17 June, 2011

Issue 19 of SHAPE

In this issue of SHAPE Journal we carry on with the next installment of The Demise of Formalism. A significant part of this part of the paper addresses the essential change of standpoint that is necessary when tackling Emergent Change, from the usual formal and pluralist approach to a dramatically different holisitic one!

Also in this edition we are trying out a very different structure to a standard issue of the Journal. Not, I must hasten to add, in the Design or in the Content of SHAPE, but both in the quantity that we publish in a single issue, and in the intrinsic relationships between the set of papers included.

In the past we have divided all of the longer papers into a series of installments, which were then spread over a series of issues episodically - and we usually only had three unrelated topics in each issue. The success of the Special Issues of SHAPE has demonstrated to us that that choice was mistaken, and complaints have made it clear that more coherence and continuity would be acheived by publishing related sets of papers within a given issue.

So, for a few issues at least (and maybe for much longer) we will be changing our policy. First, the issues will be larger in size. The articles will be longer than the original 1000 word limit, there will be more of them, and they will tend to be all upon a related or even on an identical topic.

In this issue, therefore, will be seven separate contributions, thus raising the content well above the usual limit, though in this first tryout we have chosen fairly short papers with more diagrams. Most of these were written at different times starting 4 years ago, and it is interesting that the very act of composing this latest version has catapulted the editor into another bout of writing on the same topic. Clearly, it is hoped that this format will reveal something of the actual development of the ideas involved, and may even elicit more contributory responses from our readers.

This current set is on Positive Feedback scenarios, which turned out to be an absolutely crucial concept on the creation of the Theory of Emergences and in radically transforming in the research into the Origin of Life on Earth.

15 June, 2011


Why was there such a thing as Shadow Theatre?
It is, in a way, a kind of minimalist means of telling a story, but it also involves the most striking symbols of the types of people, places and events that are involved. And I characterise them as symbols with good reason: images or representations would be simply not appropriate. For they are immediately recognisable, and can “perform” in standard recognisable ways all sorts of “characteristic” actions, which would be difficult to present in a real theatre with actors and props (though in Far Eastern theatrical traditions, and ancient Greek Theatre, they did also attempt to do it with masks and/or dramatic costumes).

The suspension of disbelief was considered paramount; so the inadequacy of direct portrayal by perhaps less-than-convincing human representations, and the use of symbols seemed to greatly aid this requirement. Also, the ambiguity involved in using shadows allowed the imaginations of the audience to “fill-in” what was not there, and also allowed the effects, possible with shadows, could also be put to “magical” uses. The rhythm of the actions and the possibility of transformations by merely changing the angle of presentation of the puppets (or even the distance from the screen to deliver indefinite, ghostlike” images, could elicit in the audience a magical imperative of a story-line, almost impossible by other means at that time. It was, indeed, a very telling means of delivering a known and striking legend or myth.

Four different shadow views of the same object
demonstrating the illusory effects of shadow distortions

Now, this brief introduction may surprise its readers, when they discover that this essay is actually about Mathematics!

The writer is both a mathematician and a scientist, and has for many years sought a characterisation of what is involved in these two seemingly closely related areas, but which turn out to be very differently grounded. They turn out to be not the most comfortable bedfellows by any measure of means.

By far the most difficult to pin down was always Mathematics. It is, at the same time, considered both as the most abstract representation of Reality, while also its inner imperative – its actual driving force! And these are certainly inherently contradictory characterisations.

How can Form – the substance of all Mathematics, be both abstract and also the cause of all concrete phenomena? The only answer is that it cannot be both!

Yet, some seemingly sublime things can be unearthed by Mathematics alone, so what is actually going on? What is Mathematics really? What does it deliver? Can it really be the essence of Reality?
These are important questions, and are, even by the giants in those fields of endeavour and explanation, very poorly understood. Indeed, the whole History of Science (and even of Philosophy) has displayed a constant oscillation between disembodied Form and Concrete Content as the basis of Everything – indeed between Idealism and Materialism! And sometimes, the imposition of what are clearly idealised Forms upon aspects of Reality has proved amazingly fruitful, and even in the most surprising applications, for solving real, everyday problems.

Nothing could be more idealised than Euclidian Geometry with its dimensionless dots, and lines of zero thickness, not to mention its perfect circles and infinite perfectly flat planes. And yet it proved to be packed full of resonances with certain aspects of Reality and was so formally coherent that sound proofs could be constructed within this Ideal World alone! It empowered Man to solve real problems in his concretely existing World, by tackling them in a totally idealised World! No wonder these early mathematicians endowed their subject with transcendental properties to deliver the actual essences of Reality.

But, of course, it simply wasn’t true! It did not deliver a single CAUSE!

It delivered what came to be called Pure Form (unadulterated by the noise and dirt of the Real World) And knowing and understanding Form of itself could be extremely useful, even when applied in a much more complex real World. Indeed, it proved (much later in History) to be possible to manipulate Reality to clearly expose such Ideal Forms, which “proved” once and for all that these essences simply must be there! How could you reveal something that was merely a figment of your imagination? NO, you were extracting something that Reality actually contained!

The careful construction of appropriate Domains of Reality, with the control and even the suppression of many factors could indeed transform a situation, so that the most important relations were exposed clearly, and could be both extracted and presented mathematically as Equations.

