RALPH ABRAHAM: We've arrived again at the imagination.
MCKENNA: I have a lot to say about this discussion, and I'll work backward
through it. Alfred
North Whitehead had a phrase, "appetition for completion," which I
take to be what this attracting notion is seeking- completion, that is.
If we didn't use the word attractor and tried to be true to the notion
that the process
was being pushed from behind, we would have to use a word like propeller
or motivator. These seem to me, intuitively, to be inelegant terms.
They immediately raise questions of operational detail that attractor doesn't.
We know when things are attracted to some thing; they simply move toward
it. If something is "propelled" toward something or 'motivated' toward
something, we have to visualize it strapped to an engine that is moving
it toward an end state, which, somehow it is able to magically locate.
If you view the attractor as the bottom of an energy well, then anything
put into the energy well, will make its way to the attractor because the
attractor is the least energetic state. The whole system naturally tends
to move in that direction. The idea that the cause is in the future makes
hash of the conventional notion of causality, so it's something that science
is very keen to discredit. The backwash from the acceptance of this idea
would make the practice of science much more difficult.
For many years, Ralph and his colleagues have been modeling plant growth, dripping faucets, coupled oscillators like groups of cuckoo clocks hung on the wall, and this sort of thing. The modeling challenge for the future is human history. We will no longer be playing little games to demonstrate something to a group of students or colleagues, but we will actually be proposing models and methods powerful enough to begin to model the real world. These models will deal not only with the real world of biology, but with the real world of the felt experience of being embedded in human institutions.
I think the whole reason history has been bogged down during the twentieth century is because of an ABSENCE OF BELIEF IN AN ATTRACTOR.
The legacy of existentialism and the philosophies constellated around it is the belief that there is no attractor, no appetition for completion. Everything is referent to the past up through the present and goes no further.
My tendency is to carry any principle to its ultimate extrapolation. In thinking about complexity in relation to falling temperature I glimpsed something I had previously overlooked.
If in fact, the increase
in complexity in life is directly related to falling temperatures in the
universe, then it seems reasonable to suppose that the most complex states
in future cosmic history will occur at very low temperatures. It's interesting
that a phenomenon like superconductivity, which is fascinating to
state engineers as a way to preserve information
from decay, occurs at low temperatures. If you put information into a superconducting
circuit operating at around absolute zero,
it's impossible to disrupt that circuit without destroying it. As early
as the mid thirties, people like Erwin
Schrodinger suggested that, since life seeks to stabilize itself against
mutation, the obvious principle to aid in that task would be something
very much like superconductivity.
In fact, the way in which charge transfer and things like that occur in DNA suggests that nature may have incorporated this principle into its mechanics.
What this tells us in the present is that our current cultural phase transition vis-a-vis machines may signify that we are not as I've always thought, very close to the maximized state of novelty. Rather we may be somewhere out in the middle of the topological manifold call the "novelty wave", which goes from the beginning to the end of all things. The cultural transition that we are experiencing is a downloading of all novelty so far achieved into a much colder and stabler regime of silicon crystals and arsenic-doped chips and this sort of thing. This is a fairly appalling idea, because we all have a horror of being replaced by machines. On the other hand, procaryotes were replaced by eucryotes, and there have been several other replacement scenarios in the history of life.
This point about cooling and complexity seems to imply, in my own theory of the "time wave," that the zero point attractor at the end of time may in fact be the absolute zero point, and that what the time wave or the fractal time manifold really describes is that fluctuation of the career of heat throughout the life of the universe.
In domains of high heat, information is degraded and novelty is lost, and there is a kind of recidivist tendency. When temperatures fail, order reasserts itself and things stablize.
In the wake of each ice age, human populations emerged with better tools, better languages, and better techniques than before. I was as if the increased environmental pressure and perhaps even the increased need to spend more time together, synergized the emergence of higher states of order.
