Bioperipatetic is a new blog about advances in natural philosophy and philosophy of science presaging the evolution of a new conceptualization and ontology of nature, including human nature, based upon new philosophical, biological, physical and cosmological theories of nature and approaches to scientific understanding of nature, life, and man.

Focus on Emergence Theories in the Biosciences

Because the phenomena of life, mind and consciousness cannot be adequately understood nor scientifically studied without the principles underlying emergentism, Bioperipatetic is primarily focused on theories and discoveries relating to the applications of the concept of emergence in the biological sciences.  Emergentist theories are often contrasted with reductionist theories when such theories are addressing the same scientific problems.  Focused as we are on the biological sciences, emergence is contrasted with reductionism as both an ontological principle of biological actualization but also as a methodological strategy for the discovery of the underlying nature and laws of complex biological systems.

Reductionism: Reductionism is focused on the analysis of a whole into its constituent parts with the strategic goal of reducing the laws of the whole to the simple combination of the laws of its underlying parts.  The goal of reductionism is parsimony, the elimination of unnecessary complexity of ideas and laws needed to explain fully the functioning of complex systems.  Reductionism is a nobel traditional doctrine in science that has successfully led to the elimination of numerous pseudo-scientific explanations and scientifically meaningless concepts that have historically confused scientists in their quests for ‘simple truth.’

Emergence: Emergence denies the universal explanatory power of reductionism, and argues from the empirical evidence that many complex systems, especially hierarchical systems, of entities manifest properties that naturally actively emerge as a causal consequence of their particular forms of complexity, including their static and dynamic organization.  As is often said by anti-reductionists: ‘The Whole is Greater than the Sum of it Parts’, greater in terms of underlying causal principles, properties, and system-level processes.

Emergence as used in this blog refers to the scientifically proven principle  that, according to Robert B. Laughton (winner of the Nobel Prize for his work in the Quantum Hall Effect) most (if not all) of the laws of physics, chemistry and biology “emerge through collective self-organization” (from A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down by R. B. Laughlin, Basic Books, 2006, p. x1).  

An important property of emergent systems is that they are not deterministic, though they are determinable.  This means that emergent systems are not scientifically predictable (deterministic) and therefore not reducible to the actions of the systems’  elementary parts. Their actual causes can be traced back to the (usually hierarchical) sequence of processes that gave rise to their existent ontology, i.e., their properties, nature and laws.

One of the essential concepts associated with emergence is that of natural hierarchies of structures and processes.  It turns out that each level in a natural hierarchy has its own laws that describe and govern the behavior of the system at that level, laws that are not reducible to the laws governing the lower-level orders from which they emerge.

It is the order, the configuration, the dynamic organization of the whole that gives rise to new laws and principles of substances, and in fact constrain, without contradicting or reversing the laws and principles of their constituent parts.  Emergence involves a form of downward (top-down) causality in that the whole, through its dynamic form, organization or order, impose new lawful behavior that cannot be reduced to the mere local laws manifest by its parts in isolation.  Indeed, emergence often (if not always) imposes restraints (suppresses the full expression) of the laws regulating the infrastructure from which the higher-level laws physically  (lawfully) emerge.  It is this general principle that accounts for the amazing complexity and order manifest by living organisms and their lower-level hierarchies.

Even the simple water molecule, that is essential to all forms of life can only be fully understood through its emergent global properties.  Biochemistry is an even more dramatic example of how organization is a precondition for and the very foundation of the order and lawfulness of molecular biology.  At it basic level biochemistry depends upon catalytic action, which regulates and the rate of chemical reaction between two reactants through an intermediate template that matches critical parts of the reactant molecules causing them to form new substances, which in the absence of catalysts, would rarely if ever occur.  For a detailed and in-depth description of catalytic action at the base of molecular biology, see Stuart A. Kauffman’s The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution, Oxford University Press, 1993.

Beyond biochemistry is the intercellular regulation at the tissue and systems level that both suppress the isolated behavior of individual cells and suppresses the intercellular behavior of functional anatomical units.  An illustration of this is the power of the nervous system as a whole, under regulation by the intentional functional order of the acting organism.   Aa case in point is the suppression of reflex action through higher level neuromuscular principles.  This phenomenon has been studied in depth and published by the great neurophysiologist Sir Charles Sherrington (see The Integrative Action of the Nervous System).

