A Tutorial

Part Seven

Kent Palmer, Ph.D.

copyright 1996 Kent Palmer, all rights reserved

published on the email list on 960126

1. The Monolith Revisited

In the last part we saw hints that some of the characteristics of the monolithic ontology of Heidegger are rehearsed under the rubric of autopoietic theory. In particular we noted that Heidegger came up with a way of a treating the noun and verb as if it were one thing "nounverb" similar to the way physics treats the particle and wave as if they were one thing beyond the necessity that we see one or the other. Heidegger achieved this fusion of nounverb by moving to a place prior to the subject/object dichotomy, out into the new dimension discovered by his teacher Husserl. We may think of Kant as delimiting the metaphysical realm and postulating that it must be only the intersection of reason and experience. What inhabited that intersection was representations. These representations were present-at-hand and essentially frozen. Husserl basically accepted Transcendental Idealism with its Transcendental subject, object and God (the source of coherence between the other two transcendentals). Also he accepted the limits that Kant placed on metaphysics. To Husserl his new dimension that appeared in essence perception was just a new way to connect the representations to experience. In other words the things had kindness that were constraints on them that we directly perceived in a different mode than out production of ideas via induction and deduction. By identifying essence perception Husserl gave us a new way to connect between reason and experience along the lines of what Polyany calls Tacit Knowledge. Husserl was outraged when his student Heidegger took this opportunity to turn transcendental idealism inside out and bring back all that was forbidden previously by critical philosophy. Suddenly Being becomes central to philosophy again. This is because Heidegger imagined Being producing itself and thus grounding itself without need of god. Suddenly the realm of the transcendental ideals (subject, object, and God) were unnecessary. Instead that realm became the verb like aspect of Being whereby Being produced itself. A whole series of monoliths such as Form forming, Pattern patterning, Shape shaping where the nounverb prior to the split of noun and verb were summarized by "Is is". Being grounding itself was the act of transcendence. Transcendence became a process. So Representations representing were caught up in a monolith that was both Parmenidian and Heraclitian at the same time because it came before the split between he static and dynamic views of things. Heidegger's misuse of Husserl's discovery (from Husserl's viewpoint) was one of the most brilliant moves ever made in the Western Philosophical tradition. It was similar to the critical move of Kant in that it changed forever the terms in which philosophical arguments had to be framed from that point forward. This is why all post-war French philosophy was dominated by answers to Heidegger in spite of the taint of Nazism. Heidegger took Husserl's discovery and made a challenge out of it that no philosopher that understood it could ignore. (It does not say much for the Analytic strain of philosophy that they could not understand this new move nor it's significance.) Basically a new realm was opened up to philosophy that no one knew existed before. It was like the revolution that had occurred with Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics in physics. A new paradigm for what constituted a deep philosophy was inaugurated and everyone joined the gold rush.

Going back to Autopoiesis we see almost precisely the same configuration of ideas revisited in a different guise. It is as if biologists have discovered the equivalent to Ontological Monism in their specialty all over again. We have systems that are ordering themselves which is the equivalent in a special science like biology of the self-grounding of Being in ontology. We have closure just like the closure of the ontological monolith that does not need god. We have an emphasis on action or operations rather than on static and frozen representations like species. We have an emphasis on the individual organism which harkens back to the Heideggarian type of existentialism which rests on the individual. Action is fused to Representations within such a system so that externally we are unsure what the results of any input will be and on the inside we cannot differentiate between the realm of representations (cognition) and the realm of action (living processes). And finally there is the 'problem' of perturbations from the outside in the autopoietic system against which a homeostatic movement is launched whereas in ontological monism there is the problem of distortions like those of the unconscious coming from the inside of manifestation. The eternal return of the Same within the ontological monolith of nounverb, where the verbal moment is the reassertion of the representation of the noun, occurs despite internally generated distortions that seem to come from nowhere within the manifold of manifestation, i.e. showing and hiding. These distortions pose exactly the same kind of problem for the monolith of showing and hiding as the external perturbations have for the autopoietic system.

