complex objects of one level to less complex objects on a lower level. Each level contains materialistic entities, but of different sorts, and being created at different times during an evolutionary process beginning from the physical entities. What controls this evolutionary process is not a vitalist immaterial principle, but the famous dialectical laws. The only teleological principle in these dialectical laws is the idea that evolution as such is not able to regress - you cannot "develop backwards", - but only forward, that is, the union of complex entities will always synthesize into more complex units. At a certain point in the evolutionary process, the dialectical development will cause quantitative elements to synthesize into qualitatively different elements.
Are you suggesting, Claus, that you're not one? Dialectical materialism remains the only non-reductive alternative to theism. Do you have another idea? A devitalized, disenchanted, materialized semiosis is precisely that. So sorry! And, by the way, were not the Marxists social realists? Does that not mean that they believed in the downwardly causal, historical efficaciousness of allegedly objective entities like capitalism and communism? If this were not the case, what would have been the point of advocating a workers' revolution?
As far as we can see, there is only one possibility if constitution of a level presupposes higher levels with boundary conditions - and that is an idealistic ontology, where every level and every entity are potentially existing and exerting attracting influences downward in the level system (the organism as attractor for the cell). We think this idealistic concept of potentiality can be refused on ontological grounds; we do not hereby want to refuse every sort of potentiality, but only in this holistic level-constituting sense.
As can be seen, any evolutionary theory presupposes this kind of potentiality (as in the Darwinian case: the host of species extinct or unrealized at various steps of development (from zygote to ecological niche) which we can never know as actual but must be posited as a potential to explain the selection of the known species.
This water is getting even more muddy.
My impression is that Emmeche is a very weak emergentist. Although he gives lip service to ontology, he is only doing epistemology. I have yet to see him reference Jaegwon Kim who argues effectively against the coherence of non-reductive physicalism. There is no downward causation with Claus, and, without that, talk of emergence is palliative. I can see no daylight between Claus and the Complexity Gang in Santa Fe. Did I say that Claus was an agnostic? I think I'll have to retract that: shamanism -- shmamanism.
There has got to be a biosemiotician out there who will take exception to Claus's palliation. Where shall I find this person?
My intuition is that mere epistemological emergence is self-contradictory. Intuition? Nay, logic: If I can rationally entertain the concept of a cat, then that concept is logically irreducible; because, if my rationality is not illusory, then that individual, indivisible concept must causally participate in my cognitive processes. And, furthermore, if there is any possibility of scientific realism, then the actual cat must partake of some very similar, and, thus, a causally irreducible felinicity. Is this Rocket Science? Has no one else ever thusly confronted these so-called 'emergentists'?
This last anti-reductive argument is indirect, relying on the holistic notion of rationality. It would have no impact on an advocate for Strong AI. I would like an argument that appeals directly to biology.
One such argument uses the idea that irreducible traits are a necessary underpinning for natural selection. Selection could not operate without an objective substrate of real traits that are downwardly causal. Traits must be ontological and not just epistemological. A species is a super-trait, and so this is an argument for the ontology of cats, for instance.
Another type of argument starts with the very basic idea of personal identity or ontology and then proceeds to include a wider range of identities. Personal identity must serve some evolutionary role and so it must be downwardly causal or it could not have been selected. This same argument is more frequently applied to the ontology of consciousness. Presumably, rationality also has a survival value, and is a selectable trait like consciousness, bringing us back to our original argument. Would this cut any more ice with the AI people? Intentionality is a functional illusion, they are wont to say. But such a deep-seated, widespread illusion must have some evolutionary significance. [Setting aside, of course, for the time being, and, as will be the case with all such arguments of mine, that, as a radical idealist or immaterialist, I put very little stock in this whole Darwinian, materialist worldview, to begin with. [That was just nine commas [,'s] by my count! It still may be a new personal record. Would anyone care to check?] But sometimes you do have to play in order to win.] It would be very peculiar, and be a definite setback for evolutionism, if evolution were found to play no role in what are evidently the most distinctive and significant features of our species, illusory or not. Illusions can play a causal role, regardless of their ontic status. Imagine the poor chap in the desert crawling a mile to an illusory lake. That illusion would have a dubious survival value, but still be causal. [And, yes, I realize that this is an externally generated illusion, but you get the point.] Let me hasten to point out, as many have before, that the entire notion of causation has a decidedly idealist, non-physical aspect. A cause is just an event or a state of affairs, a strongly emergent property. To say that an asteroid impact caused the dinosaur extinction is a flagrant exercise in rhetorical arbitrariness, from a purely physicalistic point of view, but it also represents the epitome of rationality. Rationalism and physicalism have been antagonists from the git go.
