Creation & Maya 


[A brief summary appears at the end of the page.] 

I have previously broached the subject of Creation on several occasions.  Here I hope to look at it particularly from the contrasting views of the prophetic and pantheist, or Eastern and Western, traditions.  

My second favorite Creation story is that of Vishnu dreaming up the world.  This has always made a lot more sense to me than the various other creation stories that generally depict God as an artisan rather than as author or inventor.  A typical example is the story in Genesis of God creating Adam out of clay.  I recall that there are two separate creation stories in Genesis, and the one referenced is the second, and perhaps earlier one.  But probably the most 'primitive' of known stories, and my all-time favorite, is from the Australian aborigines where there is simply a reference to the primordial 'dreamtime'.  I don't recall that there was any specification of a particular dreamer.  The implication is that it was all beings.  This is even closer to my immaterialist, participatory view of the matter.  Obviously I will need to brush up on my Creation stories, and I like to think that able assistance will be on the way, once Google wakes up and smells the BPW, but I may just be dreaming! 

Several things need remarking.  Hinduism is generally regarded as atheistic, so the popular myth above that casts the Vishnu as Creator confirms the pluralist tolerance of the East.  Nonetheless, it is peculiar how the contrasting stories of dreamer vs. artisan so clearly demarcate the monism and dualism of the East and West respectively.  Hopefully we can eventually get a handle on which came first: the metaphysical ethos or the creation narratives.  I wouldn't put is past the Creator to have planted the respective narrative seeds, just with the immanent dramatic convergence of the parousia in mind.  Or it could be that the Aborigines have been the most conserving of the one aboriginally planted story, out of Africa: the rest being various ad hoc emendations.  Further historical research is clearly indicated. 

With these preliminaries behind us, it's time to Google on Creation (12,000,000 hits).  I guess we'll have to be a bit more specific: 

Aboriginal Dreamtime (4,500 hits).  Vishnu’s dream (23 hits).  (The more orthodox Hindu view of the origin of the world is maya or illusion (48,000 hits)). 

Hinduism by Joseph Campbell: 

Hence, we are all one in Vishnu: manifestations, inflections, of this dreaming power of Vishnu; broken images of himself rippling on the spontaneously active surface of his subtle mind stuff. Moreover, this sleeping god's divine dream of the universe is pictured in Indian art as a great lotus plant growing from his navel. The idea is that the dream unfolds like a glorious flower, and that this flower is the energy-or, as the Indians say. the shakti or goddess-of the god.



The following are extended excerpts taken from seven sources on the maya & illusion list.  These are mostly for my own record.  Following the excerpts will be a discussion of them.  You are invited to skip ahead several screens to the discussion, and then refer back to the excerpts as appropriate.  

Maya- The Grand Illusion:

Maya or illusion is a very potent instrument of the Divine Prakriti, the Primal Nature. Through the force of illusion, It holds the beings under its sway. 

The beings under illusion cannot see the Invisible God and so they cannot correctly comprehend Him. They cannot see Him in all and all in Him.

It is possible to overcome the influence maya by following the teachings of Lord Krishna taught to Arjuna in the middle of the battle field. By following the Gita, one can develop stability of the mind, through the control of the senses and desires; become a humble devotee of God,

MAYA AND ILLUSION -- Swami Vivekananda

Much later on, in one of the latest Upanishads, we find the word Maya reappearing, but this time, a transformation has taken place in it, and a mass of new meaning has attached itself to the word. Theories had been propounded and repeated, others had been taken up, until at last the idea of Maya became fixed. We read in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, "Know nature to be Maya and the Ruler of this Maya is the Lord Himself." Coming to our philosophers, we find that this word Maya has been manipulated in various fashions, until we come to the great Shankaracharya [Sankara (c.700-750 CE)]. The theory of Maya was manipulated a little by the Buddhists too, but in the hands of the Buddhists it became very much like what is called Idealism, and that is the meaning that is now generally given to the word Maya. When the Hindu says the world is Maya, at once people get the idea that the world is an illusion. This interpretation has some basis, as coming through the Buddhistic philosophers, because there was one section of philosophers who did not believe in the external world at all. But the Maya of the Vedanta, in its last developed form, is neither Idealism nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts--what we are and what we see around us.

Thus we find that Maya is not a theory for the explanation of the world; it is simply a statement of facts as they exist, that the very basis of our being is contradiction, that wherever there is good, there must also be evil, and wherever there is evil, there must be some good, wherever there is life, death must follow as its shadow, and everyone who smiles will have to weep, and vice versa. Nor can this state of things be remedied.

Thus the Vedanta philosophy is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. It voices both these views and takes things as they are. It admits that this world is a mixture of good and evil, happiness and misery, and that to increase the one, one must of necessity increase the other. There will never be a perfectly good or bad world, because the very idea is a contradiction in terms.

Attempts have been made in Germany to build a system of philosophy on the basis that the Infinite has become the finite. Such attempts are also made in England. And the analysis of the position of these philosophers is this, that the Infinite is trying to express itself in this universe, and that there will come a time when the Infinite will succeed in doing so. It is all very well, and we have used the words Infinite  and manifestation  and expression, and so on, but philosophers naturally ask for a logical fundamental basis for the statement that the finite can fully express the Infinite. The Absolute and the Infinite can become this universe only by limitation. Everything must be limited that comes through the senses, or through the mind, or through the intellect; and for the limited to be the unlimited is simply absurd, and can never be. The Vedanta, on the other hand, says that it is true that the Absolute or the Infinite is trying to express itself in the finite, but there will come a time when it will find that it is impossible, and it will then have to beat a retreat, and this beating a retreat means renunciation which is the real beginning of religion. Nowadays it is very hard even to talk of renunciation. It was said of me in America that I was a man who came out of a land that had been dead and buried for five thousand years, and talked of renunciation. So says, perhaps, the English philosopher. Yet it is true that that is the only path to religion. Renounce and give up. What did Christ say? "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." Again and again did he preach renunciation as the only way to perfection. There comes a time when the mind awakes from this long and dreary dream....