Homage to Aristotle: Emergence as Actualization

As the world’s first biologist and first philosopher of nature, these pages recognize and honor Aristotle for his seminal physical and biological concepts in his many works on biology and the physical world.

Emphasizing Aristotle’s ontology of form as the final cause or ontological teleology of an objects actualization, the overarching  theme of this blog is the analysis and application, from an essentially Aristotelian ontology,  of emergence theory as it appears in many new scientific publications and journal articles across all of the sciences.

Dualism: The Key Barrier to Proper Philosophy of Science

Another key theme of bioperipatetic is the continuing paralyzing impact of both Platonic dualism and Cartesian dualism on the advancement of the human knowledge.  Plato’s dualism blocked the advance of philosophy while Descartes’ dualism blocked the advance of science, especially biological science.

Platonic Dualism: This compound dualist citadel against scientific and philosophical advance had its beginnings with Plato’s content dualism (or epistemological object dualism), separating that which is knowable only to the senses (material concretes), being subject to perceptual, and therefore cognitive, illusions,  from that which is knowable only to the intellect (formal universals), these latter correctable by reason and providing access to universals or the essences of  being.  The chief victim of Platonic dualism is philosophy. Although an epistemological dualist, Plato was essentially an ontological realist, for he held that both objects of epistemological dualism where realms that existed in reality (and not mere subjective constructs of mind.)

Cartesian Dualism: Later with the birth of the ‘New Science’ in the 17th century, Platonic dualism was subtly modified by Descartes (much influenced by the dominant Neo-Platonists of his day) to transform the two earlier Platonic cognitive realms into two dichotomous substances: (1) one substance consisting of concrete extended material stuff, reified and essentialized as res extensia, accessible by the senses; and (2) the other universal ideational substance, reified and essentialized as res cogitans, accessible only to the intellect, being the substance of the intellect or mind.  Thus was born Descartes substance dualism that has to this day blocked the advance of the philosophy of modern science, especially biological science.  Descartes was both an epistemological (cognitive) and ontological dualist, for he believed that the two ontological substances, res cogitans and res extensia were mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive, and that only the latter (res extensia) was subject to scientific exploration.  Why? Because, according to Descartes, only res extensia, being, from a scientific perspective, essentially geometric in nature, was subject to mathematical expression, measurement and analysis.  Thus evolved Descartes brilliant and invaluable contribution to mathematics: Cartesian coordinates and its offspring, analytical geometry.

Modern Nihilism and its Denial of Ontological Realism

As a consequence of dualism in its many forms (from Plato to Descartes to Heisenberg), modern science is widely afflicted by profound nihilism with respect to the reality (realist ontology) of the physical world.   This has led to even more radical abandonment of any form of realism in science, especially the physical sciences.  Beyond this is the modern denial and repudiation of explanation as fundamental to the goals of science. (See  Scientific Nihilism: On the Loss and Recovery of Physical Explanation by  Daniel Athearn, SUNY Series in Philosophy , 1994.)

Recovering Aristotle

Bioperipatetic has as one of its aims the re-integration of mind and body, of reason and nature, of logic and love, which, while once unified during the great Hellenic outpouring of Greek philosophy, have today each been split into opposites and held to be contradictory by modern physicalist science.  One of the great professors of philosophy and science, Dr. Morris Raphael Cohen wrote:

That nature and reason, like warmth and light , may be intimately joined was made evident in the Hellenic ideal of science as a free inquiry into nature and of ethics as concerned with a rational plan for attaining the natural goods of life.  Unfortunately for the career of liberal civilization, however, various circumstances have brought about a mutual hostility between these two appeals to what are popularly called the heart and the mind.  – from Preface to Reason and Nature: An Essay on the Meaning of Scientific Method, 1931, The Free Press of Glencoe,  p. vii.

Speaking of the Hellenic ‘synthesis of ethics, aesthetics, and politics,’ Daniel Robinson observed:

Between roughly the ninth and sixth centuries B.C., on the Greek mainland and in the Greek colonies of Asia Minor and Magna Graecia, it became possible for the most authentic and enduring aspects of human nature to flourish. – from Aristotle’s Psychology, Daniel N. Robinson, Columbia University Press, New York, 1989, p. 8.

