Invitation to Scholars - Part I
Invitation to Scholars - Part I
World Crisis and Its Solution - Creating a New World View* * * By Norman Hirst(1)*
March 21, 2002
(1) Norman Hirst, a graduate of M.I.T., is President and Co-Founder of the Autognomics Institute, Mystic, Connecticut.
To survive with dignity, we need a new mind. Francisco Varela
Old and new emerging insights are part of a quiet revolution taking place the world over creating a new world view of life-itself, what it is and how it works. Groundbreaking methods for thinking provide the foundations for a frontier science of “life-itself.” This new frontier bridges science, society and spirituality bringing with it new solutions, hope and possibilities for every level of life; how we live together, health, education, business, governance, technology, how we find meaning and purpose for our lives and how we care for the earth, ourselves and more.
The conditions for life are evolving at an unprecedented rate, such as technology, speed of communication, speed of transportation, changes in social values. Speeds of travel and communication have effectively made the world smaller raising both problems and opportunities that are unprecedented. Epidemics can travel around the world in hours with modern airliners. Natural geographical boundaries, such as the oceans, no longer separate nations. Although there are still deep veins of racism, blacks can now sit in the front of the bus, couples can live together without marriage, gays have come out of the closet. The Internet and rapid world news have closed the gaps between cultures, language and traditions making. This begins to help us see how united all life is, that what affects one affects the whole.
The world has become pregnant with opportunity and fraught with danger because we’re clinging to old patterns, structures and valuing processes that no longer serve this expansive reality. What is known about machines and technology entraps us from paying attention to what we should be learning about life-itself in order to manage the outcomes of such rapid change.
To manage requires a paradigm change in everything from science to personal values. It is my belief that such a shift is upon us whether we know it or not. This paper will outline why I believe this to be true.
In a paradigm change, the majority opinion will always cling to the old paradigm. Steps to a new paradigm are described in the paper that follows. During such a transition, life lived will sometimes be like sailing on a storm whipped sea. There are new fundamental principles to be learned to help us navigate the transition successfully. I believe they are a precursor to new ways in which life will be lived on a higher plane than ever before.
Scientific inquiry is the best way to discover and learn about these new fundamental principles. Unfortunately current science is based on habits of thought whose origins can be traced back to 600 BC with Pythagoras, then to Descartes dividing the world into mind and matter and to Newton’s calculus, 300 years ago, which has become the foundation for mechanistic and reductionistic science, the current dominant scientific paradigm. It is wonderfully successful for creating technology to meet our physical needs. However, that which is alive is not mechanistic, and reductionism destroys the living organization. Mechanisms are processes prearranged to produce certain results given certain inputs. Put simply, living organisms have been studied as if they are machines. But they are not machines. Such study produces misleading results, though not necessarily totally wrong or useless results.
Current science creates a worldview in which there is no room for living dynamics. When we, at Autognomics Institute, speak of living processes people often protest that they have no idea what that means. Or they assume we are talking about the biology of the current scientific paradigm. Unfortunately, biology suffers the defects of current science. Robert Rosen, a mathematical biologist, (1934-1998) warned us in his book, “Life Itself”, not to ask biologists what life is. They don’t know!
With long held traditions in question, the work will be to find new fundamental notions to replace them. I propose that new “formal” methods of thinking are now available and that they can create new sciences that will enable us to know and understand life-itself and the dynamics of values that guide the process. Therefore, we need a wide spectrum of participants in the project.
Our Western tradition is based on substance philosophy. The revision, the new metaphysics, is based on process philosophy. From process philosophy and new methods of logic, new fundamental assumptions become available and they change our worldview drastically from what is currently known.
To define some terms:
- Life-itself is a process based upon certain characteristic fundamental organizing principles. By knowing these fundamental principles of life-itself we can clearly identify whether or not something is living, for example we can then determine whether or not the earth is a living organism as proposed in the Gaia theory.
- Process = changes going on towards some end.
- Living processes = are processes fully capable of creating new reality, manifesting* something that has not been before. Living processes have their own goals, their own* reason for being, and their own power. With process, you can have change. With life* process, you can have growth. Living processes are self-knowing, social, intentional* and driven by values.
- Living domain is a class name for everything that is alive. This could be humans,* slime mold, bacteria, any animal, plant or combination thereof or societies of any* living forms. We also include the possibility that the earth itself is alive as in Gaia.* * *
- There are inherent value processes within life and all life forms that work as harmonizers in the living processes. The inherent value processes are making decisions (a cutting away) from all possibility. The facts of the moment, as they stand, will suggest many possible outcomes. The final judgement as to which one to realize will be determined by the value processes.At any moment of process what can “become” depends on the facts. What will “become” is chosen by the value processes.
