Wednesday, September 02, 2009


This is a first attempt to write down ideas which interest and excite me. This is a brief, preliminary, incomplete and inadequate outline. Obviously these theories demand careful elaboration, precise exposition, critical evaluation, and discussion. A lengthy task, but a start must be made.

1. It is evident that the complexity of our planet earth has increased since its origin, maybe 4.5 billion years ago. A biosphere has evolved from an initial assembly of elements and simple compounds. At least one member of the biosphere is now conscious, with the facility of intelligent information processing.

2. There is no evidence that earth's evolution requires an external designer or controller: all processes on the earth are intrinsic and spontaneous. Therefore the potential of self-assembly - autopoiesis - must be included in our studies of the properties of matter.

The mechanisms of autopoiesis are poorly understood. Our knowledge is best for the biosphere, but insights into pre-biotic evolution are beginning.

Autopoiesis: the theory of natural self-assembly: The Autopoietic Earth: Gaia Autopoietika.

3. Gravity is the great creative force, causing the aggregation of materials and energy release necessary for autopoiesis.

4. Why stop with earth? Physics and chemistry do not vary across the kosmos. Our sun is one of millions of similar stars in our galaxy alone, and there are millions of galaxies: the probability that earth is the only planet suitable for life is vanishingly small. What we perceive here may be a very small sample, but there is no reason to believe it is atypical or unique.

The Kepler spacecraft will be a test of this evaluation.

There is a high probability that life is abundant in the kosmos: conscious, intelligent life must be out there, and may well be common. We can but hope that eventually a means of communication across vast distances will be found; perhaps then we shall find a kosmos full of voices.

5. The increase in complexity from kosmic primordia to stars and planets extends autopoiesis back almost to the singularity which we believe was in the beginning.

An Autopoietic Kosmos - Kosmos Autopoietikos: the grandest of unifying theories.

6. In broadest outline, autopoiesis proceeds:

- from hydrogen gas to generations of stars, and synthesis of all other elements;

- from early, simple stars to later, complex star-systems, with planets of elements and compounds;

- from simple to complex planetary chemistry;

- from complex molecules to simple life;

- from simple to complex life, increasingly homeostatic [independent of the environment];

- in homeostasis increasingly complex neural structures, permitting functions of increasing sophistication; finally consciousness and intelligence.

7. From the theory of autopoiesis we may predict as follows - safe in the knowledge that no practical test is likely.

Given enough hydrogen, enough space, and enough time; first life and then conscious intelligence will develop by natural, intrinsic mechanisms.

8. Autopoiesis - to what end? A question we cannot answer. That the kosmos has meaning and purpose must be assumed, for now. That is the only item of faith I can accept in my kataphusin philosophy. It is the first axiom for any evidence-based theology.


fisher said...

I think you imply that 'we have no reason to believe that the laws of nature (as we know them?) do not hold throughout the universe'. With respect, does this not breach you claim to rely only upon empirical evidence? Surely there is evidence that what we take to be 'LofN' are actually different at different levels of resolution?
Would you not agree that the properties of, and the 'laws that govern to behaviour of', for example, molecules are very different from those that govern the interactions of the atoms from which they emerged? Does this not prompt you to consider the possibility that it is this observation that should be exciting us? That interactions of entities 'x' may give rise to the emergence of entities 'y' which have entirely different properties and are constrained in different ways from those of the entities from whose intereactions they emerged. And, yes, autopoiesis may be how we seek to define 'entity' at our level of observation at this time - but we cannot (sensibly) speculate about places and times outside our own experience. . Just a thought.
And by the way, as an empiricist, do you not agree that order/disorder and simplicity/complexity are reflections of how we see things rather then what is 'out there'? For example, astrologers refer to the constellation 'Orion' as a simple entity while astronomers looking at that part of the heavens see stars and nebulae of immense complexity. Or, again, we are all really flat-earthers when we run for a bus or drive in our car thousands of miles, but we see the Earth as spherical when we want to sail or fly a Great Circle. Even flying to the Moon, we employ just Newtonian space and invoke Einstein only when what we observe things that we take to be very distant in space/time. 'It's all in the mind' is it not?
Thank you for prompting a conversation on autopoiesis.

The English Physician said...

Any new unifying theory inevitably will include much speculation. Cosmoloogical constancy of physics and chemistry is demonstrated to a limited degree, but its status at present is reasonable hypothesis, not reliable knowledge. Exceptions to constancy would be exciting opportunities to deepen our understanding.
I'm not sure I can agree that molecular and atomic interactions differ. The relative importance of forces and functions changes with scale, and new properties appear - molecules have vibration modes, for example. What is exciting is the possibility of 'epiphenomena' emerging as complexity increases, and the potential for extraordinary consequences in the iteration of apparently insignificant changes.
Complexity is a subjective concept, and observer bias bedevils so much. But General Paralysis of the Intellectual traps those too scrupulous in such matters!

fisher said...

Yes, I agree with much of that and hope to escape GPI; but, and its a big but, as Hume put it 'there's no matter of fact that might not be contradicted'. We cannot know, can never know, what lies in the future. We can never be certain about causal relations, The past is no help. We live in a non-linear world. Therefore, induction from observation gives us nothing more than refutable knowledge; while induction simply juggles with abstractions.

So, it worries me that, absent of any real understanding of the limits of human knowledge, we have invested a colossal amount of time and energy in big physics, such as looking for the Higgs, and are now going though hoops trying to save the world from global warming: both on the strength of abstract modeling.

Forgive my scepticism, but I don't think we have escaped from those who would have us believe that wonderful things and awful things could happen if we don't share their particular beliefs. Science has no more a priori claim on my credulity than had religion on Hume in his day.

Of course in everyday life we have to accept the customs and habits of our time and place, but neither physics not the climatology pf the future fall into that category - IMHO of course.