|"Property Dualism" based on Wikipedia|
This is the fourth in a planned multi-part posting that includes portions of our email dialog.
Click for Part 1 - His 2008 Paper
Click for Part 2 - Determinism vs Probability
Click for Part 3 - QM and Chess Analogy
Click for Part 5 - Flatland and Higher Dimensions
By the time I wrote my Oct 19th email (excerpted below), I had carefully re-read the remaining sections of Howard's paper.
For Blog readers who have not yet read the original paper (and to remind those who have), and to provide context regarding Howard's personal journey from the "material school" to what is now called "biosemiotics", here is the first part of Section 4 of his paper:
4. Early personal history of the problem
There are more requirements for a polymer sequence to function as a symbol besides energy degeneracy, coding rules, and the ability to fold into a specific catalyst. The entire system must be able to replicate and to persist by heritable variation and natural selection. It was only after studying the nature of hierarchical organization, von Neumann’s logic of self-replication, and the measurement problem that I began to understand the essential semiotic requirement that symbols and codes must be part of a language to allow open-ended evolution. To explain this I need to recount a brief personal history.
The symbol-matter problem first arose in my thinking about the origin of life. I have to agree with Laotsu that symbols emerged from the lawful material universe at the origin of life. From an evolutionary point of view I do not see how one can support the claim that semiotic principles are on the same footing as physical laws. Symbols and life are coextensive concepts and their occurrence in the universe is cosmically very recent and exceedingly sparse, at least for life as we know it.
Before the discoveries of the genetic code and protein synthesis, physicists often viewed life as a basic challenge to natural laws, and many expressed doubt that life is reducible to physical laws. Bohr (1933), Delbrück, and Schrödinger are prominent examples of those whose thoughts on the subject are in the literature (e.g., McKaughan, 2005). Like many other physicists at the time, I was challenged by the central question raised by in Schrödinger’s "What Is Life?” He asks how the gene, “that miniature code,” could reliably control the development of such highly complicated organisms. In the 1960s there were two schools of thought; one school focused on the molecular structure and biochemistry of life, the other school (that should now be recognized as “biosemiotics”) focused on the informational aspects of genetic control (e.g., Beadle, 1963; Kendrew 1968; Stent, 1968; Delbrück, 1970).
I first belonged to the material school because my physics research was on x-ray microscopic and micro diffraction techniques for studying cell structure. Because the origin of life certainly requires understanding the origin of higher levels of organization, I also began to study hierarchical structures, specifically how new levels of organization are distinguished and whether higher levels of structure were objective, a descriptive convenience, or an epistemic necessity. …
The following excerpts are from an email from Ira Glickstein to Howard Pattee (Oct 19, 12:30 AM) and his reply (Oct 19, 10:58 AM).
NOTE: In his email, Howard includes the following links to Wikipedia that, for some reason, I could not get to be clickable within the quoted excerpts below, so here they are in clickable form: mind-matter problem, information-entropy distinction, and property dualist.
[IRA GLICKSTEIN] Howard, I just completed reading the remaining sections of your paper in detail. Of course I am always impressed by your writing style and calm, non-threatening attitude of presentation. I found it quite satisfying to once again spend time reading and trying to understand your reasoning processes, and I totally respect your valuable contributions to our understanding of hierarchy theory, complexity, the semiotic cut, biosemiotics, semiotic closure, and so on. So, please take the following in a positive sense as I intend it.
[IG] At IBM and Lockheed Martin I conceptualized and designed complex avionics systems and software. On my diagrams, I had a hierarchy of software modules inside a number of physical computers. … Now, if you and I examined an actual aircraft, we would find the avionics as a number of metal boxes, connected by wires. … We would be hard-pressed to find that hierarchy of software modules and systems and subsystems I used to conceptualize and design that avionics system! What happened to my neat and easily conceptualized hierarchy of systems, subsystems, components and modules? It vanished into thin air like your fist when you unclench it to shake hands.
The above reasoning seems to me to support the idea that the actual avionics system is merely "material" and all the "informational" and "hierarchical" stuff is simply the way we humans have come up with to make it more convenient for us to conceptualize, design, and construct a complex system.