A Tutorial

Part Six

Kent Palmer, Ph.D.

copyright 1996 Kent Palmer, all rights reserved

published on the email list on 960125

1. Breakup of the Monolith

Now we have the full set of kinds of Being in view, it is time to turn to some more basic questions in order to put them in perspective.

The fundamental assertion that we are making here is that anything that has any deep significance must be thought about in terms of all four of the different kinds of Being. We are postulating that Autopoiesis has deep significance because it is a description of the essence of life by indicating what life gets from the structures that assure it's viability. Thus we need to look at it in the context of all four different kinds of Being. And when we do so we find that Autopoietic Theory is transformed by that context. Here we wish to trace some aspects of that transformation that takes us well beyond what is normally thought about in terms of autopoietic theory. In other words autopoietic theorists normally take as given the present-at-hand formulation theories that all science strives for and never question the process of ideation that lies behind those representations. By questioning that ground and placing it in a broader philosophical context we are going deeply into the horizon of possible significance of autopoiesis.

This deepening of context is particularly relevant to autopoiesis because it is about the self-production of living beings. But that makes us wonder about the self-production of the ideational process that produces the theories that we expose about living beings. In a sense autopoiesis always implicitly calls for it's theory to understand the grounds of the production of the theory itself. In fact, we find ourselves enacting the process of theorizing autopoietic phenomena. The nub of paradox that is autopoietic theory has the same characteristics of the autopoietic system itself. That is to say an external theorist cannot understand the outcome of an autopoietic theorists thoughts about phenomena, because it does not fit into the traditional cause and effect framework. The autopoietic theorist somehow becomes fused with his theory within the magical circle around the paradoxicality. The autopoietic theorist has entered this circle and has taken up a different relation to his theory than the normal theorist. This is like the fusion of the living and the cognitive within the autopoietic system. The fact that the traditional theorist cannot understand the results of the autopoietic theorizing is like the closure of the autopoietic system to the external observer. This essential change of status of the autopoietic theorist stems from the fact that autopoietic theorizing is essentially rooted in Process Being not in the pretense of stasis of normal Theory that seeks to produce knowledge relationships that will not change. Instead autopoietic theory is a lot like the other humanistic disciplines developed in this century: namely Phenomenology, Dialectics, Hermeneutics and Structuralism.

Each of these disciplines that have been developed by the Humanities to attempt to establish themselves as sciences introduce distance between the humanistic observer of culture and his subject. But each of them are marked by an essential process that is recognized to be an unending exploration of horizons rather than the production of a fixed result. Phenomenology has the horizons of noema (endless content of consciousness) and noesis (endless realms of significance of things within consciousness) to explore. Hermeneutics has endless configurations of texts to interpret. Dialectics has endless movements through contradiction to resolution that occurs in History. Structuralism has endless cultural distinctions to dissect. But the important difference with normal science is that as each of these disciplines explore their respective territories they continually introduce changes that they themselves must take into account so that the task is never-ending. Similarly Autopoiesis has set itself an endless task of understanding how the existential nature of organisms contributes to their essential viability. In that process the autopoietic theorist gets lost in the endless process of unfolding the theory. A theorist that assumes that theories must be static and lead to frozen results that stand forever will never understand either the constructivist method nor the enactive practice of autopoietic theory.

So we see in autopoietic theory an essential change in the process of theorizing. And it is important to understand that to get the right perspective on this new approach to things. It is like quantum mechanics or relativity theory in that it fuses the theorist (observer) to the theorized about (observed) in some strange way. It is a means of understanding the implications of this fusion in a field other than physics for a change. We can understand this as an intersection of Pure Presence and Process Being within the theory in a way similar to that posited by Heidegger in his definition of Ontological Monism as a way of comprehending Being. Ontological Monism says that Being is a closed system that produces and grounds itself. It posits a closure of Being that has not need of God. Michael Henry breaks up this picture of Heidegger's by positing the possibility of Ontological Dualism which in turn opens up the possibility of ontological Multiplicity. In Ontological Dualism there is 'some?ness' beyond the the closure of Process Being and Pure Presence. Think of this as being like the perturbations of the autopoietic system. The Essence of Manifestation never shows itself (it is like the unconscious) except in the distortions in what does appear. The difference between the autopoietic metaphor and Ontological Monism is that in autopoiesis the perturbations or distortions come form the outside environment but in Ontological Monism they come from 'within' manifestation itself, from an incomprehensible direction. We have a situation kind of like that of the inhabitants of Abbott's FLATLAND for whom the motions of higher dimensional creatures is incomprehensible. Ontological Dualism that appears with Hyper Being tells us that the Plenum of Being as static and the Flows of Being that is dynamic are shot though and through with these discontinuities across inexplicable transformations occur as if from another dimension. But with the opening up of the possibility of a third dimension of Being there comes the possibility of an even higher dimensions. So we could go on to posit Ontological Multiplicity. What is interesting is that this step only brings us one further dimension. It essentially fragments the plenum of Pure Presence and the Flow of Process Being in Time into a shattered chaotic morass. There is nothing in autopoietic theory as it stands that can be taken as a metaphor for this explosion. We must in fact extend autopoietic theory into the reflexive social realm to have a model of what is happening in this case. But it is clear that autopoiesis can be seen as a metaphor for the relations between the differentiation of the first three kinds of Being.

