Friday, October 07, 2005

Evolution of Law

I once wrote the following (in a little thing called a dissertation):
How do we explain things? What is an explanation, or what counts as an explanation? When offered an explanation, by what criteria do we decide whether it is satisfactory? Is this satisfaction, if indeed any is provided, merely a matter of the psychology of the person taking up this explanation? Are there different kinds of things which then demand different kinds of explanations? Are there some things (such as “tables when you’re not there” or purposiveness in nature or consciousness itself) that are simply inexplicable or necessarily unintelligible? Does the kind of explicans depend on the kind of explicanda, and if so how is the norm prescribing that relation established? Does the world or nature make this norm binding on us by “telling” us what sort of explanatory terms and rules properly apply to the thing needing explanation? If the answer to this latter question is affirmative, does the proffered explanation then become mere redescription of the explicandum, not giving a satisfying explanation after all? But if the answer is negative (that the world or nature does not constrain the choice and deployment of explanatory terms and rules), does the explanation then become a mere matter of satisfying some arbitrary subjective demands that, though satisfied in the tautological sense of fulfilling what we determine in advance to count as fulfilling, remain upon further reflection hollow and dissatisfying? Does true or satisfying explanation then require the establishment of the basis of explanation, which means establishing the basis of the norms legislating the relations between explicanda and their explicans? Does this basis of true explanation require systematization for it to be a basis?
The answer to the last question is, yes. That is Kant's point about the need for architectonic construction of knowledge. Anything else would be haphazard and dissatisfying. In particular, when we come up with laws to explain the uniformities of nature, it is essential that the laws themselves not be inexplicable and irrational, i.e., without any reason for their special forms. Occam's razor frequently cuts away such irrationalities once they have been superseded by simpler explanations, but all that means is that explanations must have reasons which fit within the architectonic of knowledge.

Now I'm reading C. S. Peirce's essay "The Architecture of Theories," and it has me interested in his claim there that "the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature and for the uniformity in general is to suppose them results of evolution." This is an interesting claim--that the laws of nature are the results of evolution. This would mean that laws are the product of cumulative selection processes, i.e., repeated cycles of replication involving interaction with an environment such that these processes offer explanations of the adaptations which the laws have accrued over time. See my earlier post for some background.

To see laws as the product of evolution, then, is to presuppose that they are not absolute. This allows for the aleatory which is observed in the minute discrepancies involved in any application of the laws to reality. As Peirce writes, there is always a "certain swerving of the facts from any definite formula," and this is not always and only due to the imperfections of our techniques of observation.

He goes on to claim that it would be illogical to explain evolution upon mechanical principles. First, such a claim presupposes an extraneous cause beyond the process--a first cause, if you will. Instead, we are dealing with organismic growth originating accidentally from an "infinitesimal germ." Apparently, this growth is sui generis.

Second, it would be illogical because it puts the cart before the horse. It is law that results from evolution, not evolution from mechanical law.

Third, it would be illogical because it does not address the heterogeneity of the universe. Only homogeneity can result from exact law, whereas experience shows us an abundance of arbitrary heterogeneity. In Darwinian terms, we need accidental variations with each iteration of the selection process. In another sense, Kolmogorov complexity seems to be involved here: that the complexity of information (in the form of a string) can be--and mostly is, according to Gregory Chaitin--as complex as the program which generated it. That is to say, there is much heterogeneity which cannot be captured by anything simpler than a program of equivalent "heterogeneity" or complexity.

Fourth, the conservation law amounts to the reversibility of mechanical operations; thus, growth would not be explicable by such operations. Much of emergence theory today hinges on the recognition of this point.

Peirce goes on to argue for objective idealism. Thus, he can write elsewhere, "My philosophy resuscitates Hegel, though in a strange costume." I will come back to this point in a later post, because it seems to be crucial for making the point that law evolves.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10/07/2005 4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You wrote an entry some months back that treated the work of Giorgio Agamben. It was, as I recall, exceptionally clear, and helped make sense of a thinker whose work I find more than a bit difficult. I'd like to give your elucidation of Agamben another read, but am having trouble locating it. Would you mind directing me to it? I'd be grateful.

10/08/2005 9:33 AM  
Blogger wk said...

About the Agamben stuff, I've written several posts. The one from May 4, 2005 is probably the most complete.

10/17/2005 10:57 PM  

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