And latter in the same  chapter wrote:

What flourished, then in the Hellenic world wee the seemingly universal forms of human thought and sentiment; forms initially embodied in legendary figures, but finally translated into the subject matter that comprises philosophy and science.  – from Aristotle’s Psychology, p. 9.

In contrast to the Hellenic ideal of the unification of reason and nature, Cohen characterizes ‘liberal civilization’ as hostile to the above Hellenic ideal in two major thrusts:

The appeal to nature is frequently a form of sentimental irrationalism, and the appeal to reason is often a call to suppress nature in the interest of conventional supernaturalism.  – from Preface to Reason and Nature, p. vii.

Significantly, Professor Cohen was an opponent of materialist and mentalist monism, as well as an opponent of  dualism.  He wrote on this topic:

I reject the euthanasia or suicide of thought involved in all monisms which identify the whole totality of things with matter, mind, or any other element in it.  But I also reject the common dualism which conceived the mind and the external world as confronting each other like two mutually exclusive spatial bodies.   – from Preface to Reason and Nature: The Meaning of Scientific Method, by Morris Rachael Cohen, Second Edition, 1953, paperback version, p. xiii.

 Professor Cohen was also an admirer of Aristotle as well as Plato:

I believe in the Aristotelian distinction between matter and form. . .  However, I should also call myself an idealist . . . in the Platonic sense according to which ideas, ideals, or abstract universals are the conditions of real existence, and not mere fictions of the human mind.- from Preface to Reason and Nature, p. xiii.

Aristotle:  Duality versus Dualism

It is sometimes argued that Aristotle was also a dualist, or that his philosophy of mans nature was dualistic, in that he held that man may be studied from the point of view of his body (hyle) and as well as from the point of view of his form of being or (eidos), which for man consists of his soul, and that mans soul can survive his physical body.  However, interpreting Aristotle’s distinction between body and soul as dualist, is a misreading of Aristotle and a misconception of the distinction between dualism and duality.

In fact, more generally, it is a logical fallacy to equate duality (the distinction between two aspects of the same thing, such as ‘inside’ versus ‘outside’, or in modern physics ‘wave’ versus ‘particle’ properties of light, depending on the context of observation or experimental arrangement), as a form of dualism (a fundamental distinction between the very being or nature of two realms or substances). (See the paper “Duality without Dualism” by Timothy E. Eastman, Plasmas International, Silver Springs, MD.  Published as chapter two of Physics and Whitehead: Quantum, Process and Experience,  ed. T. Eastmand and H. Keeton, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004, pp. 14-30).

In fact, Aristotle helps us resolve the seeming dichotomy of different aspects of being by introducing of three of his greatest concepts: (1) his concept of four-faced aspect of causality, (2) the duality of potentiality and actuality, where causality is itself defined by Aristotle as ‘the actualization of potentiality in so far as it remains potentiality’,   and (3) his concept of hylomorphism (as it is called today).  This latter is the first formal argument or assertion that all being must have both a material and formal aspect, but a unified nature.  Thus mind is the very form (eidos) of existence of the hyle (material) of the human (or animal) being.  (See the valuable analysis of Aristotle’s concepts of  actuality, potentially, and dunamis, and kinesis, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article entitled: Aristotle’s Metaphysics ).

Furthermore, the translation of Aristotle’s use of the word psuche (origin of the modern term psyche) into the English word soul, is a common but misleading translation.  Psuche is best understood as the principle which animates a living being.  Thus the proper translation of Aristotle’s book de anima would be ‘on the principle living animated being’.

Aristotle’s Deep Relevance to Modern Science

Bioperipatetic believes that the ancient Hellenic vision of the unification of nature and reason, and in this regard applaudes and encourages the rediscovery and extension of Aristotle’s profound philosophy of nature and his visions and insights into the science of biology. Such Aristotelian visions and insight are already profoundly helping modern biological science to recover its realist spirit from its current state of both ontological and epistemological dualism and skepticism.


All pages in the bioperipatetic are copyright © 2012 – 2015 by Jack H. Schwartz

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First published on September 10, 2015 @ 11:54 pm

Last updated on February 5, 2017 @ 6:44 pm