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”.]