Skip to main content

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.


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:


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.



5%1 votes
5%1 votes
15%3 votes
68%13 votes
5%1 votes
0%0 votes

| 19 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site