Joel Henkel: Discussions for January 13 and
Winteer Chaos Conference, Feb 8-10.
Discussion of Organicist View Compared with Ecologist View
Let me present a number of talking points for our planned discussions
of Mae-Wan Ho's work and how it relates to the ecologist view of mind and
matter. We might even begin the discussion over the internet, rather than
waiting for a face-to-face meeting. The following points are extracted from
Ho's paper, 'What is Schroedinger's Negentropy?'
Ho redefines the notion of 'thermodynamic state',
"In other words, the steady 'state' is not a state at all but a
conglomeration of processes which are spatiotemporally organized, ie, it
has a deep space-time structure, and cannot be represented as an instantaneous
state or even a configuration of states7. Characteristic times of processes
range from <10-14 s for resonant energy transfer between molecules
to 107 s for circannual rhythms. The spatial extent of processes, similarly,
span at least ten orders of magnitude from 10-10 m for intramolecular
interactions to metres for nerve conduction and the general coordination
of movements in larger animals."
The question is how can Ho's conglomeration of processes
be translated into the ecologist view?
o Her organicist 'conglomeration of spatiotemporal processes' corresponds
directly to ecological 'presentations' that consist of 'vibrational frequency
difference patterns in space-time' that circulate around Bateson's experiential
o The spatial and temporal extent of the (processes / frequency difference
patterns) form a hierarchy of levels of complexity for the experiential loops.
Each level has a complexity measured by its extropy, the number of its degrees
of freedom. The larger,longer processes are more complex in that more degrees
of freedom are needed to describe their function.
o Ho uses the term thermodynamic 'equilibrium' in her statement, local
equilibrium may be achieved at least for some biochemical reactions
in the living system. But acknowledges "We begin to see that
thermodynamic equilibrium itself is a subtle concept, depending on
the level of resolution of time and space. Strictly speaking, all life
processes deviate from equilibrium, so a better term would be 'steady state'.
This term brings out the 'balance' property for competing directions of biochemical
reactions. In the ecological view, Langer's notion of 'balance of tension'
as a property of presentational abstraction is applied to biochemical reactions
that make up the space-time frequency difference patterns.
o Ho mentions 'resonant energy transfer in the living systems.' In the ecological
view, 'standing wave patterns' describe such resonances.
o Ho mentions "Another important development in the thermodynamics of the
steady state came from Morowitz, who derived a theorem showing that
at steady state, the flow of energy through the system from a source
to a sink will lead to at least one cycle in the system." Also, "The
two results - Onsager's reciprocity relationship and Morowitz' theorem of
chemical cycles - I believe, imply a third: that symmetrically coupled
cycles will arise in open systems which are capable of storing energy
under energy flow." In the ecological view, coupled cycles illustrate how
the complexity levels of presentations can increase to form a higher level
o Ho mentions quantum coherence. "Fröhlich19 predicts that as
a living organism is made up predominantly of dielectric molecules packed
rather densely together, it may represent a special solid state system where
electric and viscoelastic forces constantly interact. Under those conditions,
metabolic pumping results in condensation to collective modes of activity
or 'coherent excitations', giving macroscopic order and coordination
to the living system. Fröhlich's hypothesis has been developed
by others since20,21. Duffield21, in particular, proves that the 'Fröhlich
state' is an asymptotically stable global attractor. There is, indeed, a
growing body of xperimental evidence for coherence and cooperativity at different
levels within living systems: from the action of enzymes22, to whole
organisms23 and populations of organisms24,25." In the ecological view, this
corresponds closely with the quantum field theory phenomenon of spontaneous
symmetry breaking into quantum condensations and collective modes.
Talking Points from Ho's Biology of Free Will
From Mechanism to Meta-Mechanism
"I shall describe some new views of the organism arising from
new findings in biology, in order to show how, in freeing itself from
the 'laws' of physics, from mechanical determinism and mechanistic
control, the organism becomes a sentient, coherent being that is free,
from moment to moment, to explore and create its possible
Ho 's 'laws of physics' are the laws of mechanics and their extended
versions in the laws of quantum mechanics. Freedom from these laws means
transcending deterministic equations of motion. Explicitly, time-reversible
mechanistic dynamics is replaced by the time-irreversible organicist picture,
which in the ecologist's view is called organism experience. While Ho does
not explicitly develop the notion of mind, she implies it in the title
'free will'. The ecologicist view explicitly develops the notion of proto-mind,
which appears at the lowest level of life. The laws of physics are generalized
to an open-system quantum theory, in which an organism is coupled an infinititude
of environmental potentiality, available for promotion to actuality. The
passage to infinite possibilities is the extension from mechanical to meta-mechanical
open system physics. A closed system mechine has a finite number of states,
while an open system organism deals with infinite possibilities by invoking
quantum field theory and alternative mathematical formalism of symmetry group
theory, where the environment helps determine the characteristic of thwe
extended space-time wave pattern. This intrinsically implies free will,
the ability to freely choose a course of action.
