• Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.2k
    A metaphysics of substances or entities has long been the default view. This view comes with significant challenges, one being that it appears to preclude strong emergence. However, the natural sciences have generally been moving towards process explanations of natural phenomena. The question is, should metaphysics follow them?

    A key difference between the two views is that substance ontologies must explain how change occurs, why substance should be "self moving," or "from whence a first mover." Process metaphysics has the opposite problem, having to explain apparent stabilities and patterns. IMO, the latter is much more successful at answering these questions.

    For examples of how process has replaced substance in the sciences:

    - Heat is now explained in terms of the process of average movement, as opposed to a substance (i.e., the old caloric, substance theory of heat).

    -"Fundemental particles," are now thought to have a beginning and end; they are a process. Atomic nuclei are formed through processes in the early universe and in fusion processes within stars. Protons will eventually decay. Rather than being unique fundemental entities, these are now seen as "energy well stabilities," one of two basic types of stability in the universe.

    -The other type of stability is that of "far from thermodynamic equilibrium systems." These can show self-organization, but also disappear if isolated, unlike energy well stabilities. Life is a key example of such systems. Life was once thought of in terms of a "vital substance," but this has now been replaced by a process understanding.

    Process based approaches allow for "strong emergence," because different processes are different from one another, not reducible to an identical, atomistic set of fundemental processes. "More is different."

    Process metaphysics also cuts against the idea of superveniance, the idea that any thing can be defined by the fundemental physical parts that make it up. Living organisms replace most of their atoms on a regular basis; for life seen as a process, there is no clear boundary to define superveniance on, no well defined set of particles that make up an entity. Flames are another good example of a process with no discrete boundary for superveniance.

    The language of complex systems science allows us to explain how processes can demonstrate stability and regularities. We can talk of attractors and valleys, topologies, life as a sort of knot, etc. However, these terms are currently unfamiliar to most people. But does this explain the slow switch to a metaphysics of process?

    It seems to me like philosophy in general is lagging the sciences in this respect.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.2k


    Yeah, although his philosophy seems a bit to "out there," to get mainstream appeal. What is weird to me is that there hasn't been a movement to replace current philosophy of science with a process based one. Instead, ontic structural realism, the "universe is math," (ala "Every Thing Must Go") seems to be the most popular solution here.

    I have not seen a critique that process philosophy doesn't actually fix the problem of hard emergence. I am not sure if one exists. Given most of the special sciences have gravitated towards rejecting reduction, that seems like a huge point in favor of process.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.4k

    You know @apokrisis pet project is all about ontology being a triadic semiotic relationship also called pansemiotics. So a logical structure of information being the basis is popular amongst various scientific groups.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.2k


    I am familiar with the "it from bit" approach, and was initially quite taken with it. However, it seems to turn "bits" into the new basic ontological entities (along with qbits), instead of positing that the processes by which bits get "flipped" are ontologically basic.

    This seems like a problem IMO. Sure, maybe we can describe physics as cellular automata, but then why do they compute using the laws they do? (And how do we describe non-locality? A lattice won't do, I suppose networks work). This still seems to have the problem of why there should be change, why our bits interact. I haven't read any pancomputationalists who have been willing to make the full jump to "computing is what defines reality and the bits are just identical elements of a process." Perhaps the reticence has to do with the fact that this might reopen the door on infinite amounts of information being required to describe a continuous process? But I don't see how a process necessarily has to be continuous or else risk collapsing into a group of more fundamental entities interacting.
  • Joshs
    5.4k

    Yeah, although his philosophy seems a bit to "out there," to get mainstream appeal. What is weird to me is that there hasn't been a movement to replace current philosophy of science with a process based one.Count Timothy von Icarus

    That’s what New Materialism is all about. For instance, Joseph Rouse’s career has been dedicated to putting forth a process-based philosophy of science.
  • Joshs
    5.4k
    The language of complex systems science allows us to explain how processes can demonstrate stability and regularities. We can talk of attractors and valleys, topologies, life as a sort of knot, etc. However, these terms are currently unfamiliar to most people. But does this explain the slow switch to a metaphysics of process?

