Do Ideas Count? 


And the next question is, 'Should they?'  

The point I want to make is that if ideas count at all, then they should and probably do account for almost everything.  

According to materialism, ideas don't exist, except maybe in our imagination or in our speech, which don't amount to much of anything either.  

Almost everyone agrees that materialism is wrong.  There is precious little agreement, though, on how, or by how much it is wrong.  Since it was invented, in ancient times, there have been endless attempts to improve it, to make it less obviously false.  I say that this was throwing good reason after bad metaphysics.  

Why have we invested so much thought in a system which makes the claim that thoughts don't exist, which claim is, in itself, just another non-extant thought?  Has this whole effort not been incoherent on the face of it?  What could possibly explain such bizarrely irrational behavior on the part of what were alleged to be some of the best 'minds' in the world?  That's hard to say, and with each passing year, as materialists dig their hole deeper, it gets harder to explain.  

There are rational alternatives.  Aren't there?  Maybe not.  Maybe that's the problem.  I've been arguing that there is only one rational alternative.  What if I'm right?  That would be the end of philosophy as we know it.  It would likely be the end of a lot of other things as well, up to and including the eventual end of the world -- as we know it?  Nay, even as we can possibly imagine it.  That sure prospect is the only rational explanation for all the irrationalism abroad in the land.  

Based on this 'analysis' it would be fair to say that materialists' behavior is most readily explained as 'ideophobic'.  They realize, consciously or not, that if you give ideas an inch, not only will they move into your neighborhood, but very quickly they will take over the whole world.  Not just any old ideas, mind you.  We're talking and they're fearing the One Big Idea.  The Perennial Wisdom, if you will, that is knocking on their door; that already has its foot firmly planted in their door.  They won't believe it is only my foot.  They are sure it is an 800 pound gorilla.  But it's a friendly gorilla.  It has to be, or it could not possibly have already won the battle of ideas.  It would not be here if it were not teleologically based.  But even the best destiny in the world has a degree of finality and that does take some getting used to.  We humans are world class, cosmic level procrastinators.  We wouldn't be here if we weren't.  The irresistible force meets the immovable object.  We're going to have to learn a new trick. 



I'm still working on the direct realism list, up to 300.  I had not been considering direct realism from a relationalist point of view as suggested by one of the articles.  My direct perception of something constitutes my relation to it.  All relations are perceptual.  

As part of a coherent non-materialist direct realism, there must be eternal essences.  Every being partakes of such essences and is perceived as a special composition of them.  These eternal essences are not prohibited from containing a temporal aspect, which would include their dynamical and historical relations in a teleological fashion.  One could even call these 'super-essences'.  Individuals would be identified with subsets of the super-essential relations.  There would be a quasi-hierarchy of essences, up to and including theocentricity. 

Percepts and concepts comprise and, in turn, are comprised of these essences and their relations. 

As the cosmos is populated with conscious beings, theses essences become stretched out to their maximum degree of individuation and detail of resolution.  This maximum of particularity corresponds with the ascendancy of materialism.  Then comes the coherentism which begins to reverse this particularization. 



Essentialism surely has a mixed press, and much baggage.  In other words, it should be fun. 

I doubt that ideas and essences could ever be fully distinguished, and certainly not idealism from essentialism. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum would be the anti-essentialism of nominalism and behaviorism.  

Perhaps the most significant issue of essentialism concerns the existence of the soul, and closely related to this is the question of personal identity

It should be noted that Physics has a very strong essentialist bent of a Pythagorean sort.  

Not to be abstemious, let me hit on the soul, up front.  The reality of the soul derives directly from the reality of God.  The reality of God derives from the reality of love.  There is a cosmic pecking order.  The soul is fairly high on the list, but our essential being or presence is to be found in love.  That is the one source of all being.  It is conceivable that my soul might come between me and love.  In that case the soul has got to go, and it would be the last thing to be jettisoned.  People speak of the 'cleansing' of the soul.  A cleansed soul is a transparent soul. A transparent soul is a non-existent soul.  Cosmic love is the ultimate soul cleanser.  It is the singular essence of everything. 

All essence and identity derives directly from the requisites of love.  Nothing else would make sense, not in a million years. 

It's that simple sports fans.  Whatever you have learned that does not support this necessary, singular truth is less than worthless.  It's what puts everything into a coherent perspective.  If you truly understand this, you will never have to understand anything else.  Indeed, there is nothing else that can be understood. 

Oh dear!  Now that I have said everything that can be said, what is there to do?  It's all just picking up the pieces: cleaning up around the Ranch, from here on.  


Gyula Klima, in the final section of Contemporary "Essentialism" vs. Aristotelian Essentialism, provides a strong defense of essences.  All it takes is one essence to destroy materialism, even if that sole essence happens to be material.  

Contemporary materialists are wont to point out that there is no such thing as life, no vital essence.  But should we not infer then that it is impossible to die?  One could believe that, if one chooses to be absurd.  Much too much of our valuable time has been spent playing games with skeptics, usually on their irrational terms. 

I like this one: Topological Essentialism, Casati & Varzi. This gets down to the nitty gritty of parts vs. wholes and holes, too.  It does make the whole (sic) notion of atomism seem more than a bit silly.  If we each had a nickel for every stone placed on the grave of materialism we would all be millionaires.  No, we would inherit heaven. 

Perhaps, historically, the last political hurrah of materialism will be situated in the 'anti-essentialist' social critiques of some feminists, homosexuals, etc.  A prevalent undercurrent of this sentiment is in evidence in this list.  This is a misguided, myopic way to confront essential (sic) social problems.  There is also some evidence of a corrective response: 'A Critique of Social Constructionism and Postmodern Queer Theory' by Rictor Norton :  Essentialism.  Let us hope that the cooler heads prevail.  In this regard, note The Blank Slate- The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker.  Be treated to spectacle of a materialist defending essences.  True, Steven is allegedly just talking genetic 'essences' and he does still believe in qualia according to one reviewer.  Many strive for coherence, few succeed.  It is also eminently debatable whether Darwinism eliminates natural kinds.  OK, perhaps this is the next topic. 



We'll come back to essentialism soon, and in the meantime take a look at 'Why are natural kinds supposed to stay fixed?' to see some alternatives to Darwinian anti-essentialism.  

