This essay explores a significant query: To what extent may our scientific knowledge of systems not containing humans (or not involving direct human interference during the interval studied) NOT APPLY to our knowledge gained from the “scientific” study of systems with humans as primary components and/or participants? Here I offer, for consideration, four propositions. In sequence, each is more speculative. Although my intent here is to present the first proposition, which can have immediate application, I present the others to indicate how far our scientific understanding may change in the future.
Some of these more speculative developments may be empirically weak today, but we cannot predict that processes that are weak in some situations may be very powerful in other situations.
An example is radioactivity, a very weak phenomenon in Gaia, which was discovered by a serendipitous accident. We could have gone many decades before it was discovered. A “what if?” exploration to speculate our current “state of the world”, if the discovery of atomic phenomena had been delayed, might be very insightful. But, by tweaking the construction of macro physical devices, we have nuclear power and explosions. Person-to-Person entanglement, observable today only in identical twins, could be amplified in special cultural settings. But, I don’t expect significant progress in these domains until after we have ducked the bullet of climate change.
PROPOSITION 1: A NU SCIENCE
A special type of “science” is needed in the study of phenomena where human persons are participants in the phenomena. A corollary is that a “science of science” must be in this category. Thus, the science of phenomena not involving humans also involves humans, at a second level. Yet, I propose that this distinction may be useful, and merits exploration. My first approach is to propose a distinction between “theories” in the science of non-human phenomena and “contexts” in a new/proposed science of human phenomena.
THEORIES vs CONTEXTS
THEORIES are conceptual schemes about “observable systems”. The “observations” may be indirect. The “laws” or “rules” that specify structure and process in such systems are “natural” – not created by humans.
Humans may “engineer” the initial state of the system (to be studied), and its environment; but then the system “proceeds naturally”, not being guided by human interference. An engineered environment may be programmed to change as to human instructions, but the interaction of the system and its environment (moment by moment) is “natural”, according to the scientific physical laws. “Natural scientific laws” are discovered, not invented, by humans.
However, the representations of these laws, expressed in mathematical symbolism and descriptive languages, may not accurately represent the “really objective” laws that the human created theories are intended to represent. Newton’s Laws of Motion appropriately represent most movement of objects on Earth, and even the planets orbiting the sun. Einstein’s modifications are more accurate in some settings, but Einstein’s Laws also have their domains of applicability; and are claimed only to “represent” the way “nature works”.
Contemporary science assumes that physical “laws” are not influenced by human action. This is, by definition not the case when humans are components in the systems studied. The observer-observed interaction is as significant in human studies is for quantum science. Further, it is not proper to assume that human behavior would necessarily follow “natural laws of human behavior” (might they be discovered). Unfortunately, this assumption is common. That is, we can’t assume there can be scientific theories about human phenomena, theories independent of human agency or creativity.
If we discover psychokinesis is real human “action at a distance”, it wouldn’t violate this assumption. “Natural laws” are assumed to function when there is no human interference. Psychokinesis explicitly calls for human intervention.
A wild speculation, should psychokinesis prove “real”, is that scientists collectively-but-subconsciously manipulate their scientific instruments to create their scientific laws of the physical universe (aspects of the universe not directly observable in naive reality).
There may be such theories, but there is no evidence for it – that can stand up to scrutiny. Seemingly lawful human behavior can have radically different interpretations in different contexts. There are no theories of human behavior, in the same sense there are theories of physics and chemistry.
Borderline domains would be the biology of human organisms. We are probably justified in treating the biology of living systems, other than humans, as “natural” phenomena. We can expect that human biology is usually similar. Yet, given that the human mind can influence human biological processes, we can’t assume that strictly biological theories need always apply to human biological systems.
Example. Drug addiction is claimed to a chemical dependency, a theory which influences legal and medical approaches to addiction. Yet, a recent TED lecture pointed out that most patients given opiates for pain in hospitals don’t become addicted, and most Vietnam Vets who were addicted in Nam were not addicted on returning to the USA. Mind-over-Body is a set of very convincing phenomena.
Subconscious telepathy between humans cannot be ruled out – but it certainly is not a strong force – at these times. There is seemingly strong (but still controversial to skeptics) evidence for weak so-called “psychic” phenomena. We cannot always rule out unobserved means of human interaction. The mirror neuron phenomena demonstrate subconscious interaction. This “resonance” to gestures has long been reported, but not generally accepted until we have physical models of mirror neurons.
