The main idea here is to discuss origin of live based on the new idea that it resulted not from random mix of different organic chemicals, but from similarly random dynamic interaction of constrains that result in origination of regularity and local rejection of the 2ndlaw of thermodynamics. Author presents notion of autogen – self-generator created by dynamic constrains of Autocatalysis and Capsid formation and defines it as the bridge between material world of cost and effect and living world of selves and aims they try to achieve. It is also an attempt to derive implications of this approach for multiple philosophical questions from determinism vs. free will to science and values interaction.
1 THE MYSTERY OF PURPOSE
Author starts with the statement that this book is about purpose and how it emerges from purposeless phenomena. The ambition here is to use science to provide explanation for this. Author defines here the main notion used in this book: self, which is practically everything living from grass to humans and then defines four questions:
- The Nature of Selves
- The Origin of Selves
- The Nature of Aims
- The Origin of Aims
He also defines reasons for this:
- Link between Selves and their aims.
- Link between Origins and Natures
After defining his objectives, author discusses attitude to these “mysteries”, commonality of everything living, the very notion of purpose, which he links to self-direction. He also discusses the mystery of live and the facts, that so far nobody was able demonstrate, of how non-living matter becomes living. Author claims that the question of origin of live is solvable and presents approach of his lead Terrence Deacon who concentrates on transition from Cause and Effects to Means and Ends behavior. The qualitatively different approach here is that Deacon removes assumption that one need addition to achieve new quantity, positing that it could be achieved by additional constrains, or in other words by subtraction. Author points out that molecules in a body are the same that elsewhere and therefore could move freely. Constrains are what limits these molecules to move only within body, creating conditions for self-regeneration, which is the key feature of living.
- THE BIGGEST MYSTERY WE EVER IGNORE
The mystery here is appearance of selves and their difference from non-selves. Author posits here the difference between non-selves and selves as difference between Cause-Effect pair and Means-Ends. Where former is just happening naturally, while latter defined by selves’ actions. After that, author looks at the notion of information as something specific for selves or machines working for selves. Author discusses bridge in human notions between selves and non-selves that is difficult to close and looks at various attempts typical for human culture to insert invented selves elsewhere where there are gaps in understanding of reality. It is especially interesting when humans hit transformation point from selves to non-selves as at the point of dying.
- DEACON’S SOLUTION IN BRIEF
Here author presents the brief version of his teacher’s solution to the problem of appearance of highly organized selves in the world of the 2ndlaw of thermodynamics. This solution is based on the idea of random constrains that occur naturally, limiting range of movement for molecules of non-selves, which in some cases could lead to increase of local orderliness. Author defines emergent vs. imposed constrains and posits that these constrains could lead to emergent self-regulation, which in turn could lead to regeneration and consequent establishment of circular self with somewhat dynamically stable conditions of birth – live with continuing intertwining of deterioration and self-repair – reproduction by creating another self that combines similarity with variation – death. Author concentrates on the notion of self-regeneration, which includes: self-protection, self-repair, and self-reproduction. Author introduces here idea of autogen that includes higher and lower levels of emergent constrains that causes self-generating selves.
Il. FRAMING, THER MYSTKRY
- TWO SOURCES OF CHANGE
Here author going into details of changes process. He discusses two toolkits: cause and effect, which is purely material and happens consistently all the time; and means and ends, which depends on selves and happens with great variety depending on selves and their internal and perception of external conditions at the moment.
This is look at what is self and author pretty much defines it as everything alive and then goes into discussing differences between human vs. non-human selves. Then he goes a bit into Descartes Body/soul (self) dichotomy. Somehow author comes to conclusion that selves are non-material based on the strange idea that living and dead bodies are materially the same (which they are obviously not).
- TWO GHOSTS, TWO MACHINES
This starts with discussion of supernatural ghosts that author obviously rejects and equivocal ghost or homunculi that kind of manage us from inside. This is also rejected as unscientific. The right approach is emergentism, which seeks to explain transition from one state to another via cause and effect dynamics to selves with time. After dealing with ghosts author moves to machines and defines them as either functional or non-functional depending on whether they serve selves or not. The final part is discussion of teleonomy, meaning impression of purpose, resulting from Couse/effect laws of nature.
It is about typical notions that make sense only in relation to selves such as: FOR-NESS, ABOUT-NESS, and interpretations of behavior.
Similarly, author discusses aiming as constraining meaning that when selves aim at something to de-liberate them from something else. Author looks at differences between human approaches to aiming, which is pinpoint aiming in both time and space, but it is much less precise for other selves. Author also discusses here determinism, which is rejected and then pairs: determinism vs. probability, and probability vs. possibility.
- EVOLUTION’S LIMITED LIMITING ROLE
The final chapter of this part is about evolution and author stresses its aimless character. However, he points out that only selves have aims that could evolve because of variance: generation, not replication. The final point here is that Darwin’s “Origin of species” is somewhat a misnomer because we do not know about origin, we only know about transformation. The origin itself – that is production of living self from non-living materials, is still a mystery.
