09 October, 2017

The Route to Life

Unacknowledged Philosophical Bases 

Flawed Foundations always lead to Catastrophic Collapses!

I: An Introduction

When watching a recent YouTube video of an hour- long discussion between Robert Wright, a Buddhist expert in Philosophical Psychology, and Jeremy England, an orthodox Jewish physicist, whose remit was the developmental processes that must have occurred prior to the Emergence of Life, within wholly non-living circumstances - I came across something surprising. 

You might expect what the scientist’s premises were, but, on some fronts at least, you would most likely be significantly mistaken, whereas, your preconceptions of the bases assumed by the philosophical psychologist might be assumed to be less rigid and materialist, but in fact the clearly-evident, major philosophical flaws actually came from this latter side of this discussion, and effectively tried to defeat the scientist’s current unconventional researches with either Classical or even Copenhagen premises usually widely employed in Physics. It was the very inverse of what you might expect!

Now, as a philosopher and a physicist, myself, I have spent some considerable time tracing the development of philosophic stances from their clear inception with the earliest Homo sapiens - in the almost 180,000 years-long Hunter/Gatherer Phase, of their means-of-life, wherein only Pragmatism, in which. “If it works, it is right!” was Mankind’s single available intellectual methodology.

But, note, this limitation didn’t stop this physically, ill- equipped descendant of the Apes, successfully spreading itself into all of the then accessible World. And, this only stepped-up in tempo with the remarkable Neolithic Revolution, wherein permanently-static domiciles replaced the prior constantly-wandering mode-of-life and very temporary, moveable homes, which was only enabled by the methods involved in Farming and Animal Husbandry. And, thereafter, very quickly also led to a wide range of new skills including pottery, weaving, and ultimately metallurgy, and a vast development of social relations and communications, finally achieving what we term Civilisation.

Then, around 2,500 years ago, in Ancient Greece, the intellectual foundations were dramatically changed, initially by the development of Mathematics (Euclian Geometry), and thereafter by Formal Logic, both of which brought in Idealism (via Plato), but within a generation also had also, via Aristotle, included Materialism.

But, of course, these were far from delivering a coherent and consistent set of alternatives: they were, instead, specific to given situations and with only ever strictly local applicability. So, all three stances were used “when each was appropriate”! The overall stance was a remarkable-and- piecemeal amalgam of Idealism and Materialism - held together by Pragmatism!

Nevertheless, many only-glimpsed relations were somehow grasped from Reality, which, more often than not, actually failed when they were attempted to be applied in the real World.

And, it was found essential to purposely limit and maintain a much simpler situation, in order to “hold Reality still”, farming it in various different appropriate ways, in order to extract any relations at all!  

Now, perhaps surprisingly, this did not stop effective use! As long as the precise conditions-of-extraction were exactly replicated, then the relation could be effectively applied.

But, to then allow these relations to become eternal Natural Laws, which was always assumed, an absolutely essential tenet had to be crucially attached to such processes. It was the Principle of Plurality, which stated categorically that all such Laws were always totally separate from one another: they were eternal and could never be modified in any way.

All complex situations were onceived of as merely complications of some subset of these laws, in various different proportions. Individual Laws were totally un-modifiable! And, this was also instituted for the, also new, processes of Formal Logic too. For, the model for both had been the precursor achievements within Pure Mathematics, where the absolutely essential idealisations that were always used DID legitimately conform to this Principle!

The Crisis in Physics, which led to he Retreat that became Copenhagen, was precisely down to this contradictory amalgam of stances, which became totally untenable there, long before its evident emergence in non-investigative, and primarily cerebral-only disciplines - like Wright’s for example.

In other words, and perhaps surprisingly, my critique of both Classical and Copenhagen Physics turns out to be also exactly correct in damning Wright’s stance, as it too is totally pluralist (whereas, as a Buddhist, you would assume him to be a holist!).