I want now, however, to consider mental essentialism or conceptualism.  This is the part of essentialism and idealism that is the most difficult to refute.  It might also be called meaningism.  What I believe is fundamental is felt meaning.  This is a decidedly holistic view of meaning.  The whole problem with Plato was that he had an atomic view of essences.  I don't know why.  This atomism has been a tremendous drag on idealism since.  These atoms of meaning were the seeds of idealism's self-destruction.  Hegel's dialectical method should have corrected the atomism, but is was not until the post-reductive holism of Quine that things begin to turn around.  It is feeling and reasoning that account for the coherence and holism of essences, not to mention teleology.  

This looks like a good introduction: Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism.  Notice especially the incarnational critique of Platonism. 

From one perspective, conceptualism is a form of representationalism.  How does this relate to reductionism?  Are both concepts and representations taken to be reducible?  

Realism, Nominalism, and Conceptualism provides a more concise exposition than the one above, and it deals more explicitly with the reduction issue. 

Conceptualizing often entails abstracting.  From a subjective point of view, the process of abstraction is generally found to be implicit.  It seldom explicitly involves verbal analysis.  The resulting concepts are holistic and open ended.  Dictionary definitions fall far short of capturing our ability to elaborate even simple concepts on the spur of the moment.  

More comprehensive is 'Meaning and the Problem of Universals, A Kant-Friesian Approach'.

If a representation or concept is reducible to something else then we need an explanation of  how we recognize or process it.  

If there is no representation then we have 'direct' realism which, with a bit more candor, would be called magical realism, owing to its explicit lack of explanation. 



It should be noted that the modern version of conceptualism is synonymous with the Higher Order Thought  Theory of consciousness (HOTT).  On the other hand, direct realism is used as a proxy for the connectionist theories of mind. 

The question then is whether the HOTT can be given a reductionist interpretation.  The fact that the HOTT is prevalent in the AI community would seem ensure its reductionist pedigree.  However, the increasingly ontological and metaphysical cast to AI might suggest otherwise.  The processing of concepts requires a comprehensive ontological schema.  Is such a schema reducible?  

Let's get to the nitty-gritty: ontologies & reductionism (523 hits).  

What species of reduction would be accomplished in the competent computerized processing of concepts?   

Another question is the anti-reductive pedigree of holism.  Has it not also become a proxy for connectionism? 



I find this to be an interesting paper: Ontological Progress in Science by Burian & Trout.  Superficially they make a very modest claim.  It is simply that the theoretical entities of science have causal powers.  In as much as some of these entities may not be elementary particles, then, by just that much has reductionism been defeated.  

1. The ontology of science is intensely compositional and hierarchical.

2. Although much of science is reductionistic, the reductionism in question is generally not eliminative.


We shall utilize this framework of theses to suggest some preliminary responses to the sceptical arguments of such philosophers as Larry Laudan and Bas van Fraassen against the idea that there is ontological progress in science. There is not space on this occasion to attempt a proper rebuttal of the arguments they employ to undercut scientific realism, but the general line that we would pursue in constructing such rebuttals will become clear in the course of this paper.

We have been greatly influenced by many recent writings attacking and defending scientific realism [1]....

Boy, have I been dumb or what?  I never thought of using scientific realism to defeat scientific reductionism and materialism.  How could I have been so dense?   What is the date of this paper?  Who is winning now?  Some times my obtuseness takes my breath away.  How many times have I conflated scientific realism with scientific materialism?  At least twice a day for the last thirty years.  I doubt that I'm the only dummy.  Has there been a communication breakdown here?  I even took a philosophy course that included scientific realism at Maryland in 1977, and I sure don't recall the issue of reductionism.  What is going on? 

Richard M. Burian and J. D. Trout, "Ontological Progress in Science." The Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 25 (1995): 177-202.

This is Richard's only publication listed as online.  Same goes for Jack, but he does have four books listed, all more or less on topic of realism.  

Now I am understanding that this realism is the thesis of Naturalism and distinguishes it from Physicalism.  It also opposes itself to the reductive Unity of Science thesis.  

Take a look at CONTEMPORARY MATERIALISM: A READER Edited by Paul Moser and J.D. Trout (Routledge, 1995).  An interesting lineup. 

Yet another nail in the coffin of materialism.  How much does the cadaver have to stink before we adjourn this wake?  Haven't we run out of beer yet?  

On the Unity of Science question, undoubtedly people are (deliberately?) conflating the methodological and metaphysical issues. 

Burian & Trout put considerable stock in Ian Hacking.  Let's look at his book review articles.  Sorry, I guess we won't.  You have to pay.  Am I the only one getting the feeling there is a bit of a blockage here?  

Take a look at The Social Construction of What by Ian Hacking (HUP 2000).  This reminds me of the Science Wars with physicist Alan Sokal: physicalism -- good, psychologism -- bad!  Scientific realism is not allowed to trespass beyond the boundaries carved out by the dictates of the American Physical Society ('We invented the BOMB, or did we discover it??  Don't upset us, and definitely don't confuse us!').  Are those boundaries "physical", Alan?  And what about mathematical physics?  Is mathematics a "construct", or what?  

I feel like I've been missing out on some fun.  Nothing like playing catch-up! 

Here's a review of Ian's book:  'Phony Science Wars'  by Richard Rorty:  

Philosophers like Latour and Kuhn, wary of the idea that reality has an intrinsic nature that scientific inquiry is destined to reveal, are inclined to say that science might have done as good a job if it had never come up with either quarks or genes. As they see it, scientific progress is like biological evolution: no particular life-form is destined to emerge, and lots of different ones might have turned out to be equally good at survival.

A useful description of constructivism.  And now at length: 

...In this view, scientific theories are tools that do a job. They do it well, but some other tools might perhaps have done the same job equally well.

As Hacking says, many scientists find this view absurd. He himself is dubious about it, but he is inclined to be even more dubious about the idea that reality has an intrinsic structure that science accurately describes. These latter doubts are aroused by the notorious, persistent, seemingly insoluble perplexities to which the notion of "intrinsic" gives rise. The most familiar of these is the question How can we ever hope to compare reality as it is in itself, naked and undescribed, with our descriptions of it? Many philosophers have given up on the notions of "intrinsic" and "in itself," as a result of their failure to answer that question.

