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As we have progressed it is apparent that some technical matters need to be put to rest so we can go on.  For that reason, today I am focusing on the book by Rosen's student, A. Louie:More Than Life Itself A Synthetic Continuation in Relational Biology:

A. H. Louie’s More Than Life Itself is an exploratory journey in relational biology, a study of life in terms of the organization of entailment relations in living systems. This book represents a synergy of the mathematical theories of categories, lattices, and modelling, and the result is a synthetic biology that provides a characterization of life. Biology extends physics. Life is not a specialization of mechanism, but an expansive generalization of it. Organisms and machines share some common features, but organisms are not machines. Life is defined by a relational closure that places it beyond the reach of physicochemical and mechanistic dogma, outside the reductionistic universe, and into the realm of impredicativity. Function dictates structure. Complexity brings forth living beings.
My purpose for doing this is based on my own bias.  The challenges to Rosen's new paradigm are to be expected.  In another diary I will give both his own explanation for this and the one have developed beyond that.  For now it seems that anyone following this series and who intends to take my charge that we need these ideas in our current political struggles needs assurance that the foundation for what we are basing this all on is sound.  Louie wrote his book for that reason.  In our exchanges after he published the book and I wrote my latest paper in response, in part, to his book, he emphasized his sympathy with what I was trying to do in making this all relevant to our world and its problems.  He also was very clear that as a Mathematical Biologist he felt he had nothing to say in that realm.  I respect that.  I too am a mathematical biologist and find myself making that identification as a part of my being.  I am also a citizen, a political activist, a biophysicist, a neurophysiologist, and it seems, a philosopher although without ever having had intent to be put in that box.  My mindset is holistic and that came, in part, from Hutchins.  I dislike breaking the interwoven ties that the various facets of our knowledge have for I know how that destroys information and causes the myopic world views I observe today.  So forgive me if I attemt to ignore what we all have been fed up to now and try to create a synthesis.  That synthesis will only ever be an approximation to the whole of our knowledge.  Yet, unlike so many, I do not fear the complex interactions that constitute that body of knowledge, I find them delightful!  Having unloaded that, read on below to see part of what Louie has given us.

Let me first introduce you to Rosen's student, A. Louie (Whom I have never met), through the opening of his book:

Unis non sufficit orbis

In my mentor Robert Rosen's iconoclastic masterwork Life Itself[1991], which dealt with the epistemology of life, he proposed a Volume 2 that was supposed to deal with the ontology of life.  As early as 1990, before Life Itself (i.e. 'Volume I') was even published.......he mentioned to me that volume 2 was "about half done".  Later in his 1993 Christmas letter to me he wrote:

...I've been planning a companion volume [to Life Itself] dealing wih ontology.  Well, that has seeped into every aspect of everything else, and I think I'm about to make a big dent into a lot of old problems.  incidentally, that book [Life Itself] has provoked a very large response, and I've been hearing from a lot of people, biologists and others, who have been much dissatisfied with prevailing dogmas, but had no language to articulate their discontents.  On the other hand, I've outraged the "establishment".  The actual situation reminds me of when I used to travel in Eastern Europe in the old days, when everyone was officially a Dialectical Materialist, but unofficially, behind closed doors, nobody was a Dialectical Materialsit.
Having travelled and taught in Eastern Europe during those same times, I share his analogy for the rigid dogmatic attitude among so many scientists. Beyond that, today, in the United States, we face something even more oppressive than that.  It is not imposed by a dictatorial regime but by our economic system and its requirements that science and all other intellectual endeavors somehow contribute to the profit motive.  An interesting parallel, if you think about it,  for it is what strengthens the hold that Cartesian thought has on our science. I'll come back to this when I say more about my own work.   But I digress.  We need to go on with Louie's work.  He next mentions the failure of anyone to find the draft of volume two.  Right after Rosen's death I went to the small memorial service his family held and at that time was given copies of all his unfinished work.  They were sent to Louie as well.  One piece of work was an uncompleted manuscript entitled "Complexity" which neither Louie nor I consider the Volume 2 Rosen mentioned in the letter above.  He also makes clear that the book we are discussing here is in no way meant to be that.So let us get on with what Louie did intend.  He gives more insight:  
Someone said to Rosen: "The trouble with you is that you keep trying to answer questions that no one wants to ask"...It appears that his answers themselves cause even more self-righteous indignation because the latter's notions of truth and Rosen's answers do not coincide....Uncritical generalizations about what Rosen said are unhelpful.  For example, according to Rosen, one of the many corollaries of being an organism is that it must have  noncomputable models.  The point is that life itself is not computable.  This in no way means that he somehow implies that computable models are useless, and therefore by extension people involved in computing are wasting their time!
 That needs to be digested for I have spent much of my career doing computer based  network thermodynamic models of very complicated biological systems from the molecular level to the ecosystem level and was always the recipient of Rosen's great interest in my work as well as his admiration of it.  Of course I was capable of understanding what Louie said next:
The simple fact is that computing models(and indeed any models whatsoever) will be, by definition, incomplete, but they may  nevertheless be fruitful endeavors.  
 This is an important insight and is so easily lost sight of when the egos of computer modelers are involved.
Rosen's revalations hit particularly hard those who believe in the 'strong' Church-Turing thesis, that for every physically realizable process in nature there exists a Turing machine that provides  a complete description of the process                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
 Louie dismisses this idea as all of us who understand Rosen's work have.  He devotes his book to showing, among many other things why it is really nonsense.  He repeats the profound teaching of Rosen:
Modelling is the bringing of entailment structures into congruence[through the modelling relation]...Rosen closed his monograph Anticipatory Systems with these words:
For in a profound sense, the study of models is the study of man; and if we can agree about our models, we can agree about everything else.
 If only we could get the political factions in our world to understand this.  George Lakoff has been telling us a similar truth and we ignore it most of the time to our peril.

I am now going to "fast forward" to a couple of technical points that have come up in our discussions in this series.  Hypercycles have been claimed to be a way out of the absolute incomputability of impredicative closed loops of causality.  This notion came up over the years in our on line discussion group and we have archives of these discussions.  Louie makes it clear that there are no exceptions that hypercycles can introduce by showing the equivalence between hypercycle representations and Rosen's.  These representations are not changed by the ability to use hypercycles as an alternative and the noncomputability of such structures is not able to be "fixed" by such maneuvers.  I will not even attempt to reproduce his exposition because it is very much a set of typical mathematical proofs that folks here do not want to be burdened with.  I will simply say that like in the case of perpetual motion and the laws of thermodynamics, the burden of disproving those laws is on the skeptic and it is up to them to produce such a machine. Likewise, the burden is on those who claim to have found a flaw in all this to actually compute such structures.  

Having gone down this path a short way may I add that it is really a distraction from the real message here which is a practical one that should not be overshadowed by the technical nuances that come up from time to time.  Hutchins gave us a way of looking at the world that is holistic.  He made clear to us that by severing the links between "disciplines" and by declaring certain knowledge less valid than other forms simply on the basis of some almost arbitrary criteria that was spawned by formalists who seemed to be inspired by a craving for Platonic idealism, we were losing vital information about our world.  Rosen took this seriously and was forced to relook at what science was all about.  In doing so, he came up with a paradigm change of major importance.  that work began a little over a half century ago and is still to be seen as valid by most of the scientific community as well as other parts of the academic world.  It has now become clear to me, among others, that Cartesian reductionism has blinded too many of us to the real nature of our complex world.  The consequences of this are also not widely recognized. So as the "experts" fight skirmishes within science it is time for those of us who are struggling to make our world more livable and sustainable to utilize what Rosen has given us and to put it to use.  In that spirit I will continue in this series and will next introduce excerpts from a taped interview of Rosen that tell us about his own attitude to the way people receive his work.  It may shock you!  Then in later diaries, I will examine still more books that begin to try to do this even though the authors lack certain insight they could have gained from Rosen.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 08:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Systems Thinking.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, ceebee7, linkage

    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 Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 08:59:03 PM PDT

  •  I hope subsequent diaries will help me with (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, don mikulecky

    these ideas or hypotheses, since I am still not convinced.

