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, 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 processLouie 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: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.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.
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.