Downward causation is necessarily teleological, and thus vitalistic and definitely anti-physical. [By the same token, dialectical materialism is an oxymoron, but, of course, that did not prevent cadres of intellectuals from devoting their lives to it.] This is to say that Claus's weak emergentism is a non-starter. It is a verbal palliative. Jaegwon Kim's arguments should have put all this to rest years ago. These weak emergentists are like the Energizer Bunny. The founders of Structuralism and Semiotics took a decidedly metaphysical turn, but now their biosemiotic followers are opting for Scientific Correctness. Is there no shame?
Biosemioticians, like the Systems Theorists before them, wonder why the scientists pay them no heed. The reason is that these philosophers expend most of their energy apologetically aping them, rather than actually engaging the scientists in serious argument.
What is the excuse for all these anti-rational materialists? It's all a part of the larger eschatological, teleological drama. The only real lesson is that if you don't take cosmic intelligence seriously, you will surely be its dupe. It also shows that intellectualism and common sense often get their wires crossed. There is no substitute for old-fashioned wisdom.
Another point is that the philosophers have been spending most of the last century simply tidying up around the scientific ranch. This is normal philosophy. As they clean up the little problems, the bigger problems become more glaring, but, unfortunately, the cleanup crew does not have in its armamenta the industrial strength cleanser that is now needed. What is now required is vision on a cosmic scale. That can only come from whence all visions come: out of the telic blue. The only possible precedence is likely to be found in the prophetic lineage. There is, however, some difference of opinion as to the date of the last such vision. If I'm in the right ballpark, the well known incident in the seventh century was anachronistic in that it seems to have been mainly an updated recapitulation of the Old Testament lineage. The prior intervening incident was notoriously interrupted, due largely to its radical nature, and, was, accordingly, self-proclaimed as teleologically incomplete. From what we can see now, its completion would logically have to wait for a postmodern venue. Am I being sufficiently diplomatic about this logistics problem. I trust that no one will take offence at this quasi-non-linear historicity. Think of that other incident as having been an artistic intermezzo. And the more recent 'mishap' might not otherwise have been possible, and, again with much due apology [biosemioticians not being the only ones skilled in this sometimes fine art], to say that this most recent piece of physical drama was world-class might be an understatement, in my Monday morning estimation, and by way of further apology. Is the price of all this theater rather too high, you might well wonder? Well, consider then, if you will so kindly, the price of Creation. That Show goes on. [I can see room for ambiguity in the designation of events, but let that be, and the more general point still stands.]
We might wonder if there is no downward causation in the case of a computer running some specific program. There is the ample intentionality of all the users and programmers, but what beyond that?
I would say that there is nothing essential to the machine other than what we impute to it or design into it. I would be reluctant to say that of a biological organism. The ontogenesis of any organism or organ, and then the maintenance of it surely involves downward causation, if anything does. So too would its proper continued functioning, that is, at the very least, within the holistic psychosomatic, immunological system of the organism, if we are speaking of a specific organ.
The last paragraph was not well conceived. Let me try something else, please.
The downward causation of interest is teleological. I have suggested before that Creation has proceeded from both the Alpha and the Omega, and primarily from the latter. The existence of our world is due mainly to its final cause, the Eschaton. The Alpha is a mere shadow of the Omega. In a similar fashion, matter is the shadow of mind. Final causation is most evident to us in the ontogenesis or ontogeny of biological organisms. So I would reverse the the evolutionary dictum to say instead that phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny.
Ordinary efficient causality is the habituation of the mind. Mathematics is one means by which nature fills in the gaps between our visions and intentions, yielding physics. As we ascend the chain of being, final cause gradually replaces efficient cause. We use our artifacts to amplify the final cause, the Internet being but the latest example, by which means and through efforts like this, the Final Cause will be made the explicit source of our intentionality, thus further accelerating our historical denouement. As telephony gives way to telepathy in the final eschatological stage, teleological acceleration will be more than impressive: mind supplants matter, downward causation supplants all else.
