The Game of Life as Metaphysics

My emails to biosemiotics list (Conformons as the sound of cell).

13.05.2013 09:42

Not sufficient in this respect just means that one does not have enough computing power to employ the Theory-Of-Everything directly. You should read The Grand Design:

Though we feel that we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets.”

In this sense, other laws you mention belong to “an effective theory” according to Hawking. For example

In the case of people, since we cannot solve the equations that determine our behavior, we use the effective theory that people have free will.”

Finally one more quote:

Electromagnetic forces are responsible for all of chemistry and biology“.

The Physicist is the One. The Biologists is just a master of some effective theory according to Hawking.

13.05.2013 09:59

>The liquid water is an emergent property of oxygen and hydrogen gases. Is there any mystery about this as an example of emergence?

This is emergence in eyes of an observer. Let us remove the observer and have “a look from nowhere”. The we have just nuclei and electron density. Liquidity as such disappears.

By the way, it is good to remember that a molecule (for example DNA) is nothing more that a convenient concept introduced by chemists to more easily classify experiments. There was an endless discussion in chemistry whether there is a difference between intermolecular and intramolecular forces. As far as I understand, the conclusion was that there is no qualitative difference. There are just nuclei surrounded by electrons and it is impossible to partition the space in such a way to find “a molecule” not speaking about liquidity.

13.05.2013 10:39

Doesn’t this mean that it is impossible to find signs under physicalism also in biology? Hawking writes in The Grand Desing:

Electromagnetic forces are responsible for all of chemistry and biology“.

How could it be possible to find a sign in biology in this case?

17.05.2013 16:05

I have browsed your papers. In my view, you pay too much attention to predictability and whether there exist an analytical solution. This is not my concern. For me the most interesting would be

A quote from Holism and emergence: Dynamical complexity defeats Laplace’s Demon. South African Journal of  Philosophy. 2011. Vol. 30, no 2: 229-243.

No two possible trajectories in the phase space of a system can share a point in phase space

Yet, it seems that nowadays this still to be valid (quantum mechanics could be an exception, but I am afraid that physicists have not agreed on a particular interpretation of it yet). If so, then the metaphor from Hawking’s Grand Design: Evolution of the Universe as A Game of Life is actually valid.

Do you know Stephen Wolfram’s Computational Irreducibility Principle?

A few quotes to this end:

Stephen Wolfram
Some Modern Perspectives on the Quest for Ultimate Knowledge

It looks probabilistic because there is a lot of complicated stuff going on that we’re not seeing–notably in the very structure and connectivity of space and time.”

But really it’s all completely deterministic.”

That somehow knowing the laws of the universe would tell us how humans would act–and give us a way to compute and predict human behavior.”

Of course, to many people this always seemed implausible – because we feel that we have some form of free will.”

And now, with computational irreducibility, we can see how this can still be consistent with deterministic underlying laws.”

Is your emergence and holism compatible with Wolfram’s view? If not, what is wrong in Wolfram’s paper?

23.05.2013 21:33

Whether the world is based on cellular automaton or not, whether the world is deterministic or stochastic is not important for me. Wolfram’s paper is quite consistent with Hawking’s Grand Design in a sense that the world is after all analogous to The Game of Life (note that there is an extension of the Game of Life to the continuous case). Do you agree with such an analogy? For me personally it is completely unclear how semiotics could appear in the Game of Life.

24.05.2013 21:19

I am not sure if I understand you. Do you mean that a mathematical model expressed by the Game of Life is too weak to represent a real thing? It is not essential for me. Let me start with a question:

(1) Do you agree that physical laws can be expressed mathematically?

If yes, then we should assume some mathematical equation (or system of equations) that describes the evolution of the whole universe including the life phenomena on the Earth. I am not talking about numerical solution of such equation. I am working in simulation business and I am well aware that the possibilities of simulation in practice are rather limited. Hence let us forget about practical applications, I am personally interested in an answer in principle.

In my view, provided one answers yes to (1), the Game of Life is a perfect analogy. There are some mathematical equations and everything is developed according to these equations. Once more, it is not a question whether a human being can use these equations in practice to predict future, hence inaccuracy in initial conditions and the definition of boundary conditions does not concern me. I would like just to understand in principle how after saying yes to (1) one can introduce a sign in a spirit of Peirce later on.

John, I have not seen an answer to these question in your paper Dynamical complexity defeats Laplace’s Demon, as you, in my view, limit the discussion by predictability, that is, by practical applications.

25.05.2013 09:18

I have talked about an analogy. As such, whether the Game of Life is based on cellular automation or not, is not essential. Feel free to modify it to make it consistent with your views. The analogy that I am interested in is a mathematical solution to the Equation-Of-Everything. Once more, I discuss the solution in principle, not a particular numerical solution.

25.05.2013 09:32

I do not see a problem. Let us just modify the Game of Life and introduce stochastic rules there. Does it solve such an objection?