The stalemate that Hacking brilliantly describes but does not try to break is between many scientists' intuition of the inevitability of quarks and many philosophers' suspicion that the claim of inevitability makes sense only if the idea of the intrinsic structure of reality makes sense. This teeter-totter between conflicting intuitions is, Hacking rightly says, a genuine intellectual problem.  Which answer one gives to his third question -- about the source of the stability of the most reliable bits of science -- is likely to be a matter of which side of the seesaw has most recently descended.

These alternating intuitions have been in play ever since Protagoras said "Man is the measure of all things" and Plato rejoined that the measure must instead be something nonhuman, unchanging, and capitalized -- something like The Good, or The Will of God, or The Intrinsic Nature of Physical Reality. Scientists who, like Steven Weinberg, have no doubt that reality has an eternal, unchanging, intrinsic structure which natural science will eventually discover are the heirs of Plato. Philosophers like Kuhn, Latour, and Hacking think that Protagoras had a point, and that the argument is not yet over.

The most vocal and inflamed participants in the so-called science wars are treating the latest version of this fine old philosophical controversy as a big deal. In the very long run, perhaps, it will prove to be one. Maybe someday the idea of human beings answering to an independent authority called How Things Are in Themselves will be obsolete. In a thoroughly de-Platonized, fully Protagorean culture the only answerability human beings would recognize would be to one another. It would never occur to them that "the objective" could mean more than "the agreed-upon upshot of argument." In such a culture we would have as little use for the idea of the intrinsic structure of physical reality as for that of the will of God. We would view both as unfortunate and obsolete social constructions.

Rorty does not mince words here as to his own Protagorean proclivities:  I am also on this teeter-totter, tilting toward theism, but realizing that without a Creation you don't got no Creator.  


This has been an interesting discursion, but where does it leave us with reductionism?  Obviously reductionism is being given short shrift in the Science Wars, but I submit that it lurks in the arena.  

First, we must revisit the divide between the Anglo-American and Continental traditions.  I think it's fair to say that the Continental tradition is older, more multicultural and perhaps even 'wiser', certainly more tolerant.  Pluralism is its stock-in-trade.  Their closest approach to absolutism was in Hegelianism.  Descartes was opinionated, but also managed to make the world safe for both Science and Religion.  Britain bequeathed us Newton and Darwin, not to mention Hume.  The Anglo-American version of pluralism is a dichotomy between scientific absolutism and philosophic skepticism.  Yes, we do have a streak of Pragmatism, and now an imported Postmodernism.  The Continental pluralism naturally favors phenomenology and existential subjectivism.  We Anglos, though, want to be more objective and tough-minded, either in our realism or in our skepticism, but not subjectivism.  The frontier spirit of man into the wilderness was part of this tough-mindedness.  John Wayne just doesn't make it as a phenomenologist.  I can understand from whence John cometh. 



Yes, I'm having some difficulty finding the proper focus, but please bear with me.  This is not a trivial pursuit.  There are uncharted waters here that run deep.  

We have discussed the Anglo-American experience in the history of ideas, but there is also an American (US) angle.  On the questions of 'creationism' and 'right-to-life' there is a unique US experience.  In both cases there is a widespread, emotion laden, political confrontation between contrasting metaphysical views.  This dualistic, dichotomous type of division has a long history that has somehow been exacerbated here.  Some of that dynamic and psychology may be relevant to the issue of reduction and its ultimate resolution.  My gut feeling is that if something does transpire around this issue, there are likely to be some historical parallels; although, if there is a line in the sand, it will have a different direction in a different location. 

In the preface to The Social Construction of What Ian Hacking points out that the Science War of Sokal's provenance has generated two very different responses: here and elsewhere.  Here it has been blood in the streets, elsewhere it is 'bemusement'.  

Also relevant here is the nascent issue of Intelligent Design.  This thesis represents a marked advance beyond Creationism, moving somewhat in the direction being suggested in these pages.  But still there is an obvious materialistic, or mechanistic emphasis of ID that sets us apart.  Their notion of irreducible complexity ought to be suggestive, however.  Whether there may ever be a direct intellectual link between that mechanistic irreducibility and this metaphysical irreducibility remains to be seen.  It might seem a small step, but it could turn out to be a giant leap.  Naturally, I will be paying close attention to the former, to both its substance and its form. 

I have been pointing to several related issues and intellectual trends.  The question for us is where will the reduction question most likely come to the surface.  Somehow the Science War is just missing this mark.  How could it come so close without a direct hit?  

In the Science War the issue is between social constructivism and reductive realism.  The closest thing to our non-reductive realism is found in the neo-rationalism of Fodor and the 'genetic' epistemology Chomsky and Piaget.  As noted previously, Dan Dennett has already accused Jerry of providing ammunition for Creationists.  I'm not sure how Jerry and his fellow neo-rationalists are reacting to this accusation.  I would like to see the Creationists eventually take up this issue, but I'm not holding my breath.  It would be preferable to initiate an intellectual discussion, as on these pages, before involving the sectarian interests.  Let me reiterate that the heterodox theology involved in immaterialism and neo-rationalism is going to be a major obstacle for any sectarian, and that is probably just as well. 

I would rather see the life-science community take up non-reductionism first.  However, their escalating confrontation with the sectarians over 'irreducible complexity' may already have rendered that scenario unlikely.  Our potential arena is correspondingly small.  This has advantages as well as disadvantages. 


Sometimes I forget about Marx, but do recall that I have addressed the Canton branch of the Society for the Study of the Dialectics Nature.  Fred Engels was staunchly non-reductive about his materialism.  Yet he managed to avoid Platonism.  Yes, he was an emergentist but he also believed in the inevitability of history.  So there was an element of teleology.  How did he avoid the chain of being?  What about Darwin?  There were supposedly some smart Marxists.  But there is a fundamental irrationality here.  Does that mean there were a lot of smart people who were blinded by emotion laden ideology.  You bet'chya'.  Are scientific materialists and non-reductive postmodernists similarly blinded?   Well, you tell me: 

      [I'm doing anti-reductionism, for those of you keeping score] 

Emergent Representations: Dialectical Materialism and the Philosophy of Mind -- Joe Faith, 2000 

Philosophically speaking, Darwin solved two key problems. He not only naturalised functional explanation in biology but also naturalised normativity, i.e. he found a way of deriving normative properties from non-normative properties — oughts from is’s. Darwin explained why hearts beat and also why hearts ought to beat. He found a way of determining what made a heart a good heart.  