Final cause is so hard to detect instrumentally, because it is so pervasive in the organic realm. Removing it would be like removing the head from a body: all systems grind to a halt. Nay, all systems vanish. Matter is the shadow of mind. The organism is the shadow of its spirit or essence. God and spirit clone themselves organically.
What medicine accomplishes with chemicals is but a shadow of what will be accomplished with spirit. Between chemistry and spirit resides alchemy. A neo-alchemy will provide the historical continuity, as it already is in undetectable fashion.
Biosemiosis when freed of its materialist shackles will be the wave of the future. Emmeche & Co. have a reasonable fear of the unknown. To them the immaterial future is remote and faceless. Someone will give it a face and render it immanent. That presence is the second coming. As we anticipate we emulate and as we emulate we become. There is no other resolution.
Scientific instrumentation will not be instrumental in detecting the telos. That is the purpose of the mind, no, the telos is the essence of the mind. As matter shadows mind, so does mind shadow the Telos.
You see why Emmeche and the biosemioticians are having trouble. They peer into every corner for a sign of the Telos, when, in Truth, it is about to swallow them whole.
If we are going to actually see the vital force objectively it would likely be by inferences based on measures of biomolecular efficiency, such as with enzyme efficiency. Part of this putative excess molecular efficiency may be attributable to quantum computing effects. If performing a cellular function may be compared to computation, then we know that quantum superpositional effects may be employed to boost computational efficiency, and so one would expect to find similar boosting effects in vivo; while, admittedly, we are setting aside the not inconsiderable decoherence problem.
Quantum physics, you may say, is still just physics. Maybe yes, maybe no. Delayed choice and observational effects are supposed by many knowledgeable folk to overlap with mental processes. The quantum domain could well provide a loophole in the physics, sufficiently large to give vitalism and consciousness a foothold in the otherwise sterile Newtonian desert of classical physics. This gives rise to a quantum dualism, where the quantum loophole plays the connecting role between mind and matter that Descartes speculated might be played by the pineal gland. It was through this same loophole that I was able to carve out a quasi-rational path of migration from materialism to immaterialism. A quantum vitalism might well provide a similar stepping stone for our befuddled biosemioticians, presently suffering a failure of imagination, along with a subliminal stage fright.
For a quantum immaterialist, such as myself, the Cartesian duality between mind and matter is replaced by a dichotomy between quality and quantity. When one conceptually passes through the quantum loophole into the metaphysical realm of pure felt meaning, one looks back at the physical side and can see only abstractions, mainly of the mathematical kind, among which the Monster Group stands out like a Rock of Gibraltar. (If we are ever able to quantize gravity, it should then be possible to 'quantize' the Monster, and so render it more amenable to our subjectivity. Just a thought. And, speaking of which, here is a sight for sore eyes: Fotini Markopoulou Kalamara. You don't suppose she's related to Calamari? Bet she could turn you into one, though. If I were the Monster, I would be very afraid.)
Now where were we? Yes, there seems to be a major conceptual divide between Semiotics and Biosemiotics, between the imaginal, semaphoric reach of an Umberto and that of a Claus. How do we close that gap, without having to teach them, and everyone else, quantum gravity a la Kalamara? That is doable, but there must be an easier way. (I wonder if the semioticians could borrow any ideas from memetics.)