So, it seems productive to concentrate upon England’s evidently progressive diversions from the usual preoccupations of the vast majority of physicists, and primarily address where he is diverging from the current consensus, and looking to how Physics played a role in the Revolutionary Origin of Life, before criticising his short-comings.  

Jeremy England

II: Jeremy England’s Stance and Purpose  

On watching the video of this hour-long debate, for a second time, I began to discern the debaters’ differing Grounds, from which the various areas dealt with were tackled. So, perhaps, the main contribution here should start by revealing these, in contrast to my own.

Wright, as the interviewer, was obviously the major determinator of what was discussed, so it was he who also set out what to him were the probable bases common to them both.

The primary basis was clearly assumed by him to be Thermodynamics, and, in particular, its Second Law, about the Universe inevitably running down (which, of course, does not sit well with a natural Origin oof Life). He, secondly, also was clearly a subscriber to a belief in eternal Natural Laws (or Plurality) though all this was never overtly spelled out.

Finally, whenever his set of bases weren’t able to take things further, he would switch the ground, sometimes quite dramatically, into areas where he felt more confident, or to where he thought England’s position might be less defensible [Something like “Yes, but arguing”, but not quite as blatantly dishonest!]

Nevertheless, as long as the observer of this discussion disregarded Wright’s God-like stance’ the responses of England were able to show what he and his colleagues are researching, and some of the strengths and weaknesses of his grounds too. His area of study is pre-life, purely-physical developments, that were contributary to the ultimate Origin of Life in specifically conducive situations, and with already-existing natural processes.

He chose, as a physicist to follow the usual assumption of Physics being the most basic science, and looked only for physical processes that were so endowed.

Now, the writer of this review has also addressed a similar set of questions, but, instead, based them upon pre-life chemical reactions.

In the Wright-England discussions the whole question of a non-living process as being similar to Darwin’s Natural Selection, concerning the evolution of living things, could not be avoided. All, including this writer, agreed that both the Reproduction and Competition of life forms, especially with their changed genetics, could NOT be replicated in pre-life conditions, but by restricting the discussion to Physics, the gap, to Natural Selection, was so large that a very different approach had to be taken - basically also thermodynamic, but with England playing down the usual Entropy abstraction, and preferring “work” instead.

Now, we never got to hearing about his physical examples, which would have been crucial, but nevertheless, absolutely NO route to Life was evident.

In the writer’s own researches, however, concentrating upon pre-Life Chemistry, rather than Physics, much more similar processes to those in life could be addressed. And, something akin to competition could be included, where different processes required the same resources. Indeed, the “competition” for such resources simply boiled down t a preponderance of one process over its competitors, along with differences in the speeds of such rival processes.

In addition, sequences of processes into “conducive strings”, and even “conducive cycles”, made revealing links to what is already known of Metabolic Pathways in Life. 

Metabolic Pathways

And, with all these considerations, situations such as Dominances and paucities of required resources, showed how mixed populations of multiple processes could change and even lead from dominance to paucity, and the dynamics of alternative developments and different dominances. Such a clearly relevant set of investigations wasn’t involved in the Wright-England discussion. 

But Jeremy England did reveal a much sounder attitude to so-called Natural Laws, as being “arranged for” by the involved specially-tailored domains, and consequent methods of investigation, and also, therefore, depended upon as man-made models, in those given circumstances.

Nevertheless, the errors of Plurality undermined both sides of the discussion, for neither went beyond Law, and certainly didn’t address the essential role of Emergences in developmental creation of the wholly new. What was implied was that such miracles as Life, simply emerged from adequate complexity, rather than ONLY occurring following a Major Crisis and Collapse, thus precipitating the ONLY situation in which the Wholly New could possibly emerge - that is in a veritable Revolution or Emergent Interlude.

As the writer has spent many years upon such studies, he has formulated what he calls Truly Natural Selection for the non-living era, and ended up with his Theory of Emergences, it is clear that this discussion never approached these relevant, indeed, absolutely essential topics.

This review was published this month as part of a new issue of SHAPE Journal on Real Emergence

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