05 March, 2013



Radically Transforming Interludes

We have many assumptions and indeed principles, which we truly believe accurately reflect Reality, and they, therefore, underlie absolutely all our explanations and theories.

But, do they address the really important phases in any actual qualitative changes – in the actual development of Reality, or do they merely deal with the local and immanent snapshots of that trajectory or longer exposures of forcibly maintained stable setups, and, therefore, only within one form or another of an unchanging stability?

My contention is that they most certainly do only the latter, and deal with any evident qualitative changes by merely switching between alternative stabilities, and totally ignoring any transformation interludes from one to the other entirely!

But, of course, if these crucial interludes are omitted, such a paradigm will never manage to explain why and how the measured phenomena come to be in place, both in our arranged Domains, and certainly never for totally unfettered Reality.

We may be able to construct analytic and synthesizing methods, within each stability, but they will only encapsulate pattern, and allow prediction thereby: they will be merely technological and certainly not explanatory, for the latter is essential for both true Science and real Philosophy!

And, of course, this is exactly what usually happens, and has done so for centuries.

But, what it means when unavoidable and major transformations occur is that we are then totally ill equipped to either understand them or, indeed, cope with them.

We, in such periods, are tossed about like corks in a stormy sea, and can do nothing to, in any way, intervene.

We are consigned to merely suffer these transformations, and dearly hope for the quick return of our interpretable Stability.

Clearly then, our basic conceptions and methodologies are inadequate to deal with such interludes of qualitative change!

Our achievements are predicated solely upon Stability, and the overall trajectory of any real Development is entirely out of our hands.

We are pragmatic users of stability, yet sufferers of Change!

But, are we congenitally restricted to such a stance?

Can we only do what we do, and no other?

The answer has to be a resounding, “No!

For, to start with, we do not deny these transforming interludes at all. We greet the births of our babies with great delight, and what are such events but interludes of almost miraculous changes?” And we see and recognise the metamorphoses of worm-like caterpillars into devastatingly beautiful butterflies without a qualm. And as a scientist, I recognise these revolutionary episodes throughout the history, not only of all Life, or the development of the Earth, and even of the Cosmos too, and the Life histories of its stars.

We know that these episodes do indeed occur!

Why do we not address such in generality as a natural consequence of the necessary evolution of Reality, and study them all scientifically?

The trouble was, and still is, the unavoidable occurrence of exactly those transformations in Society – the Social Revolutions! For, these can throw out all those who rule or dominate.

They frighten the establishment to death!

So, any serious scientific study of these transformations in general – usually termed Emergences, would also unavoidably have to include Revolutions in that very same remit, and that could be devastating!

Good God! It might equip agitators like Lenin to intervene in a Revolution to work to change its outcome!

Could the establishment ever risk such an occurrence?

The answer is clearly, “No!”

And it has always been so, whatever the establishment consists of. Instead, such researches and methods of investigation, and its resultant theories must be roundly condemned, and even ridiculed, and such people get away with it (most of the time) because they have the old “pluralist science” safely on-their-side.

For that methodology never addresses such transformations – indeed, they are avoided at all costs, and where stability doesn’t naturally exist, it is skilfully imposed to enable successful experiments to be carried out and appropriate laws extracted.

And this can quite adequately produce a galaxy of products, without any recourse to these emergent considerations.

For, their kind of investigation is strictly limited to Stability. And given constrained and maintained Domains, they can find laws that can be used to reliably predict, and hence produce!

The counter to truly explanatory, and, therefore, real Science, is, as always, technology.

For it will work while-ever any system of transforming Revolution does not take over!

For such plurality-determined “science” delivers without addressing any emergent events, except perhaps as “midwives” to the inevitable, or “surgeons” to the catastrophes.

Indeed, this medical-type metaphor is doubly appropriate because more generally, you have to ask -

“How can a profession such as Medicine cope with living people, and all their inevitable health crises that they are bound to undergo, without a standpoint that addresses emergent events?

Surely, they must extend their methods to unavoidably include these events?

For, if not, what you learn and apply must be mere recipes.

If your diagnostic methods, named complaints, and systems of treatment for all possible illnesses are of this nature, then the doctor becomes a database for such a body of knowledge, rather than any kind of investigating scientist

And in a much wider general field, can we call most of what is usually termed “research” (in our society today), Science?

For, it is entirely dependant upon the discoveries, formulations and explanations of other people – scientists who attempt to find laws in given Domains (artificially maintained stabilities).