Here is another thought: Idealism suffers considerably from the Platonic Carburetor Syndrome (PCS), in which ideas are taken to be individually written in stone in some Platonic heaven, or taken to be like those windowless Leibnizian atomic monads. Let us get some relief by taking some memetics and Quinine water. Memetics focuses of the dynamic quality of the memetic manifold. Quine focuses on its holism. Unfortunately the Quinine holism is too easily interpreted in a purely structural, formal, syntactic fashion by the AI types. With all that holistic form, where's the content? Are our minds just syntactical engines? I don't think so. Where does all that (illusory?!) felt meaning come from? If not from the atoms, it must come from the manifold. Was it Jim Maxwell who prematurely revived the Ether, soon to be shot down by Mike & Mo? Perhaps we need a Platonic memetic ether. The Hindus call it the Void or nirvana, the Great Emptiness. Tim & I call it the Big Bliss. Somehow and dynamically, the virtual atoms of meaning create themselves out of the Big Bliss. Yes, we concentrate the energy, like some atom smasher, and that concentrated gamma energy is Comptonically and dialectically converted to idea and anti-idea. Was it not said that the opposite of every great idea is another great idea? (Uh, oh, where is the anti-Creation? The Eschaton is our recombination?) We're still just talking a kind of Feynman-diagrammatic syntactics. For the electron to acquire content or mass, we must invoke the Higgs vacuum bosonic mechanism. (Am I beginning to sound like Alan? I swear, this is not a hoax. Please excuse me! My parents had to pay big bucks for all that physics, this is the least we could do.) Somewhere in the Rig Veda you are bound to find a Higgs reference. Please let me know when you do. In the meantime, I invoke it to explain how we smuggle semantics into our little syntactic noggins. (Any more questions? Just ask Dan, the Science Man, or, better yet, ask Fritjof. And, besides, no one is paying me enough to be serious about all this stuff! Haven't I used up my nickel yet? Help, Lord!)
Is it not reasonable to suppose that the semantic manifold has a holographic and fractal structure? Our individual minds are like the repeats of the core pattern in the Mandelbrot Set, just chips off the old block. Most every pixel of that set contains a whole universe. The Mandelbrot still invokes a spatial manifold, even though it is complex-imaginary. Imagine an infinite dimensional, Hilbertian manifold, if you will.... I'm running out of mathematical metaphors. One does when confronting raw meaning. All of math is contained in three words: 'one', 'zero', 'and'.
Consider the Mandelbrot generating formula: z' = z^2 + C (C -> M when z remains 'small'). Something as basic as this could have been the Cosmic Logos: Thus Spake Zarathustra. What would 'C' and 'z' actually represent in such a case? Even God might not know for sure. She sure wouldn't be able to explain it in English. Maybe in Swahili, but not English. Then again maybe 'C' stands for love in Swahili, that's Amore!
Back to downward causation, and looking at contributors to Claus Emmeche's book: Downward Causation:
Peder Voetmann Christiansen is a Quantum Semiotician. He is attempting to rectify Peirce's logic with quantum physics.
Alvaro Moreno: Downward Causation at the Core of Living Organization:
In this paper we argue that biological systems cannot be explained only in terms of physical laws, but that their organization also depends on the action of informational records which control the construction of the organism's phenotypes. This information is shaped by natural selection through a collective and historical process. By controlling the lower level of molecular interactions, information acts as a kind of explicit formal cause which restructures matter according to a given pattern. As the construction of informational patterns is an open process, essentially organization, independent of the dynamics of their material support, information exhibits compositional capacity which, besides allowing open-ended evolution, constitutes the main difference between formal and physical causation.
Should a computer exhibit downward causation?
Alvaro has also contributed to a Special Issue of BioSystems: The Physics and Evolution of Symbols and Codes: Reflections on the Work of Howard Pattee.
Special Issue on "The Quantum of Evolution" may be of interest.
Teed Rockwell is someone to reckon with: A Defense of Emergent Downward Causation:
Troubles with Functionalism........
However, the view of scientific progress revealed by the New Wave reductionism of Bickle, Hooker, and Churchland seems to indicate exactly the opposite i.e. that belief in emergent causation is not only compatible with modern science, but may be the only thing that can save it from skepticism. If we believe that the entities described by the reduced discourse are genuinely real ontologically, and yet not reducible in the old tough sense produced by elimination or identity, an inevitable consequence of this is that the reduced and the reducer are to some degree ontologically independent of each other. The only way we could eliminate this ontological independence would be to say that these blurs are apparent, rather than real, and that everything that occurs at the macroscopic level is actually identical to something at the microscopic level, even if we don't know what it is. Given that the newest work in history and philosophy of science reveals that we have never found such identities, and probably never will, we therefore have a choice between accepting the partial ontological independence of each layer, or claiming that reality has an essential nature that science will probably never reveal. If we accept the latter alternative, however, we can no longer use scientific realism as a way of dismissing emergent causality.
Yes, I do believe that the functionalist view is essential to science, and is essentially irreducible to physics. Natural selection could not operate without functional properties to select. I'm still not sure how this argument applies to machines. And how do we distinguish the epistemic from the ontic? Cannot machines be adequately explained by classical mechanics? James Garson's reply to Teed raises these same questions. It is not easy to find a firm footing in all this scree. Yet, we must try.