In the last chapter I argued that Marx discovered a mechanism underlying social evolution that is analogous to the mechanism that Darwin discovered underlying natural evolution; and showed how we can use this to naturalise functional explanations in sociology. In this chapter I explore whether it is also possible to use the same theory to naturalise social norms, such as our criteria of truth, goodness, and beauty. 

If Joe is right, God is wrong.  Place your bets, sports fans! 



I'm still trying to get a handle on Joe's view of reductionism.  So far he is leaning toward Strong AI, which would suggest that any emergence would have to be purely epistemic, which would not even qualify for conceptualism.  

[I'll have to break here for Ravens v. Bengals.  Don't go away.]



I'm not getting far with Mr. Faith.  He obdurately eschews metaphysics.  The representational emergentism that he advertises is left dangling.  He, of course, rules out skyhooks, but then the existential status of the floating representations is not specified.  His realism is strictly pragmatic.  I'm under the impression that Engels was metaphysically less timid with his dialectics of nature.  

The upshot is that robots stand to acquire conscious minds, given the properly pragmatic engineering input.  Joe is down on 'East Coast' theorizing about symbol systems.  This puts Joe in the Transhumanist circle and in flagrant violation of any human ethic, worker or otherwise.  Is this befuddlement of Marxist thought just sloppy thinking, or another example of intellectual anti-rationalism, as if more of same could possibly serve a purpose. 

At best, Joe is a holistic mechanic.  I believe that Engels was a bit more ambitious than this. 


Reductionism redux: downward causation.  This is good: PHYSICALISM, EMERGENCE AND DOWNWARD CAUSATION -- Richard J. Campbell & Mark H. Bickhard (2001): 

The critical point is that quantum field processes have no existence that is independent of their configurations: quantum fields are processes, and can only exist in various patterns. Those patterns come in many sizes, of many different physical and temporal scales, some as large as a human person, or a social institution – but they are all equally patterns of processes. There is no ‘bottoming out’ level in quantum field theory – it is patterns of process all the way down, and all the way up.  

That is the rub. To be a reductive physicalist (or an ‘eliminative materialist’) at all, is to believe that ‘higher-level’ entities are nothing other than complex configurations of lower-level entities, in such a way that the higher-level properties and powers are explicable in principle in terms of the properties and powers of the lower-level entities (or at least, determined by them). Consequently, some entity is reducible just in case it is a configuration of lower-level entities. But now the supposed base-level entities are nothing but configurations of process as well! If there is no ‘bottoming out’, there are no bases to which all other phenomena can, even in principle, be reduced. Our reductive physicalist has lost the ground on which he wants to stand. If being configurational makes a property or power epiphenomenal, then everything is an epiphenomenon. That is the reductio ad absurdum of this position.

This is an intelligently provocative restatement of the non-locality of QM.  It makes Steven Weinberg's contrary statement in Reductionism Redux (NYRB, 1995) appear disingenuous, to put it euphemistically.  Steven certainly knows better.  His professional colleagues who silently tolerate such blatantly biased editorializing will not escape censure, either. 

Back to Richard and Mark: 

Reductionist physicalism is false precisely because there are no elementary physical particles that can serve, in the required sense, as ‘emergence bases’. Since everything is an organization of quantum field processes, more complex organizations of processes can yield emergent properties and powers, but it is the higher-level organization itself that is doing the work, not whatever might be its ‘constituents’. (That is why we earlier emphasized Kim’s invocation of relations and configurations.) Any field view destroys the seduction into a micro-particle reduction because configurational and organizational properties make differences in causal power, not just in the working out of lower-order causal power. 

This may be valid, but it needs to be fleshed out.  What may be even more significant is their exposure of Jaegwon Kim as favoring at least one substantive form of emergence, and they cite another author with the same opinion.  If this holds up, it is the most damaging case against reductionism, yet.  Kim is the most thoughtful and conscientious of the reductionists of which I am aware.  A far cry from Steve. 

I hasten to point out that Richard & Mark claim to be non-reductive naturalists.  I would like to find just one paper that exposes the oxymoronicity of non-reductive naturalism.  If Darwinism is not reductive it looses most or all its force, I believe.  This is being pointed out by the IDers with their irreducible-complexity argument against Darwin.  For instance, if any aspect of consciousness is irreducible, then we are faced with the pre-existence of mind and intelligence, obviating the Darwinian thesis.  

I have mentioned before that the only way around this anti-Darwinian conclusion is by means of a Sheldrakian 'mechanism' of spontaneous morphogenetic resonance. Such an anti-mechanical mechanism, just in itself, however, would be a large foot in the door for all kinds of teleological mischief.  Give us an inch; we take a mile.  That's exactly why the wizard's of scientific secularism, Weinberg & Co., are being so hardnosed about reductionism.  Don't the 'naturalists' get it?  By the way, my singular meeting with Rupert was in a crop circle.  Need we say more? 

How the non-reductive naturalists avoid this realization is the mystery of the moment.  Has no one bothered to clue them in?  There must be a reason for the divide between physicalism and naturalism; a reason that is being downplayed, evidently.  Why is reductionism so much debated if it does not have far reaching consequences?  The naturalists are naturally reluctant to speculate as to how far reaching these consequences are.  What then is their motivation relative to the reduction issue?  They may think that they are merely are supporting scientific realism, particularly as it applies to the life sciences.  But at the very least this makes them vitalists, and even panpsychists.  How many inches between these and pantheism, and then..., you know what?  

I recall more than a few theistic authors complaining about scientific reductionism.  Is it only ideology which prevents a joint tactical anti-reductive effort? 

Back to search mode.  Or is it head-scratching mode? 

As if in answer to my question, my next click was on Downward Causation by Claus Emmeche [Danish Biosemiotician], et al., of nonsectarian demeanor.  But, then go to the Amazon listing, and what do we see?  It is paired with a book by Dembski, a ringleader of the neo-Creationists, but with no explanation for the selection.  Evidently, I am not the only one anticipating a tactical fusion of anti-reductive interests.   

