Saturday, June 2, 2018

373. Ontology and discovery

Here I discuss the link between the ontology that I presented in preceding items in this blog and the theory of discovery that I proposed earlier.

The central feature that I adopted from ‘Object oriented ontology’ (‘3O’, presented, in particular, by Harman and Garcia) is that any object, not only material objects, has two dimensions of existence: an inside (‘What is in it’) and an outside (‘What it is in’). The criterion for an object is that it has a more or less durable structure of its elements. I also adopt Garcia’s idea that the object is the ‘difference between what comes in and what goes out’.

I find this attractive because it is dynamic from the start. Objects develop from interaction with other objects, which affect what comes in and goes out and the development of what happens in between, in the object. 

Another thing that I find particularly important is that here there is room for scientific analysis as the analysis of the composition of an object, the inside, in the natural sciences, and a non- or less scientific, at best a ‘scholarly’ consideration of the outside, of how objects are used and experienced, in their ‘phenomenology’. This includes philosophy and most of the humanities. Neither analysis not phenomenology suffices for an adequate understanding of the object. This necessitates modesty on both sides of the divide.   

Another thing that I find intriguing is that this view of existence as functioning in interaction with other objects is also the view of present quantum theory of physics, according to which elementary particles, and states of systems, appear only in interaction with others. In human affairs, people are not autonomous, as economics claims, but develop in interaction with others

In the theory of invention, in a ‘cycle of discovery’, that I proposed in 2000 and summarized in item 356 of this bog, that change of an object in the form of some practice or knowledge arises from a interaction between ‘what is in’ it and ’what it is in’.

To make this more concrete, I modelled the object as a ‘script’, i.e. network of nodes that represent component activities or ideas, which have ‘subscripts’, while the script as a whole fits in a wider ‘superscript’. The canonical example is a restaurant, with component activities as nodes.

The logic of discovery now is as follows. When an object moves, or is moved, into a novel environment (‘what it is in’), it meets with new challenges to survival, which necessitate adaptation of ‘what is in it’, in order to cope what comes in and goes out in that new environment.

At first this is sought in ‘differentiation’, minor changes (in subscripts of nodes), while maintaining its basic logic (script structure of nodes). In differentiation, not yet jeopardizing fundamental logic or structure (of the nodes), adjustments are derived from earlier development, reconsidering things that failed or were inappropriate then.

Next, when that does not suffice, there are more radical shifts in importing subscripts or entire nodes from other scripts that are locally successful where the focal script fails, thus changing more radically what is in the script. This entails experiments with hybrids of elements from old local scripts, in what I call ‘reciprocation’. This is important in yielding opportunities to experiment, to tinker, trying out alternative combinations, basic logics or structures, finding out where the limitations lie and where conflicts or complications between old and new parts arise.

This is groping, still tentative, with incoherence between old and new, and the need for a more radical change, of basic logic or design, in a recombination of nodes from old and new scripts, and their contents (possible subscripts), in ‘accommodation’.

This, next, is followed by subsequent optimisation, with adjustments in the components (consolidation). That, finally, converges on a ‘dominant design’ and stabilization sets in.

The circle is, in other words, an alternation between contraction and expansion, of content (what is in it) and context (what it is in), and between stability (consolidation), minor change (differentiation) and fundamental change (reciprocation, accommodation). Along the cycle, one needs some stability, if only to find out where the ‘real limits’ of a practice lie, and to build up both the motivation and hints for renewal.

One can see all this as an elaboration of Kuhn’s notions of paradigm shift (here: accommodation), and normal science (here: consolidation). Then what the circle adds is how you get from the one to the other.

Where does the urge behind the cycle of discovery come from? The urge to manifest oneself, to try and fail, to fall and stand up, to go out and explore, Plato’s thymos, Spinoza’s conatus, Bergson’s elan vital, Hegel’s absolute Spirit, Nietzsche’s will to power, where do they come from? Could it be from evolution, because its process of creative destruction, as described, yields an evolutionary advantage in discovery?

Note the connection with the ontology that I discussed in Chapter 2. The crux of that was that an object has an inside and an outside, in the environment it is in, and with which it interacts, and that its inside has a more or less durable coherence of elements. According to the cycle of invention discussed here, when the environment stabilizes, the object consolidates, in the absence of novel impulse. It needs to change its environment to meet new sources, needs and opportunities for novelty. Then, it meets stresses, challenges to change its structure, but does not do so instantly, but experiments, more to the extent that it lives, has intentions, with adaptations, and with hybrids from its own structure and elements from the new environment. And then it may cease to be the object it was, developing a new structure from old and new elements.

Finally, coincidence or not, the ‘loop quantum theory’ that is one of the recent contenders of fundamental physics, models space and time as networks of nodes, as I do with scripts to model objects.