Perhaps machines are not adequately explained by mechanics. This had never occurred to me. Mechanical engineering is not strictly a science, if you think about it. Consider the genius of invention. We would not need a Patent Office if design were a science, if it could be mechanized. But, given a machine, its functioning is purely mechanical. No? Well, this may not be so obvious. 'Functioning' is a peculiar word. Notice that another, necessary word has been omitted from the previous statement. I should, more precisely, have said: its proper functioning is purely mechanical(?). Now we have a clear contradiction. We have introduced normativity. Physics and normativity are logically disjoint concepts. Normativity is essential to the concept of a machine, but not to mechanics. Machines fail, mechanics doesn't. Physics or mechanics alone cannot describe the propriety of anything, and particularly not of a machine. So, what is going on here? How do we distinguish the semantics from the physics?
Machine = physics + function.
Otherwise it is a hunk of metal, or a doorstop, if you will. But does this mean that machines violate the laws of physics? No, but it does mean that they must transcend physics. Physics alone cannot describe or explain a machine. So where is the problem?
This conceptual problem is more serious with evolution and natural selection. Functionality emerges. [Realize that I am winging this....now and always.] An organism is a functioning collection of molecules. It is a molecular machine. Is this not also just: Chance + Necessity? Atoms in the Void? No, because that explains nothing, and the function of science is explanation. Physics is able to explain atoms and the void, and it does so in functional terms. Well, certainly in counter-factual terms. But, yes, with the quantum we must employ the concepts of measurement with all its explicit and implicit intentionality. But forget the quantum. Counter-factuality employs the concepts of events and causality, both of which transcend physics proper (sic). At the very least we are talking non-reductive naturalism, rather than reductionistic physicalism.
And don't forget all the abstractions, mathematics and realism that is employed in Physics. And where can we draw the line between Physics the discipline and the physics that is its subject? Where do we draw the line between the noumenal physics and the phenomenal Physics? That is the precisely the issue of Metaphysics. As an idealist, I say there is no line. You disagree? Then show it to me!
All of the blatant, notorious metaphysical problems of quantum physics are already latent in the essence of classical physics and mechanics. It is just that there is no rug left down there, under which the problems may be swept.
This is nail number what, in the coffin of materialism? Are we not losing count? What is that unpleasant odor?
How do Teed and his correspondents resolve this mess?
Let me first say that in these discussions of ontology, much is made of the distinction between ontology and epistemology. This may be a valid distinction under some metaphysical suppositions, but it is not valid for idealism. In this latter case there is no dichotomy between the subjective and objective realms. I recognize that at present we see through the glass darkly, but most of that obscurity is due to our confusion with materialism. As soon as we remove those blinders, the vista will open before us. With idealism we have direct realism. It is then a vision problem and not a knowledge problem. The notion of perception by representation is coming between us and our being truly and directly present in the world.
Back to Teed. I notice that his reply page for the discussion of his downward causation essay remains blank. I believe that this was also the case when I last checked several months ago. We move to consider the several responses listed.
As already noted, Jim Garson insists on a strong distinction between epistemological and ontological emergence, thereby foreclosing the discussion.
Robert Kane, like Jaegwon Kim, finds the concept of downward causation incoherent. The paradigm case of downward causation is telekinesis. Is that incoherent? If it is incoherent, why are most people able to grasp the idea? For a somewhat less controversial example, what about lucid dreaming? Is that incoherent? Let me not fail to mention the most common example of all: psychosomatics. Has psychosomatics never been cogently discussed in the medical profession? If I have correctly characterized Robert's concern, it is very reminiscent of Daniel Dennett claiming that the concept of consciousness is incoherent, or the logical positivists unilaterally declaring all metaphysical statements vacuous. As an immaterialist, I am sometimes tempted to declare all physical statements vacuous, but usually I manage to restrain myself. Just don't get me started on telephony! Such a non-response is a tried and true rhetorical device, or perhaps just tired. One more try, Robert: is Creation incoherent?