As the principles of life-itself are discovered, and the function of values are understood, it will become clearly apparent that much of the current scientific dominant paradigm is misdirected when applied to the living domain.
We are most anxious to move forward with this proposed project to provide grounds for policy analysis leading to constructive policies.
We want to invite scholars sympathetic to this proposal to join us in cyberspace and ultimately in planned conferences.We feel the urgency to move forward with this project of research and seek immediate response from you and anyone you might consider right for this effort. We are seeking funding and will be putting this team together ASAP. Thank you for you consideration.
To learn more about the Autognomics Institute and some of our recommendations on social dilemmas go to our website www.autognomics.org. Also, we are currently preparing papers addressing various issues. Please contact us at email@example.com or, Contact Us
Towards a New Frontier and Mind:
Reviewing literature, which is so much easier with the Internet, I find an extraordinary situation. Basic ideas in science are being challenged. For example, the idea that whatever can be done by computer can be done by a Turing machine. I could neither accept nor reject that notion even if everyone did believe it. Now I see challenges developing. Looking into different approaches to life itself, I see divergent claims regarding fundamental “truths”
This suggests to me that
- We can accept nothing on authority.
- We need to attract a number of scholars with different backgrounds, approaches and interests to form a complete picture.
Habits to be challenged:
Here is my beginning small list of ideas in science that I think must be discarded
- That science must be quantitative.
- The Church-Turing thesis.
- The rejection of why questions.
- The rejection of Aristotle’s final cause.
- Ashby’s Law.
- That physics is the most fundamental science from which all else should be derived.
- That logic must preserve truth.
- Linear infinitely divisible space time.
These will be more fully explained below. I am sure that others and I will add to this list as we learn.
With these long held traditions in question, the work will be to find new fundamental notions to replace them. To do this we need a wide spectrum of participants in the project. For example, people who are exploring the frontiers of new logics and mathematics, progress in process metaphysics, semiotics, autopoiesis, biology (those who can break with current reductionistic biology to provide the processes observed in living organisms), catastrophe theory, and people who can question everything to discover the unknown.
With the coming of a new mind, a new paradigm of life-itself, new solutions unimagined reveal themselves and what has seemed like intractable problems in the living reality will be resolved. Understanding how living organisms function will show that past and present expectations are inappropriate.
Any living form can change immediately in ways that would seem miraculous in the face of threats to survival. This capacity for change gives promise for a living world undergoing drastic threats to survival on so many fronts.
It is my belief, that the bulk of the world problems, and the blocks to solving them, have their roots in overwhelming failure to understand values and the inversion of the value hierarchywhich can only truly be understood by being able to recognize the unique dynamics of that which is alive. I urge turning our attention to these new foundations for creating a new world view and thus a new world will “miraculously” emerge. The need is urgent!
There is a quiet revolution beginning. Talking to academics concerning the inability of current science to deal with life I find myself preaching to the choir. They know it, but they don’t know what to do about it. Now, in the name of the Autognomics Institute (AI) , I propose some initial considerations towards entering a new frontier and creating a new mind about Life-itself. In the words of biologist, Francisco Varela, “To survive with dignity, we need a new mind.”
The world is changing! This is undeniable. The event of 9-11 symbolized a new reality. Life as we have known it is not going to continue. The changes are there for all to see from the threat of terrorism to failing institutions.
I believe that not only is the world changing I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the most profound change in human consciousness since ancient Greek philosophy. Life as we have known it will not go on. The Old World is dying. A New World is being born. I believe the New World will bring about life lived on a higher plane than has ever been known.
Meanwhile, the transition may be dangerous. As the change becomes more apparent there will be those in power who want to resort to Draconian measures to turn the clock back. The major challenge facing humankind, right now, is how to navigate through and survive the transition. The pace is quickening.
The need for this new research is urgent!
The world as we have known it is the result of mental and perceptual habits with their logical and metaphysical foundations going back as far as 600 BC beginning with Pythagoras and further continued to become known as the majority report in philosophy, the philosophy of substance. Today our survival depends on going into a new frontier, and growing a new mind. A minority report known as “process philosophy” has been developing along in parallel since 600 BC towards understanding different foundations than those dominant in our sciences today.
From process philosophy and new methods of logic, new fundamental assumptions become available and they change our worldview drastically from what is currently known. Historically, with the discovery of such new foundations and methods of thinking, worldviews shift in what seems like an instant. New possibilities and solutions to problems heretofore unimagined are revealed.