III. DEAD ENDS, LIVE CLUES
- THE HISTORY
Author starts this with example of various functional causes going back to Aristotle:
From here author goes to discussion of Christian and Islamic attitude to causes and tendency to insert god into causal relationship whenever gaps in understanding occur. This tendency was greatly undermined by development of scientific approach, which makes god a lot less necessary for understanding the world and practically useless for predicting future outcome of actions.
- EVOLUTIONARY THEORY’S ELUSIVE SELF
The next stop is discussion of evolution. First it discussed from the Darwin point of view and then going to Dawkins with his “selfish gene” and “blind watchmaker”.
- INFORMATION ABOUT NOTHING FOR ANYONE
Here author moves to Shannon and theory of information, which is basically theory of imperfect communications.
- THE ENGINEERED GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINES
Here it is computer that is object of discussion or more precisely its ability to imitate humans and Turing test. Author seems to believe that computers could eventually become selves, but we are far away from that. Finally, author discusses “reverse engineering fallacy” that means science first. In reality engineering often comes first when something is done and works without doer understanding how it works. There is a nice statement here “The map is not territory”.
- SMALL IS DUBIOUS
The final peace is about small particles approach to the search of understanding of live in quantum mechanics and physics. Author provides a brief review of a number of approaches, none of which he considers valid:
- GROUNDING A SOLUTION
- PROCESSES OF EMERGENT ELIMINATION
This starts with discussion of materialism vs. naturalism. Author states that naturalism is wider notion because it includes absences, which materialism does not. Author also includes dynamic changes into natural, but not material phenomenon. Then he moves to interesting part of discussing processes of elimination vs. processes of production, with former being natural processes leading to creation of selves, while latter are typical for selves. Another unusual approach here is discussion of negative scientific breakthroughs. Author refers here to evolution, which works by eliminating unfit, information theory where message received is whatever left of message sent, and cybernetic self-organization, which eliminates states of the system inconsistent with its functioning. Finally, author moves to discuss selves’ emergence of new dynamic paths. The application here is to look from elimination point of view, for example instead of what makes something alive to look at what prevents something from dying.
- SECOND LAW
This starts with an interesting question: what is more complex frog or blended mix of its parts? Author position is that blend is more complex because in one case parts are organized and easily identified, while in the mix everything is elsewhere preventing categorization. Author present is as 2ndlaw of thermodynamics – entropy. Normal movement from simple – organized staff to complex, mixed staff is according to this low, but the puzzle is how regularity such as selves were created in the first place. Author’s response is that it happens via irregularities that constrain path of movement, generating regularity. One of examples – paths development when more walked on path becomes more and more attractive for walkers, consequently becoming a road. Author’s here is that nothing added, but rather potential paths are eliminated.
- EMERGENT REGULARIZATION
It starts with discussion of material constrains like walls, which are defined as imposed constrains. Author present another form of constrains – self-organization as emerging constrains created throughout dynamics – something like turbulence created by mix of currents of the river or crown movement out of stadium. This follows by discussion of top-down causality and critic of notion of self-organization, which author wants to substitute with new term: emergent regularization. This emergent regularization means increase in constrains eventually leading to self-regeneration.
- EMERGENT REGULARIZATION VS. EMERGENT SELF-REGENERATION
Important point here is that emergent regulation is temporary and local effect, but it produces self-generation that from this moment on start producing highly regulated material. Author provides example of fossil fuel that is at its core such regulated material with high concentration of energy created by selves. After that author refer to Schrodinger’s idea of unknown laws of nature that possesses negative entropy – negentropy that would differentiate living from non-living material. Author’s point is that emergent regularization is practically doing just that. After that author defines self-regeneration as combination of 3 fundamental capacities presented in such way:
At the end of the chapter he discusses interaction between these 3, which is quite complex because they impose opposite demands.
- OTHER EMERGENT REGULARIZATION DYNAMICS
Here author surveys 3 types of emergent regulation dynamics:
- Benard Cells – regular pattern created by heated oil due to variance of temperature between layers of this oil.
- Autocatalysis, when there is closed loop of catalyst supporting chain of reaction leading to production of more of this catalyst.
- Crystals, which author calls frozen regularity. Author uses it as sample of aperiodicity somewhat similar to DNA.
At the end author discusses 3 what he calls “proposed missing links, falling short”, each of which has a camp of supporters:
- COUPLED REGULARIZATION PROCESSES
The chapter starts with reference to Kant and his machine’s motive power vs. life’s formative power, the last one being systemic with everything interconnected creating vector from means to ends. Deacon and author’s approach is different and based on idea opposite to usual: the whole is less than sum of its parts. In other words, it is the system of reciprocal constrains that author calls synergistic coupling. One candidate for such coupling is Eigen’s hypercycle – coupling of multiple autocatalytic processes. After that author discusses “Error Catastrophe” when various processes in the system go out of sync, which in author believe would prevent hypercycles from creation of live. Another candidates discussed are “autopoietic units” formed by autocatalytic processes that create membranes. Author believes that this is unlikely scenario due to low probability of such occurrence. Author provides more details on this, but concludes that all this is not enough to generate life.