An exception may be a “psychic entanglement” between identical twins. Many unique very similar characteristics of identical twins separated at birth are today used to claim DNA inheritance for such superficial traits. A “psychic resonance” between the similar DNA in all cells and very similar brain architecture opens the gate for considering “information exchange channels” with no known material medium.
If this proves to be true, we could further speculate a more limited resonance between persons who have only parts of their DNA and brain architecture similar. Given that this phenomena already challenges many assumptions, we might speculate further for a similar resonance between a person (when alive, but now dead) and another person alive. This may account for the empirical evidence now attributed to reincarnation (of recently dead relatives to new born children).
CONTEXTS are “produced” by humans. They are not intentionally created, but intentionality may contribute to their construction/emergence. Contexts are never observed, and their structure only partly represented in human discourse. Context may be conceived as the interface between our inner woven/constructed world (resulting from world weaving perceptions and imaginations) and our momentary presence (behavior & experientials).
Persons who have similar contexts will probably experience and react to the same stimuli/situation similarly. “Culture” is a term that probably signifies similar contexts.
The neural/biological correlates to context are not easy to conceptualize. This is partly due to the “fact” that our conceptualizing on this query is, itself, relative to context.
In this “context”, there are no “universal” theories of economics, government, education, history, health, family, violence, technology, etc. Within a context, there can be conceptual schemes that have “natures” similar to scientific theories. However, if we use these theories of human phenomena as we do our theories of physics, we might get into trouble. These, as all, theories have “domains of applicability”. Theories of human systems, relative to their contexts, can be useful – when applied within their domains of applicability. But, it is quite dangerous to attempt to generalize them – although, attempted generalization is properly the first approach.
QUERY: What is the history of our concepts about “theories” and “contexts”? Are all “explanations” “theories”? How has the concept of “universal” theories evolved? How do beliefs relate to contexts and theories? All of the above is in the context of intellectual speculation in American/Western culture, by a person not having to struggle to stay alive, with ample discretionary time. How might this be relevant to others: isolated indigenous tribes, billionaires and tyrants, refuges on the edge, members of a rather stable community/society, children, elders, new parents, soldiers, etc.? How do these ideas play in the vast diversity of humankind?
CONTEXTS IN APPLICATION
It is futile to speculate how humankind, in its diversity, would change IF they all possessed appropriate comprehension of this distinction. Such a state of universal comprehension (universal sharing of the same basic context) could only be the end state of “revolutionary” human change. Application of this theory/context distinction may be useful to those change activists developing new strategies of action. This distinction (and associated ideas) might have considerable utility in the recruitment/orientation/education of new persons to a viable societal change movement.
Economics is already under the gaze of critics. Its claim of being a science has been seriously contested. Specific economic and financial theories are attacked, and alternatives proposed. Yet, for most change agents, this theory/context distinction is unknown; valid and true alternative theories are sought – as if they were like other scientific theories. The same applies to governments and education.
PROPOSITION 2: HUMANS AND RAW INFORMATION
Human phenomena (systems where humans are components) are unique and distinct from other systems (without human interference – at any time – so-called “natural” systems) in that “information” can exist independent of being systemically embedded in matter/energy systems. Humans have gained the ability to separate information from their matter/energy substrates and manipulate that information.
“With humankind, the domain of information is liberated from the domains of matter/energy. Until the emergence of humankind within Gaia, information was bound in the matter/energy domain. Example: inheritance information was bound in the physical structure of DNA molecules. Today we can play with this information on our computers and can use that information to create new DNA sequences in molecules. Information gives specific form and structure to our material world; information is embedded in the fundamental laws of physics. If this assertion is correct, the advent of humankind is a major cosmic event in the many billion year history of the cosmological universe. Humankind is very much more than just another species new in the biosphere, even with all its advanced competencies. Humankind’s emergence represents a discontinuity in the emergence of Gaia, a value now at risk being lost.”
Might other living beings who signal each other dis-embed information? Aren’t these messages “patterns imposed on a material substrate (but not systemically embedded in the substrate)”? The molecular/chemical signals single celled organisms “exchange” are embedded in the physical structure of the molecules.
However, one could go weird and call the laws of physics the substrate on which specific molecular structures are “written”. This wild speculation is not about an external reality, but about different models we explore in pure information space – this essay.
Non-human organisms usually don’t (maybe never) record their messages and use them later; accept possibly as memories.
This perspective can have immediate application in shifting our approaches with semiotic structures (sems), language and data: they may be components in a new domain of reality. This brief summary is insufficient to convey the potential of this proposition. See: “The Fundamental Reality of Text “ (Asilimor,1994) .