In order to understand this we must go back to Kant. Kant posited that understanding must be a mixture of experience and reason and denied that reason on its own was capable of knowledge. This was in contradistinction to the dogmatic philosophers through out the history of philosophy up till then who claimed to know things based on reason alone. But Kant showed that Reason always produces Antinomies that cancel so that Reason alone leads only to annihilation of ideas. Thus did Kant establish the fundamental limits of metaphysics. But metaphysics always wanted to have its cake and eat it to. It always wanted to maintain the limits established by Kant and yet also go beyond them. It was Husserl and his discovery of Essence perception that showed finally how this was possible. Husserl showed that there was an invisible substrate of process under the representations of transcendental philosophy. In that way he substantiated Hegel's claim that dialectical interactions between the categories were more fundamental than the frozen non-interacting categories that Kant posited. But Husserl did it from within Transcendental Idealism instead of by turing it upside down as Hegel did. Husserl found a process at the heart of ideation that made induction and deduction possible. This was like discovering another dimension to the idealist world. Heidegger quickly took advantage of this other dimension to show that indeed we can have our cake and eat it too. We can maintain the limits that Kant posits but the we can escape those limits by entering the dimension of Process Being in order to penetrate those limits without actually crossing the lines Kant drew. We just go around them in another dimension analogous to exiting a sphere in four dimensional space without crossing its boundary. Heidegger goes on to show that we can use this other dimension to ground static Being by a transformation by which it produces itself. We can achieve what Nietzsche calls the Eternal Return of the Same within our representational system that represents our Will to Power. Heidegger's philosophy in BEING AND TIME shows how to construct this ontological monism out of the two kinds of being, essentially fusing Parmedian Being with Heraclitian Flux into a single monolithic model of Manifestation.

The problem arises when it is shown that Process Being has the antinomy of Nothingness. In that difference the possibility of a trace differAnce arises that makes us have to talk of Being under erasure or canceled out. Thus Being suffers from the same problem that Kant saw in all the products of ideation. Within this process of unfolding in time there is a more fundamental trace process of cancellation or annihilation. This is like the discovery of virtual particles underlying conserved particles in quantum physics. There is a substrate of cancellation within the process Being grounding itself. Putting this is terms of the autopoietic metaphor we can say that within the closed autopoietic system there is found to be an essential instability, something that throws us out into a heterodynamic relation with the external world rather than just passively accepting perturbations. This thing that causes the autopoietic system to invert is the dual of the perturbations hidden within the autopoietic system itself and not seen except in certain cricumstances, i.e. it is only seen when the autopoietic system breaks through to the next emergent level and becomes socially reflexive, that is mirroring other autopoietic systems.

This problem that arises in the discovery of Hyper Being quickly becomes a catastrophe when we enter into the phase of Ontological Multiplicity. Just like in Chaos theory when a third thing arises it brings with it Complete Chaos, so to when the first crack appears in the edifice of Monolithic manifestation then all hell breaks lose. The monolith produced from the first two kinds of Being by Heidegger explodes into a myriad of metaphysical principles so that order and disorder, continuity and discontinuity, presence hiddenness become thoroughly mixed. This is the meaning of Wild Being. Wild Being is in a way just the culmination of the process that was set off by the discovery of Hyper Being. What were merely cracks in the edifice that appeared in Hyper Being become the entire involution of the monolith of Ontological Monism and its breaking apart into chaos. But the cracks in the facade and the chaotic rubble of the destroyed edifice have a different character and thus represent different kinds of Being.

So we eluded Kant's limits but had to pay the price of annihilation of the antinomies of Process Being and Nothingness which resulted in an utter destruction of the edifice of Modernism resulting in what we now call Post-modernism. Modernism was a closed system modeled on Newton's physics by Kant. Kant laid down uncrossable limits. But Husserl found a way to cross them from within inside Transcendental Idealism. Heidegger used this as a way to construct the monolith of Being that produces itself which weds Transcendental Idealism to Dialectics of the Hegelian variety. Heidegger went on to show that this possibility existed within Kant's own philosophy and was erased in the second edition of the Critique. Then Heidegger showed that in the Greek roots of Western philosophy there as always an understanding of the process of manifestation as Un-covering or showing and hiding. This should have been the end of the matter. But like the cracks that appeared in Heidegger's image due to is involvement in Nazism so to cracks appeared in the edifice of the Noun and Verb fused into a monolith. Heidegger himself was the first to recognize this with his image of Being (crossed out) in the essay for Junger called "On the Line." Subsequently Derrida went on to explore the cracks in the idol of ontological monism as a kind of endless psychotherapy of philosophy showing how the unconscious of Hyper Being (called DifferAnce) intrudes into Manifestation and seeing the traces of this intrusion everywhere. Later our vision inverts itself and we see that the traces of intrusion are everywhere and that Manifestation is shot through and through with fissures of the non-manifest. Then we realize the umpiquity of Wild Being. And that subsequently takes us beyond the metaphor of Autopoiesis and causes us to explore the realm that lies beyond Autopoiesis at the level where the social arises as an emergent phenomena.