Am I being unfair here? Please, somebody, help me out! But this leaves us with U.T. Place, and poor Google thinks I'm looking for Salt Lake City. But anyway, Utah Pl. is critiquing some other paper of Teed's. Just a slight displacement of URL's, I suppose. There you have it, then, for the state of the known (to me) art of downward causation, which is arguably the issue that is now the most pertinent to everyone's future, given even the remote possibility of an eschatological denouement. It may be a long-shot, but very likely it will be our only shot.
Here's a thought: if concepts were reducible then why have we not reduced any? May not the concept of 2 be reduced to 1 + 1? Not really. Not without additional information and constraints. Not without a considerable formal apparatus. Dictionaries perform word reductions only to a very limited degree. For instance, bachelor and unmarried man can, and usually do, have very different nuances, differences that will depend on context.
Cannot the complete thought expressed by a sentence be successfully decomposed into its individual words? The meaning is then lost. Each sentential composition of words might as well be its own ideogram. This ideogram can be decomposed into words with not much more success than a word can be decomposed into letters.
An AI person might argue that a sentence can be syntactically and grammatically reduced without any semantic residue, and then be reconstructed in another language. This is how machine translation is supposed to work.
But there are the problems of holism, context and levels of meaning. A given sentence could have vastly different meaning depending on its function in a particular story. And there is no upper limit to the hierarchy of levels. The same story could have very different meanings or functions in different cultures, and for each individual listener, as well.
Consider the irreducible nature of songs. If I were a better connoisseur of music, you could read me a list of say 100 musical compositions and I would be able, almost immediately, to attach some distinctly recognizable feeling or meaning to each one, almost as if each were a sort of ideogram. Are these musical ideograms decomposable? Not without loss of essence. There are notes and there is a tune. A tune can be decomposed into notes, but clearly there is a very complex relational pattern that constitutes a tune. And these are not self-contained patterns. The recognition of a tune or story entails the triggering of countless associational significances, without the essence of the tune devolving into incoherence. These associational meanings are not external or incidental to the essence of the song, but somehow contained therein.
A machine can perform the function of pattern 'recognition', in an apparently decomposable fashion. It could be programmed to accurately recognize excerpts of a hundred different tunes. It could be programmed to perform that function in many logically distinct ways. Would anyone thereby suppose that this artificial process had any essential similarity to the mental process? One would have to, at least, simulate an integrated human intelligence before we might reasonably entertain the notion of actual musical cognition.
But what would it mean to construct an integrated human intelligence? Would this mean to simply add more recognition modules, and then add more memory modules? There would then have to be a master recognition module, to somehow integrate and make sense of the outputs of the sub-modules. At what point and in what manner might this increase in the quantity of information be transformed into something that might resemble a natural coherence?
Does the lower level information not have to be patterned and sequenced in some particular manner at a higher level to make it coherent? But then we are just starting a second level of patterning. It would be like patterning sentences into a coherent story. In Turing Test fashion, the computer could take a musical input and convert it into a coherent and relevant verbal output, let us suppose. Have we thereby effectively reproduced a instance of human-like musical cognition? A behaviorist might be impressed, but what about the cognitivist?
The cognitivist would need to open up the black box and inspect the functional and/or connectional architecture. She would find many logical subroutines and network patterns, and could trace the flow of information and activity patterns, as might some super-MRI scanner, all the way from the musical input to the verbal output. But where in that convoluted process might we locate anything even functionally resembling a recognitional episode?
A human auditor could be expected to produce a virtually unlimited variety of coherent, relevant verbal outputs for any given musical input. And, yes, we could build a randomizing associational module in our musically adept android. The point is, however, that the recognitional episode occurs quite independently of any particular output, or, indeed, of any output at all.
But, here's the rub. Recall that the conversion from a musical tune to word-like symbols or patterns was originally intended to be a part of the internal recognitional process or episode, as simply a specific instance of a mental process. Yet, the recognition cannot be captured by any sort of a pattern. A musical pattern is converted to some other sort of pattern, as in a stimulus-response experiment, but here it is an internal response. There will be a chain of these internal patterns, with each stimulating the next until some actual output pattern occurs. But to what steps in that logical or functional sequence can we assign recognition? At the least, one would have to stipulate something to the effect that recognition proper occurred mainly between steps M and M+N. But that sequence of N patterns could be taken to be a single pattern just in itself, or under some other processing regime. At best, one could say that this internal pattern somehow represents the initial musical pattern. But that does not get us one step closer to the explanation of recognition, per se. If we look inside any system, all we see are patterns, we can nowhere point to recognition. No one, yet, has attempted to postulate a self-recognizing pattern at the logical end of the sequence. It is just more patterns all the way up or down.