And it appears that Naturalism : A Critical Analysis (Routledge Studies in Twentieth Century Philosophy, 2000) by William Lane Craig (Editor), J. P. Moreland (Editor) might answer some of the above questions.  It includes this article: 'The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism' by Robert C. Koons, 1998.  But this latter turns out to be one of the most opaquely argued pieces I have come across in recent memory.  Too bad.  [But here I am in a more congenial mood.] 



I am presently reviewing Claus's homepage.  I notice that he maintains links to Radical Constructivism (Austrian site, Heinz von Foerster, et al.) as well as to the Creationism debate, quite eclectic.  Radical constructivism has strong immaterialist tendencies, with ties to biology and cybernetics.  Notice the link to Stephen C. Pepper.  Stephen's root metaphors and world hypotheses have been influential for me, from early on. 

Clearly biosemiotics is important for us, and Claus appears to be the most eclectic thinker in the field.  Gilles Fauconnier is another person on this fringe, yet to be reckoned with. 

I have yet to find a point of direct confrontation between biosemiotics and reductionism.  There is not the deliberate provocation that we find with Richard Campbell above.  I notice that Richard has considerable background in the philosophy of religion.  For an academician to stick her neck out in this arena requires more than a little fortitude and experience with the big picture.  Being on the verge of retirement is another likely factor.  Unfortunately, this is Richard's only publication presently on-line.  

I'm reading Alexei Sharov's personal philosophy relative to biosemiotics.  He emphasizes his pragmatism, but note the priorities: 

Religious experience has proven to be useful for billions of people. But other people may not need it. Because people have different Umwelts they cannot come to agreement on whether the God exists or not. But this disagreement does not prevent them to communicate using overlapping portions of their Umwelts. It is not the goal of science to prove that God does not exist; science has other more important [sic] goals.


Biosemiotics is rather close to evolutionary epistemology in the following aspects. It considers knowledge as a natural phenomenon which can be studied using the evolutionary theory. Biosemiotics is a descriptive science and rejects normative epistemology and normative ethics.

However, most people who develop evolutionary epistemology are realists, including the founders (Campbell, Lorenz, and Popper). Popper thought that scientific language has fixed meaning, and therefore scientific knowledge is objective and absolute. I think that there is no absolute (observer-independent) knowledge. However, there may be levels of "objectivity" depending on the scope of usefulness of knowledge (how large is the group of people who apply this knowledge and how successful this application was in the past). In this sense, scientific knowledge is more "objective" than superstitions. 

I see a peculiar (politically correct?) form of quasi-realism at work -- constructive realism?  The unaddressed issue is conceptualism.  What is the ontology of our concepts?  How does semiotics obviate semantics?  What is the ontic status of a sign?  Why not 'biosemantics'?  This might be worth pursuing.  Are semiotics and constructivism both reductionistic?   Are they just neo-materialist?  But wait, what about informatics?  Is there a distinction between informatics and semiotics?  What is the ontology of the former?  

Is the avoidance of ontology deliberate?  How long can it persist?  Without a realist ontology, science will quickly slide into idealism.  With a realist ontology the slide will just be a little slower!  Either way, we see that science and realism are on a collision course.  Thus the avoidance and denials of the inevitable show down.  

OK, back to Google: semiotics & reductionism: and right back to Claus: 'Modeling life- on the semiotics of emergence and computation': 

Artificial Life may help us to see that the idea of universality of the fundamental principles of life may be a presupposition, a metaphysical prejudice with a questionable basis. 

The dualism between structure and process, form and function, part and whole, inheritance and environment, contingency and necessity, holism and reductionism, vitalism and mechanism, energy and information, concept and metaphor. The construction of Artificial Life may help to dissolve some of these dualisms, or maybe combine or re-invent them in more fruitful ways, and inseminate new ideas about the nature of living beings. In this perspective Artificial Life can be seen as a new way of `reading' the science of biology. Using a metaphor from literary criticism we may call it a deconstructive reading: Alife actuates a deconstruction of the Good-Old-Fashioned-Biological Life. 

Oh dear, I'm disappointed with Claus.  I would say he is putting too much stock in Artificial Life, whose main function is simply to help us avoid and deny the problem of reductionism.  


Let's try again: 'The cybersemiotic model: An evolutionary view on the threshold between semiosis and informational exchange', Soren Brier: 

The present paper discussed various suggestions for a philosophical framework for a trans-disciplinary information science or a semiotic doctrine. These are: the mechanical materialistic, the pan-informational, the Luhmanian second order cybernetic approach, Peircian biosemiotics and finally the pan-semiotic approach. The limitations of each are analysed. The conclusion is that we will not have to choose between either a cybernetic-informational or a semiotic approach. A combination of a Peircian -based biosemiotics with autopoiesis theory, second order cybernetics and information science is suggested in a five -leveled cybersemiotic framework . The five levels are 1 ) a level of First ness, 2 ) a level of mechanical matter, energy and force as Secondness, 3 ) a cybernetic and thermo dynamic level of information, 4 ) a level of sign games and 5 ) a level of conscious language games.  

Well, we shall see.....

But Peirce's semiotics is a very good non-reductionistic framework to start from since it takes its point of departure in semiotic mind.

The conception - especially of Maturana and Varela and also von Foerster - also comes close to Jacob von Uexkülls Umweltslehre. It is a kind of bio-constructivism. Unfortunately it tends to be rather idealistic, sometimes even solipsistic in certain formulations while, at the same time, it insists on the material reality of a biological observing system. Von Uexküll is a declared vitalist, who sees living systems as species, stretching theory Umwelt bauplans through time eternal. This makes him an anti-Darwinist. But Lorenz, on the other hand, used part of Uexkülls theory to found ethology. He fitted it into a neo-Darwinian paradigm,....

In Peircian semiotic philosophy these levels can be bound together by Synechism, Tychism and Agapism combined with the evolutionary view of the interaction of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness. The view of Firstness as a blend of mind and matter qualities and as containing qualia and living feeling with a tendency to take habits is crucial to understand the self-organizing capabilities of nature and how, what seem as dead matter, through self-organization in evolution can become autopoietic and alive with cognitive/semiotic and feeling abilities.

The ontology is all over the map.  Claus and Alexei reject all ontology; Soren accepts all ontology.  I'm not sure that there is any practical difference. 

