Life More Fundamental Than Physics?

What goes around comes around – again – is a recurring feeling that suggests again that I should stop reading and focus on the writing. When I reviewed Unger and Smolin back in 2015 – on meta-laws being more fundamental than mathematical laws of physics – I noted another regular reference of mine – Brian Josephson – had published a paper on “Wheeler’s – Law Without Law”. I never did follow-up at the time, but thanks to a hit on the page above I was prompted to read it more closely (*).

What comes around for me is Cybernetics or “systems thinking”.

Like many physicists, Josephson talks throughout in terms of a “system” quite naturally when describing any set of physical entities and their interactions. The paper actually has a reference to Ross Ashby (1960) “Design for a Brain” but long before that reference occurs in the text, he’s already talking of “viable systems” (after Beer, not mentioned) and of “Yardley’s Circular Theory”. Although I was initially fascinated by the idea of circular causal logic implied in the name of such a theory, it turns out it refers to “circles” as units, unitary things or sets/collections/assemblies of things and their relations/links conveniently treated as wholes … and indeed tending to form or effectively behaving as wholes. Something not rigorously defined but discovered in the processes of participation, interaction and characterisation. Pretty much my working definition of a “system”. (Where is IDEF0 tool functionality when you need it to visualise the system circle<>link<>circle (Peircian semiotic triple) view of this world – aagghh!!)

Indeed his examples are homeo/thermo-static systems and “computer” systems. The two-way influence between systems as components in larger systems is self-reinforcing, tending to create and preserve such systems. Very much like life.

“the point is that the coupling between the systems concerned reduces the range of variation available to the joint system, while still making degrees of freedom available”

This reduction can be learned, or can be a natural phase-locking resonance.

And finally of course, the reason I made the Smolin<>Josephson connection he acknowledges Smolin as one of those already having suggested that “meta-laws” closer to those of biological evolution might underlie what appear empirically and mathematically to us as “laws” of physics.

Nothing new under the sun (again!)

[(*) Also I notice that whilst I didn’t follow-up the 2011 paper I did quite independently pick-up a speculative Brian Josephson lecture on the same content back in 2009. I really am going round and round, and need to get off the carousel so I can deliver some writing! – NB the presentation isn’t a great delivery by the Nobel prize-winner, so focus on the content if you can 🙂 Whole networks of connections model in there too. Even more significant in this 2023 context, the Ilexa Yardley contribution is explicitly in the space of systems thinking as an organisation response to complexity. ‘Twas ever cybernetics. Here she is in 2023 – all dreadfully self-promoting “I’ve found the secret to the universe” stuff, oh dear, what a pity. Still, she does pick-up on yet another angle where I do too. Navier-Stokes at all scales. Weirdly fascinating.]

[Aside – that self-reinforcement / preservation put me in mind of another meme that’s been nagging at me in recent days – what’s the name for the processes within typical microprocessors that error-correct over clock-cycles to keep interpreted digital values in range as the analogue values of actual electrical potentials drift? My claim the other day that even digital computers are analogue at root – it’s their architectural / systems design that generates the binary digital behaviour. There’s nothing alien about treating information in living things – mental states of living things – as “digital”.]

Deutsch Optimism

I hold David Deutsch to be one of the smartest thinkers I know.

Deutsch over Rovelli and Carroll

“Experience the thrill of the highest level of discourse available on the planet.”

Certainly his two books – “The Fabric of Reality” and “The Beginning of Infinity” made huge and permanent impressions. Also his constructor theory – with humans as the ultimate creative force – and collaboration with Chiara Marletto on this.

I don’t know any more about “Naval” (see footnote) but this chat is very enlightening on Deutsch’s position. Some of Deutsch’s recorded conversations can be difficult and disappointing – his geeky style without the benefit of editing for public consumption 🙂 – but as he says himself this interviewer asks good questions, and has clearly done his homework.

Anyway a few immediate notes, but a recommended listen either way, also with a complete transcript. Humans are special – a species by definition, as I keep pointing out – with our ability to use knowledge beyond mere Darwinian evolutionary information processes. Uniquely special in that regard. We have the wherewithal to create any future we value, but are always prone to making wrong decisions with the knowledge available to us. Which is why my focus is and always has been on what makes for a good human decision, a good collective human decision processes. Governance, cybernetics and systems thinking in my ongoing agenda. And in this conversation we pick-up quite early on whether that means rational, and what does rational mean anyway. (Lots of the power of AGI / ChatGPT is the human ingenuity in selecting which pieces of output are valuable & interesting.)

Optimism is about what we can do with the right motivations, NOT what will necessarily happen.

