I found the source of Kaufmann's use of…

I found the source of Kaufmann's use of the term "Kantian wholes"


"Central to the belief that there is some law “down there” that entails all that happens in a hierarchical way, is the belief that all can be derived by a kind of aggregation upward and entailment upward from some simplest parts, quarks, gluons, photons and electrons, say, or string theory – only these are fundamental entities.

We believe this view is mistaken. What we shall call “Kantian wholes” dominate what exists and evolves in the biosphere and exist AS WHOLES. Our theory builds from this.

Kant pointed out that in an “organized being” the parts exist for and by means of the whole, the whole exists for an by means of the parts. In a past post one of us introduced Collectively Autocatalytic Sets. Gonen Ashkenazi at Ben Gurion has a nine peptide (peptides are small proteins) collectively autocatalytic set. Each of the nine peptides catalyzes, or speeds up, the reaction binding together fragments of some other peptide into another copy of that other peptide. No peptide catalyzes its OWN formation. Rather, the SET AS A WHOLE has the property that each reaction requiring catalysis IS catalyzed by some other member of the set. In the collectively autocatalytic set, the set as a WHOLE catalyzes its own formation. Calling catalysis a Task, the collectively autocatalytic set achieves TASK CLOSURE.

A collectively autocatalytic set is an example of a Kantian Organized Being. The parts, here the peptides, exist in the universe for and by means of the whole which organizes their catalytic behaviors, while the whole exists in the universe for and by means of the parts. Given such a set, the function of a given peptide is DEFINABLE, its role lies in sustaining the whole, not jiggling water."

This is important, philosophically, for the discussion of #selforganization . Kaufmann is talking about self-organization, and he's right that we need to think about organized systems as wholes. The "Kantian" bit of this discussion is a little silly, but I'll excuse him because its the vocabulary he knows.

But the metaphysics here is wrong. +Jon Lawhead check my work, but he wants to say that self-organization gives a proof that the natural world is not reductive. His proof roughly goes like this:

1. There are no laws that entail evolution.
2. Therefore, evolution does not reduce to more basic laws (say, particle physics)
3. Therefore, reduction is false. "Our world is not what we have thought."

So this is a bad argument, but you might not see why if you aren't thinking about what it means for a system to be self-organized (and complex), so it is instructive to show why it is wrong.

When a system organizes as a whole, there will be new dynamics that describe that whole system that might not describe the parts; similarly, the dynamics used to describe the parts might not fit the larger system. Describing the way a raindrop falls won't tell you how a storm moves; knowing about the storm's motion won't let you predict raindrops. You need different models, different "laws", for describing the behaviors of these systems at different levels of analysis.

That doesn't mean that there is something mysterious or nonreductive about storms. They are still made of raindrops and a bunch of other dynamic physical phenomenon. There's nothing but physical matter in there, swooshing around. And there's lots of ways to think about the swooshing.

So yeah, there's no laws that entail evolution. Because when we are talking about systems subject to evolution, it is the laws of evolution that govern the dynamics of those systems. Particle physics aren't the laws the govern those dynamics, those are dynamics at a completely different level of analysis. All the things that evolve are made of little particles, but trying to apply one model at these two radically different scales is going to fail.

And that's not a problem of ontology, at least in the way Kaufmann thinks it is. That's a problem with your choice of model.


[TUT/SGN/CSB] Computational Systems Biology Research Group

No Law Entails The Evolution of the Biosphere. By Stuart Kauffman and Giuseppe Longo July 8, 2011. At least since Isaac Newton, an enduring belief among physicists and many other scientists has been t…

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