    It seems to me like philosophy in general is lagging the sciences in this respect.
    Count Timothy von Icarus

    The language of complex systems can be linked to post-Hegelian dialectical strands of philosophy, but are subject to critique from a range of other, more recent approaches in philosophy. Lagging indeed.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.2k


    I'll have to check him out.



    The language of complex systems can be linked to post-Hegelian dialectical strands of philosophy, but are subject to critique from a range of other, more recent approaches in philosophy.

    Such as? I get that systems theory, cybernetics, etc. aren't anything new, but the big proponents of complexity and information theoretic understandings of phenomena always make it sound like they are the cutting edge. I'd be interested in any critiques. I have this sneaking suspicion that we haven't seen a full scale shift for reasons I'm not aware of, which aren't presented by advocates.
  • Joshs
    5.4k


    I get that systems theory, cybernetics, etc. aren't anything new, but the big proponents of complexity and information theoretic understandings of phenomena always make it sound like they are the cutting edge. I'd be interested in any critiques. I have this sneaking suspicion that we haven't seen a full scale shift for reasons I'm not aware of, which aren't presented by advocates.Count Timothy von Icarus

    New Materialist philosophers like Protevi, Massum and DeLanda attempt to meld the poststructuralist philosophy of Deleuze with complexityand dynamical systems theory. Here’s Protevi’s take on why Continental philosophy has been luke warm to such ideas:

    “I'm not sure why the connection between Deleuze and Guattari and complexity theory, which Manuel and Brian Massumi have been making since the early 1990s, has not been followed upon in organization theory (and unfortunately, not too much in philosophy either). I suspect those with scientific backgrounds might be put off by the sheer exuberance of Deleuze and Guattari's writing (this has nothing at all to do with a “postmodernist playfulness” or what have you, which aims at signifier effects), as well as by their Marxist orientation (more on that later). On the other hand, for those with the typical “continental” philosophical background (phenomenology, post-phenomenology, or God help us “postmodernism”), the science connection is probably anathema, either because of anti-realist commitments or because they just don't want to take the effort to come to grips with the science.”

    I think it’s the realist orientation that complexity theory presupposes that keeps it from being integrated into post-structuralism , phenomenology and related branches of philosophy.
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.2k
    Since I grabbed these quotes to share elsewhere anyhow, I figured it might revive the discussion to show the article that inspired it.

    Process conceptions of the world have had a presence in Western thought at least since Heraclitus, but have been dominated and overshadowed by substance and atomistic metaphysical frameworks at least since Empedocles and Democritus. In fact, Parmenides argued against Heraclitus that, far from everything being flux, change is not possible at all: in order for A to change into B, A would have to disappear into nothingness and B emerge out of nothingness. Nothingness does not exist, so change does not exist. The nothingness that Parmenides was denying perhaps has a contemporary parallel in the notion of the nothingness outside of the universe (vacuum is not nothingness in this sense). It is not clear that such a notion makes any sense, and this was roughly the Parmenidean point. Furthermore, for the ancient Greeks, to think about something or to refer to something was akin to pointing to it, and it is not possible to point at nothing. For a modern parallel to this, consider the difficulties that Russell or Fodor (and many others) have had accounting for representing nothing or something that is false [Hylton, 1990].

    In any case, Parmenides’ argument was taken very seriously, and both the substance and the atomistic metaphysical frameworks were proposed as responses. Empedocles’ substances of earth, air, fire, and water were unchanging in themselves, thus satisfying the Parmenidean constraint, and Democritus’ atoms were similarly unchanging wholes [Graham, 2006; Guthrie, 1965; Wright, 1997]. In both cases, apparent changes were accounted for in terms of changes in the mixtures and structural configurations of the underlying basic realities…

    These are the traditions that have dominated for over two millennia, and in many respects, still do. There is, however, a historical move away from substance models toward process models: almost every science has had an initial phase in which its basic phenomena were conceptualized in terms of some kind of substance — in which the central issues were to determine what kind of substance — but has moved beyond that to a recognition of those phenomena as processes. This shift is manifest in, for example, understanding fire in terms of phlogiston to understanding fire in terms of combustion, heat in terms of random kinetic motion rather than the substance caloric, life in terms of certain kinds of far from thermodynamic equilibrium processes rather than in terms of vital fluid, and so on. Sciences of the mind, arguably, have not yet made this transition [Bickhard, 2004].