Those that form the majority of those involved in such “research”, are merely finding the best, quickest, cheapest, most alluring, or most profitable products of already known laws.

They can keep it up almost indefinitely, but it is not Science, but only Technology!

Now, anyone following the current narrative in the media about “Science” will doubtless feel that they have to disagree with this analysis. For, they constantly hear from populists like Professor Brian Cox, Jim Al’Khalili and Marcus du Sautoy of all sorts of phenomena, many of which purport to address qualitative change, but actually do no such thing!

Most of Cox’s qualitative excursions are about things, which cannot be interfered with, far away in the Cosmos, while those from du Sautoy are diversions into Chaos and Fractals (with a substantial addition of the condiment of Pure Chance) to “explain” various Emergences in Mathematics.

But his narratives are a fraud, they are never about Reality, but about the mathematical World of Pure Form alone – what I insist should be called Ideality.

NOTE: In fact his position was put very succinctly by Stanislav Lem when he said:- 

“Let us imagine a mad tailor, who makes all sorts of clothes. He does not know anything about people, birds or plants. He is not interested in the World; he does not examine it. He makes clothes but does not know for whom. He does not think about it. The tailor is only concerned about one thing: he wants to be consistent. [….] He takes the finished clothes to a massive warehouse. If we enter it we would discover that some of the clothes fit an octopus, others fit trees, butterflies, or people. We would find clothes for a centaur and for a unicorn, as well as for creatures they have not even been imagined yet. The majority of his clothes would not find any applications.

Mathematics works in the same way. It builds structures but it is not clear of what. These are perfect models (i.e. perfectly accurate), but a mathematician does not know what they are models of. He is not interested. He does what he does because such an action has turned out to be possible."

Summa Technologiae – Stanislav Lem

Stanislav Lem

Indeed, no one actually addresses such questions.

Finally, we must come to the science that first did actually address Emergences – namely by Charles Darwin with his Origin of Species. With such an epoch-making contribution, surely of all the sciences, Biology must be the one to pursue what Darwin began and go ever deeper into Emergent Events?

But, I’m afraid you will, sadly, be disappointed.

The touchstone was the second brilliant piece of holist science carried out by Stanley Miller in his famous Experiment, in which in a totally isolated experimental set-up, containing what were then considered to be the substances dominating the atmosphere of the early, pre-Life Earth. He designed and constructed his apparatus to emulate what was likely to have happened in what might reasonably be called the “Weather Cycles” from that period, and set the system into action by the addition of just heat and lightning (via electric sparks).

In only a week, the water in his closed system had turned reddy-brown and later analysis was found to contain amino acids – the crucial building blocks in all known living things on Earth today.

It was as revolutionary as Darwin’s contribution, but the majority of scientists were not satisfied, and asked, “Well, what exactly was going on within this set-up. What were the various processes going on and in what order?” And they universally concluded that, “Without knowing these things, the experiment had no consequences. It was a dead end!”

And, in spite of some improvements by Miller, the technology of that time did not allow him to answer their crucial questions, without, in the usual pluralist way, intervening to analyse, and so destroy each and every sub-process of the self-moving, holistic system.

The line of research was dropped.

And that is symptomatic of all modern biological research. They too do not address Emergences!

Now, though these wholesale criticisms are correct, there would naturally still be some scientists, who would indeed address crucial transformational episodes in new and imaginative ways. For example Hunt in studies into how, why and when the cells of fertilised eggs divided, for he developed a technique, which neither stopped nor interfered with the natural process of cell divisions, but also enabled him to separately analyse the chemicals present during successive phases of the process. He cracked what was initiating cell division, and for this brilliant work was awarded the Nobel Prize for Biology.

While in a very different and surprising area, Pagel studying large numbers of fossils, was able to show statistically that Species Origin had to involve a single event, and not the usually assumed set of small incremental changes over an extended period. Species Origination was an Emergent Event, and definitely then needed an explanation for what actually happened during this remarkable multi-phase Event.

Finally Ryan with his work on viruses and their penetration into other organisms, not only on the well known symbiotic type of relationships, but also in unifying single but unrelated organisms - a virus and a much higher living thing into a single amalgam, the results of which could be crucial in explaining alternative forms of genetic mutation other than the usual “random damage “ version.

The title of this paper was chosen as Metamorphoses for very good reasons. Can we just study the caterpillar and the butterfly totally separately, and in great detail, and ignore the amazing metamorphosis in between?