One more note: He very carefully qualifies “falsifiability” as part of a good explanation in science (as opposed to a general fact) and goes on to explain why knowledge beyond this aspect of science is part of constructor theory work “with Chiara”. (Uncomfortable with narrow Popperian view on criticisable / falsifiable – highlighted “reach” as a key feature in previous readings.)

[Is this the dialogue where the Everettian “Many Worlds” question arose most recently? Nope, time sequence wrong.]

Who Naval is – remains mysterious – but he blogs lots of interesting stuff, shared via Twitter (2m followers!) – aha, I see previous stardom Naval Ravikant.

Defining Concepts – Not

Mentioned Matt Segall (Footnotes2Plato / @ThouArtThat) in an aside note to this recent post on Rudolf Steiner. (He’s a Whitehead scholar with whom I’ve engaged once or twice on questions of process philosophy and McGilchrist space (?) – in comments and tweet threads, but I realise I probably don’t give him enough credit because I’ve not really sought out his work directly until now.)

He shared this little (under 10 mins) talk in that aside above – on the face of it about Steiner and his Philosophy of Freedom – but it’s well worth it for his discussion of some very basic distinctions at the root of so much philosophy within the scope of my own agenda. There are some philosophical questions that are frankly at the root of any and all human endeavours.

I captured a few notes/quotes/paraphrases I find relevant:

The relationship between percepts and concepts, between observation and thinking, is a “dilemma” present in all of philosophy. The dilemma of philosophy that turns up in many different ways – mind-body dualism, relations between ideas and things in the world generally.

Oh yes. Been one of my musings recently that all our bigger problems (yes even the god-awful poly-perma-crisis) rest on just two or three fundamental ontological and epistemological questions – about what we know about or mean by “exist in reality”. (I was motivated to summarise these somehow, and may do so after listening to this.)

The difficulty of defining concepts. Concepts are different to their names, concepts cannot be reduced to words. We run into problems when we attempt to define anything (as the friends on the other dialogue are clearly discovering, and the reason Matt captured these thoughts in a separate video essay).

We can never get to the essence of the concept in our attempts at definition, we can only ever arrive at descriptions of certain sets of characteristics and aspects of “an entity” – even though we seem to be able to intuitively grasp the concept as we come to know it. This difficulty is frequently vexing.

Oh yes. Hold your definition (Dennett). Definition as a coffin (Levenchuk). And this is frankly the point my #GoodFences mantra. The whole post-post-modern / meta-modern stance in reaction to the logical positivism project.

Are we discovering or creating the essence of such concepts? There’s clearly a participatory process happening. Steiner and Barfield. Clearly something has happened in the evolution of human consciousness – since the Greeks – that has created this distinction between percepts and concepts.

Biblical allegory with Adam before and after the fall. Previously he “knew” the other animals in the garden, could name them and “speak” with them. But “epistemologically severed” after eating of the fruit of knowledge, lost direct access to the Logos.

Oh yes. Knowing in the biblical sense. The Savoir/Connaitre or Kennen/Wissen distinction we’ve lost in English. Fundamental to my own metaphysical scheme.

We had to invent “isms” to recreate connections between the knowledge and the known. Physical science has continued to advance its mathematical understanding, but somehow happy to leave intrinsic nature as something absurd (Feyman again) that can’t necessarily be understood at a human level. Another symptom of “the fall” – the split between percept and concept.

So now – Goethe & participation, something new, we can’t “undo” the fall. We have to artistically / creatively participate. An alchemical call to collaborate with nature on this task. Steiner (and Barfield?) are drawing our attention to this problem of separation and the need to bring them back together again. A problem of the “I” – being our identification within the world that connects these halves. Pre-fall symbolic activity of creating our whole self with our “thinking” (in the most general sense). Holy task, a sacrement?

Oh yes. Whatever we arrive at as our “worldview” and however we get there, having re-integrated percept and concept in “us” we are not going to be able to represent it as simply one or the other, or one empirically proving or wholly defining the other, and there must remain an element of “faith” in the value of the integrated view we’ve achieved. In my position this is “Sacred Naturalism” or natural theology.

Nice one – beautifully done Matt. I’m going to have to take a look over at the original Steiner discussion this spun out of.

(PS – will add refs to my points in those inserted thoughts above at some point.)

Victory City – Salman Rushdie

Don’t know why but I can’t stop Tom Petty’s “Century City” memeing around in my head, but picked this up from The Guisborough Bookshop today.

Added to my collection.

May need to take priority over the reading list, or maybe hold until our upcoming city break?