The Union of International Organizations (UIA) in Brussels, Belgium, which has 20,000 organizations as members, maintains a database of 1200 world problems. An interesting development in the world problems’ database is the tracking of connections between problems including the display of circularity. For example, problem A exacerbates problem B that exacerbates problem C that exacerbates problem A. This constitutes a reinforcing loop. In addition to tracking such loops, the database tracks the interconnection of such loops. Thus the world problems form a holistic network. It is clear that attempts to solve the problems piecemeal will fail.
According to UIA what is needed to solve the world problems is an understanding of values that can lead to a coherent worldwide human potential movement. But as the UIA argues, there is no such understanding of values. Their own studies list hundreds of value words, both positive and negative, along with value oppositions and some surprising empirical observations. For example, belief systems that combine both positive and negative values work better than belief systems dedicated to positive values alone. But they warn that a belief system everyone could agree to is not in the offing.
At the same time the available foundations for thought processes, and potential awareness of reality, have undergone profound changes during the twentieth century. The new foundations require us to think process, not things. They require us to embrace paradox as a sign of life and not eschew it as an error. They bring to the fore creative living processes while seeing the profound limitations of mechanical processes. They require us to go beyond the laws of physics to discover the laws of life-itself. As we do, we find understanding of values.
Values are not Sunday school virtues. They are dynamic forces always operative within all life.
At AI, we agree with the UIA that what is needed to solve the world problems is an understanding of values that can lead to a coherent worldwide human potential movement. But since they confess that a belief system everyone could agree to is not in the offing how, you might ask, is that possible? I say that given their discussion of values in terms of “value words,” they are correct. But they miss what values are.
Values are not words. They are dynamic forces aiming at harmonization of diversity.
Just as cats and dogs and other things can be talked about in words, but are obviously not words, so values can be talked about in words but are not, in themselves, words. But while cats and dogs and other things are external, values are internal. They function in the living processes that make us who we are. We act according to our values. Comparing people’s acts, with what they say about their values, often shows disparity between the talk and what they really value.
There is no single belief system everyone could agree to.
Indeed, it would be a great loss of value if there were. There are natural laws, or organizing principles, of value just as there are natural laws such as gravity. As the value laws become known, it will be seen that human societies have, in practice, consistently worked against the natural laws. Bringing these laws into consciousness will lead to a coherent worldwide human potential movement harmonizing an unimaginable diversity of belief systems.
Harmonizing does not mean collapsing the distinction between diverse elements.
Think of the harmony established by two musical tones. Turning the two tones into one composite tone would remove the sound of harmony altogether. With a harmonized diversity, life will be lived on a higher plane. For example this harmonization process can be seen in the democratic process when people get together at a town meeting or focus group and discuss a topic to find that everyone is changed and new understanding and solutions are found that include the widest possible benefit to the widest number of people. It’s like cream rising to the top. The best of what the diversity offers is its multiplicity of views, which when harmonized, produces greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a good that includes the widest possibility of good.
Some Personal History of Discovery:
In the beginning of my journey when I was a physics student at MIT, I met Robert Hartman. Hartman was an internationally known philosopher and visiting professor at MIT at the time. He taught a course on value theory that he referred to as formal axiology. Following twenty-five centuries of development, with Newton’s formalisms three hundred years ago, natural philosophy was turned into natural science. Based on his knowledge of philosophy, Hartman believed that value philosophy was also ready to make the transition to value science.
Hartman also believed, as I do, that science is inquiry based on formal theories. This is the primary difference between science and philosophy. Philosophical inquiry is based on theories expressed in ordinary language, though the language may be bent all out of shape to express philosophical ideas.
Hartman’s value theory was expressed in formal axiology. Axiology simply means value theory. It is derived from axios for value and logos for theory. By using his theoretical hypothesis, Hartman made a startling discovery. The highest class of values was referred to as intrinsic values. The lowest class of values was referred to as systemic values. He observed that contemporary societies predominantly judge systemic values to be the highest. Hartman referred to this as “inversion of the value hierarchy”.
It became obvious to him that this inversion led to needless suffering and tragedy.
Human beings are very complex entities. The interaction between them can require many different approaches and explorations. Interacting solely with systemic value as the dominant filter locks people into a prison of narrow possibilities. Often with systemic values, you hear words like right and wrong and only one way to act.
This prevents the diversity from being free to find the best solutions.
