Tuesday, April 3, 2018

364. Dynamic ontology

In this last item of the present series on ontology, I summarize the ontology that I propose. For this I use a few formulas.

Ont. (Ontology) = Ob (Objects) + C (Change)
Ob = I (inside) x O (outside)

As noted by Harman[i], science is the analysis of the inside (I), the coherent structure of components, while phenomenology lies in the much less coherent outside (O), of use, experience. An object cannot be reduced to either.

The inside (I) is a coherent structure of components, connected in some way, in some architecture, e.g. in a network. The connections can be spatial, causal, material, associative, sequential, legal, organizational, employing a shared resource, grammar, syntax, sense, morality, rules, … An example of sequential coherence is that of the sequence of neurons in a string of DNA. Another is that of a restaurant, with a sequence of nodes of component activities, discussed before.  

The whole as well as the components may be dynamic and yet stable, as in a standing wave that arises from the superimposition of component waves. Also, the composition may remain the same while the components change. Examples are a body with changing cells, or a restaurant with changing modes of payment. But the composition may change, as in genetic engineering, where genes may be taken out or added, forming new objects of life, or the transformation of a service restaurant into a self-service one, as discussed before.

To qualify as an object, this coherence must be stable relative to the time perspective (T) taken. An object can be stable in the short term but not in the longer term (e.g. due to decay).

Objects are nested, one object being a component of another, as genes on a chromosome. This is modelled with the concept of a script, discussed before.

Objects can be misapprehended as compact, as Garcia[ii] called it, where the outside is folded into the inside, to become a ‘thing in itself’, autonomous. An example is the Platonic idea, independent from its particulars. Another is the Cartesian idea that thought is autonomous, not dependent on reality, and corresponding with reality due to divine intermediation. And the notion of essences, also independent from the outside.

The opposite can also happen, where the object diffuses into its outside. An example is perhaps wave dynamics, as in quantum-dynamics, where location and momentum are ‘adjoint’, not simultaneously determinable, and the strange phenomenon arises of ‘entanglement’, where two objects change their state simultaneously, acting as a single object, while no causality or other connection can be found. This is speculative and requires further thought.

The outside consists of other objects, which may include the focal object as a component, or may affect the structure of its components, or may be affected by it, in processes of change.

C (change) = T (Time) x O (outside) x I (Inside) x S (scale)

Events of change arise from the interaction between the inside (I) and the outside (O), typically but not necessarily in networks of connections, in some form or other of causality. For example: In physics fields of force; in chemistry chemical bonds of molecules; in biology composition and decomposition of cells, and recombination of genes, even artificially, in genetic engineering; in language sensemaking by means of connotations; in the brain synaptic adaptation of neurons, in the modification and generation of neuronal networks.

Change takes time (T), but is relative to the time frame taken: what is an object in one time frame, with a stable composition of elements, may be a process of change in another, where the composition changes.

Change is also relative to scale. I define the change of an object as a change of the structure of its components, but while that is stable, the components may change. The example I used, in terms of scripts, was the change of payment in a restaurant while that remains a restaurant.

In sum, every object in some time perspective and at some scale, is subject to change.

Change arises from interaction between objects, in some form of causality, such as Aristotelian causality. There is also an apparently universal drive, in nature, to carry what survives, and in that sense is successful, into a different environment, where the need and the means are found to adapt to the new circumstances, which through trial and error yields a novel object, according to what I called a ‘cycle of discovery’.

In philosophy, this drive has variously been called: thymos (Plato), conatus (Spinoza), absolute Spirit
(Hegel), and will to power (Nietzsche).

This is found in child’s play, imperialism, missionary work, art, science, and capitalism. It solves a puzzle from Hegel’s (and Schelling’s) philosophy of how from the realization of potential, in the actual, one can go on to a new potential, a new possible.

Where does this come from? My hunch is: evolution, because this path to discovery contributes to survival and adaption.  

Puzzles remain, such as the mysterious phenomena in quantum mechanics that are incomprehensible when put in ordinary language. I suspect that here we may run into what I have called ‘object bias’, where we see things according to metaphors from material objects moving in time and space and affecting each other, which is embedded in the very structure of language with objects (nouns) doing things (verbs). To avoid the bias we may have to escape from ordinary language into the different languages of mathematics. The question is what this does to the ontology that I propose. 


[i] Graham Harman, 2018, Object-oriented ontology, Penguin.
[ii] Tristan Garcia, 2014, Form and object, Edinburgh University Press.