The Boundaries of (Natural) Science

Rudolf Steiner divides opinion but his thinking is undoubtedly valuable. Think Anthroposophy/Theosophy and Steiner/Waldorf Schools, whether as intended by Steiner or interpreted ideologically by his disciples ever since, but the value in what he actually said and wrote remains. [Feels a bit like Jordan Peterson for a 21st C example – undoubtedly guilty of association with outrageous assertions (for rhetorical effect?), but undoubtedly heart-felt and sincere “authentic” thoughts behind them.]

[Post Note / Aside: also conscious of Steiner again recently thanks to this Matt Segall (@ThouArtThat / Footnotes2Plato) sharing this talk about Steiner’s “Philosophy of Freedom”. And: Thanks to @ChrisPapavassiliou sharing this full text Steiner Library version of TBoNS  below – from which I’ll be able to extract quotes much more simply than the highlight and snip from Kindle labours so far. Update one day?]

Prompted by this reference to “TBoNS” (1983 Translation) I recalled I had an unread Kindle copy of a later republication as “TBoS” (2017) complete with the Bellow preface and a Barfield review essay. (Barfield is the common ground here, and the source of the Twitter connection, though I have read lots of Bellow too, without noting any connections.) So, I’m reading it.

Anyway as the Tweet suggests it’s a series of 8 lectures from Sept/Oct 1920 by the Austrian/Croatian, in Switzerland, in German. I hadn’t really twigged until remarked explicitly by Bellow that, like all the Vienna Circle and “modern” science machinations, the context is Germany & Europe & The West generally in crisis post WW1. Souls searching for a better way. [Ditto cybernetics post WW2. Whereas, on the contrary in 2023, the awful buzzwords PolyCrisis and PermaCrisis are already being used by some as if distress-marketing an inevitable state of crisis instead of  a cool-headed recognition that what we’re dealing with is complexity and that it has been well understood by many for many generations and is simply excluded by the narrower received wisdom of rational management. I sincerely hope “Critical Systems Thinking” is not going to make the connection to “Crises” – because marketing!]

[Goethe and Schelling influences !
Total convergence again, nothing new under the sun.]

From Barfield’s review:

The Cognitional Mode – I shall start using that.

And right from the off, it’s that fundamental inescapable question – what do we mean by reality, to exist, to really exist, in this, the real world? (And does science even have anything to say about that, and is it therefore inevitably inadequate?)

From Bellow’s preface:

And to be clear, from Steiner, later:

And rather incongruously by Bellow early on:

I say incongruously, because we are right at the start of a book more generally about science, and that other (ultimately) inescapable “hard problem” question is already on the table (even if his conclusion is not quite the one I’d make now. “We shall never know” IFF we stick with our Cognitional Mode.)

And as I noted “IFF” above:

And again, on the metaphysical questions:

[Aside – can’t see any note about this, but publication of the 1983 translation was the occasion for the Barfield review essay, but that essay in the 2017 publication I’m reading has (additional?) notes with 21st Century sources, including Wikipedia?]

Anyway, so far I’ve only read the Bellow and Barfield contributions. So many sources shared with McGilchrist at al. More later maybe.

Housekeeping Update – Moving On

Been a bid distracted for a couple of weeks with no new deep reading or writing – not really sure why, some dent in motivation I can’t put a finger on, January blues maybe? Some domestic distractions, DIY car maintenance and planning our birthday city-break, probably relevant. Also tried to focus on engagement elsewhere in ISSS and AII and ECO, but inevitably reduced focus on my own projects. Too many foci.

Anyway, as I do every few years, I had announced some on-line housekeeping earlier in January. This was a significant driver:

“[I] have some glitches in [WordPress] Dashboard, Stats, Page & Post Editing and in published Page & Post functions: – (1) loss of Pingbacks – (2) unpredictable behaviour between Classic and Block Editors and advanced editing Plug Ins – (3) unpredictable behaviour losing “sessions” requiring fresh log-ins every few mins between the different functions above. Secure but time consuming!

So I need to do some maintenance to the blog.”

Pingbacks still seem to be dead(?) and I do have a few legacy character-set failures, but the other annoying inefficiency glitches seem to have been resolved simply by re-installing the existing Plug-ins in a natural order. So, even though I did investigate splitting content into older static copies and ongoing content creation on a fresh newer platform, I no longer have any real incentive to switch horses to SubStack, Medium and/or Mastodon. Onward and upward with WordPress on my DreamHost virtual server with the simple 2016 Theme. (Should probably tidy-up email subscription as well as Twitter follow engagements. Maybe just a theme refresh? Oh and I’ve updated DLVR.IT to share the blog notifications automatically to as many channels as possible – eg Mastodon and Discord as well as Twitter and maybe more?)

Also, my unread and/or re-read pile – not just the burgeoning wish-list -has grown to “where to re-start” proportions.

So, back to that Fields/Glazebrook/Levin (2021) paper which I started to review a couple of weeks ago?

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