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Jim Coffman and I are writing a book:Global Insanity:How Homo sapiens Lost Touch with Reality while Transforming the World.  Chapter two Of Metaphors, Metaphysics, and Math: A Mythology of Mechanisms has just been published in PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS an electronic journal.  The link above will get you there.

EDITOR'S NOTE

The articles in this issue of Philosophy Pathways address the
question of the place of the human subject within the current
objective scientific world image. How are we to understand our
subjective existence in relation to the concept of an external and
inanimate material world governed by immutable laws? Is the
description I have just given even true, or is it just an ideology we
have come unquestioningly to accept?

James Coffman is a Biologist working at the Mountain Desert Island
Biological Laboratory in Maine, USA. He is currently co-authoring a
book with Donald Mikulecky of Virginia Commonwealth University, which
describes how Homo Sapiens 'lost touch with reality while transforming
the world'. Published here is a draft chapter, where the authors argue
that the Baconian, mechanistic view of science as as an instrument
which enables human beings to subdue nature is a mere metaphor whose
credentials have become increasingly dubious.  
Geoffrey Klempner

 As lacking in controversial ideas as it may seem (snark!) you may want to look at it anyway for Jim and I believe we have broken through to a new understanding of why the present anti-science climate is not only possible, but may, in fact, come from the very way science has evolved among the models of reality that humans have created.  If that last phrase bothers you it is meant to.  Read on below to get more.

Herer are the references to the Chapter:

References

Campbell, J. with Moyers, B. (1991) The Power of Myth. Anchor, New
York, NY.

Deloria, Vine Jr. (2003) God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, 30th
Anniversary Edition. Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado.

Haken, H., Karlqvist, A, and Svedin, U (1993) The Machine as Metaphor
and Tool, Springer-Verlag, New York, NY.

Jaynes, J. (1976) The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the
Bicameral Mind. Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, MA.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, B. B. (2003) Metaphors We Live By. University
of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Lakoff, G. and Nunez, R. E. (2000) Where Mathematics Comes From: How
the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being. Basic Books, New
York, NY.

Mathews, F. (2003) For Love of Matter: A Contemporary Panpsychism,
SUNY Press, Albany, NY.

Rosen, R. (1985) Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, Mathematical &
Methodological Foundations. Pergamon Press, New York, NY.

Rosen, R. (1991) Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the
Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life. Columbia University Press,
New York, NY.

Rosen, R. (2000) Essays on Life Itself. Columbia University Press,
New York, NY.

I'll start by asserting that no one can read those references without having his/her attitude towards the thing we call "science" irreversibly changed.  having been at this for quite some time there are a growing number of us who have not only been changed but are troubled by what we are learning about ourselves as a species.

My first encounters with these ideas came early on.  I did my Ph.D. in Physiology at the University of Chicago (1960-1963) while really wishing I could have been part of Rashevsky's Mathematical Biology program where Rosen had just finished the work that started all this.  After I did my post doc in Biophysics at the Weizmann Institute in Israel I became part of the Center for Theoretical Biology at SUNY Buffalo and also a year later acting Chair of Biophysics.  Rosen was actually there as part of the Center and also "my department"  at that time and we interacted a lot.  I say this to let you know that I have been into this stuff for my entire career as well as a very traditional biophysics type doing computer modeling and writing a book on "Network Thermodynamics" and its applications in biophysics.

So what is this all about?  Let us start with the basic idea.  Reductionist science as it has evolved since the days of Descartes and others has been the main source of  our model of the real world.  It was one of these trajectories we now know much more about in complex dynamics systems.  We also know versions of the phenomenon from Brian Arthur's work in economics.  He used a few examples to teach us the "lock in" phenomenon that defies classical economic ideas.  The whole issue of the dominance of the internal combustion engine as the alternative to steam engines is one story he tells.  The VHS vs Beta video recording and playing systems is another.  Even Arthur did not see the whole implication of his idea when he wrote about technology and its role in all this.

The machine metaphor is both useful and also very destructive.  It is destructive in some very subtle ways.  Machines, when viewed from the aspect of causality, are causally impoverished.  When Descartes gave us the machine metaphor he destroyed information we needed to have.  It took until 1954 for Rashevsky to see the full impact of this and for Rosen to do the careful math using category theory.  Rosen posed Schroedinger's ill posed question "What is Life?" in a well posed, answerable form.  He asked "How are machines and Organism different"  By so doing he partitioned the universe of discourse into two parts that are disjoint.  Machines and organisms differ due to their causal entailment.  Organisms are closed causally while machines can never be.  Here's what we say in the chapter:

Science is often thought of as being antagonistic to religion,
because it undermines literal interpretations of religious metaphors.
But as noted above, science and religion are really in cahoots: a
deal, negotiated by the metaphysical pronouncements of Bacon and
Descartes, that works to religion's advantage. Within the
Baconian-Cartesian framework that still holds sway, science cannot
possibly 'win' the ultimate existential argument, because mechanisms
by definition require an external cause. The concepts of final cause
and subjective mind, ceded to theology some 400 years ago, are
essential for explanatory closure in the real world. If they are not
brought in to our discourse on nature then any attempt to explain
reality leads to infinite causal regress, which can be truncated only
by invoking the supernatural.