We see, then, that beyond this Maya the Vedantic philosophers find something which is not bound by Maya; and if we can get there, we shall not be bound by Maya. This idea is in some form or other the common property of all religions. But, with the Vedanta, it is only the beginning of religion and not the end. The idea of a Personal God, the Ruler and Creator of this universe, as He has been styled, the Ruler of Maya, or nature, is not the end of these Vedantic ideas; it is only the beginning.

Sankara says with senses there is no possibility to know whether the thing confronting you is real or unreal. And if there is no possibility to know whether it is real or unreal, Sankara calls it MAYA: it is illusion. Illusion doesn't mean unreal. Illusion means an impossibility to decide whether it is real or unreal -- remember this.

In Western languages MAYA has been translated very wrongly, and it gives the feeling in Western terms that "illusion" means "unreal." It does not! "Illusion" means the inability to decide whether the thing is real or unreal. This confusion is MAYA.

Try to understand this: I may dream in the night that I have become a butterfly, and I cannot decide in that dream whether this is real or unreal. In the morning I may be puzzled like Chuang Tzu whether instead the butterfly may have been dreaming. These are two dreams, and there is no way to compare which is real and which is unreal.

But Chuang Tzu is missing one thing -- the dreamer. He is thinking only of dreams, comparing dreams and missing the dreamer -- the one who dreams that Chuang Tzu has become a butterfly, the one who is thinking that it may be quite the reverse: that the butterfly is dreaming that she has become Chuang Tzu. Who is this observer? Who was asleep and is now awake? You may be unreal, you may be a dream to me, but "I" cannot be a dream to myself, because even for a dream to exist a real dreamer is needed. Even for a false dream a real dreamer is needed. Even a dream cannot exist without a real dreamer. So forget dream. This technique says forget dream. The whole world is illusion, you are not. So don't go after the world, there is no possibility to gain certainty there. And now this appears to be proven even by scientific research.

If the whole world is unreal, then there is no shelter in it. Then you are moving after, following shadows, and wasting time and life and energy. Then move inwards. One thing is certain: "I am." Even if the whole world is illusory, one thing is certain: there is someone who knows this is illusory. The knowledge may be illusory, the known may be illusory, but the knower cannot be. This is the only certainty, the only rock on which you can stand.

This technique says look at the world: it is a dream, illusory, and nothing is as it appears. It is just a rainbow. Go deep in this feeling. You will be thrown to yourself. With that coming to one's own self, you come to a certain truth, to something which is indubitable, which is absolute.


Thus the world of experience the world of discernment is an illusion. For nothing in it has a real or separate existence in its own right. Ultimately there is something behind the world that cannot be perceived by the eyes or the senses. It is knowledge and discernment of its elements that generates maya the world of illusion. Of course this illusion itself comprises also the perceiver which makes things even more difficult. For the perceiver has to - not only free themselves from the illusion of the world that appears to be around them but also from the illusion of the existence of themselves as separate egos -individuals. This is compounded by the fact that even the desire to free them selves of this illusion becomes part of the illusion. The need to achieve to grasp at understanding the problem is also maya.


Maya (Sanskrit: "wizardry," or "illusion") is a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably, in the Advaita (Non-dualist) school of the orthodox system of Vedanta.

Maya denotes the power of wizardry with which a God can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion; by extension it later came to mean the powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real.

Maya, as per Hindu thought, is illusion, and what mankind understands to be reality is in fact the dream of Brahma. Brahma is the creator and great magician who dreams the universe into being. The dream itself is maintained by Vishnu, the Preserver, who uses maya to spin the complex web that we know as reality.

It is not that the world itself is an illusion, only our perception of it. Whereas we suppose the universe to be made up of a multitude of objects, structures and events, the theory of maya asserts that all things are one. Rational categories are mere fabrications of the human mind and have no ultimate reality

Advaita & The Bhagavad Gita --  SWAMI B.V. TRIPURARI:

Sankara differs principally from the other schools of Vedanta in that he does not acknowledge the ultimacy of the personhood of Godhead. For Sankara, all is one, and there is no difference. The individual soul is illusory, as is the appearance of God, and the world. Although speaking of a personal God (isvara) and soul (jivatma), Advaita Vedanta in the final analysis denies the existence of both of these truths at the 'paramarthik' (ultimate) level of reality. According to advaita, the material world is also unreal. It exists only as a dream of the imaginary jiva, who can realize that he himself does not exist as an individual or as anything definable (neti neti) by meditating on the illusion of a personal God (isvara, Krsna). As silly as this sounds, Sankara has amassed considerable logic and scriptural references to support his conception. However, unless one has heard at least his basic logic and scriptural twist before hand, it is impossible to arrive at his conclusion from straight forward reading of the Bhagavad Gita. An unbiased reading of the Gita leaves one with God, soul, and real material world, with devotion as the means to liberated life, and the liberated expression of that life. 

At times Sankara associates maya with a power of Brahman, by which he makes the rope of the undivided reality appear as the snake of the manifold world. Brahman is said to engage is this magical act for the purpose of creation, thereby making himself available for the salvation of his devotees. 

