The Fundamental Principles of the Universe and the Origin of Physical Laws by Attila Grandpierre

3.4. The different natures of the physical and biological principles: elementary physical and elementary biological events

One has to realise that the innermost activity of our internal world is not easy to grasp by an outer consideration. Therefore, it seems to be reasonable to develop an approach to study the more outer levels at first: physics and biology, instead to start from psychology. Now we have the ultimate principle of physics and biology as well. How can we exemplify their meaning in the practice?

To make a step on this way, I propose the introduction of the concepts “elementary physical event” and “elementary biological event”. These events will be exemplified in the case of a cat. A child pulls this poor cat’s tail. This is the elementary “outer event”. Now we are curious to see if the cat behaves by the principle of physics or by the principle of biology (let us assume that we do not know in advance if the cat is alive or dead). By the laws of physics, the cat should be pulled in the direction of the child’s arm. The child exerted a small force, therefore the cat should be accelerated for a while, and later on decelerated by the frictional force. During her/his whole motion she/he should keep on moving in one direction (of the child’s arm). The elementary physical event consists of a net translation of the cat in the direction of the pull on a microscopic or a macroscopic scale.

Now the elementary biological event is something quite different. As the life principle expresses, the living cat should act differently, against the net translation in the direction of the pull. How can we imagine this elementary biological event? Should we think that it consists in a net translation in the opposite direction? Or should we think that the cat is more involved, and the elementary biological action will be the motion of her/his mouth and tooth towards the hand of the child? In this latter case, we can recognise that the cat has to make a turn. Her/his turn will occur in a circle, the radius of which will be the smaller depending on the force the cat may exert, on the frictional forces etc.

This exemplification points out that the life principle may be useful also in relation to the actual behaviour. Moreover, the life-principle may be the more useful if the results offered by physics are also included in the actual research. Therefore, the exploration of a new ontological level of life does not mean that we have to pay attention exclusively to the level of life, ignoring or regarding unscientific any research which lies behind the scope of our newly explored realm of existence, as one-sided materialism does. Actually, even in the case of consciousness research the method to consider the physical conditions of the different states of consciousness and variations within the states of consciousness is an inevitable and important approach (Grandpierre, 1997b).

3.5. The Four Causes and their relation to physics

The multi-levelled structure of reality may seem as a strange conception for anyone accustomed to the oversimplifying materialist monism. Because of the subtle nature of biological action (i.e. the modification of the internal boundary conditions which govern sensitively the physically realised action), one regard the physical causation as forming a closed system (Bunge, 1959). Nevertheless, physical causes actually do not form a closed realm of causality, and the universe is causally opened (Popper, 1982, 185). One may observe the causal openness (regarding physical causation) on the example of a jump into the air. Why did we jump into the air? Physically we jumped into the air because our bodily conditions and energy processes elicited the jump. Biologically we jumped into the air because our internal boundary conditions became modified and they governed the physical boundary conditions in a way that elicited the jump. Consciously, we jumped into the air because we felt a motive to do so. Self-consciously, we jumped into the air because we decided to do so, and this decision triggered the biological modifications that elicited the physical jump. We have three levels of processes and four levels of causes. There are “objects” which exist in the physical realm only. There are organisms that exist in both the physical and biological realm. And there are self-informing beings who are able to modify the “information” which they experience from their internal and outer sources. The fact that human beings have responsibility proves that conscious thought has the ability to determine our actions. The existence of free will is empirically proven by the existence and universal acceptance of responsibility. Therefore, in forming our decisions, we are not determined by the three ultimate levels of matter, life and consciousness. In order to close the circuit of causes, we are forced by Nature to create the personal range of information. Therefore, the idea that every event has a kind of cause (or, if we prefer, a kind of general determination) now leads us to a fourfold causal structure of the world, to the recognition of material, biological, conscious and self-conscious causes. The fourfold causal structure of the world may be in some relation to the Aristotelian Four Causes (Aristotle, 1966).