The term quasi-sign suggests an answer to the question whether there can be semiosis in a machine of the kind which Peirce knew. A quasi-sign is only in certain respects like a sign, but it does not fulfill all criteria of semiosis. While some criteria of semiosis may be present in machines, others are missing.

Well, this is something.  

When information theory attempts to encompass the area of meaning and semantics it passes and destroys the semiotic threshold too, but now in the other direction blurring the difference between informational and semiotic processes, and thereby between mechanical signal manipulating or quasi-semiotic systems and living systems. This produces all sorts of simplistic theories about intelligences that are not able to grasp the cognitive processes special for embodied living systems, not to speak of conscious socio-linguistic systems. 

....and better still.  I suspect that the upper echelons of Semioticians continue to respect these ontological distinctions, in keeping with their Continental phenomenology.  It is the worker bees who may try to cut these ontological corners in order not to upset the mainly Anglo-American scientific establishment, which confronts Creationism on a daily basis.  

Peirce's view that we cannot with any good reasons split the concepts of mind and matter from the beginning, is very sound and a profound basis. I do not see any good reason why the inner world of cognition, emotions and volition should not be accepted as just as real as the physical world as well as our cultural world of signs and meaning. 

Finally to both the spiritualist and the materialistic, embodied life, even with only one cell as the body, has to be a basic part of, or a component of constructing a reality. We are thinking in - or maybe even - with the body. The psyche and its inner world arise within and between biological systems or bodies. With Peirce one may say that there will always be some kind of psyche in any kind of biological autopoietic and code dual system. Still, a partly autonomous inner world of emotions, perceptions and volitions, only seems to arise in multi-cellular chordates with a central nervous system. Lorenz (1973) argues that such a system with emotions and experiences of pleasure is necessary for animals to have appetitive behavior, searching for the objects or situations that can elicit their instinctual behavior and release the motivational urge built up behind it. This is qualitatively different from how reflexes function on a signal, which is a proto-semiotic informational level. Instincts sign function is on a genuine semiotic level. be perfectly frank about it.  

SEMIOSIC BODY-MIND (THE) -- Jesper Hoffmeyer:

20th century life sciences have been characterised by two major trends. One trend is molecular and genetic reductionism. This trend is well known and need no further comment. Beginning as an undercurrent to this trend, however, another much less noticed but in the long run just as important trend has gradually been unfolding: The semiotisation of nature.

....and in the other corner, Semiotics. 

While it is understandable that biology as a profession prefers to base its understanding of basic life processes on a concept of information having been developed in the safe world of physics, this way of saving the life sciences from the muddy waters of interpretative processes nevertheless seems increasingly illusory the more we learn about the true subtleties of those processes.

There can be no doubt that reductionism in the life sciences has been healthy considered as a research strategy, and it should be pursued as such. But when it comes to theory, it seems that reductionism and the dualism on which it is justified, has run into serious problems. To explain life as 'nothing-but-interacting-molecules' leaves out a whole dimension of life, which the reductionist research strategy has itself helped digging out, the dimension of semiosis.

...not to mince words.  

A semiotic cosmology 

"We must understand our world in such a way that it shall not be absurd to claim, that this world has itself produced us" (Prigogine and Stenger 1984). With this statement Prigogine and Stenger want to remind us to the logical problem implied by a traditional scientific world view: If our physical theories explain nature as a stupid thing, how come that this 'thing' was as a matter of fact capable of creating us? Creativity cannot logically grow out of a non-creative world. Ironical as it is, traditional science therefore needs miracle (or alternatively it may of course eliminate creativity by claiming absolute determinism - but that leads us into the absurdity of believing that we couldn't possibly have believed other than what we believe, which is then not a belief but a kind of mental spasm).

Jesper keeps getting better.  This is nice!  When will creationism discover semiotics?  There is probably already a Creationist Establishment which sees Semiotics as a threat to its job security, no doubt. 

What I suggest, then, is that the development of individual intentionality in clever animals was preceded by the development of an evolutionary intentionality (which itself was preceded by a cosmic quasi-intentionality (Hoffmeyer 1998)). Rather than excluding unminded bodies from the kingdom of semiosis by applying the rigid criterion proposed by Eco I suggest we accept the idea that semiosis is itself an evolutionary phenomenon exhibiting different degrees of freedom. Evolution might then be seen, as Gregory Bateson suggested, as itself a kind of mind process, and by implication all bodies in the world are in a way minded bodies. As I have suggested earlier one might even say that the unfolding in our universe of increasing semiotic freedom is what evolution is all about. 

...teleology, anyone? 

'Has Biosemiotics come of age?' -- Marcello Barbieri (2002): 

The third paper, by Frederik Stjernfelt, begins with the announcement that "Jakob von Uexkull's theoretical biology is a main contribution to the developmental, or epigenetic, trend in the biology of recent centuries, a lineage involving scholars like Goethe, Saint-Hilaire, von Baer, d'Arcy Thompson, Spemann, Driesch, Waddington, Brian Goodwin, Rene' Thom and Stuart Kauffman". This lineage has been the historical antagonist of the 'mechanistic' approach of Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Lamarck, Darwin, Mendel, James Watson, Francis Crick and Jacques Monod, an approach which has produced what is still the main paradigm of modern biology. This special issue, in short, not only presents a revolutionary idea of biology, but also announces that such a revolution comes from the heirs of the historical opposition to mechanism. And this is no isolated announcement. 41 distinguished academics from 15 different countries have produced a 828-pages-long volume with papers on history, philosophy, theoretical biology, ecology, linguistics, arts, literature and computer science, and all come, by varying degrees, to similar general conclusions. The volume owes in fact its remarkable overall unity to this ideal convergence, and there is no doubt that its aim is to strike at the very heart of the life sciences.


Mainstream organicists and qualitative organicists may well be responding with enthusiasm to the "United against mechanism?" rallying question that Malte Herwig is launching from this special issue, but I am not. The best chances to solve the new problems of life are still likely to come from where all our solutions have always come in the past: from good, rational, old-fashioned machine-like models.

It sounds like a confrontation to me. 

Unfortunately, only two other publications of Marcello's are available on-line.  His promise to reduce semiotics to mechanics remains just that.  Nor have I found any other mechanists willing to debate the semioticians. 