    Non-computability may be an inherent property of organism, but what non-living systems are also non-computable?  A machine is not a model, it is instantiated in the natural world.  Can we describe a machine that is an open system, that replicates and self modifies with error, that is also non-computable?  

    Is the atmosphere/ocean/magnetosphere on a dead planet non-computable in the same way as on a planet with a biosphere?  Or will all planets with oceans develop a biosphere?

    I also await your extension of all this to the social and political realm with some trepidation.  Quests for theories of everything or universal principles are notoriously slippery slopes.

    I need to go work on the garden, this fascinating series is keeping me from the mundane and necessary.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 09:45:06 AM PDT

    •  Well that's a lot to answer. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Non-computability is the result of not being able to reduce things to algorithms that can be computed. Imprdicativities are such things.  You can not find algorithms that compute them for such algorithms will always contain contradictions or be incomplete. You seem to want to turn this around and have proof that you can not find such algorithms for living systems which is, again, the ill posed question.  You will never answer it.  Don't ask me to answer it for you for we have a well posed question that we have answered. I can not help it if you don't like the answer.  The answer is clear: the (M,R) organism model commutes with what we know about real world organisms It is provably not computable.

      If the model Rosen created to give us the answer bothers you, you should be bothered much more by anyone claiming to have a computable model of an organism for that "organism" then has to be shown to be a model that commutes with a living system.  Find one and we can discuss it.  Otherwise we have to discuss things that do exist.  If you read Louie you will know that you are searching for the equivalent of a perpetual motion machine. Therefore I never expect you to find one.

      The  machine we have been discussing  is a model in the context of Rosen's (M,R) systems.  Real world "machines" are complex systems.  However, if you apply Rosen's causal analysis to real world complex systems made by man you will find that Rosen's model captures their causal properties.  They always need outside causes.   Their complexity arises from the failure of any one model to capture all their properties.  As we have tried to make clear, organisms are complex systems.  Not all complex systems are  organisms.

      Non organismic complex systems are not the same as systems that contain organisms.  Therefore hurricanes, Tornados, Benard cells are self organizing but not closed to efficient cause in that they are produced by external factors.  Organisms are closed to efficient cause.

      My extension to the social and political realm already exists.  It is a dialog I constructed between people like Reich, Lakofff, Arthur, Hales, and Dorion Sagan.It has been published.    It is anything but a quest for a theory of everything for it rests on Rosen's ideas which are the antithesis of that.  

      If you have followed the arguments the idea that complex systems need a model for each of ways we choose to interact with them.  There can be no largest model.  Relational models are the only ones that fit this requirement.  They are not constructed out of the material parts of a system but out of context dependent functional components.  Such models are valid within limited contexts.

      I'm sorry that you have not seen that we are not dealing with a "theory" here. We are dealing with an epistemology which houses an infinity of theories.  

      If that does not answer your question please let me know and I'll try still one more time.

      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 Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 04:02:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Fair enough. I've ordered Louie's book and should (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        don mikulecky, linkage

        probably cease repeating these questions until I've had time to digest the material.

        Where are we, now that we need us most?

        by Frank Knarf on Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 04:51:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Keep the questions coming please! I am only (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          limited in answers here by the fact that the whole set of arguments is diagramatic and I still have not learned how to put pictures up in a diary.  I spent a whole night trying and got nowhere.  The instructions they give here did not help me.

          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 Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 06:05:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Pictures ... (0+ / 0-)

            I use a free picture hosting at  After I upload a picture to the host I can get a URL (internet address) to the picture.

            To post a picture I push the Link button in the Daily Kos  edit control area.  And then I cut and paste the image URL into the URL data input area area.  Then check the image check box and then click the add button.

            Remember to adjust the size of the pictures so that are not to big.


            "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

            by linkage on Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 11:21:40 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  One of my stumbling blocks ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    with this new theory is understanding the range and scope of causal entailment:

    Direct Cause
    Material Cause
    Efficient Cause
    Formal Cause
    Final Cause

    I think these are key concepts that need to be "fleshed" out for the general reader with more examples and explanation.

