Big Bang Bifurcations

[Martin Taylor 931203 14:45]
(Bill Powers 931203.0830)

It is critical for people to
understand how a human being is different from a rock or a
vortex, not how, from a loftier point of view, a human being is
like a rock or a vortex.

Exactly; and I love most of the rest of the posting from which this
is extracted(1).

In some respects there is no difference between living and non-living
systems--pull on two extremities of either hard enough and the object
will fall to pieces whether it is (was) alive or not. But any such
commonalities miss the essence of what makes life alive. You should
never lose sight of what is common; it can be dominant in some situations.
But the interesting stuff is what is special.

It's essentially the point I have been trying to make in pointing out that
high-gain negative feedback is not a sufficient criterion to describe life
and purpose (which I like to associate with "control"). Rocks don't
involve negative feedback systems (at the level of _being_ rocks);
vortices are essentially negative feedback systems but lack purpose
(the reference variable). Neither, to me, are like living systems.
Vortices illustrate a very common kind of phenomenon that is a prologue
to life, but are not life. That phenomenon is self-organization through
high-gain negative feedback in a high-energy non-equilibrium energy flow.
I object to its being taken as exemplifying "control" and at the same
time "control" as being the indicator of "purpose." You have to break
one or other of the links. I prefer to keep "control" together with
"purpose" and not as another word for a negative feedback loop.

This seems an appropriate place to fulfil Mary's request that I post my
HIGHLY SPECULATIVE message to Bill about symmetry-breaking in the evolution
of physical systems (including living ones). If anyone feels that the
ideas look like juicy steak, be warned: they are fluff. Teeth will find
no purchase. I refuse to be held to any statement in the following (though
I might resist SOME challenges).(2, 3)

Note that IF you buy the idea (below) of a bifurcation between control and
non-control, you see why what Bill says above is correct. But he is correct
also on a much more pragmatic level--it works. That's all some people
need to know. For me, it is more fun to imagine "why" it might be so.


Quote from my message to Bill Powers dated Nov 26, 1993.

( > is Bill Powers)

I'd like to follow up something you
said, because it ties in with some of my long-ago thinking, but from a
quite different viewpoint.

An image, however, occurs to me. According to Big Bang
cosmology, the initial event in the universe was the simultaneous
appearance of all the particles and antiparticles at the same
time. Isaac Asimov suggested that the sum of everything before
and after the Big Bang was zero, still is zero. So why not see
the advent of life as something similar: the bifurcation of
matter into purposive and nonpurposive systems? Each time this
bifurcation appears, local organizations of matter start on
divergent courses, one aspect becoming that which is controlled
and the other that which controls. Each is the "antiparticle" of
the other; without something to control there are no control
systems, and without control systems nothing is controlled. Maybe
this idea might serve to "introduce new functions."

The history of the universe, if we believe Big Bang theory, is a
sequence of such bifurcations, each happening at a different energy
level--as the universe grew cool enough not to destroy the new
stable system. First(?) there was the separation of gravity from
the other forces, then (I forget exactly the order) the separation of
the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces, which permitted the
separation of radiation from matter and then of matter from a quark
soup into hadrons and bosons (or is that the same thing as radiation
from matter? No matter, the principle's the thing right now). Then
the universe cooled enough for stable systems we call atoms to be built
and not destroyed too often. Later, aggregates of atoms combined
into units (galaxies or stars--I don't think we know which came first)
which were systems stable enough not to be destroyed by the temperature
of the universe on their scale, and there were pockets of the universe
cool enough for smaller groups of atoms to stay combined as molecules.
That's where matters(!) rested for a long time, until the universe
cooled some more, and the main energy flows ceased to be from the
pervasive radiation background in favour of coming from stars into
outer space. Then it was possible for planets and planetary orbital
structures to become stable systems.

Eventually, the universe became cool enough for carbohydrate molecules
to form, but not for them to survive long, on surfaces of some planets.
Here, the temperature is dependent on the neighbourhood of a star, not
on the temperature of the universe, so we have to talk about local
variations across location in the universe. But the theme of bifurcation
continues, and I think that your one of "controller and controlled" is
of exactly the same kind as the others. It represents a way in which
the overall entropy change of the universe is expressed in the segregation
of distinctive stable systems that are coupled in some way. Living systems
cool their local neighbourhood (reduce its entropy) to a level at which
they are not quickly destroyed.

My own candidate for a bifurcation was at the energy level of thought. I
was thinking about the very few electron-volts that serve and could destroy
neural functioning. But this corresponds, I think, to your "controlling
versus controlled" partition of the universe. I'd add a further one:
communicative interaction, which introduces stabilities we might call
"social." Just as the Ylem differentiated into atoms in which electrons
orbit around groups of nucleons, so living systems differentiated into
distinct mutually supportive groups of different kinds, from slime-molds
to human societies. The use of language may well have initiated another
bifurcation, but I think we have to wait a few millenia for that to be

In all of these bifurcations, the successive levels of entropy difference
created by the bifurcation becomes lower and lower. Apart from the two
scales (galaxy and star vs quark and molecule), the trend is always for
the bifurcation to happen at lower energy levels and with larger entities.
What differentiates the entities defined by each bifurcation is unlike
what differentiates them in any other bifurcation. The distinction between
a proton and a neutron is unlike the distinction between a bacterium and
a crystal, or that between a tree and a tiger. So the "controlled vs
uncontrolled" bifurcation is unlike the social bifurcation, and in this
context, your frequent anguished comments about there being no social
control systems fit very nicely.

There is a missing idea in the externalized view (one with which
quantum physics toys now and then). That is the realization that
even the external view is an internal phenomenon. Nobody can
_actually_ take an externalized point of view; one can only
imagine such a view.

Funny. I was just involved in a strange argument with Allan Randall
on this point. It was strange, because I can't decide whether he was
taking a radical position beyond yours, or the opposite. We wound up
with him going back to work saying that his view couldn't be explained
in an afternoon. I take your position.

It has
seemed to me for a long time that by taking an externalized view,
we make the human actor behind all intellectual activities
invisible -- and therefore can't tell how much of the world is
being put there by ourselves, and how much might be real evidence
about the external reality. Paradoxically, if we acknowledge the
human component of what we know, we may learn more about what is
not human.

That makes a lot of sense.


Note (1): I disagree with Bill's:

There may be occasional
examples of negative feedback organization to be found among non-
living systems, but the examples are few, isolated, and trivial.

They are almost everywhere, and are hardly trivial. They drive the
continents and the weather, they cause floods in the Mississippi.
You find them almost wherever you have strong energy flows. You can't
get away from them.

Note (2): The two scales (galaxy and star vs quark and molecule) derive
from different aspects of the expansion of the universe--the potential
entropic increase due to the expansion itself on the one hand, which
leads to the very low actual entropy of the current state, and on the
other hand the reduction of energy per degree of freedom consequent
on the expansion, which allows ever lower energy systems to be
successively stabilized. These statements may be the same at some
deep level, but they are differently manifest.

Note (3): I know this doesn't have anything to do with how a negative
feedback loop works.