There is no question that semiotics in general and biosemiotics in particular are anti-reductionistic.  Semiotics, simpliciter, also has an anti-naturalistic aspect.  Should we check that out? 

Semiotics & naturalism: and it would appear that we have a date with Robert S. Corrington, Prof. of Philosophical Theology: A Semiotic Theory of Theology and Philosophy (CUP, 2000): 

Reviewer: Elena Vishnevskaya from Madison, New Jersey USA

In this beautifully written and concise book, Professor Corrington presents to the reader the capstone of his six previous books as they have developed his unique perspective of ecstatic naturalism. This form of naturalism, while rooted in classical Euro-American forms of naturalism (think of Dewey and Buchler here), makes a decisive break with the past by arguing for the primacy of the unconscious dimension of nature and for the reality of the potencies that enter into the world often when they are least expected. In order to frame his general philosophy, he engages in an ongoing respectful dialogue with psychoanalysis (especially that of Jung, Reich, and Kristeva), semiotic theory in the Peircean tradition, and a universalistic religiosity apparently shaped by his encounters with Hinduism and American Unitarianism.....He has an almost mystical sense of the presemiotic ground of nature and sees it as the birthing ground of the potencies (taking this word from Schelling). The other dimension of nature natured is explored in terms of an evolutionary semiotics that is bold enough to see sign usage in all of the prehuman order of the world. 

This may not be supernatural, but it sounds like Supernature to me. There is certainly nothing here that a scientist, qua scientist, would recognize.  Clearly we have to be on the lookout for pantheists attempting to purloin the banner of Naturalism, and, by the same token, be on the lookout for crypto-pantheistic 'naturalists'.  'Evolutionary semiotics' merits examination.  Semioticism appears bound for cultic status. 

Concerning semiotics and reductionism: Britannica 2001: Semiotics: 

This interest in the structure behind the use of particular signs links semiotics with the methods of structuralism , which seeks to analyze these relations. Saussure's theories are thus also considered fundamental to structuralism (especially structural linguistics) and to poststructuralism. 

...and Structuralism: 

Two important points arise here: first, that the structural approach is not in principle restricted to synchronic linguistics; second, that the study of meaning, as well as the study of phonology and grammar, can be structural in orientation. In both cases "structuralism" is opposed to "atomism" in the European literature. 


Little work on semantics has been done by structural linguists because of their belief that the field is too difficult or elusive to describe.

Did no one apprise the AI community of this latter result? 


Center for Semiotics


Semiotics has always been both an inquiry into the nature of signs and—since signs convey meaning—a philosophical field of rational reasoning on world- and meaning-related questions, such as the following: Is meaning part of the world? Or is it the human mind’s own pure invention and therefore not part of the world? 


There are, however, many different versions of this semiotic ‘naturalism’:  

One is Thom’s and, roughly, Lakoff/Johnson’s: there is a macro-physical, or ‘pheno-physical’, domain of objectively given spatio-temporal and causal states and processes; these have given formal properties that our minds pick up and interiorise, if they significantly affect our bodily interaction with them; this interiorisation is schematism. The gap separating ‘physis’ and ‘meta-physis’ is thus bridged by ‘pheno-physis’. The rest is metaphor. The rest includes affect, notional meaning, deontic values, linguistic and otherwise semiotic behavior.  

Another is Talmy’s and Fauconnier/Turner’s: there is a neurally specialized mental function which can make incoherent, or partial ‘ceptions’ (perceptions, conceptions) into coherent meanings by filling in from a stock of mentally available ready-mades that language helps us store as ‘fictions’; the result is an ongoing process of creative construction that blends the fictive and the referential ingredients into homogeneous, meaningful semantic wholes (a semantic "kitchen"). The central assumption is that there is a mental "cooking-pot", a cognitive mechanism of conceptual integration that neutralizes the difference between semantic domain addresses, modal values, provenances etc. of the ingredients and treats them all alike. The mind is generous.  Here, the gap between physicality and meaning is bridged by a neuro-semantic integration; metaphor is just a special case.

Notice the scare quotes on 'naturalism'.  This is a very phenomenological version of nature as opposed to scientific.  And mind the 'gap', please.  

'Semiotics this side and the other side of structuralism: the connection between modern and postmodern, structuralism and poststructuralism' -- Roland Posner, Technical University Berlin (1993)

In the beginning of the 20th century, structuralism has responded to the materialism, atomism, historicism, and naturalism of academic research by introducing a theory of its own, built around the dichotomies of signified and signifier, paradigm and syntagm[?], diachrony and synchrony, langue and parole. Poststructuralism did not reject this theoretical apparatus in favor of a new one, but explicated the paradoxes behind the structuralist dichotomies and tried to overcome them by undermining the first concept of each pair and emphasizing the second concept. case you were wondering, and recalling the seminal relation of structuralism and semiotics. 

I had not been sufficiently aware of the anti-reductive motivation for structuralism. 

I would speculate that there is already a transatlantic, anti-reductive symbiosis between semiotics and our own computational epistemology

In regard to semiosis vs. reduction, I am reminded of Wilfrid Sellars's dichotomy (c.1962): 

His most explicit account of the central task confronting contemporary philosophy aligns it firmly with the modernist project of achieving a rapprochement between our humanistic understanding of ourselves as free and rational agents, at home among meanings and values, and the thoroughly "disenchanted" picture of the world being painted by an increasingly comprehensive natural science. Sellars thematized this contrast as a confrontation of two "images": the "manifest image" whose primary objects are persons, beings who can and do conceive of themselves as sentient perceivers, cognitive knowers, and deliberative agents, and the "scientific image", whose primary entities are some sophisticated version of "atoms in the void". "The scientific image," Sellars wrote, "presents itself as a rival image. From its point of view the manifest image on which it [methodologically] rests is an ‘inadequate’ but pragmatically useful likeness of a reality which first finds its adequate (in principle) likeness in the scientific image."

Research Project: Rationality and Non-Reductionism (van Tilburg University, NL): 

The program takes issue with two trends in the philosophy of science and epistemology: relativism and reductionism. While relativism undermines the rationality of science, reductionism undermines the ontological status of the subject matter of the so-called special sciences and hence their autonomy.


Emergent properties (15,000 hits):

The biosemiotics of emergent properties in a pluralist ontology -- Claus Emmeche: an excellent summary of the many possibilities. 