It should be obvious that Sankara's explanation of maya creates further problems. To whom or what does Brahman present the illusion of maya? Furthermore, if Brahman is simplisticly one, as defined by Sankara, how can an illusion which is by definition different from Brahman in nature exist at all? If there is no other, as per Sankara, how can Vedic revelation such as the Gita have any meaning, when it presupposes a difference between seeker and that which is sought?

Sankara's explanation of this sutra is his own invention and it departs radically from the text of Badarayana's, in which there is absolutely no mention of anything remotely resembling the notion of a two tier Brahman in the entire treatise. Here Sankara is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt of attaching his own doctrine to the Vedanta Sutra in order to make the sutras themselves, Vedanta, appear compatible with his own doctrine of advaita!

Concept of "Maya": Vedantic and Shaivistic points of view by Prof. K. N. Dhar

In the earlier Vedas-the first book of Humanity-'Maya' has been used in the sense of supernatural or extraordinary prowess attributed to the pantheon of gods. In more ancient Vedic hymns it is praised as 'world sustaining power'. But the later Vedic literature comprising the upanishadic lore, it began to convey the sense of illusion, though in subdued tones. So, this philosophic content relating to this word, had already been spelt out in the time of Upanishads. The later philosophic treatises in the classical age of Sanskrit must have taken a cue from the meaning attached to this word in the Upanishads and have remarkably kept its intonation in tact.

The logical Realism (Nyaya) of Gautama a virtual reaction against Buddhist scepticism has no concern for this word 'Maya', but substitutes it with the appellations Doubt (Sanshaya), fallacy (Hetuvabhasa) and Error (Mithya Jnana). To speak precisely, doubt is wavering knowledge, Fallacy is inconclusive knowledge and Error is defective knowledge. All these three attributeo of knowledge definitely provide the base on which the superstructure of 'Maya' was installed later on.

As regards Maya, Shankar's [Sankara's] premise is that it is an antithesis of Brahma because of being inextricably connected with the world (Jagat). Brahma is real (Satyam) while world is transitory or unreal (Mithya). It is definitely part and parcel of Brahma-the very basis of creation. As nothing can be created out of a vacuum, in the same way Brahma being the only eternal entity, the world does emerge out of it only. At this stage Ignorance (Avidya) intervenes to confuse the human mind and intellect by mistaking the Finite form of Brahma with its Infinite form. Therefore, ignorance is the progenitor of Maya (Illusion), unreal seeming as real. "Since Maya is deceptive in character, it is called 'Avidya' or false knowledge, it is not mere absence of apprehension but positive error." Toys and pots made of clay, though bearing different names and shapes from each other, are nothing but clay; similarly this 'Maya' through 'Avidya' gives rise to plurality without scanning the inherent unity. When Brahma projects itself into myriad forms and names, or transforms itself into the world; this kind of activity inherently of Brahma is called Ishwara with relation to the world and the power to procreate is alluded to as Prakriti. (Ishwarsya MayaShaktih Prakriti). Therefore Maya is the energy of Ishwara, His inherent force by which He transforms the potential into the actual world." It has no separate identity, it is in Ishwara as heat in fire. Maya through the machinations of false knowledge (Avidya) or erroneous perception (Mithya Jnana) exhibits its modus operandi (Vyapara) in two ways of concealment (Avarna) and misrepresentation (Viksepa). It hides the truth and at the same time mis-represents it.

Non-discrimination (Aviveka) has been explained by its commentator KshemaRaja as follows: "Paramartha Svarupasya Aprathana Svabhavah." The nature of non-projection of the highest form of Truth.

This would clearly denote that the stage of non-projecting or non-extending of the supreme spirit is 'Maya'. In other words, it would connote the inability of the supreme consciousness (Samvit) to transfer its consciousness to the objects around. This kind of non-perception and subsequent non-identification between the self (Atman) and the objects (Padartha) will precisely convey the purport of Maya in shaivistic thought: shaivism has treated maya as shakti (Energy), even the primeval Energy or Nature (Mula Prakriti). It is identical with the immanent form of Shiva; His transcendental form is unaffected by it.

This very approach of shaivas marks their fundamental difference with the vedantists. The shaivas take Maya as an inevitable aspect of Shiva when releasing His shakti (Energy) from His fountain-head. Even though He is universe incarnate (Vishvarupa), yet He feels the urgency of creating a universe, so that His shakti (Energy) can have full play. This Maya is called a veritable screen which conceals the real form of things (Tirodhanankari) deluding us into believing the multiform of universe, which in essence is uniform. The moment, the realizer through his perceptive cognition (jnana), takes the blue (neela) and the yellow (peela) as one, and only one entity, the Maya stops her machinations. Therefore shaivas treat Maya as not as unreal but momentary. As against it, the vedantists proclaim that Maya is unreal (Ayathartha), coinciding squarely with their thesis that universe is unreal (Jagat Mithya). Shaiva scholars are at pains to argue that this whole creation is a reflection (Abhasa) of the Super-self which is real, omnipotent and self-dependent (Svatantra): therefore, the relation between the world of appearance ( Vishvamaya ) and that of Transcendence (Vishvoteerna) is that of the reflected object and the reflector. If the reflector is real, how can an object, its reflection, be unreal; since the reflected object has no separate entity from its reflector. Hence Maya has to fulfill her role in transmuting transcendence into immanence. It is thus a veritable hide and seek between the primoridal and subliminal aspects of the same force which is Shiva. Vedantins taking Maya as a perennial deluding force, treat this world as unreal, illusory, but shaivas do not subscribe to this view. As argued earlier, they take this world as real-an image of superconsciousness (Chaitaynam) which to all intents and purposes is self-dependence (Svatantrva) incarnate. Hence shaivas invoke Maya as the progenitor of the world of objects as a whole (Sakala Janani), or as Casual Matrix (Amba). The attitude of shaivas towards the concept of Maya is positive, affirmative in the sense that as long as the equation between shiva and shakti is disturbed, it has to be there. As against this, the vedantins treat Maya as negation of vidya (Avidya).