And yet the belabored mythology of mechanisms lives on (Haken,
Karlqvist and Svedin 1993). Remarkably, the scientific discipline
that embraces it most tenaciously is (as anyone with an intuitive
feel for life itself knows) the one for which it is least
appropriate: biology. As a result, science has misconceived life, and
continues to do so (Rosen 1985, 1991, 2000).

 Please read this carefully for I am certain it says the opposite of what you have been led to believe about science and religion.  It says that they have been basically in collusion since Descartes made his peace  with the Church.  There is a quote about that deal that I think goes back to Levins and Lewontin:
Descatres took the body as a machine for science to study and let the Church have the soul and everyone has been happy since even though each side really would like to have more.
I write about these things here because they have strong political implications.  The heavy dose of Lakoff's thinking we mixed in alone should make that clear.  No, they are not easily translated into strategy for November.  On the other hand, if taken seriously, they may help us pick up the pieces after November for no matter who wins we will be facing some very heavy problems.  Not only problems about what to do, but problems about what was good or bad about the way we talk about things to people.  The times they are a changing and we really don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.  Let me have your thoughts.  It will help us make the book as good as we can.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 02:31 PM PST.

Also republished by Anti-Capitalist Chat, Postcapitalism, Systems Thinking, and Readers and Book Lovers.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 02:31:46 PM PST

  •  Will return to read. Looks good. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky, Larsstephens

    Thank you, don mikulecky!

    (Ermm ... Title needs edit?)

    If you are a primary caregiver, Intermittent Family Medical Leave could help you maintain your job and your sanity (U.S. Department of Labor).

    by 2thanks on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 03:01:28 PM PST

  •  for the slow learners in the class (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT, don mikulecky

    exactly how does Lakoff's work provide a solution or bridge from duality of separating machine from mind or soul and metaphorical thinking?  How does it save us from the devil's bargain between Bacon and the Church?

    I'll re-read your article again to see what I missed, but I am not sure I will ever grasp it.

    I do agree that organisms are not the equivalent of machines, can't be described in purely mechanistic terms.  I do believe that our minds function as part of the biological system, not independent of it.  I certainly puzzle over the alive/not alive conundrum of what is it about a person that makes us alive and conscious, thinking, and then suddenly not.  It seems that many of the answers are being found in studying disease states where parts of the brain no longer function normally.  But it doesn't seem to answer the ultimate causality of why is the same flesh alive, and then dead.  What captures the energy that animates us and what releases it?

    And to get back to the systems approach, I am still curious about what do we need to change to create a system where we do not deny ourselves and our place in the world by reducing us to machine and God, that allows us to have a cooperative, with each other and with nature, structure that is sustainable.

    •  You are confusing sources (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens

      Lakoff is not Rosen.

      Rosen posed Schroedinger's ill posed question "What is Life?" in a well posed, answerable form.  He asked "How are machines and Organism different"  By so doing he partitioned the universe of discourse into two parts that are disjoint.  Machines and organisms differ due to their causal entailment.  Organisms are closed causally while machines can never be.
       Later, Lakoff supplied us with.....

      The embodied mind idea that deconstructs Cartesian Dualism

      The role of unconscious thought and the role of "framing" in that

      The importance of metaphor in our thinking process

      The verification of Rosen's thoughts about causality.

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 05:07:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I need to answer your other questions: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens
      But it doesn't seem to answer the ultimate causality of why is the same flesh alive, and then dead.  What captures the energy that animates us and what releases it?
       The recent books I have reviewed here attempt to give partial answers to this question.  Check my diary list for the Deacon and the Juarrero books.  They fall well short of the mark but no one has done better to my knowledge.
      And to get back to the systems approach, I am still curious about what do we need to change to create a system where we do not deny ourselves and our place in the world by reducing us to machine and God, that allows us to have a cooperative, with each other and with nature, structure that is sustainable.
       We can go a bit further with this one.  Machines and complex systems differ importantly with respect to this and there is the big rub!  Machines can be taken apart and put back together.  They like organisms need repair and maintainence but it comes from outside.  Organisms and other self organizing self sustaining systems do it from within and can not be reverse engineered.  Hence we do not know how to make them.

      People are out there trying to make systems they believe might be sustainable.  They know some of the requirements.  We can only hope that as the stuff that is coming happens some of them will actually work and survive.

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 05:35:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ideas, yum! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens

    Thanks Don. I have to run now. I'll read this later.

  •  I'm confused as well about the point (0+ / 0-)
    Descartes took the body as a machine for science to study and let the Church have the soul and everyone has been happy since even though each side really would like to have more.
    While this was a deal it certainly hasn't been for a long time.  That's the whole point of things like psychology, and various aspects of philosophy, specifically philosophy of the mind.  This whole series seems to be arguing against an outdated view, although I'm not really sure because I haven't really seen it clearly explained what exactly the thesis is.