Man did seem to be exposing the hidden essences of Reality, and they were indeed Forms! The World appeared to be constructed out of multiple contributing Forms, which Mankind was getting increasingly better at extracting, manipulating and even using! But, the question still hung there unanswered, “Could purely abstract relations actually cause concrete phenomena, or were the concrete phenomena generating Universal Forms?”

After many attempts to correctly characterise Mathematics, which had to explain how what seemed to be intrinsic Form, it was clear that these could not only be recognised and extracted, but then could be manipulated in isolation from its place in the concrete World, to some really useful purpose. There was something clearly objective even in abstract Mathematics! What could it be?

Perhaps the Shadow Theatre could throw some light upon these questions!

I suddenly realised that doing Mathematics was like shining a powerful light to reveal only the Shape of things by the shadows that they could cast! The analogy was more than a clever, but superficial, construct. It included the possibility that different things could cast very similar shadows, and were also capable of misinterpretation! Shadows require not only a source of light, but also a receiving surface, where the shadows could be cast. And the nature of the latter could certainly both select single Forms from many, or even distorts them markedly. Yet measurements of such shadows would still contain some Objective Content: they would have been caused by real concrete set ups. Even though the receiving surface could be at an angle, or curved, or even uneven, they would never be valueless, they would still contain real features of the original, though mediated by the overall circumstances of their projection upon the receiving surface. Even the nature of the casting light would have its effect but would never be arbitrary. Imagine the difference between the shadows projected by a point source of light upon a flat surface compared with a spherical surface surrounding both the light of the object to be studied.

Giorgio de Chirico's architectures of shadow

Yet the very limitations of Form delivered by such means, was simplified, without totally losing any objectivity. Even in a distorted shadow, there will still be Objective Content from the really existing concrete source. And the mixture of simplification and Objective Content could be very informative, especially if the simplification could be appropriately controlled and adjusted to expose a chosen feature.

Finally, the constancy of capture – shadows on a screen, would certainly impose a consistency on the things studied – a crackable universality. So, if all this is legitimate we have Mathematics as the Shadowland of Reality – a filter and a dramatisation that does facilitate the possibility of a beginning to its understanding.

Yet it also removes forever the idea that Form exposes the driving essences of Reality. That clearly is a myth!

01 June, 2011

New Special Issue on the Origin of Life

SHAPE Special Issue 5

An Assault on The Origin of Life
The Ground and Proposal for a new Miller's Experiment

This Special does not deliver a final solution to the Origin of Life on Earth, but it does both ask and answer many of the crucial questions without which such a task would be impossible.

It defines a new and necessary standpoint for a scientific attempt on this question, which has from the outset been forced to abandon the current, universally accepted ground for all scientific work. It has had to turn its back upon Plurality (the Whole and its Parts), Universal Reductionism, Formal Logic and the wholly idealistic belief in Reality being the product of eternal formal laws, and replace all of these with a steadfastly holisitic view, which turns out to be the only way to address revolutionary Qualitative Changes as are clearly involved in this stupendous Event.

It turns away from the Sciences of Stability and towards the Science of Qualitative Change, and to do this, extracts from a wide range of similar Emergence Events, what must be involved to create the Wholly New. But, to make such a switch is, without doubt, highly dangerous, because unlike the consensus standpoint in the Stability Sciences there is NO well-defined and soundly established standpoint and tested methodology. Nowhere can a holisitic scientific standpoint be looked up and implemented. It has had to be devised! And because of this, it will necessarily be incomplete.

Nevertheless, the gains that came from even a few sound holistic priciples, and a great deal of research, have made the outlines of such an approach conceivable and indeed applicable too. 

The crucial and necessary task was to rescue Miller's wonderful experiment from its unavoidable cul-de-sac, in which, though it was able to demonstrate that amino acids could be naturally produced from an emulation of the Earth's primaeval atmosphere and shallow tropical seas, it could not reveal how this had happened. To intervene in such a complex natural process to check what was going on would have broken the isolation necessary to make it entirely self-moving. But, by employing the new standpoint and using the latest available techniques, those weaknesses have been solved, and a major part of this Special Issue is in a long paper defining the New Miller's Experiment.

Other questions, answered incorrectly by many at present, who are more influenced by the need to acquire funding or join the consensus, than in finding the truth, had to be properly established as part of this approach. The questions "Where?", "What?", "How?", "When?", and "Why?" were addressed, and many important discoveries found, which turned out to be vital in tackling this, the most important of all current scientific questions.

A type of Truly Natural Selection, before Life had arrived, had to be established, and shown to be instrumental in a rapid, directed rush-to-order in this Event. And most important of all was the realisation of unavoidable osciallation between long-term stability, and episodic revolutionary Emergence Events, which constitute the actual rhythm of Development in Reality. This was finally released in 2010 as The Theory of Emergences, and published in a previous Special on this Journal. Finally, the various build-up-to and analyse-down-to routes to the Origin of Life were shown to be profoundly mistaken, and the essential nature of both DNA and the Cell as being the point at which Life actually appeared, debunked to allow the addressing of the real questions.

I have now contributed six years to tackling these questions, and I hope that this initial Special (there will also be several others) will help others to also tread the new exciting path of Qualitative Holistic Science that is being erected now!