Shaivas contend that a realizer can attain emancipation while living (Jivanmuktavastha) in this world, that is when his coalition (Jnana) is complete and does not waver in seeming diversity around him, he can attain bliss of unity, being in perfect health, mentally as well as physically. The line of thinking adopted by vedantins is that life being false needs to be abjured, while shaivas treat enjoying life (Bhoga) as a preamble to meaningful renunciation (Yoga). In this context Abbinavagupta has asserted emphatically that this world is essentially Truth. Therefore, in vedantic school of philosophy we come across with a galaxy of ascetics having renounced all earthly concerns (Sanyasins), but in shaivism we are confronted with spiritual guides (Acharyas) who have owned life and also have risen above it; with them matter is as important as the spirit.

Hence the conception of Maya as outlined by the vedantists is above the average quotient of intelligence possessed by an ordinary man. Shaivism, on the other band, has given a straight and simple definition of Maya, in consonance with the average intelligence obtaining in an ordinary mortal.

Even though vedantins and shaivas are at variance with regard to the conception of Maya, yet their destination is same-ennobling human intellect and awakening human spirit. This is exactly the rhythmic jingle of the heart-beats of Indian mind from times immemorial. 

Discussion of the previous seven sets of excepts: 

Toward the end of the last set of excerpts, Prof. Dhar states that the more pessimistic, vedantist view of maya is reserved for the intellectuals, while the more optimistic, shaivist view is more suitable for the masses.  A similar polarity is often noted and even touted in the West, as between the atheist intellectuals and the theistic masses.  There is a twist however.  The secular intellectuals in the West tend to be positive about human nature, while the sectarians see human nature, when not imbued with divine grace, in negative terms.  Science, of course, provides no rationale for any value judgment concerning human nature. 

The original meaning of maya was 'magic'.  It referred to the magical act of creation on the part of one or more deities.  As in the West, and with the disenchantment of the world generally, magic became synonymous with illusion.  There are many holding the view that theism is the last modern remnant of this atavistic strain of primitive animism.  On that same scientistic view, the pantheism of the East is less objectionable in that it does not personify its metaphysics.  As a practical matter, however, theism has been rather more hospitable to science than has pantheism.  

The modernists who look upon theism as irrational are making the large and unjustified assumption that intelligence is reducible.  They are betting the world on Artificial Intelligence.  Implicitly they endorse a Transhuman, i.e. non-human, future.  Oh, there may be some token humans, but their fate will be in the hands of the self-reproducing, self-evolving robots.  

They may be right.  However, the combined postmodernist and fundamentalist reactions to the cyborg futurism are holding those scientistic ambitions in check.  And, perhaps more to the point, the diminishing returns in the AI arena are instilling a greater sense of caution in the materialist rank and file.  Finally it is the bare facts of non-reductionist life that are giving pause to the overweening reductionists. 

It is finally on the issue of reduction that theism, pantheism and materialism confront each other over Creation. Only theism offers El Camino Real.  Correction: there are no longer any reductionists [an exception]; it is the question of emergence that has come to the fore.  Stated most bluntly: is naturalistic emergence an oxymoron?  Can emergence replace Creation?  Can emergence replace the 'sky hook', the downward causation, the teleology that is explicit in Creation? 

On the issue of emergence, it appears that the pantheists and postmodernists side with the naturalists in their non-reductive materialism.  

Naturalists believe that emergence is entirely spontaneous.  From the view of complexity theory there are 'attractors' that pull errant system trajectories into their domains under specified conditions of instability, as the system hunts for a new 'dissipative structure' one step further removed from the primordial chaos.  Presumably there exist a non-denumerable infinity of such attractors and structures.  Evolution is the random, stepwise selection of some finite sequence of these potential structures. 



It appears that Hinduism has been set aside temporarily in deference to complexity theory and dissipative structures (5,000 hits).   But prepare again for a lengthy set of excerpts, mainly for my own benefit.  Once again you are invited to skip ahead to the comments

'Existence Itself: Towards the Phenomenology of Massive Dissipative/Replicative Structures' by David M. Keirsey.  I also excerpt from another page of David's. 

There are very few scientists that would admit to being reductionists, but we all are, to a large degree, inheritors of Newton's brilliant mistake [Rosen 91].  But, besides lamenting the sins of reductionism [Rosen 91], [Goodwin 96], [Oyama 86] and pointing out its weaknesses, there needs to be a methodology for going beyond the criticism and helping to generate new ways of understanding and building conceptual models which include the both the characterization of context and the "system" of complex phenomena.

There are many ways to define the word "complexity"[5]. And there many connotations of the word "complexity" deriving from the work trying to answer some basic scientific questions, such as computational complexity, algorithmic information complexity, logical depth [6], thermodynamic depth[7], and effective complexity [4]. All of these usage's are valid and useful for understanding nature, but these usage's of the word "complexity" are sophisticated in ways that are difficult to directly relate to naturally occurring "entities" such as elementary particles, atoms, molecules, cells, and organisms as we know them in the world.

Part of the problem with using the concept of complexity is the problem of defining exactly what consists of "the system" or the entity which encompasses the complexity. We will argue that some delineation's of systems are more natural than others for understanding how the complex things arise, such as living organisms.

'Dissipative structures' by Cosma Rohilla Shalizi: The following is skeptical report on the attempts to analyze or explain emergent structures.  

