No problem Bob, we can prolong the NY Lecture some extra days. My concern was the overload that these final messages ---more intense and argumentative-- could be causing on Terry's time budget. It is upon him whether he wants to continue responding in the current regime for instance until February the 15th (it means 12 extra days) or if he prefers to finalize right now and afterwards behave as a common participant, limited to two responding messages per week. We would start the next discussion session some weeks later, so there might be room for continuing the debate, but as an aftermath of the finalized Lecture. In my experience, putting limits to things clarifies the panorama and favors the debate. Very rarely we have had moderation conflicts in this list--what I personally thank to the general good mood of FISers. Nevertheless as a moderator I have to take care that we are not invaded by a cacophony of messages that block interesting exchanges, as happened in the first years of this list (18 years old!), and that our lecturing invitees do not get into unnecessary burdens... Navigating in between Scylla and Charibdis is not always easy!

Bob Logan wrote:
Dear Pedro, Terry and Fellow FISers - I was composing the email below when your email appeared asking us not to respond any further to Terry's final remarks. I disagree with this arbitrary cutoff as I was about to send out what follows below. It also seems an abridgement of free speech to ask us not to discuss an issue we might be interested in. Perhaps I am unfamiliar with the ground rules of the FIS list but the other listservs I belong to have never attempted to cutoff a topic. There have been occasions where they have asked an individual who posts too often to not turn the list into their own bully pulpit. Anyway as the guy who suggested that we ask Terry to lead a FIS conversation I will exercise the perogative to share my thoughts one more time. I would also be prepared to accept your restriction if you had given us advanced notice with an exact deadline of shutting down this thread. Here is what I had written when you sounded the bell as a death knell to this discussion which is submitted with respect and the undertaking to abide by the referee's decision and not comment on Terry's final remarks although I would love to hear from my colleagues their final thoughts on Terry's teleodynamic approach - Bob In order to respect the "only 2 per week" constraint here are my comments to the flurry of recent posts in this thread. There is one caveat with which I wish to preface my remarks and it is this: I am a member of Terry research team and therefore I am biased, but I would like to share with my FIS colleagues why I believe the teleodynamic approach that Terry has developed is the best game in town for understanding the origin of life and the nature of information.

Pedro wrote on Jan 30:
"At your convenience, during the first week of February or so we may put an end to the ongoing New Year Lecture --discussants willing to enter their late comments should hurry up. Your own final or concluding comment will be appreciated."

Bob's reply: Since Pedro issued the above call for the end of the discussion of Terry's provocative paper there has been a flurry of activity. As The English author Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) once wrote: "Nothing so concentrates the mind as the hangman's noose!" I hope we can carry on a week or two more as some of us are just warming up. The first of the year is a logical starting point for a new discussion thread but it also corresponds to the beginning of a new semester here in Canada and other places in North America. I for one was focussed on launching the new semester and my courses so I respectfully request that we keep the conversation going for awhile longer before we start a new one.

Now I have a few comments to support Terry's teleodynamic approach which I present:

Joe Brenner wrote later on Jan 30:
"we can all easily understand and agree that the incorporation of ‘homunculi’, that is, unproven mechanisms, as explanatory, should be avoided. In my view, however, Terry has a small army of homunculi at work (sic!) who insure that his processes of self-organization, self-reconstitution and ‘spontaneous’ self-assembly can take place! The finality of using his simulated autogenic systems is “a rigorous physical foundation upon which” future complex theories of information may be based. If, as I contend, Terry’s approach has failed to take into account the fundamentally dualistic physical properties of real systems, it is hard to see how it could do so."

