[Paleopsych] SW: Complexity and Causality

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Theoretical Physics: Complexity and Causality

    The following points are made by George F. Ellis (Nature 2005
    1) The atomic theory of matter and the periodic table of elements
    allow us to understand the physical nature of material objects,
    including living beings. Quantum theory illuminates the physical basis
    of the periodic table and the nature of chemical bonding. Molecular
    biology shows how complex molecules underlie the development and
    functioning of living organisms. And neurophysics reveals the
    functioning of the brain.
    2) In the hierarchy of complexity, each level links to the one above:
    chemistry links to biochemistry, to cell biology, physiology,
    psychology, to sociology, economics, and politics. Particle physics is
    the foundational subject underlying -- and so in some sense explaining
    -- all the others. In a reductionist world view, physics is all there
    is. The cartesian picture of man as a machine seems to be vindicated.
    3) But this view omits important aspects of the world that physics has
    yet to come to terms with. Our environment is dominated by objects
    that embody the outcomes of intentional design (buildings, books,
    computers, teaspoons). Today's physics has nothing to say about the
    intentionality that has resulted in the existence of such objects,
    even though this intentionality is clearly causally effective.
    4) A simple statement of fact: there is no physics theory that
    explains the nature of, or even the existence of, football matches,
    teapots, or jumbo-jet aircraft. The human mind is physically based,
    but there is no hope whatever of predicting the behavior it controls
    from the underlying physical laws. Even if we had a satisfactory
    fundamental physics "theory of everything", this situation would
    remain unchanged: physics would still fail to explain the outcomes of
    human purpose, and so would provide an incomplete description of the
    real world around us.
    5) Can we nevertheless claim that the underlying physics uniquely
    causally determines what happens, even if we cannot predict the
    outcome? To examine whether we can, contemplate what is required for
    this claim to be true within its proper cosmic context. The
    implication is that the particles existing when the cosmic background
    radiation was decoupling from matter, in the early Universe, were
    placed precisely so as to make it inevitable that 14 billion years
    later, human beings would exist, Charles Townes would conceive of the
    laser, and Edward Witten would develop string theory. Is it plausible
    that quantum fluctuations in the inflationary era in the very early
    Universe -- the source of the perturbations at the time of decoupling
    -- implied the future inevitability of the Mona Lisa and Einstein's
    theory of relativity? Those fluctuations are supposed to have been
    random, which by definition means without purpose or meaning.[1,2]
    1. Ellis, G. F. R. Phys. Today (in the press).
    2. Bishop, R. C. Phil. Sci. (in the press).
    Nature http://www.nature.com/nature
    Related Material:
    The following points are made by Neil D. Theise (Nature 2005
    1) Complexity theory, which describes emergent self-organization of
    complex adaptive systems, has gained a prominent position in many
    sciences. One powerful aspect of emergent self-organization is that
    scale matters. What appears to be a dynamic, ever changing
    organizational panoply at the scale of the interacting agents that
    comprise it, looks to be a single, functional entity from a higher
    scale. Ant colonies are a good example: from afar, the colony appears
    to be a solid, shifting, dark mass against the earth. But up close,
    one can discern individual ants and describe the colony as the
    emergent self-organization of these scurrying individuals. Moving in
    still closer, the individual ants dissolve into myriad cells.
    2) Cells fulfill all the criteria necessary to be considered agents
    within a complex system: they exist in great numbers; their
    interactions involve homeostatic, negative feedback loops; and they
    respond to local environmental cues with limited stochasticity
    ("quenched disorder"). Like any group of interacting individuals
    fulfilling these criteria, they self-organize without external
    planning. What emerges is the structure and function of our tissues,
    organs and bodies.
    3) This view is in keeping with cell doctrine -- the fundamental
    paradigm of modern biology and medicine whereby cells are the
    fundamental building blocks of all living organisms. Before cell
    doctrine emerged, other possibilities were explored. The ancient
    Greeks debated whether the body's substance was an endlessly divisible
    fluid or a sum of ultimately indivisible subunits. But when the
    microscopes of Theodor Schwann (1810-1882) and Matthias Schleiden
    (1804-1881) revealed cell membranes, the debate was settled. The
    body's substance is not a fluid, but an indivisible box-like cell: the
    magnificently successful cell doctrine was born.
    4) But a complexity analysis presses for consideration of a level of
    observation at a lower scale. At the nanoscale, one might suggest that
    cells are not discreet objects; rather, they are dynamically shifting,
    adaptive systems of uncountable biomolecules. Do biomolecules fulfill
    the necessary criteria for agents forming complex systems? They
    obviously exist in sufficient quantities to generate emergent
    phenomena; they interact only on the local level, without monitoring
    the whole system; and many homeostatic feedback loops govern these
    local interactions. But do their interactions display quenched
    disorder; that is, are they somewhere between being completely random
    and rigidly determined? Analyses of individual interacting molecules
    and the recognition that at the nanoscale, quantum effects may have a
    measurable impact, suggest that the answer is yes.[1-3]
    1. Theise N. D. & d'Inverno, M. Blood Cells Mol. Dis. 32, 17-20 (2004)
    2. Theise N. D. & Krause D. S. Leukemia 16, 542-548 (2002)
    3. Kurakin A. Dev. Genes Evol. 215, 46-52 (2005)
    Nature http://www.nature.com/nature
    Related Material:
    The following points are made by Gregoire Nicolis (citation below):
    1) For the vast majority of scientists physics is a marvelous
    algorithm explaining natural phenomena in terms of the building blocks
    of the universe and their interactions. Planetary motion; the
    structure of genetic material, of molecules, atoms or nuclei; the
    diffraction pattern of a crystalline body; superconductivity; the
    explanation of the compressibility, elasticity, surface tension or
    thermal conductivity of a material, are only a few among the
    innumerable examples illustrating the immense success of this view,
    which presided over the most impressive breakthroughs that have so far
    marked the development of modern science since Newton.
    2) Implicit in the classical view, according to which physical
    phenomena are reducible to a few fundamental interactions, is the idea
    that under well-defined conditions a system governed by a given set of
    laws will follow a unique course, and that a slight change in the
    causes will likewise produce a slight change in the effects. But,
    since the 1960s, an increasing amount of experimental data challenging
    this idea has become available, and this imposes a new attitude
    concerning the description of nature. Such ordinary systems as a layer
    of fluid or a mixture of chemical products can generate, under
    appropriate conditions, a multitude of self-organization phenomena on
    a macroscopic scale -- a scale orders of magnitude larger than the
    range of fundamental interactions -- in the form of spatial patterns
    or temporal rhythms.
    3) States of matter capable of evolving (states for which order,
    complexity, regulation, information and other concepts usually absent
    from the vocabulary of the physicist become the natural mode of
    description) are, all of a sudden, emerging in the laboratory. These
    states suggest that the gap between "simple" and "complex", and
    between "disorder" and "order", is much narrower than previously
    thought. They also provide the natural archetypes for understanding a
    large body of phenomena in branches which traditionally were outside
    the realm of physics, such as turbulence, the circulation of the
    atmosphere and the oceans, plate tectonics, glaciations, and other
    forces that shape our natural environment: or, even, the emergence of
    replicating systems capable of storing and generating information,
    embryonic development, the electrical activity of brain, or the
    behavior of populations in an ecosystem or in an economic environment.
    Adapted from: Gregoire Nicolis: in: Paul Davies (ed.): The New
    Physics. Cambridge University Press 1989, p.316

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