PROPOSITION 3: PHANTOM SOCIETIES
The structures/processes of relationships in the conceptual schemes of human system contexts may well deviate from the “Naive Realism” of the macro reality of sensory observable objects and events. The “reality” of phenomena involving many interacting humans (over many time scales, where we can observe only isolated snippets of the phenomena) may exhibit weird aspects (much as hypothesized for the quantum, probabilistic world of the very small – but not directly “observable” in the naive realism sense).
Weirdness in this world of large societal systems need not have any direct relationship with weirdness in the world of atoms and the zoo of elementary particles. However, it is proper to explore analogies. Bruno Latour has introduced the concept of phantom entities, which are similar to the psycho/social/cultural constructs we create for our discourse in our naive reality of objects and events. Latour, to my knowledge, has not written explicitly about phantoms, but there were a strong element in the few of his writings I read.
Reality Doesn’t Scale. Metaphors from naive realism to the unobservable domains of the very small, very large, of very short or long temporal durations can be useful, but also can block progress.
The metaphor of the solar system analog for the Bohr atom and the metaphor of spin for the new 2-value variable in quantum physics delayed the emergence of our development of quantum physics. It required an explicit abandonment of these metaphors for progress to continue. Yet, these metaphors continue to be used in education, giving rise to unnecessary “paradoxes”. Features of naive realism don’t necessarily apply beyond its domain of applicability. Naive realism is a context, not a theory.
There is no objective societal reality.
From this perspective it is impossible, ever, to determine THE OBJECTIVE TRUTH of societal phenomena, at the same level we expect in studying the material world. We can examine documents, photos and video recordings of events, including transcripts of secret meetings – with converging consensus as what was read and seen – as structures/processes (sems) in physical reality. How we interpret this into domains beyond our direct sensory observation is influenced by contexts. [Distortions of naïve realies are well known; here we go beyond.]
What if our imagining of societal systems in complex processes involving many events is a fiction, a phantom? Happening Occur, but they aren’t properly described by our imagined story of governments and corporations as having the same “reality” as objects and events in the naive realism of our immediate experiences with persons, objects, and events.
In analogy with quantum physics: Until observed, quantum systems “exist” in a “cloud of probabilities of possible measurable states”. This cloud was created during the previous observation of the system. The next measurement of the system will “collapse the cloud” into one specific state – the result of the measurement. Observations of quantum systems create the “concrete” state that follows the observation, and is the value taken for the measurement. Before the measurement the system was not in a “classical state” as viewed in the context of naive realism; there are no states to be measured.
When quantum systems interact between observations, their probability clouds interfere, altering the results of the next measurement.
CAUTION: This description of quantum systems is itself a simplified metaphor. Quantum systems are never observed or measured as imagined in naive realism. All experimental science works with macroscopic objects describable in naive realism. Observations are made of macro scales or displays, visible data. Today, the “raw” data is processed through different computer systems and presented in a display or data table for visual observation. It is the consistent correlation between different data sets that contributes to the (temporary) confirmation of a scientific theory of the quantum world and occasional observable predictions. An atomic explosion was a powerful confirmation.
The interaction of societal systems may reveal phenomena that are as weird as those claimed to occur in quantum systems. Note, we don’t observe these weird experiences when studying quantum system in the laboratory directly – it emerges from interpretations of the study of our visible data. Likewise, we won’t expect weird happenings during video recordings of meetings or during press briefings. Well laid plans to control societal systems, according to our economic and political theories, may fail because that is not the way societal systems function. We may discover what might be viewed as “magical results” if we acted according to a different overview (context) of societal systems.
What comes most in question about societal systems are their “reasons”, “objectives”, “secrets”, etc. as if they were phantom persons. The detailed processes that lead nations and corporations to take singular actions that have a major, observable effect are not anywhere so simple. Indeed, much is literally quite invisible.
PROPOSITION 4: TEMPORAL INTEGRATION
– FEEDPAST BOOTSTRAPPING
Briefly: Human systems may be radically different from non-human systems in how they “develop in time”. Non-human systems are described on a conceptual texture of linear, causal sequences of momentary states. The momentary state being taken to BE the mostly “really REAL”. Human system may be “really REAL” over finite durations-of-time. In a crude metaphor, information may move back & forth between hypothetical momentary states, resulting in a “temporal resonance”. A non-conscious application of this process by human systems I call “feedpast bootstrapping”.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS of these ideas need development, elsewhere.