I believe that when you talk about physical laws, for example

“Let me make it quite clear at this point that I believe that all the molecules in the living cell obey precisely the laws of normal physics and chemistry (Pattee, 1969).”

it would be good if you make clear ontological commitments. Otherwise, the meaning of such a statement remains just vague.

What does it mean for example

(1) “The laws of normal physics exist”?

My interpretation would be that there are some mathematical equations, that allow for a unique (either deterministic or stochastic) solution.

Otherwise, (1) is the same as “God exists”. In this case, similarly without further theological studies one can infer about nothing from the statement alone.

25.05.2013 09:38

If you are interested in a numerical solution, I could offer you a text that I have written some time ago for the everything-list:

Simulation Hypothesis and Simulation Technology

25.05.2013 18:09

I am not sure if I understand. Could you please enlarge on what does it mean that you are not an an ontological dualist? For example, right now I am reading Tim Maudlin, The Metaphysics Within Physics, and his ontological commitments are as follows

p. 106 “I believe there is a fundamental physical state of the world.”

p. 106 “In addition to the physical state of the universe, I believe in fundamental physical laws.”

p. 106 “My philosophical conscience dictates that ultimately the physical state and the fundamental physical laws are all there are in the inanimate realm: all astronomical or chemical or meteorological facts supervene on these. Insofar as counterfactual and causal claims have determinate truth conditions, the ontology that underwrites the truth values of these claims is just the physical state and the fundamental physical laws.”

In my view, Maudlin’s position is exactly the Game of Life (any version you prefer): a physical state is transformed by means of physical laws to another physical state.

Do you agree with Tim Maudlin or your commitments are different?

26.05.2013 07:23

>I can make no sense of what you say regarding a “non-numerical”  solution to a mathematical equation or system of equations.

In a sense of pure mathematics. When mathematicians prove that a solution exist they do not care how this solution should be found in practice. I believe that we talk in principle we should consider that solution in the framework of pure mathematics.

Applied mathematics and numerics is important for engineers and not for philosophers.

26.05.2013 12:17

(1) Do you consider physical laws just as useful models that just exist in your brain?

From your previous emails, it seems that you believe that for example atoms and molecules exist. Yet, provided you answer yes to (1), atoms and molecules just a part of some scientific model that exist in your brain. Hence, provided you answer yes to (1), how would you infer the existence of atoms and molecules?

27.05.2013 22:02

I do not believe that Nature uses numerical methods to apply physical laws. Or do you think that Nature is also an engineer?

28.05.2013 21:22

I would agree that presumably I have not expressed my thoughts clearly. Yet, I do not think that I am confused. I am talking about metaphysics, not about epistemology. For example I have read Tim Maudlin and he writes:

p. 157-158 “I am realist about laws: I think that there are laws, that their existence is not a function of any human practices. I am also a primitivist about laws: I do not think that what laws there are is determined by any other, distinctly specifiable set of facts, and that in particular it is not determined by the total physical state of the universe.  And I am a physicalist about laws: the only objective primitive laws I believe in are the laws of physics.”

I believe that this is close to what scientists assume of metaphysics. I repeat one sentence:

I think that there are laws, that their existence is not a function of any human practices.”

I do not know if you agree or not, but it seems to me that there is a common agreement among scientists on such a statement. So I am talking about laws that are independent of any human practices. In my view, numerical methods do not belong to such laws.

30.05.2013 09:48

Mauldin’s book is on metaphysics that one should accept. He personally certainly accepts it. His project is as follows:

p. 104 “Metaphysics is ontology. Ontology is the most generic study of what exists. Evidence for what exists, at least in the physical world, is provided solely by empirical research. Hence the proper object of most metaphysics is the careful analysis of our best scientific theories (and especially of fundamental physical theories) with the goal of determining what they imply about the constitution of the physical world.”

31.05.2013 20:09

Let me compare the approach to metaphysics by Collingwood with that by Mauldin. I have heard about Collingwood’s ideas in lectures of Maartin Hoenen and after that I have decided to read Collingwood’s An Essay on Metaphysics.

Collingwood has suggested a reform of metaphysics in An Essay on Metaphysics in 1940. At that time the word metaphysics was hated in science and philosophy, I guess, even more than nowadays.

Collingwood first stated that there no science of pure being and suggested a metaphysics without ontology. His idea was that any position is based on absolute presuppositions. The latter are the statements that cannot be inferred from observations yet according to Collingwood one can found absolute presuppositions in any position.

Hence the goal of metaphysics would be an analysis of a position (for example a scientific position) and search for absolute presuppositions in that position. In a way it is similar to what Maudlin makes.

The difference is that Madulin suggests to believe in absolute presuppositions of science when Collingwood suggests to consider absolute presupposition in the historical context. I personally like such an approach more.

Collingwood’s historical approach to metaphsics could be compared with Van Fraassen’s notion in The Empirical Stance:

For the materialist, science is what teaches us what to believe. For the empiri­cist, science is more nearly what teaches us how to give up our be­liefs.”