Once we recognize that there is a functor between significant elements of the dream of Ontological Monism and Autopoietic theory, then suddenly the importance of the subject of this tutorial becomes more apparent. We realize that Autopoiesis is merely an image within a specific discipline of a more widespread trend in our tradition. Because the ontological model is more general we can use that to bridge to other disciplines and it is possible to see this same trend elsewhere. In Physics for instance it appears as the hidden variable model for understanding quantum mechanics. The hidden variables if accepted would turn quantum theory into a similar monolith in which the complementary opposites are made the Same through some action behind the scenes that produces a hidden transformation of one into the other. In fact, there are many connections between the growth of probability theory and Heidegger's philosophy, and quantum mechanics which were all happening about the same time. Heidegger studied physics of that time intensely and wanted to do physics at one point in his career after he failed to find a place in Theology. Philosophy was really a third choice for him. Heidegger's philosophy was keyed into Quantum Physics in a way similar to the way Kant's philosophy was keyed into Newtonian Physics.

The kind of math that shows us best Heidegger's view of the world is probabilities. Probabilities are in fact representations mediated by actions, in which the representations essentially cannot be separated from the actions that produce them. Probabilities measure actualities of repetitions that are scattered by the actions that produce those actualities. Thus in the mean and standard deviations of the actualization there is a trace of the action within the representation itself. Probabilities have always been seen as playing a role in evolution. Look at Monod's teleonomic model in CHANCE AND NECESSITY for instance in which order and disorder are layered to produce a 'path' that encodes the action of reaching the end. In Monod's view of evolution you do not know where you are going until you get there. But it was left to autopoiesis to show what this view of things meant for the organism itself. In the organism the representations of order encode the action of imposing that order on itself. So the structural substrate is probabilistic beneath the representations of organization imposed upon itself. The organization is determinate. It floats upon the probabilistic structural substrate. So within the autopoietic system there are two levels brought together one determinate and the other probabilistic. But the autopoietic system is engaged in an action of organizing itself. Thus it is moving through a moment of probabilistic action in order to reassert homeostatically its determinate organization. Since this is continual the action of reaffirmation is fused or welded to the representation of order. Disorder and order are layered precisely like Monod's teleonomic filter but now within the self-producing organism itself. In Monod's evolutionary picture chance and necessity are welded together in this formal-structural middle ground just like life and cognition are melded together in the autopoietic system. These two models are inversions of the same basic structure. Both attempt to build models that give us a sense that it is possible to construct an ordered system of evolution or an ordered organism that could produce order out of randomness.

The problem of course is that punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution raises it's ugly head. We do not need only to show that order can arise out of disorder, as Monod tried to do and which Stuart Kauffman in THE ORGIN OR ORDER is trying again to do in even more sophisticated ways. The problem is that evolution is segmented by spates of arising and dying off species and we need to explain those punctuations as well. Similarly the autopoietic organism is part of an environment that is producing perturbations and we need to explain the meta-system of the milieu, ecology, or environment in which those perturbations make sense as well. That larger viable meta-system is segmented into interacting and symbiotic species and so we need to explain the the larger segmented existent context of the natural complex of co-exising co-evolving organisms, not just the single solitary individual organism that is maintaining itself homeostatically. This brings us to the bigger picture in which we can see all of manifestation as grounding itself and the distortions that are generated seemingly out of no-where that perturb that self-grounding process. Those distortions open up Pandora's box, for once the nounverb, waveparticle, livingcognitive, chancenecessity monolith breaks up it is difficult to say where that opening up of higher and higher meta-levels of explanation will end.