Ilya Prigogine (NL) coined the phrase, as a name for the patterns which self-organize in far-from-equilibrium dissipative systems. He thinks they're unbelievably important, and says so at great length in his books. Some of us physicists believe him; some are skeptical; I am leaning towards skepticism.

And then there is the matter of [Prigogine's] scientific peers --- not the systems theorists and similar riff-raff, but the experts in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics and pattern formation. One of them (P. Hohenberg, co-author of the latest Review of Modern Physics book on the state of the art on pattern formation) was willing to be quoted by Scientific American (May 1995, ``From Complexity to Perplexity'') to the effect that ``I don't know of a single phenomenon his theory has explained.''

This is extreme, but it becomes more plausible the more one looks into the actual experimental literature. For instance, chemical oscillations and waves are supposed to be particularly good Dissipative Structures; Prigogine and his collaborators have devoted hundreds if not thousands of pages to their analysis, with a special devotion to the Belousov-Zhabotisnky reagent, which is the classic chemical oscillator. Unfortunately, as Arthur Winfree points out (When Time Breaks Down, Princeton UP, 1987, pp. 189--90), ``the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reagent ... is perfectly stable in its uniform quiescence,'' but can be disturbed into oscillation and wave-formation. This is precisely what cannot be true, if the theory of Dissipative Structures is to apply, and Winfree accordingly judges that ``the first step [in understanding these phenomena], which no theorist would have anticipated, is to set aside the mathematical literature'' produced by a ``ponderous industry of theoretical elaboration''.

Somewhat more diplomatic is Philip W. Anderson, one of the Old Turks of the Santa Fe Institute, and himself a Nobelist. I refer in particular to the very interesting paper he co-authored with Daniel L. Stein, ``Broken Symmetry, Emergent Properties, Dissipative Structures, Life: Are They Related'', in F. Eugene Yates (ed.), Self-Organizing Systems: The Emergence of Order (NY: Plenum Press, 1987), p. 445--457. The editor's abstract is as follows: 

The authors compare symmetry-breaking in thermodynamic equilibrium systems (leading to phase change) and in systems far from equilibrium (leading to dissipative structures). They conclude that the only similarity between the two is their ability to lead to the emergent property of spatial variation from a homogeneous background. There is a well-developed theory for the equilibrium case involving the order parameter concept, which leads to a strong correlation of the order parameter over macroscopic distances in the broken symmetry phase (as exists, for example, in a ferromagnetic domain). This correlation endows the structure with a self-scaled stability, rigidity, autonomy or permanence. In contrast, the authors assert that there is no developed theory of dissipative structures (despite claims to the contrary) and that perhaps there are no stable dissipative structures at all! Symmetry-breaking effects such as vortices and convection cells in fluids --- effects that result from dynamic instability bifurcations --- are considered to be unstable and transitory, rather than stable dissipative structures.

Thus, the authors do not believe that speculation about dissipative structures and their broken symmetries can, at present, be relevant to questions of the origin and persistence of life.

Some quotes from the paper itself: 

``Is there a theory of dissipative structures comparable to that of equilibrium structures, explaining the existence of new, stable properties and entities in such systems?''

Contrary to statements in a number of books and articles in this field, we believe that there is no such theory, and it even may be that there are no such structures as they are implied to exist by Prigogine, Haken, and their collaborators. What does exist in this field is rather different from Prigogine's speculations and is the subject of intense experimental and theoretical investigation at this time.... [p. 447]

Prigogine and his school have made a series of attempts to build an analogy between these [dissipative far-from-equilibrium systems which form patterns] and the Landau free energy and its dependence on the order parameter, which leads to the important properties of equilibrium broken symmetry systems. The attempt is to generalize the principle of maximum entropy production, which holds near equilibrium in steady-state dissipative systems, and to find some kind of dissipation function whose extremum determines the state. As far as we can see, in the few cases in which this idea can be given concrete meaning, it is simply incorrect. In any case, it is clearly out of context in relation to the observed chaotic behavior of real dissipative systems. [pp.454--455]

'The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature' by Philip Ball: reviewed by Shalizi

In particular, Thompson made a point of not invoking natural selection, indeed of leaving any kind of history out of the story. ``A snow-crystal is the same today as when the first snows fell'': so, too, the basic forces acting upon organisms, so why bring history into it? The early years of this century are littered with biologists with little use for natural selection; they are now almost all deservedly forgotten. Thompson owes his continuing influence to the fact that his alternative doesn't beg questions at every turn.

Since Thompson's day, then, there has been a tension in the study of morphogenesis between evolution and (other kinds of?) self-organization, and this is one of Ball's themes, though not the leading one. Partly it is an argument about logical and theoretical questions --- what is natural selection competent to explain? what features of organisms could not be modified by selection? to what extent is self-organization unavoidable? --- and partly it's about where the balance between self-organization and evolution lies in actually existing organisms.

The case for the self-organizers can be put very strongly, at least for multicellular organisms, for metazoans. These are not bloated sacks of protoplasm but (as the biologist say) ``differentiated'' --- there are different chemicals in different parts of the body.

So there has to be some particular differentiating influence. It cannot be the genes (on which natural selection acts), since genes only encode information about proteins, i.e. about what chemicals to make, not where to put them. So it would seem that differentiation, morphogenesis, must be due to some internal process, some reaction of the proteins and their associated chemicals which sorts out what goes where; but this is to say that there needs to be spontaneous pattern formation, that development must be self-organizing.

It may, admittedly, look like we're in trouble with some obvious facts, that this argument leaves genes and natural selection with no purchase at all on morphogenesis. But not even the most enthusiastic of the self-organizers, the ones with the least use for Darwin (e.g., Brian Goodwin) goes that far. [...]  The genes twiddle the knobs, so to speak, and then let self-organization do its voodoo.