    There revolution will not be televised. But it will be blogged, a lot. Probably more so than is necessary.

    by AoT on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 03:53:08 PM PST

  •  Lots of people have said (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    There is no real separation between the mind and body, but they often tend to supernatural explanations.  Your thing, if I'm getting it, is to understand the duality is false, but to keep both in the realm of materialism.

    In other words, our "spirit" is just as much matter as our bodies, we just don't understand the "spirit" properly because of our flawed models and lack of scientific application...including the necessary humility to acknowledge how ignorant we are about the material mechanisms underpining the mind.

    Am I on the right track?  

    [fingers crossed]

    •  Part of the way. The material basis for "us" (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MrJayTee, dotsright, Larsstephens

      is clear.  The way "us" comes from that material basis is very poorly understood.   Clearly the materials in any one of us can be put in jars and it is not "us".  The materials in the brain are organized in a special way.  We can watch"activity" in the brain with scans, etc, and we can alter that activity with either chemical or mechanical or sensory intervention.  

      That being said the idea that a ghost of some kind is the answer seems rather inadequate to many of us.  The essence of real world complex systems is that they can not be simulated on a computer.  (Some aspects can but not the entire system).   Hence the many attempts to explain this problem away with computer analogies are misleading at best.    So both the ghost and the machine fail to get us there.

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 05:42:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not just rather inadequate. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        don mikulecky, dotsright

        The ghost part was always silly.  But it turns out the machine is silly too!  (I love that part.)

        Is there a term in general use for the non-ghost non-machine?  One that incorporates the self-awareness in some animals?

        BTW, many thanks for your stimulating diary!

        •  The best we have come up with is (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MrJayTee

          "complex adaptive and self-organizing systems".  I just led you into a mine field for there are reactionaries galore who co-opt these words and turn them into fancy labels for machines of some fantasy form or another.

          An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

          by don mikulecky on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 06:01:31 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks, I like a nice minefield now and then. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            don mikulecky

            You've given me an interesting point of departure on something that feels new, a genuinely new perspective that's more than "you know, the whole ghost/machine dichotomy just doesn't feel right, Myrtle..."

            Again, thanks.

            •  Thank you. I need to know we can communicate (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              MrJayTee, dotsright, Larsstephens

              these ideas.  part of the whole scenario is that neither language or the existing structure of thought have places to tap into to talk about all this.  We have to "invent" them.

              An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

              by don mikulecky on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 06:49:12 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  I can't figure out what you're getting at. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    Either what you are saying is totally obvious, so why do you say it at all.... Or it's totally obscure and therefore--why say it?

    I did like your analogy about the surface of water--but again, I don't see how it connects with anything.

    Where are you trying to go with all of this?  

    •  There is war on out there. We here on Kos (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MrJayTee, dotsright, Larsstephens

      are in the middle of it.  There are huge amounts of money being spent to make sure we lose.  one of the ways we might lose is by having faulty ammunition.  

      Democrats, as Lakoff's many books help us see, are prone to believe our intellect and our facts will eventually help us win that war.  However, what many of us have discovered is that that scenario is dangerous for many reasons.  Among them are these:

      1.  Lakoff's many demonstrations of the effectiveness of framing over facts.

      2. The ugly truth that our facts often come from a flawed intellectual heritage that goes back hundreds of years.  Ordinary people understand this at a gut level yet we try to convince them they are the ones who have it wrong.

      The latter one fits your sense

      what you are saying is totally obvious,
      as my conversation at dinner with my wife demonstrated.  When I taught about this over a more than twenty year period in undergraduate honors courses a number of things became crystal clear.

      1.  The non-scientists did the "so what" thing and had no trouble.  The science students wanted me burned at the stake.

      2. The structure of our scientific heritage is an intellectual quagmire.  No scientist I know about is required to delve into the philosophy of science and most see it as quackery.

      3.  The practical consequences of 1 and 2 above play out in politics very clearly.

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 05:58:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Mountain Desert Island Biological Laboratory (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    Is actually Mount Desert Island (also known as the home of Acadia National Park)

  •  I don't think this is quite accurate (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky
    Descatres [sic] took the body as a machine for science to study and let the Church have the soul and everyone has been happy since even though each side really would like to have more.
    Descartes not so much colluded as tried to maintain  a detente with the Church.  Galileo came before the Inquisition just 5 years before The Method was published.

    The man was deeply religious, as was Newton, I expect that would also presuppose a certain concilliatory attitude towards religious authority and that certainly colored his philosophy even discounting Richelieu's blanket imprimatur. One does wonder how that came about considering Galileo's woes.

    It all works out, perhaps, to the same conclusion though I think 'colluded' doesn't quite capture the reality of his situation.

    I'm ordering the Lakof books. Rosen's Anticipatory Systems is 100 dinars so I'll wait a bit to budget that in. They better be good Don :)

    Again, thanks. Learning something is better than bein' a lump on couch.

    •  Collusion is not always a deliberate act. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir

      For example I strongly believe that the democratic party and the republican party collude to preserve the plutocracy.  I think they honestly believe they are at odds with each other.

      These books are priceless.  Especially Anticipatory Systems.

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 09:19:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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