    I think A. H. Louie’s More Than Life Itself  will go a long way to answer some of my questions.  I'm putting it on order.  To bad it is so pricey.

    Because I'm using René Thom's philosophy as a "point of view / frame of reference" to understand the ideas presented in this diary series, I find my self thinking about the above in terms of the mappings found in Thom's universal unfoldings.  

    Can the above list of causes be re-understood as expressions of some aspect of the Thom's unfoldings? And might it be the key to popularizing these new ideas. (Perhaps answering this question is my life's work.)

    Again, Don, thank you for your work as an instructor and researcher. I'm finding this diary series as the most important thread ever published on Daily Kos.

    Somehow we need to empower the general public with the wisdom to see the unique patterns that underlay living systems. And with this discernment one would hope they would vote to organize our social systems along the lines of "life" rather than along the lines of the "machine."

    Not much time this weekend for me to delve more into this.  I'm a team leader for our Southern Solano County OFA and yesterday our group 16 volunteers made over 500 calls. Today I'm helping our Northern Solano County with a phone bank.



    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 11:26:07 AM PDT

    •  Thanks, I'll do the next diary reviewing causes. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      First I need to remind you that we are not discussing a "theory" here.  This is a paradigm and an epistemology that can house an infinity of theories.

      Realize that "direct cause" is the result of the Cartesian reductionist paradigm that substitutes the formal system for reality and gets away with it.  If you have discarded the real world for this formalism, then direct cause is all you have.

      Agent-----action-----> result.

      The four Aristotealian causes are needed if we want models outside the Cartesian domain that address the complexity of the real world.  Rosen's (M,R) models are one example of this.  The nature of these models also needs fleshing out and I will get back to it also in the next diary.

      Thom's entire theory (and this is just that a theory) uses a model based on the idea that attractors now are used to instantiate.  His surfaces represent a constraint that a dynamic system is confined to.  The system's dynamics are like a kind of "seeking the lowest potential" analogy.  As the system goes "down" the potential gradient it must "travel" on the surface constraining it.  Its trajectory is either smooth or it "jumps" depending on the shape of the constraining surface.  

      Most of Rosen's models deliberately avoid dynamics since the dynamics would be a distraction.

      The cause in Thom's theory is a "direct cause" and Thom's theory is an addition to Cartesian mechanistic thinking that attempts to make it both more holistic and free of particular mechanistic models based on non-linear dynamics.  Thom recognized this when we talked and also saw where Rosen was taking us.  If you notice his work has never progressed much further.  It is a shame. I like it.  It is a good way to understand why dynamics is often not smooth.

      Rosen and I discussed the introduction of dynamics into the Rosen paradigm and the use of Thom's theory to make points about trajectories in abstract spaces that lead to emergence.  this is ripe for exploitation.

      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 Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 04:27:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You are certainly correct ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        don mikulecky

        about the pervasiveness of the machine metaphor thinking. Because if I understand you, you are saying there a both a qualitative and quantitative difference between models using "direct cause" and models using Rosen's (M,R).

        The machine metaphor is so ingrained into me that I'm missing the jump of understanding on how to apply the four Aristotelian causes to the model at hand. (M,R)  So, I really have to study the examples more.

        I will keep at it.  You have given me a lot to think about above.


        "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

        by linkage on Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 08:04:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Do you understand Lakoff's "framing" (0+ / 0-)

          That's what's happened in science.

          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 Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 09:15:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Are you suggesting .... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            don mikulecky

            that when one uses a formal language to model something, it has a reverse engagement of framing of the questions that one can ask. And the results one can get.


            "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

            by linkage on Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 11:01:26 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  No I'm refering to the depth to which Cartesian (0+ / 0-)

              reductionism and its ideas have been framed as "science".  Lakoff uses the concept of framing to talk about why the republicans can win arguments because the memes they tap into have been so well embedded in peoples brains.  The same is true in this case regarding science.

              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 Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 11:31:31 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  I have just completed the next one and it will (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      take more than one.

      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 Sun Mar 18, 2012 at 06:06:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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