This is a pretty convincing line of argument; at least, I'd like to think so, since it convinced me for years. No longer; let me try to say why with a fairly concrete example.

The experimental study of biological development is more than a hundred years old now, and advances in it fill scores of fat journals every month. In all this vast wealth of detail, there is not a single case where a kind of self-organization proposed by theorists has been confirmed (though there are a few likely-looking candidates), and many cases where self-organization is definitely known not to take place. As the old joke says, ``If it's slimy it's biology, if it stinks it's chemistry, and if it doesn't work it's physics.''

This doesn't mean, of course, that the whole exercise has been a waste of time, much less that there is no role for theory in developmental biology, that the current find-a-gene-sequence-it-and-move-on mania is the last word on the subject. Between the DNA and the extra fingers there are a whole host of biophysical problems from the shapes of molecules to the mechanical properties of muscles which we need to solve before our knowledge of morphogenesis will be reasonably complete. As a theoretical physicist interested in biology and anxious about long-term employment, I find this comforting.

Shalizi is a self-avowed reductionist working out of the Santa Fe Institute.  His pessimistic outlook on his own field of physicalistic explanations of emergence warrants consideration.  He has not given up on reductionism, but he is not hopeful that anyone will find the formula for self-organization.  

Evidently there are dynamically stable structures in the world, but very few of them show promise of physical explanation.  Where does that leave the naturalists?  It leaves them uncomfortably near to their vehemently disavowed vitalist forerunners, but still on the lookout for strange attractors (102,000 hits):  

Complicity and the Brain- Dynamics in Attractor Space -- Peter Henningsen: 

Section 2 builds on the book ``THE COLLAPSE OF CHAOS'' by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, who bring a refreshing new perspective to bear on the science of complexity. They complement the standard paradigm of reductionism that explains the behavior of a system through the interaction of its parts with a view that takes into account constraints imposed on a system by its interaction with other systems. Similar complementary views of the process of self-organization were developed by Ilya Prigogine, who pursued the bottom-up, reductionist approach, and Hermann Haken, who focused on how global attractor states constrain the possible dynamics of subsystems. Cohen and Stewart make a good case that the reductionist approach to complex systems is one-sided, and try to map out the territory from which a paradigm complementary to reductionism might emerge. They introduce some useful new terms, such as features and complicity, for which we give a short introduction here.

It appears that I will need to become familiar Robert Rosen's work


2.1.4 Final cause and anticipatory systems

With a little more imagination we can construct interesting descriptions of systems this way in which, as in the example of the house above, final cause carries a connotation of anticipation with it. This idea is highly developed as a characteristic of complex systems by Rosen. It is important for this discussion to note the way in which causes become mixed in a complex system. This is in distinction to the way they stand separate in simple mechanisms (Rosen, 1985, 1991). The way that final cause and anticipation are realized is in the ability of complex systems to incorporate a model of their environment into their behavior. This allows them to anticipate future events and to also correct their behavior as new information sheds light on the anticipatory process. One simple example of such a system at the level of metabolic processes has a mechanistic realization that has been examined in some detail (Rosen, 1985, pp 349-354; Mikulecky, 1993; Prideaux, 1995)

Another facet of final cause being acknowledged is the recognition that future events can cause present behavior. In the case of final cause and anticipation, the causality flows backwards so to speak. What would have once sounded like mysticism becomes perfectly reasonable in a dynamic system. The nature of causality introduces this new directionality in time in a way that the Newtonian Paradigm made impossible.

2.2.3 The [Metabolic, Repairing] system as a relational model of the organism

The History of relational models goes back to a seminal paper by Nicholas Rashevsky wherein he made a radical change in his approach to living systems (Rashevsky, 1954). After pioneering most of the mechanistic models we know about today, including reaction-diffusion systems and artificial neural networks as far back as the 1930s, he took stock of what he had learned and realized that he was not any closer to understanding what living systems were all about. He then decided to take an entirely new direction. His goal was to keep the organization of the living system while basically throwing out the physics. His tool for this was topology.

[...]  The concept of analytic models that do not reduce to synthetic models captures this formally. The task then is to formulate an analytic model of the organism that captures the organization even if it must sacrifice the physics. For this task, category theory is the method Rosen saw as capable of doing exactly what he wanted. He applied category theory to the (M,R) system to answer the question of why an organism was different from a machine.

More information on Robert's ideas is available at Robert Rosen - Understanding Life and Physics, and

Rosen, Moltmann, and the Anticipatory Paradigm  -- DAVID C. COTTINGHAM (1990): 

This article begins with discussion of Robert Rosen's  Anticipatory Systems, outlines the concept of biological modeling processes, and connects the notion of anticipatory model with the notion of psychological archetype. The Great Mother is given as example. Rosen is cited on the distinction between teleonomy and teleology. Jurgen Moltmann's theology is referred to, in particular his idea that the universe is an anticipatory system.  Telos is proposed as a unifying term. The paradigm is then applied to biblical hermeneutics, with typology seen as anticipatory progression; the raising of archetypes into succession of new contexts. The conclusion ties the three approaches together. 