We associate lower temperature with death. We all understand that if temperatures drop below a certain very narrow range, that's it for us. The machines we are creating, however, are operating more and more effectively as temperatures is dropped. In the realm of absolute zero, almost miraculous things can be imagined in the way of technical storage and retrieval of information.
RALPH: Terrance, what is
the optimal environment for biological information storage?
TERENCE: A very cold regime is optimal for mushroom spores, The actual expressions of the spores genomes through the growing of fungi has to occur in a normal biological regime, but spores stored in liquid nitrogen can be stored indefinitely. In fact, most tissue can be stored indefinitely at these low temperature. It's not very interesting to be at 70 degrees Kelvin, but it is the path toward a kind of immortality because that's when preservation takes place.
RUPERT: The idea of information storage at low temperatures is interesting when we consider the difference between spoken and written language. The first written languages we know about were written on rocks, the ultimate, low-temperature, crystalline storage system. Writing on rock is a kind of permanent storage system. Putting things in silicon crystals is more sophisticated but is still essentially a low-temperature storage method. You can't write on water or on the wind.
Written language creates the illusion for us of an independent world. The notion of a transcendent eternal world of Forms couldn't have arisen until written language did, because written language provides the model for it. By what I think of as a kind of idolatry, human-made symbols and structures, when written down, are imagined to endure forever in some other realm. Spoken language is far older than written language, but is a process that happens in time. The memory involved in oral cultures is carried in stories that are continually retold and that evolve as they are transmitted. The spoken record, the story develops organically as time goes on, and there's nobody around to say, "Well, you've got the story wrong, in the book it's written like this."
Spoken and written language provide us with different models of reality. Oral tradition has an evolving and yet conservative quality, and suggests a model of reality rooted in habit and tradition yet open to the creative imagination. The model of written language projects the idea of things being fixed by being written down and gives the impression of a realm of eternal forms or formulae.
RALPH: I imagine, just to be contrary, that mathematics probably proceeded not only writing but language as well. Certainly mathematics preceded writing. In mathematics there are, for example, the circle and the line, which were, for Plato, ideal, eternal Forms. Do we need writing on stone to think of a line or a circle or a triangle as being an eternal Form? The evolution of this kind of mathematics was probably achieved by people drawing in the sand. Writing evolved from this drawing in sand, and only later did we begin drawing on stone. It's possible that the idea and that writing on stone was just a concretization of those ideas. This suggests a migration in evolution from the immaterial to the material, from the abstract to the concrete, which is opposite to what a lot of people think.
TERENCE: To summarize this dialogue, the concept of the attractors was introduced and explored in detail, probably to the clarification of at least two of the participants, Rupert and myself.
The role of the attractor seems central to understanding what chaos dynamics is offering that is new. Rupert dwelt on the very useful analogy of the way in which order is attained through phase transition. He chose the model of cooling, both in the specific case of the cooling of a liquid and in the case of the whole cosmos as a slowly cooling solution going through phase transitions from lower to higher states of order as the temperature falls.
Ralph then raised the stakes
in an attempt to communicate the complexity of what chaos dynamics
is saying. He went beyond the notion of the attractor and the basin of
attraction and introduced the idea of bifurcation, which is a further development
in the metaphor. The fruitfulness of, aesthetics of, and constraints on
of modeling were discussed, as was the way in which modeling allows us
to build up provisional pictures of reality
into which we can establish correctional feed
back loops. These feedback loops
allow us to navigate toward ever clearer images of the system we have targeted
for modeling. Also touched upon were ways in which new forms emerge out
of the natural order and ways in which they are stabilized.
The longer we talk, the more creation, imagination, and chaos all seem to be the same thing, and there's a kind of melding of these concepts. One can play any role and find that it's very much like the role one has just left behind. This means we are succeeding, that the separate notions we each represent are annealing.
EXTRACT (page 33 - 40)
_TRIALOGUES AT THE EDGE OF THE WEST_