- DEACON’S SOLUTION
- AUTOGENS: SELF-GENERATORS
This is discussion of autogen and its use as a model for origin of live. Here is pictorial presentation:
Author discusses autogen cycles and its dynamic constrain tendencies resulting in self-generation for which it meets all 3 requirements: Self-protection, self-repair, and self-reproduction.He also looks at information collection from environment and self-cleaning, concluding at the end that autogen provides for evolvable reproduction at the edge of chaos.
- EVOLVED AUTOGENS
This is the next step in the theory of autogen – adding selectivity to autogen interaction with environment. This obviously allows for evolutionary development because selectivity and choice is what allow for preferable survival of selves that do it more effectively. After that author moves to discuss replication and currently dominant origin of life theory based on RNA replicators. At the end author discusses hypothetical scenario for templates being incorporated into autogen providing for autogen lineages ability to inherit random monomer sequences.
- WHERE IS THE SELF?
The first question here is if autogen is self. So far it is all theory since an autogen is still to be generated in a lab or observed spontaneously arise in nature. After that author goes into discussion of reciprocity of parts in living body and so is autocatalysis vs. capsid formation could be considered reciprocal, creating entity that has an aim of not ending. Here is the illustration of such super primitive self:
At the end author points out that self is not really material object similarly to whirlpool, which is not material condition of material water molecules. Therefore, what author calls synergetic coupling of Autocatalysis and Capsid formation could start evolutionary process expanding all kind of entities that combine all three basic capacities: self-reproduction, self-repair, and self-protection.
- THE CONSEQUENCES OF SELF-REGENERATION
Author starts this with discussion of trying, which he defines as specific characteristic of selves’ attempt to avoid ending. He then moves to consequences of trying: emergence of good and bad, self-other relationship, foresight, and memory.
- THE INTERPRETING SELF
- CODES, SIGNS, INTERPRETERS
Here author is using autogen in attempt to analyze selves at their most primitive level so to avoid complexities added by evolution. He starts with functional constrains, the first one being a coincidence of autocatalysis and capsid formation being together (dynamic constrain) and the second: catalysts clustered together in autogen seed (static constrain). Consequently, author discusses information first theories of live, DNA and link of information transfer functionality to selves.
- KINDS OF SIGNS
Here author looks at nature and functionality of signs, symbols, and symbolic systems. The most important probably here is discussion of interpretations and the notion of only selves being able to interpret anything at all.
- A CONSTRAINT-BASED APPROACH TO EVOLUTIONARY THEORY
Author looks at implications of autogen theory and notes that template – DNA is redundant and this gives the freedom to explore. He also points out that evolution is basically theory of constrains because they are causing selective pressures and remove unfit. Author critics a simplified idea of evolution and promotes idea that selves at least somewhat drive evolution of choosing what aims they are trying to achieve. He is trying to provide an adjustment that is based on 3 R: Redundancy, Relaxation, and Repurposing.
- IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WILL DEBATE?
Another issue is implication of this theory to the free will. Author claims that will is neither free nor determined, but rather it is complex source of action predefined by selves’ aims. He rejects an idea that motor neural activities occurring before conscious decision demonstrate absence of free will, it only demonstrates that organism is more complicated than simple top down hierarchy. After that author discusses categories, symbolic interpretations and unexpected consequences. While rejecting determinism, author also rejects simplified application of Heisenberg uncertainty principle to selves, stating that we have incomplete determinism in the probabilistic world. He also discusses theory of chaos pointing out that normally butterflies do not really create hurricanes. Finally he discusses a notion of strange loop, which is ambiguity of causes and effects relationship, concluding that “We evolved selves are strange loop also, tangled hierarchies of levels of representation. Our DNA is not full representation of all constrains, but rather loose set of molecular representation of temporal and developmental constrains not reducible to chemical dynamics.
- MAKING SCIENCE SAFE FOR VALUE
It starts with the discussion of Hume’s guillotine: oughtis not deducible from is. In other words science cannot speak to questions of value. Author suggest that if oughtmeans value for selves; they could be expressed via selves’ aims. Author then moves to science / religion contradiction and suggest that it should not prevent scientific approach to values, which is not deterministic and does not involve anything supernatural, but rather based on selves who have aims resulting in forming values and negotiating between each other over these values. He ends with the point that the higher value for humans should be self-preservation as the one and only symbolic life.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find the approach via subtraction (constrains) rather then addition to the problem of origin of life very interesting, but very difficult to test in any conceivable settings. It does make a lot of sense and is quite possibly explanation close to reality. However I think that implication of it to all philosophical questions being a bit of the stretch, except for the idea of difference between living and non-living objects as between selves that have aims and material objects that have no aims whatsoever and just being moved by natural phenomenon of cost and effect. I think it would make sense to add that selves’ aims depend on their material condition in time and space, which defined by complex material cause – effect events that consequently prompt selves initiate action that seek to achieve aims via probabilistically predictable cause-effect events.