We were attempting to construct a hierarchy of recognition modules, with a master recognizer at the top, rather like the notorious 'grandmother-cell', which allegedly lights-up in our head when we see Granny. But what you have just seen is all that we can get out of any such construct.
Each definable pattern is causally related to the input, and each represents that input in some fashion, but at what point in the process may it be said that I recognize Granny? It might be at the point when I am first disposed to say to myself, 'There's Granny!' But what exactly might this disposition entail? More pertinently, how would I recognize the disposition, without falling into an infinite regress? A brain surgeon wielding a 'cerebroscope' might be able to recognize my brain pattern, and say to me in my groggy state, "You are now disposed to say, 'There's Granny!'" But, normally lacking such a cerebroscope, how am I to know my own disposition, without, say, hearing myself actually utter the words? That utterance would just be another pattern in dire need of recognition.
But, yet, at the very least, there is a strong subjective illusion of actually having recognized Granny. How does one explain that illusion? Just calling it an 'illusion' does not explain it, nor make the experiential reports of it go away. How can one deconstruct an illusion? And don't we have a causal conundrum? Is it the 'illusion' causing the disposition, or the disposition causing the 'illusion'? The is an objective disposition, and there is an actual illusion. Are these entities identical? There is an objective dispositional brain state and an objective 'illusional' brain state. Are these the same state logically?
I notice someone walking in the room. I recognize that it is Granny, and this recognitional event, or illusion thereof, then causes me to be disposed to react in various ways. Would the cognitivist not have to recognize this causal sequence? Something must cause the dispositional state. The cause must precede and be able to account for the effect. The changing of dispositional states is the effect. What could cause me to make the transition to a Granny-recognitional disposition or mode other than an actual recognition of Granny? Can a neuroscientist legitimately switch from nominalism to realism in the middle of this causal sequence? Can she be a nominalist about the recognition and then be a realist about the subsequent disposition and still remain coherent? I'm thinking, 'no'. Can this alleged inconsistency be further analyzed, or be restated with greater clarity? How significant is it? [In the paragraphs below, which were actual written just prior to the last several above, I take the Complexity people to task for a similar metaphysical switch. Are we establishing a significant and endemic pattern of inconsistency? Has this pattern been duly noted previously?]
The Granny-recognitional disposition is at least as objective as any other cognitive dispositional state. There is no logical way to characterize this dispositional state other than as being Granny-recognitional (period!). What else then could possibly be said to be the cause of this particular disposition other than the recognition of Grandmother? Is there a need for any further qualifications or for the deployment of scare quotes? I think not. Is there any way to deconstruct this bit of 'folk' psychological realism without deconstructing most of cognitive science at the same time?
This seems an almost trivial exercise in semantics. It could just be another straw in the wind, or it could land on the overstressed back of some poor camel.
But then, like the Complexity folk, we are forced to postulate self-organizing systems. So I was wrong when I stated three paragraphs earlier, that no one had postulated a self-recognizing pattern. This is, in effect, what scores of Complexity theorists do for a living. So, couldn't we say that any act of cognition is fundamentally an act of self-organization on the part of the brain? Is this coherent, however? The Complexity folk point to innumerable instances of inorganically and spontaneously generated patterns in nature and under laboratory conditions. Life and mind are natural extensions of this purely physical tendency. I wonder. Take the primordial soup, stir in some self-organizational potency, and voila!
Somehow this natural potency became exponentiated in our brains, and that is our homunculus, nay, that is us, to make a long story short. I still wonder. How does this differ from panpsychism? I see nowhere to draw that line, nor do I see any particular desire on the part of Santa Fe folk, etc. to draw any such line. Is it not in their professional self-interest to encourage themselves and the rest of us to believe that there is such a stairway to heaven and that they are already on the Nth step? Why not? But is it coherent, I wonder.