The answer has to be a resounding, “No!” What on earth is going on within the chrysalis and why? It is almost as if two species have been merged – one with the idea of eating its way to nirvana via leaves, and the other perfect for the reproduction of the species with the added and miraculous facility for flight.

Think what actually occurs!

A soft bodied, worm-like creature gets fat enough and then retires into a chrysalis, wherein the most radical transformations occur.

It is like a re-invention of the organism.

Instead of being soft-bodied, it transforms into a hard exoskeleton-encasing insect, with elaborate wings. Instead of eating leaves, it now switches to sucking up nectar from flowers, and, instead of being camouflaged, it erupts into a galaxy of colour to signal its presence to potential mates.

It usually only lives long enough to copulate and lay eggs before dying. (The mayfly (another relative) actually emerges in the adult stage without mouthparts, for it doesn’t even need to eat during its very short life).

So, what on earth happens inside that chrysalis?

Why was there such a revolutionary transformation?

Where did the imperatives for resorting to such a two-phase life and its absolutely essential transformation event come from?

All these questions are valid and definitely need answers.

In other areas, there are organisms (some incredibly simple – even single celled), which, in very hard times, transform themselves into a dormant and maximally protected state to “see-out” the bad-times (the seed being the simplest example), but it also happens to multi-celled animals too, and they can survive for truly remarkable periods of time in these defensive, totally-inactive states.

But even there the process from original organism – to dormant version – to fully-functioning organism again, is never merely “shutting-down”. It is always a major and profound re-organisation into “something else”. Clearly, there must be resonances between those defensive transformations and the much more short-term and functional metamorphosis of the caterpillar/butterfly.

One area that may be revealing can be seen in the study of developing embryos. For, it is evident that to some significant extent, these tend to pass through similar stages to what happened to prior species in the evolution of the present–day organism to arrive at its current state. It seems to indicate that prior phases in evolution are not lost, but are still present within the genetic material of the current organism, and in fact function as before, but only in the embryonic development stage

Could it be that reversions under extremely damaging conditions can take place, to put the organism in a more survivable prior state, and that when conditions improve, the organism can re-instate its current development path (within the safety of the chrysalis) until it can emerge as the final version of the current organism.

When we talk of a blueprint in the DNA of an organism, it is usually interpreted as a single trajectory through the various necessary phases of development. But several things would be essential even for such a seemingly” simple” plan.

For, the necessary “instructions” are not available in that DNA as a linear, physical sequence – starting at the beginning and going through each successive phase in turn.

It just isn’t like that!

The instructions are arranged in no particular physical order: they are dispersed throughout the DNA.

So what determines the actual sequence to be followed?

Each phase produces along with its primary functions the necessary chemical trigger for the immediately following phase, by producing a unique “key” that alone can “turn-on” the next phase, wherever it turns out to be. And these can be anywhere in the DNA, for the necessary key, being a chemical molecule, can bathe all parts of the complex molecule, but only act upon its target area(s) that initiate the required next phase. So, the whole sequence is elicited one at a time by the products of each immediately prior phase.

Indeed, the assumption that the overall sequence is the only one coded for, would, therefore, also be inaccurate.

In fact there could be alternative sequences that are almost never switched into action, including many redundant vestiges from past incarnations of the organism. And some of these might be triggered by adverse circumstances, which push the organism to the limits (and maybe beyond) of its normal envelope of survivable conditions, which would act as emergency solutions. A fairly common example in plants might be that which produces seeds – still the living organisms, but nothing like the fully-functioning adult plant. And in the same way a whole variety of similar “dormant” defensive forms might be triggered as the only way to maintain the spark of life.

Once such a set of alternative possibilities is considered, we can then consider that old (not usually still used) plans can be triggered, which could help a species in difficulties with impossible conditions to return to such a sequence as a survival alternative. Indeed, they might have been common in the very earliest scraps of life in the most demanding of circumstances of the early Earth.

And once we see that, much of the usually considered to be “junk DNA” is in fact still functional, but never triggered in normal sequences of a given organism, then we can view mutation very differently indeed. For whatever the cause of the mutation, it will respond initially to this unused storehouse of sequences, which might make the difference between success and failure for that change.

Also, situations such as metamorphosis may be a special case wherein two phases not originally run as a one-after-the-other sequence, might well be not only triggered in hostile circumstances, but regularly, as a superior alternative.

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