Already Polanyi (1967) recognised that DNA carries effective information through the modification of the internal boundary conditions of the living beings. Espinoza (1990, 182) proposed that the “final cause” of Aristotle is in action. He suggested that “the final cause does not act directly on matter. Efficient causes do…The matter aspiring to a definite end is not just any matter but, so to speak, a matter already invested with some kind of appropriate information (think of the development of an egg: its relatively formless matter becomes increasingly formed)”. Recently, Ulamowicz (1999) recognised that “formal and final agencies are capable of exerting top-down selection upon stochastic events below…There is a growing consensus that some form of positive feedback is responsible for much of the order and structure we perceive in living systems (e.g. Eigen 1971, Haken 1988, Kauffmann 1995, DeAngelis et al 1986)…as soon as chance and variation enter the scene, autocatalysis begins to exhibit some behaviors that are decidedly nonmechanical in nature…Ecosystems are ontically open: Indeterminacies, or “genetic events” can arise anytime, at any scale. Mechanical, or efficient causes usually originate at scales inferior to that of observation and propagate upwards; formal agencies appear at the focal level; and final causes arise at higher levels and propagate downward (Salthe 1985, Ulamowicz 1997)”. Although the determination of the causal levels are not given in a precise form (the mechanical/physical-biological-psychological/social/ecosystemic levels are not clearly indicated), the general notion that each ontic level has its own causal agency strengthens the connection what we found between the three-levelled ontological structure of the world and the fourfold nature of causation.

4. Further arguments against the monism of emergent materialism

In searching to-down forms of causation as well as mechanisms able to create order, it is frequently cited the phenomenon of Bénard convection (e.g. Peacock, 1986, 153). Nevertheless, as the mathematical analysis of Chandrasekhar (1961) has shown, the formation of regular cell-shaped convective elements at the surface of a fluid heated from below is in a direct connection with the boundary conditions. Formulating this recognition in other words, the boundary conditions may act as top-down ordering causes (and so play a role in maintaining the integrity of organisms). Moreover, the regular, macroscopic boundary conditions (constraints on the physical parameters at the horizontal planes at the bottom and the top of the fluid) are the causes of the macroscopic order manifested in the regular cell-structure of convective flows. In the absence of a macroscopic, regular boundary condition physics is unable to lead to macroscopic order. Therefore, since the internal boundary conditions are the ones on which the ultimate principle of biology exerts its influence, the life principle has to be the ultimate source of the order found in living systems.

Apparently, the only really important argument in favour of emergent, ontological materialism could be based on the recognition of von Neumann (1966, 80) telling that self-reproducing automata may be built above a certain level of complexity. “There is thus this completely decisive property of complexity, that there exists a critical size below which the process of synthesis is degenerative, but above which the phenomenon of synthesis, if properly arranged, can become explosive, in other words, where syntheses of automata can proceed in such a manner that each automaton will produce other automata which are more complex and of higher potentialities than itself”. Now if an automaton could be built which can have a product of higher complexity and higher potentiality than itself, this would be a strong argument in favour of emergent materialism. But – as far as I see – the point is on the words: “if properly arranged”. The automaton can produce higher potentialities if the material within it is arranged with the help of its possible inner combinations. It is true that the number of the inner combinations of a highly complex system may be higher than the number of its material constituents. Actually, the number of possible combinations increases explosively with the growing number of the elements. Nevertheless, these possible combinations are mere potentialities of a kind, which can be useful only if they will be ordered somehow. From the explosively growing potential reservoir of possible combinations one get obtain a product of higher potentiality only if some agency is at work which realises the highly organised order to be attain in the product. Therefore, the argument implicitly assumes the presence of an organising factor that is responsible for the end product. Now the argument may be formulated in the following equivalent form: the automata may have a higher potentiality of product if it has a certain amount of complexity and if its inner states are organised by an agency having higher potentiality that that of the automata itself.

The falsification of the apparently strongest argument favouring emergent materialism is observably strengthening an ontological version of the “genetic principle”: life cannot be produced from mere inanimate matter, without the active role of the life principle. On the other hand, since the life principle is universal, and – having a principal nature – it exists beyond space and time, therefore it is able to create in all cases life from inanimate matter in all the cases when it finds suitable conditions. Therefore, the experiments on a laboratory creation of organic compounds actually do not represent valid arguments favouring any kind of materialist monism.

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