    The default for substances and Democritean “atoms” is stability. Change requires explanation, and there are no self-movers. This is reversed in a process view, with change always occurring, and it is the stabilities of organizations or patterns of process, if such should occur, that require explanation.

    There are two basic categories of process stability. The first is what might be called energy well stabilities. These are process organizations that will remain stable so long as no above threshold energy impinges on them. Contemporary atoms would be a canonical example: they are constituted as organizations of process that can remain stable for cosmological time periods.

    The second category of process stability is that of process organizations that are far from thermodynamic equilibrium. Unlike energy well stabilities, these require ongoing maintenance of their far from equilibrium conditions. Otherwise, they go to equilibrium and cease to exist...


    Also in contrast to energy well stabilities, far from equilibrium stabilities cannot be isolated for significant periods of time. If an energy well stability is isolated, it goes to internal thermodynamic equilibrium and retains its stability. If a far from equilibrium process organization is isolated, it goes to equilibrium and ceases to exist. Far from equilibrium processes can exhibit self-organization, in which pattern emerges as an intrinsic result of underlying processes. Such resultant self-organized patterns can be of fundamental importance in, for example, the self-organization of tissue differentiation in embryos...

    Positing a metaphysical realm of substances or atoms induces a fundamental split in the overall metaphysics of the world. In particular, the realm of substances or atoms is a realm that might be held to involve fact, cause, and other physicalistic properties and phenomena, but it excludes such phenomena as normativity, intentionality, and modality into a second metaphysical realm. It induces a split metaphysics.

    Given such a split, there are only three basic possibilities — though, of course, unbounded potential variations on the three. One could posit some version of the two realms as fundamental, and attempt to account for the world in terms of them. Aristotle’s substance and form, Descartes’ two kinds of substances, Kant’s two realms, and the realm of fact and science distinct from that of modality and normativity of analytic philosophy are examples. Or, one could attempt to account for everything in terms of the “mental” side of the split, yielding idealisms, such as for Hegel, Green, and Bradley. Or, finally, one could attempt to account for everything in terms of the physical realm, such as Hobbes, Hume (on many interpretations), Quine, and much of contemporary science and philosophy.

    It might be tempting to try to account for the whole range of phenomena in terms of some kind of emergence of normative and mental phenomena out of nonnormative phenomena, but emergence is excluded by the metaphysical frameworks that induce the split in the first place.

    Adopting a process metaphysics, however, reverses the exclusion of emergence, and opens the possibility that normativity, intentionality, and other phenomena might be modeled as natural emergents in the world. This integrative program is, in fact, being pursued in contemporary work [Bickhard, 2004; 2009a; 2009b; in preparation]

    It makes no internal sense to ask why Empedoclean earth, air, fire, and water have the properties that they do, nor why they have the relationships among themselves, nor where they came from, and so on. They constitute a ground of metaphysics with which much can be done, but about which there is little that can be meaningfully questioned — at least from within that framework itself.

    That has certainly not prevented such questioning, but the questions are necessarily of the metaphysical framework itself, not questions within that framework. This kind of barrier to further questioning is a further consequence that is reversed by the shift to a process framework. In general, it does make sense to ask of a process why it has the properties that it does or the relationships to other processes or where it came from. The possibility that the process in question is emergent from others by itself legitimates such questions as questions within the process metaphysical framework. Answers may or may not be discoverable, but there is no metaphysical barrier to asking the questions and seeking for answers.

    As mentioned, most sciences have made a historical shift from substance frameworks to process views of their subject matter. Sciences of mentality are delayed in this respect, possibly because the mental is the primary realm that encounters the split of normativity and intentionality from the rest of the world

    Mark H. Bickhard - Systems and Process Metaphysics - Handbook of the of Science Philosophy Philosophy of Complex Systems
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