Bob's reply: As much as it pains me to disagree with my friend Joe who is in general in support of Deacon's approach I have to counter his accuasation that "Terry has a small army of homunculi at work": There are no homunculi in the autogen model. According to Deacon's approach an incredible co-incidence has occurred in which the two self organizing processes of auto-catalysis and the self assembly of the crystal-like membranes became self-supporting. It is only by a chance event that one can explain how an organization of molecules with properties so different from abiotic matter suddenly became alive, able to propagate its organization and emerge as a self that acts teleonomically in its own interest. That co-incidence is the one in a billion or more chance that the by product of a particular autocatalytic set were also the ingredients for the self assembly of a bi-lipid membrane that could encase the autocatalytic set in a protective membrane and that the by products of that self-assembly process provided the raw materials for the very same autocatalysis. This is not a homunucli but just plain dumb luck or to give it a fancy name an aleatoric event, a one in a trillion event, but given the billion year (or multi-trillion second) time scale it becomes inevitable that such a rare event will occur. The two self-organizing processes that combined to form the purported autogen are due to first order extrinsic constraints. That these two constraints could be mutually self-supporting and hence create a second-order intrinsic constraint provides a non-magical mechanism for how an autogen and subsequently life might have emerged. Deacon's claim is not that this is an indisputable fact, but, as I read him, it is a valid hypothesis that is worthy of further study such as computer-based model building. Given that it suggests a plausible model for how a living self might have emerged it is worthy of investigation and serious conversation and thought. It has the added feature that it provides a mechanism of how information that possesses significance for some agent might have arisen. Shannon information theory, which I prefer to regard as signal theory, does not deal with reference or significance as Shannon himself has admitted in the past. Shannon is no shannonian. And Deacon nor I are no deaconians. Terry is offering us a hypothesis, which I believe offers some hope that we can understand how reference, significance, values have emerged from abiotic matter without invoking a dualistic-based explanation. My favourite line from Incomplete Nature, which to my mind sums up Terry's approach is: “There is more here than stuff. There is how this stuff is organized and related to other stuff (p. 544).” In essence what Terry offers us in Incomplete Nature is a hypothesis of how stuff (abiotic matter) is organized to create information that has significance and reference for agents that are selves, which act in their own self interest and propagate their organization. Just recently (Feb 3) Ericsson-Zenith challenged Terry's use of dynamic constraints. The autocatalysis and the self-assembly just alluded to are dynamic constraints in that they constrain the dynamics among certain molecules to form the structures they do. The second order constraint is a constraint on the first order constraints that assures that the autogen is self-repairing. and hence self-sustaining. Joe in his remarks that I quoted above also talked about 'unproven mechanisms.' All scientific explanations make use of 'unproven mechanisms" because a mechanism that is framed within a scientific proposition has to be unproven because if it were a proven mechanism it would constitute a scientific proposition that cannot be falsified because it was proven to be true. As Karl Popper pointed out a proposition to be considered scientific must be fallsifiable, which would be impossible if it purports a proven mechanisms. In other words we must regard all scientifically based mechanisms as 'unproven mechanisms' constantly subject to challenge. The autogen mechanism is a hypothesis - nothing more and nothing less.


Robert K. Logan
Prof. Emeritus - Physics - U. of Toronto Chief Scientist - sLab at OCAD <> <>

On 2015-01-30, at 12:31 PM, Terrence W. DEACON wrote:

Thanks to Pedro and Bob for these last few comments. Indeed, like
Darwin in 1859 we are still just beginning to formulate "one long
argument" that will need to be progressively refined in the decades to
come. The question is where best to begin the task of synthesizing. I
too find the metaphor of searching for lost keys quite apropos, but I
would beg your indulgence while I add an elaboration to this metaphor
that sheds light on the perspective I have offered.

Yes, we must at first search close to the light, even though there we
will only find vague hints. But, importantly, as we cover more and
more territory we will discover that the light progressively
brightens. So long as we keep searching and don't walk out into the
dark too quickly, skipping over important territory in between, the
entire territory will become more and more thoroughly illuminated,
searchable, and familiar to us.

I believe that the light is brightest in the domain where we can see a
clear relation between the two quite different concepts of entropy and
the relationship of both to the concept of work. Admittedly, starting
so minimally as I have in this essay seems remote from the interests
of psychologists, anthropologists, economists and their kin, who
demand an account of human-scale information processes, while at the
same time appearing to introduce the messiness of semiotic concerns
into the seemingly pristine world of information as a simple physical
parameter. But of course the problem is to find the best illuminated
middle ground between these two extremes, both still bathed in the
darkness of simplifying assumptions that make them seem mutually
exclusive— separated by darkness.

This is what I am trying to accomplish. Though deceptively simple, I
believe that the autogenic model system is just sufficiently complex
to provide complete illumination of each of the critical defining
features of the information concept—sign medium properties (entropies,
uncertainty, constraint), reference (aboutness), significance
(function, value, normativity), and interpretation (adaptation,
intelligence)—while not artificially simplifying the issue by ignoring
one or the other of these facets.

Because of its simplicity none of these basic concepts are left in the
dark as black boxes or excluded as taboo concepts. But of course,
working at such a basic level means that the nature of more complex
phenomena as thinking, subjectivity, language, and culture (to mention
only a few) are not yet well illuminated by this light. This isn't to
suggest that other pursuits in these other domains should be
abandoned—for they at least clear away some of the underbrush creating
paths that will help to ease the linkage between the different
subterritories when finally the light brightens (to continue the
metaphor). I just believe that this middle level is where the light
best illuminates all the critical foundational issues.

I don't expect agreement, but so far I haven't felt that the specific
components of this proposal have been addressed in this thread. And in
these closing days of discussion (as well as in future privately
shared emails after this window closes) I hope to receive some
suggestions and constructive criticisms pointing to where I might go
next with this approach.

Thanks for all your inputs.  Terry

Pedro C. Marijuán
Grupo de Bioinformación / Bioinformation Group
Instituto Aragonés de Ciencias de la Salud
Centro de Investigación Biomédica de Aragón (CIBA)
Avda. San Juan Bosco, 13, planta X
50009 Zaragoza, Spain
Tfno. +34 976 71 3526 (& 6818)

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