After many years of my own examination of Hartman’s formalism, I have come to the belief that this inversion may well even be the root cause of terrorism. This value inversion by governments and people has led to foreign policy choices, dominance over other nations and individuals where freedoms (which is intrinsic value) were restricted, keeping people from finding effective action for their own survival and living.
Back then, mid 1950’s, I was certainly naive. I thought Hartman should immediately go testify before Congress to give them the news. I soon realized that, if he did, the members of Congress would not believe a word he said. It is the power of a paradigm. I also believed more work was required to bring the theory into better grounding, so there could be no doubt. The theory needed to be unshakable. With that intention my studies led me to discover the essential need for a new form of mathematics that could accommodate the paradoxes in values and processes of “becoming.”
To begin looking for a new form of mathematics, I bought all three volumes of Principia Mathematica, the volumes in which Russell and Whitehead developed mathematics from logic. From them I concluded that logic was fundamentally unsuited to thinking about values. I began to feel rather hopeless.
The next step for me was an accidental discovery. Quite by accident I, discovered a book about a new kind of logic I had never heard of. (Combinatory Logic by Curry and Feys) I began to realize that our thought processes might have been trapped by 25 centuries of tradition. Whole new ways of thinking seemed possible. If so, what we called reality might be something created based on incomplete understanding.
This idea was confirmed for me in the 1970’s when I read a paper by Gotthard Günther, a professor from Germany visiting the United States to work on cybernetics and biological computers. The paper clearly demonstrated his claim that traditions in logic were failing us and we could not go forward without new logics.
I also began to see that values only worked in living processes. Since our culture’s worldview is based on mechanisms, there is no real understanding of values because there is no understanding of living processes. So few people have ever heard of or thought about living processes that when we speak of living processes we are often asked what they are.
One might object, thinking that there has been a lot of progress in biology. Surely biologists must know about living processes. But Robert Rosen, a mathematical biologist, (1934-1998) warned us in his book, “Life Itself”, not to ask biologists what life is. They don’t know!
I am sure my readers may find this to be an improbable assertion. Know that Robert Rosen was a Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University. He wrote thirteen books including seven volumes of Progress in Theoretical Biology. I am convinced that Rosen’s discovery applying the most advanced form of mathematics to biology are correct and a major step in the right direction towards understanding life and what biology should be.
This is further reinforced by Jon Ray Hamann’s insights into the need for relations relating to relations.
Biologists, like all of us, are limited by paradigms. The current paradigms of science are reductionistic and mechanistic. By this paradigm, to understand a living organism, accepted scientific protocol requires taking it apart to get at the basic components that function as mechanisms. Mechanisms are processes prearranged to produce certain results given certain inputs. Put simply, living organisms have been studied as if they are machines. But they are not machines. Such study produces misleading results, though not necessarily totally wrong or useless results. Today’s high-tech medicine is based on studying the body as a biochemical machine. Sometimes high-tech is the only approach to save a life, but all too often it is unnecessary and damaging.
Now for 45 years I have sought understanding of life and its logic to provide a foundation for understanding values. Mostly it has been one step forward and two steps backward, but not always. The occasional one-step forward with no steps backward have added up. Such disciplines as process philosophy, autopoiesis, axiology, semiotics and new logics have contributed valid pieces to the puzzle of life and its logic. These are all actively developing disciplines. The number of scholars around the world involved in their development is growing, though it may still be a minority.
Lynn Margulis is recognized as a distinguished professor of biology and one of the world’s foremost life scientists. Dorion Sagan is a science writer and son of Carl Sagan.Together they produced a book entitled “What is Life”. In the book they indicate that current reductionistic science can not answer the question of what is life.
Towards a New Frontier and Mind:
The following is an outline of work to be done:
I invite those scholars around the world who are poised to make the transition from philosophy to science in understanding life. I believe that the time is right for this transition in that there are enough disciplines mature enough for this development to occur. The formalisms are available, the pieces are ready to be brought together into a cohesive whole for a science of life. For those used to thinking the difference between philosophy and science is subject matter, this will seem a strange proposition. However, I propose that the work be done with the following understanding:
- That the difference between philosophy and science is a difference in methods of inquiry. For philosophy the methods are observing and trying to explain in natural language. For science the method is a formal theory whose expansion leads to observation as a test of the theory.
- that the methods of inquiry are complementary.
- that the methods can be, and should be, applied to the same subject matter as we develop this science of life.
Habits to be challenged:
Under the press of contemporary science there are several habits of thought that need to be questioned and, for the subject matter of the living domain, abandoned. For example, my partial list:
- Valid scientific method can only be quantitative. In opposition, I believe this is only true if the theoretical formalism, such as the infinitesimal calculus, assumes numerical order in its foundations. Today formalisms deal with many non-numerical forms of order.