Organicist/Ecologist Picture of Space-time Patterns
Ho's Space-time Frames
"The traditional opposition between mechanists and vitalists already
began to dissolve at the turn of the present century, when Newtonian
physics gave way to quantum theory at the very small scales of elementary
particles and to general relativity at the large scales of planetary
motion. The static, deterministic universe of absolute space and time
is replaced by a multitude of contingent, observer-dependent space-time frames.
Instead of mechanical objects with simple locations in space and time,
one finds delocalized, mutually entangled quantum entities that carry
their histories with them, like evolving organisms. These developments
in contemporary western science gave birth to organicist philosophy."
Ecologist Picture in terns of Presentations
Ho's 'mutually entangled space-time patterns that carry histories
or models of the world with them' goes only so far in giving an organic flavor
to the physics of life. What is needed is an explicit observer-dependent
description of the organization of these entangled space-time patterns. This
is provided by Batson's experiential feedback loops picture of proto-mind,
where his circulating basic ideas are the space-time patterns, called 'presentations'
in the ecologist view.
Theoretical Biology Club
"Organicist philosophy was taken very seriously by a remarkable group
of people who formed the multidisciplinary Theoretical Biology Club.1
Its membership included Joseph Needham, eminent embryologist/biochemist
later to be renowned for his
work on the history of Chinese science; Dorothy Needham, muscle
physiologist and biochemist, geneticist C.H. Waddington, crystallographer
J.D. Bernal, mathematician Dorothy Wrinch, philosopher, J.H. Woodger
and physicist, Neville Mott. They acknowledged the full complexity
of living organization, not as axiomatic, but as something to be explained
and understood with the help of philosophy as well as physics, chemistry,
biology and mathematics, as those sciences advance, and in the spirit
of free enquiry, leaving open whether new concepts or laws may be
discovered in the process."
It might be interesting to review some of this background material
"I am making a case for organicist science. It is not yet a conscious
movement but a Zeitgeist I personally embrace, so I really mean to
persuade you to do likewise by giving it a more tangible shape. The
new organicism, like the old, is dedicated to the knowledge of the
organic whole, hence, it does not recognize any discipline boundaries.
It is to be found between all disciplines. Ultimately, it is an unfragmented
knowledge system by which one lives. There is no escape clause allowing
one to plead knowledge 'pure' or 'objective', and hence having nothing
to do with life. As with the old organicism, the knowing being participates
in knowing as much as in living. Participation implies responsibility,
which is consistent with the truism that there can be no freedom without
responsibility, and conversely, no responsiblity without freedom. There
is no placing mind outside nature as Descartes has done, the knowing
being is wholeheartedly within nature: heart and mind, intellect and
feeling (Ho, 1994a). It is non-dualist and holistic. In all those respects,
its affinities are with the participatory knowledge systems of traditional
indigenous cultures all over the world."
Ho's view corresponds to the epistemological picture, where mind is
within nature and also provides organisms with their contact with reality
by generating reality through experience of nature.
Energy Storage Under Energy Flow
"These and other considerations led me to identify Schrödinger's
"negative entropy" as "stored mobilizable energy in a space-time structured
system" (Ho, 1994b, 1995a). The key to understanding the thermodynamics
of living systems turns out not so much to be energy flow but energy
storage under energy flow (Fig. 1). Energy flow is of no consequence
unless the energy can be trapped and stored within the system where
it circulates to do work before dissipating. A reproducing life cycle,
i.e., an organism, arises when the loop of circulating energy is closed.
At that point, we have a life cycle, within which stored energy is
mobilized, remaining largely stored as it is mobilized.
The life cycle is a highly differentiated space-time structure, the
predomi-nant modes of activity are themselves cycles spanning an entire
gamut of space-times from the local and fast (or slow) to the global
and slow (or fast), all of which are coupled together. These cycles
are most familiar to us in the form of biological rhythms extending
over 20 orders of magnitude of time, from
electrical activities of neurons and other cells to circadian and
circa-annual rhythms and beyond. An intuitive picture is given in Figure
2, where coupled cycles of different sizes are fed by the one-way energy
flow. This complex, entangled space-time structure is strongly reminiscent
of Bergson's "durations" of organic processes, which necessitates a
different way of conceptualizing space-time as heterogeneous, nonlinear,
multidimensional and nonlocal (see Ho, 1993).5"
The Ecologist View
Ho's shell structure of energetic processes corresponds to the ecologist
picture of a hierachy of experiential feedback loops. The higher the level
of experiential loop, the larger the range in time and space of the processes.