On semiosis, Umwelt, and semiosphere -- Kalevi Kull: 

A cognitive turn in biology can be foreseen very soon. At least, this is an impression readers of Jesper Hoffmeyer's (1996) book on an approach to biosemiotics may get. The term 'cognitive turn' in this context is taken from psychological thinking a couple of decades ago, when the prevailing behavioristic approach was to a great extent replaced by another model of research, allowing methods and criteria which would not be accepted by behaviorists as 'scientific'. Since then, developments in psychology have been very stormy, paradigm changes became a common thing in the science of mind. In biology, the situation has been much more stolid and unexciting. The sound achievements of molecular biology have met with little enthusiasm among true theoreticians. The Darwinian view, in its neo-Darwinian versions, dominates in universities all over the world. The proponents of the power of natural selection have developed its logical consequences in regard to society and ego (e.g. in sociobiology by E.O. Wilson, or gene-ethics by R. Dawkins), and this has cemented the Darwinian monolith. Opportunistic voices have been rare, and have mainly been restricted to continental Europe and Russia (e.g., the nomogenetic view of L. Berg, A. A. Lubischev, S. V. Meyen in Russia, and its parallels in the West - cf. Brauckmann, Kull 1997). However, only a few of these voices have been based on a belief in the methods developed in the humanities, which have been applied to the solution of biological problems via the epistemic renewal of methods.

We're waiting, too.  A big question to my mind is when will the people in the consciousness movement take this 'cognitive turn' and realize that their compartmentalization of the 'hard problem' can only result in dualism. 



Back to the lists:  Robert Rosen & biological (580 hits): 

Review of Incursive, Hyperincursive and Anticipatory Systems - Foundation of Anticipation in Electromagnetism by Daniel M. DUBOIS

The main purpose of this paper is to show that anticipation is not only a property of biosystems but is also a fundamental property of physical systems. In electromagnetism, the anticipation is related to the Lorentz transform. In this framework the anticipation is a strong anticipation because it is not based on a prediction from a model of the physical system but is embedded in the fundamental system. So, Robert Rosen's anticipatory systems deal with weak anticipation. Contrary to Robert Rosen's affirmation, anticipation is thus not a characteristic of living systems. Finality is implicitly embedded in any system and thus the final cause of Aristotle is implicitly embedded in any physical and biological systems, contrary to what Robert Rosen argued. This paper will review some incursive and hyperincursive systems giving rise to strong anticipation. Space-time incursive parabolic systems show non-local properties. Hyperincursive crisp systems are related to catastrophe theory. Finally it will be shown that incursive and hyperincursive anticipatory systems could model properties of biosystems like free will, game strategy, theorem creation, etc. Anticipation is not only related to predictions but to decisions: hyperincursive systems create multiple choices and a decision process selects one choice. So, anticipation is not a final goal, like in cybernetics and system science, but is a fundamental property of physical and biological systems. 

Is this a neo-reductionism or something more transcendental?  It may be in the eyes of the beholder. 

Robert Rosen argued also that anticipatory systems are characterized by finality and connected to the fourth final causation of Aristotle. So, scientists believe that the finality of anticipatory living systems deals mainly with cognitive sciences in relation to language, intention and conscious. I will show that final conditions are implicitly embedded in any mathematical models and are related to the Maupertuis least action principle in Newtonian mechanics and quantum relativist physics. 

Yes, and shades of Leibniz.  It would be amusing if mechanics were found to be irreducible in this fashion.  Any formal system is, almost by definition, unnatural and unphysical to a significant degree.  This has to do with the irreducibility of any semiotic system, including language, mathematics and logic.  This semiotic irreducibility is at the heart of failure of Analytical Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence.  It is synonymous with the irreducibility of reasoning.  That mechanics is unnatural should not be a surprise.  The bottom line, however, is that Nature must be unnatural in some very significant sense.  How could this be?  It pertains, at least in part, to the impossibility of distinguishing between the epistemic and the ontic, rather in the fashion of Quine [and here].  This despite Quine's compulsive posturing as a naturalist.  

What Daniel is doing here is old news to physicists, as he readily acknowledges.  The 'absorber theory' of radiation goes back at least to Wheeler and Feynman in the 1940's.  Why has it taken this long to make the connections?  One reason is that the Absorber Theory was always considered an embarrassment to Physics, because of it's obvious 'unnaturalness'.  The same is also true to a degree of the least action principle.  One could say that Leibniz went off that 'deep end'.  This is all about the BPW, etc.  The time for the rest of us to take the Leibnizian leap is drawing nigh. 

Along these lines I recommend you peruse the following seminar outline: Phenomenological Foundations of Cognition, Language, and Computation organized by Terry Winograd

Then check out CYBERNETICS & HUMAN KNOWING A Journal of Second Order Cybernetics, Autopoiesis & Cyber-Semiotics.

I know what you have said to be true. The motivation of the true founders of Topic Maps clearly had a grounding in the social and cognitive realities of what should be, but is not, regarded as the nature of "ontology" by the IT standards folks. 

The point that I have for so long suffered the TM community with is that the market forces distort the original intent of anything that is properly having of a "epistemic" gap between one complex subject (a human) and the computer world. We forget about the Nash equilibrium theorem, and a whole host of other "stratification" considerations. We forget about Wittgenstein and Whorf. We forget about Robert Rosen and Roger Penrose. We forget about all cognitive science except that fringe that cow tows to the IT influence lobby at NSF/DARPA and to the strong AI Dream (that a machine can think and that a machine is the proper model for studying biological intelligence.) Write the AI Dream in you NSF proposal and get funded. But flip this, and write that IT should more deeply adopt the biological model of intelligence and you are wasting your grant writing time. Yes?

Tell me about it!! 

The notion of an non-addressable subject is the notion that the problem of ontology is not reducible to what exists in the machines. yes? The insistence in no way changes the reality that the topic map was supposed to have the nature of a mental event. Late binding of scope is the core technical issues that can not, in theory, be resolved. Wow, a unsolvable problem. And one that we can define a cottage industry around!!!