Emergent properties & causal (2,300 hits): 

Here is an outline of Kim's "Epiphenomenal and Supervenient Causation" (1984).  He argues against macro or downward causation. 

CARL GILLETT was a student of Fodor's at Rutgers.  He is a critic of physicalism.  Only abstracts of his papers are available. 

Henry Stapp is a person to watch.  I first met him about twenty years ago.  He is a physicist at Berkley.  Here is a lengthy excerpt from a letter (1997) of his: 

So in this austere quantum ontology there is an element of reality associated with each alternative possible entire classical world. This includes realities associated with each alternative possible state of my entire brain. So we now have some realities that can reasonably be imagined to correspond to the complex structure of human thoughts. 

But this complex reality, rich as it is, is only part of the quantum reality: something that lies outside and beyond that physical ontology is needed to complete the full dynamical description. A fair description of this extra thing would probably be to say that it is something like "the mind of God", because it must do such high-powered things. 

In each of the various quantum ontologies that has been proposed the other realities must do important things. I will stick here to a Bohr/Heisenberg/vonNeumnn/Wigner interpretation. 

The extra reality must do three things: 1. select a question (choose a basis) 2. answer that particular question (actualize one of the basis states) 3. bring the physical state of universe into concordance with that answer. 

Most importantly, insofar as we know today, each question must be a question about what some human experience will be, and the answer must bring the state of the brain of that human being into correspondence with that experience. This is the way the theory is set up, in order to account for *all* phenomena, including phenomena adequately described by using the classical approximation. 

Although only events associated with human experiences are required by the theory, the theory allows similar events not associated with human beings. But no evidence for their existence has yet been uncovered. 

This completes my explanation of why I reject the classical-physics ontology, and how our conscious experiences fit into a quantum-physics ontology.

There is some tension here between a mere quantum physicalism and a full-blown theism.  In most of his writing, Henry hews close to the former, conservative position. 


I point out that "downward causation" is utterly non-mysterious. The last trilobite jumped the wrong way when some starfish caught it for dinner. But with the extinction of the organism - the trilobite - the earth lost its unique molecular species. Hence the extinction event, due to actions and effects among whole organisms, has changed the molecular unfolding of the biosphere. Causes run upward and downward seamlessly.

We'll be hearing a lot of this from the 'anti-mysterians'. 

Self-organization & downward-causation (254 hits). 



Weak emergence (128 hits): 

Weak Emergence -- Mark Bedau (1997; his phrase first referenced in 1995): 

An innocent form of emergence - what I call "weak emergence" - is now a commonplace in a thriving interdisciplinary nexus of scientific activity - sometimes called the "sciences of complexity" - that include connectionist modeling, non-linear dynamics (popularly known as "chaos" theory), and artificial life.  After defining it, illustrating it in two contexts, and reviewing the available evidence, I conclude that the scientific and philosophical prospects for weak emergence are bright. 

'Toothless' would be a more accurate description. 

'Varieties of Emergence' -- David Chalmers (2002): 

We can say that a high-level phenomenon is strongly emergent with respect to a low-level domain when truths concerning that phenomenon are not deducible even in principle from truths in the low-level domain. Strong emergence is the notion of emergence that is most common in philosophical discussion of emergence, and is the notion invoked by the "British emergentists" of the 1920s.

We can say that a high-level phenomenon is weakly emergent with respect to a low-level domain when truths concerning that phenomenon are unexpected given the principles governing the low-level domain. Weak emergence is the notion of emergence that is most common in recent scientific discussion of emergence, and is the notion that is typically invoked by proponents of emergence in complex systems theory. (See Bedau 1997 for a nice discussion of the notion of weak emergence.)

Yes, it is important to note that the Complexity Gang at the Santa Fe Institute has done a professional job of hijacking the once philosophically respectable and objective notion of emergence and trashed it with their postmodern subjectivist spin, to be perfectly frank.  How long would SFI's NSF grants have held out if their 'emergence' had not been defanged

'Strong emergence' clearly separates the foxes from the hens.  Any serious anti-reductionist active since '97 would be sure to reference 'strong emergence'.  The fact that there are less than 71 distinct entries above, strongly limits the field of us foxes.  I am not yet amongst those, and there may be others like me, still not on the radar.  We shall soon see. 

Here's the list of active anti-reductionists, extracted from weak emergence

  1. Gregg Rosenberg 
  2. John Collier 
  3. Carl Gillett 
  4. David Chalmers and see his list of 15 online papers by others on reduction and emergence. 

And that's about it, unfortunately.  Next I'll take a look at Chalmers' list:  

  1. Mark Bickhard 
  2. Claus Emmeche 
  3. Tim O'Connor 
  4. John Post 
  5. William Seager 
  6. Larry Shapiro is sitting on an interesting fence. 
  7. Michael Silberstein, only one paper is online. 

This gives a cumulative total of eleven active anti-reductionists.  Except for Gregg, they all hold academic positions.  The non-academicians may be harder to identify, but they ought to show up on Google.  Claus and John C. are the only two not located in this country.  This present bias needs correction. 

If there were to be a paradigm shift away from scientific materialism, some of the above would be on the front lines.  Each one is anticipating some such shift.  

This list represents the bottom-line of my Internet sleuthing since 7/10/02.  It will be important to maintain and hopefully expand it.  One practical question is whether there is any collaboration amongst the listees, or even any sense of solidarity.  

Anyone on the lookout for the big shift need only access a few of these websites periodically to check its status.  

And moving right along, here are three people to watch from Larry's page: Colin Allen, Malcolm Forster and Valerie Hardcastle.  Like Larry, each is on her own fence.  

Thanks to Bill: Postmodernism R.I.P. No other relevant links. 

I notice that John P. has wide ranging interests. 

Clause maintains a lengthy list of possibly relevant people that will have to be perused.  Off the top we must add Howard H. Pattee.  Howard was first recommended to me about 25 years ago. 

Mark has an interesting biographical sketch.  Sound familiar? 

Carl has collaborated with Barry Loewer

John C. links to Semiotics, Evolution, Energy, Development Journal which contains a possibly useful article, 'The Status of Biosemiotics', and to this mailing list, Organisation, Complexity, Autonomy List Archives.  

There are some interesting leads from the above lists, but there is a dearth of cohesion, just in case any were expected. 


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