Having accomplished the Democratesian dream of atomistic deconstructionism, the Complexity people have set about the daunting task of reconstruction. They will need a great deal from that self-organizing potency. But is this potency for real, or is it just an illusion? Where are their deconstructive, nominalistic instincts now? Is not the shoe of realism now on the other foot? Are they not playing both sides of El Camino Real? And should we let them get away with this leger-de-pied? Let me think about that, hmmmmm...............No way, Santa Fe! Let us see how they like the Alameda de las Pulgas, all too familiar to many a weary idealist.
An example often cited in the literature as counting against mental (or historical) realism is that of 'England declaring war on France'. Which argument I am unable to locate presently. It presumably raises the issue of reductionism and of upward vs. downward causation. To what extent are particular events just paradigmatic (nominal) or actually causal (real). A state of war is largely dispositional. What causes that state?
The event of recognizing something cannot logically be reduced to a physical state, or can it? When a smoke detector detects smoke it is disposed to buzz. Does that make me just a Granny detector? And how might this relate to the 'declaration of war' example? One difference might be the formality of it: putting on fancy clothes and signing a piece of parchment. No smoke detector can do that! But that's not quite the point. Recognition is a formal or abstract concept that is used to describe events in which it may or may not be instantiated or play a causal role. There is nothing significantly abstractable about a Granny detector, beyond the abstract physics, but there is presumably about a Granny recognizer.
But wait. Now we are back to the issue of whether a machine is mechanical. The proper functioning of the detector is just as formal (Platonic) as that of the recognizer. Without that normativity the concepts are incoherent. In a word, there cannot be real detectors (material) without real detection (formal). Otherwise, science, engineering,..., human activity lose all coherence. But this is just what the skeptics and cynics have been saying all along. So what else is new? Without the concept of detection we cannot design or become detectors? But lions became effective zebra detectors, presumably without benefit of the concept. Now we are getting down to the nitty-gritty. We either have to bite the skeptical bullet, or promote our mere concepts to Plato's Formal (Granny, Carburetor, Smoke Detector?) Heaven. We can perform the latter promotion coherently only in an immaterialist world: Plato's Heaven may be an illusion, but then so if everything else, my friends.
It is a exquisite fact of life that humans are most reluctant to bite either of these bullets! Fence sitting is the best defense up to a point. Until what point? Until we are willing to consider the price of incoherence.
But speaking of 'mental realism' consider:
The Mind Paradigm - a Unified Model of Mental and Physical Reality (Introduction by Eric Carlson, Foreword by Huston Smith) -- KEITH CHANDLER (2001)
The Mind Paradigm dispels with finality the specter of the Cartesian Dualism. Descartes, along with Newton and others, bequeathed his successors an irreconcilable dualism between mind and "matter" which saw the universe and everything in it, including life, as soulless, mindless machinery completely incapable of affecting or being affected by everything most important to the human heart and soul: consciousness, ideas, beauty, purpose, values, spirit, love. The Mind Paradigm argues that the Cartesian dualism was a fraud from the beginning and puts in its place Mental Realism, a worldview in which the universe is a thought process of a Cosmic Mind and the world of conscious experience a diffraction of the pure, infinite consciousness of the same Mind through models it creates in the brain. The book describes the new paradigm that is emerging in every area of science from cosmology to cognitive science and is restoring purpose and value to our models of the universe. Finally, it shows why science and mysticism share such a deep complementarity and why each has a place in the single world view of Mental Realism.
All I can say is wow! Your book looks very impressive and well researched and cuts to the quick in dealing with the materialist-dominated view of consciousness by thoughtfully showing the fallacy of such a viewpoint. I would say this is necessary reading for anyone interested in a complete overview of the relationships of science, consciousness and spirituality.
Fred Alan Wolf, author of The Dreaming Universe (1995) and The Spiritual Universe (1998)
And I have been a fan of Fred's from the time of The Dreaming Universe. You see what mental realism can get you into.
And while we're still onto mental realism:
The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness: A Physical Basis for Immaterialism -- Samuel Avery (1995):
The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness is a radical interpretation of modern physics. Rather than consciousness existing in space and time, it is suggested that the strange phenomena associated with quantum and relativity physics are better understood if space and time are structures within consciousness. Light is vision itself. Matter does not exist outside of consciousness. Mass is a second time dimension.
Here is a useful review of semiotics from a metaphysical point of view: 'Semiotics and Cognitive Science: The Morphological Turn' -- by Jean Petitot.
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