- The Church-Turing hypothesis which says that every effective process is computable, i.e., syntactic. In opposition, there are many versions of the Church-Turing hypothesis. Concerning mechanical processes it may be right. However, there is the natural sciences version. “According to Turing-Church, all physically realizable, dynamics are equivalent to computation.”(Conrad, ACM 28, 464-480). Robert Rosen has shown that organisms are not computable. He states that they have no largest model.
- The predominant opinion held by scientists is to only ask “how” questions, never to ask “why’ questions. The foundations of mechanism require inquiry into how something works, how it is made, how the parts fit together etc. “How” questions deal with structure. In opposition, life is not mechanistic and it functions by meaning. “Why” questions deal with meaning. Meaning can never be reduced to structure. “Why” questions require inquiry into meaning and reason for being, e.g., final cause and Newton’s mathematics doesn’t allow for final cause. The consequences of asking only “how” questions have led to a lot of costly, useless research in the attempt to treat meaning as syntactical.In living processes, syntax and semantics are complementary functions that must work together. Therefore how and why questions must be asked to fully accommodate the functions within the living domain.
- The rejection of Aristotle’s final cause because Newton’s mathematics did not allow it. In opposition, the mathematics of organisms do require final cause.
- Reductionism as a fundamental method of understanding how something works: In opposition, reductionism destroys the organization that should be the proper subject of study to understand life. Functions within a living organism cross the boundaries of physical components. A single function may include several components. Therefore destroying the organization destroys the ability to understand such functions that are essential for life.
- Ashby’s Law concerning the requisite number of states. In opposition this law doesn’t apply to the living domain since recent research has shown that organisms have no fixed states.
- That physics is the most fundamental science from which all else should be derived. In opposition, physics can be shown to be a special case of biology as it should be.
- That logic must preserve truth. In opposition, Life is creative and filled with paradoxes and there are new forms of logic which accommodate these functions.
- Linear infinitely divisible space time. In opposition, organic space is fractal.
As we begin to do this new science such common assumptions must not be imported into the work without very careful consideration. This will be a challenge for all of us as it has been for me, but an essential discipline.
Steps towards a New Science - A new Mind:
As a first step in building a science we begin by constructing the domain of discourse. For physics, in Newton’s time, the domain of discourse consisted of such basic notions as numbers, space, time, force and particles. Also the requisite formalism, as required for a science, became the differential/integral calculus as created by Newton and Leibniz. Now for a life science we need to find the proper basic notions and suitable formalisms.
To get at candidates for basic notions we turn to philosophical metaphysics. However there are two strands of metaphysical development in Western philosophy. One strand, which we sometimes call the majority report, is the metaphysics of Being or Substance. The other strand, the minority report, is the metaphysics of Process.For our purposes we turn to the minority report which had its origins in Greek antiquity but did not reach sufficient maturity until our own century; notably in the work of Alfred North Whitehead.
Simultaneously we need to develop a suitable formalism. Though the general public is unaware of it, crises developed in mathematics around the turn of the century. Consequently, during the last few decades more research has been done on formalisms, sometimes called logic, than all previous human history. Suddenly we see that standard logic is only suitable for special cases of restricted application, e.g., application to non-living domains. Now our minds can be freed to pursue alternative patterns of thought, once seen as impossible.
Thus we begin with the sister disciplines, process metaphysics and the logic of formalisms or epi-logic. Together they represent the most fundamental, the most basic candidates for the life science domain of discourse.We will now find many differences between currently known domains of discourse and domains to be created for understanding life. For example, events will replace particles, signs will replace symbols, acts will replace attributes, and so forth.
As a second step in building a science, we begin constructing a formal theory of the subject matter, i.e., living processes. To compare this step with physics, first a formalism was developed, the calculus, and then specific laws relating to motion and gravity, as discovered in observing planetary orbits, were expressed in the calculus. For specific laws we turn to some existing disciplines which are somewhere between being philosophies and becoming science. Three such disciplines are autopoiesis, axiology and semiotics. Also, the work of Robert Rosen and the work of Mae Wan Ho.
LifeLaws that are being expressed in some emerging disciplines include those discussed below :
- The Laws of Value, natural inherent hierarchical capacities for valuing
- Laws of Learning, knowing what and how we know
- Laws of Perception and Communication, knowing from inside out, from within
- Laws of Autonomy, creation and maintenance of self
- Laws of Process and Reality, metaphysics - foundations of our world view
- Laws of Functionality and Relations, how everything and every event is connected