The work on visual abstraction can be viewed at: where we have free software for research purposes. The export of formative ontology into a Topic Map with HyTime rendering of actionable affordance is reasonable; but would take anyone who worked on this away from the demands of these powerful social forces (such as the CIA representatives etc.) intent on reductionism. Someone needs to hit them folks over the head and tell them that their view of the world is a national security vulnerability. Other systems of ontology representation in Russia, for example, is specifically open as a conscious attempt to over come the Western IT infrastructure in time of a great war. (This goes back to the very large programs funded in since the 1960s). These systems have not been economically viable for reasons that have to do with the selection of which innovation school gets funded by capitalists.. so the deep struggle between capitalism and socialism is a root cause of the vulnerability. 

Capitalism may lose on this one. 

Nature does not and will not take sides on this one. Scientific and methodological reductionism linked to capitalism and then put in control of our democracy defines the vulnerability, and there is simply no relationship between Paul Prueitt and the fact that this vulnerability has existed and will continue to be a problem for the Nation.

Love that politics!!  Somewhat less demagogically, this has more to do with Descartes than with Capitalism, per se.  Capitalism is really just along for the ride.  What the capitalists don't know is just about everything.  They just work here.  The only reductionism they can grasp is just the bottom line

Ontology Based Document Understanding -- Paul S. Prueitt, PhD: 

Differential ontology aids text summarization and generation systems as well as text translation and situational modeling. The theory of process compartments, each compartment having its own ontology, provides a means to ground differential ontology to compartmentalized network dynamics. A mathematical framework based on weakly coupled oscillators illustrates the variety of structural outcomes from differential geometry. If ontology is associated with a compartment, and multiple compartments are possible, then the theory of process compartments provides a means to understand why some concepts are easily translated while others might not be translatable without significant effort. However, the assumption that multiple compartments exist is not justified easily. 

The nature of paradox, complementarity and emergence have physical correlates that are studied at the quantum level by physicists. It is not too much to expect help from this community. Quantum physics is a mature science that has faced a number of hard problems of this type. We can borrow some of the formal tools, developed to study elementary particle interaction, and extend quantum mechanical analytical methods to address the hard problems found in computational document understanding. First, we borrow the notion that a finite and quantal distribution of possible interpretations is driven by an underlying, and knowable, organization of the world. This enables the disambiguation of meaning, in most cases. In cases where novel emergence must occur in order to find an appropriate container for representation; then we hope to use the notion of entanglement and the formation of a new compartments through complementarity and observation. 

Dmitri Pospelov identified, in the early 1960s, a flaw in modern control theory based on formal systems. Independent Western researchers, like Robert Rosen, have also identified this flaw. Formal systems require a closure on what can be produced from rules of inference about signs and relationships between signs. This means that the formal system, no matter how well constructed, will not always be able to perfectly model the changes in a non-stationary world. Biological systems, however, are capable of constructing new observables through a process of perceptional measurement. How is this accomplished? 

Mind: a site dedicated to exploring.  This one covers some familiar bases. 

And one may wonder if the AI freaks will ever come around: Living Machines: Overview -- Rodney Brooks:

Perhaps we are missing something fundamental and currently unimagined in each of our various models of behavior, perception, cognition, evolution, natural selection, morphogenesis, etc. If this turns out to be true, then we will need to have some new ways of thinking about the issues of living systems if we are to make progress. This would be disruptive to all the sciences of living systems. 



Its getting time to wrap up the page.  Has anything been learned?  

We have learned that Hindu metaphysics comes in many varieties, including theistic and atheistic.  One of these two has a more positive, constructive outlook.  Is there doubt as to which that is? 

In the East, idealism is implicated primarily with the concept of maya.  The Hindu philosopher most closely associated with the concept is Sankara who espoused a non-theistic Advaita (non-dualist) Vedanta.  His teachings were part of the Hindu reaction to the once dominant Buddhism.  His reaction against the Buddhist idealism left the concept of maya somewhat obscure, at least to my thinking.  

India's closest approximation to pure idealism is to be found in the Yogacarin Buddhist teachings of Vasubandhu who lived in the fifth century CE.  Clearly our sojourn to the East remains far from complete, but being able to focus on these two names should expedite our next expedition. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I am gaining further appreciation of the increasing incursions of semiotics and old-fashioned rationalism into the former bastions of AI.  The one-time reductionists are taking up the cause of biosemiotics with vigor.  Rodney Brooks' Living Machines project is a case in point: a decisive departure from what used to be Artificial Life.  Attempts by the Complexity Theorists to short-circuit the biological aspects of emergence are proving futile.  The specter of vitalism is readily apparent.  With his teleological interpretations of physics, Dan Dubois is giving Biophysics a whole new meaning.   Seemingly, the Stagirite is poised for a dramatic return; a development which would not surprise his many loyal and patient adherents.  


Where does this leave Creation?  It is still in the balance.  

What may be most pertinent is the collapse of the venerable distinction between epistemology and ontology.  Is not this collapse implicit in the ascendancy of semiotics?  If this is correct then the entire phenomenon of emergence can only be regulated by some form of intelligence.  I suspect that the Advaitin non-dualism of Sankara and Vasubandhu may speak to this issue.  If beyond mere emergence, we still find an overriding nomos or logos, then we will have to consider a teleological or eschatological theism.  The logos entails the telos which entails the theos.  The short-circuiting of the logos in the East may not be unrelated to the tension between Sankara and Vasubandhu, between Hinduism and Buddhism. Otherwise, we might have ended with a semi-prophetic Creator, i.e. no messianic second coming, per impossible?  We'll have to consult with Leibniz on that one.  



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