Hierarchy of Cycles
Ho describes a hierarchy of life cycles which correspond to the hierarchy
of experiential feedback loops.
"On account of the complete spectrum of coupled cycles, energy
is stored and mobilized over all space-times according to the relaxation
times (and volumes) of the processes involved. So, organisms can take
advantage of two different ways of mobilizing energy with maximum efficiency
- nonequilbrium transfer in which stored energy is transferred before
it is thermalized, and quasi-equilibrium transfer, for which the free
energy change approaches zero according to conventional thermodynamic
considerations (McClare, 1971). Energy input into any mode can be readily
delocalized over all modes, and conversely, energy from all modes can
become concentrated into any mode. In other words, energy coupling
in the living system is symmetrical, which is why we can have energy
at will, whenever and wherever required (see Ho, 1993, 1994b, 1995a,b).
The organism is, in effect, a closed, self-sufficient energetic domain
of cyclic non-dissipative processes coupled to the dissipative processes.
In the formalism of conventional thermodynamics, the life cycle can
be considered, to first approximation, to consist of all those cyclic
processes - for which the net entropy change balances out to zero -
coupled to those dissipative processes necessary for keeping it going,
for which the net entropy change is greater than zero (see Figure 3).
This representation, justified in detail elsewhere (Ho, 1996a), is
derived from the thermodynamics of the steady state (see Denbigh, 1951).
The organism is free from mechanical
"A particular kind of nonlinearity which has made headlines recently
is 'deterministic chaos': a complex dynamical behaviour that is locally
unpredictable and irregular, which has been used to describe many living
functions including the collective behaviour of ant colonies (see Goodwin,
1994). The unrepeatable patterns
of brain activities that persuaded Freeman (1995) to declare
brain science in crisis are typical of systems exhibiting deterministic
chaos. Another putative example is the heart beat, which is found to
be much more irregular in healthy people than in cardiac patients.8
Physiologist Goldberger (1991) came to the conclusion that healthy
heartbeat has "a type of variability called chaos", and that loss of this
"complex variability" is associated with pathology and with aging.....
There is much current debate as to whether these complex variabilities
associated with the healthy, functional state constitute chaos in the
technical sense, so the question is by no means settled (Glass and
Polychromatic spectrum of Complex Activity
"A different understanding of the complex activity spectrum of the
healthy state is that it is polychromatic (Ho, 1996c), approaching
'white' in the ideal, in which all the modes of energy storage are
equally represented. It corresponds to the so-called f(l) = const.
rule that Popp (1986) has generalized from the spectrum of light or
"biophotons" found to be emitted from all living systems. I have proposed
that this polychromatic ideal distribution of stored energy is the
state towards which all open systems capable of energy storage naturally
evolve (Ho, 1994b)"
Issue of Number of Degrees of Freedom
"It is a state of both maximum and minimum in entropy content:
maximum because energy becomes equally distributed over all the space-time
modes (hence the 'white' ideal), and minimum because the modes are
all coupled or linked together to give a coherent whole, in other words,
to a single degree of freedom (Popp, 1986; Ho, 1993)."
Entropy is best applied to systems near equilibrium. Here, the levels of
energy storage are all operating as dissipative processes. The condition
of maximum distribution of energy over all the levels can be stated as the
prinicple of 'democracy of experience' or 'maximum distribution of experience/inter-communication.
The notion of an overall linking among many levels does not correspond to
a single degree of freedom. Complexity of any mode or level is measured by
the number of degrees of freedom, as measured by its extropy. When all the
levels are coupled to a coherent whole, this again illustrates maximum experience
and communication. The top level of experience, coordinates all the lower
levels into a single 'society' or ecological system. In the ecologist
picture, a single degree of freedom is the lowest level of complexity and
has no role here.
Failure to Reach Higher Levels of Complexity
"In a system where there is no impedance to energy mobilization, all
the modes are intercommunicating and hence all the frequencies will
be represented. Instead, when coupling is imperfect, or when the subsystem,
say, the heart, or the brain, is not communicating properly, it falls
back on its own modes, leading to impoverishment of its activity spectrum.
Living systems are necessarily a polychromatic whole, they are full
of colour and variegated complexity that nevertheless cohere into a
Lack of coupling is a case of 'impedance mismatch'. Maximum exchange of information/energy
requires impedance matching or matching of level of complexity. In entropy
language, matching of negentropies. When the coupling is imperfect, higher
levels of experiential feedback fail to become established. The hierarchy
is truncated below it natural highest all-encompassing level.
Another notion that applies here is Langer's presentational abstraction,
where balance between opposing tensions is a characteristic of the 'essential
image'. Here, lack of balance in communication within a level, and among
levels, is an imbalance of the presentation, offerring an 'error' signal
for correction to regain balance. Accupuncture and 'balance' theories of
health come to mind.