We can think of the production of the meta-levels of Being as a kind of symmetry breaking. As long as we can deny change then we can live in a realm of pure representation as do the Transcendental Idealists. However, when we find that change is not just something external but is right at the heart of the edifice of Transcendental Idealism as Husserl did then it is almost impossible to keep the symmetry breaking that distinguishes noun from verb from occurring. The verb is a supplement on the noun or vice versa. This gives us a new stable point that Henry has called ontological monism. But soon it breaks again as it is realized that the very act of distinguishing verb from noun brings discontinuity into play and disturbs the continuity we have posited between the noun and verb phases of our interval. This now opens up a new realm. Merleau Ponty in THE VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE talks about this under the rubric of a Hyperdialiectic between Process Being and its Antinomy Nothingness. When these antinomies cancel or annihilate then the final symmetry breaking occurs which gives us Wild Being. That is the chaotic mixture of order and disorder, continuity and discontinuity, noun and verb, subject and object, and all the other distinguishing marks of dualism. Wild Being is almost but not quite non-dual. When we reach the non-dual limit our ability to think about and express what is happening is severely restricted. In fact, Wild Being itself is almost impossible to talk about, yet ingenious philosophers, like Deleuze, Guattari, Hans, and Plotnitsky find a way.

We can think of these meta-levels of Being as something like the phase changes of Matter. We all know that there is solid, liquid, gas, plasma, and now Bose-Einstein Condensate. These are the phases and sure enough the different kinds of Being are kinda like these phases. Pure Presence is frozen and static like a Solid. We think of Parmenidian Being like we do 'blocks' of spacetime, i.e. frozen and unchanging. Here there is a pure pointing at something separate from the self is still possible and we can distinguish subject from object. Then there is the phase change to liquid, and we have a metaphor for process in the Heraclitain stream we cannot step into twice. At this level there is a grasping of what is close at hand that allows us to make transformations as we navigate through the world. But then the liquid breaks up when the space between atoms become too great and becomes a gas. The deconstruction of the nounverb monolith is kind of like it's dispersion into a gas with large discontinuities between the atoms of matter. Here we begin to feel the bearing up of the system under pressure. Traces are left in the Monolith by an unknown source. Manifestation bears the marks of distortion as the distinction between the noun and verb phases of the monolith begin to show cracks and fissures. Under more pressure and at a higher temperature matter becomes a plasma in which the electrons are striped away from the nucleus. This extreme pressure is like the encompassing of Wild Being in which ideation is striped away and the perceptual substrate revealed because in reason the annihilation of antinomic opposites (the hyperdialiectic) has occurred. Basically in Plasma the structure of the atom has been broken by the extremes of pressure. The Bose-Einstein condensate is more or less the opposite of Plasma. It occurs at the other extreme of cold where the quantum particles meld together to form a single super particle under just the right conditions. We might argue that this is a model of perfect interpenetration that occurs only in the near perfect vacuum of complete emptiness.

If we look at Being as collapsing under pressure and undergoing emergent changes of character as we increase the pressure just like matter does with phase transitions between modes with very different characteristics then I think we come closer to understanding what has occurred with the fragmentation of Being in this Century in continental philosophy which is mirrored in many of our more progressive disciplines such as Physics and Biology. Autopoietic Theory is part of this trend and as we have seen only takes us part way down the series of transformations that occur with the symmetry breakings. We need to look at autopoietic theory in this wider cultural context and look into the future in order to see how we can transform autopoietic theory itself in order to take us further down this road. Autopoietic theory needs an essential supplement in order to realize it's full potential within Biology, and other disciplines, when we view it from this perspective. What it needs is an extension that will explain the contested realm of the Social. Verela has warned us against applying autopoietic theory to the social. He distinguishes autopoietic from autonomous systems. And if we heed this warning then we need to start thinking what would need to happen to move autopoietic theory up to the next emergent level in which the isolated individual autopoietic organism becomes part of a meta-systemic socially grounded milieu. It is hoped that in the course of this series we can begin to lay the groundwork for understanding how this transformation of autopoietic theory may occur in a natural way that brings us to a higher emergent tier without sacrificing the organization of the autopoietic theory that exists now.