Self-Organizing Reality

Home Up

Manuscript from April 2013, incomplete, critiqued, and abandoned ["NN" in parenthesis indicates that an endnote or reference is still needed]

Self-organizing Reality: An Hypothesis

Abstract: Cultural evolutionary theory in particular among other issues in biology is critiqued for its weakness and its detrimental entanglement in the assumptions of dualistic materialism. An alternative is proposed that focuses on the conception of reality. Using a number of new fields such as extended mind theory and material agency from archaeology, an interactive view of reality is hypothesized where behaviors and material structures mutually entail each other. In environments with behaviors the probabilistic event structure is seen as a more accurate description than a timeless environment with a free-will-like arbitrariness. The hypothesis shows parallels to key elements across environment-organism issues including to origin of life research. The spread of learning-transmitted behaviors with cooperating, defection-vigilant humans has resulted in an event probability matrix (common ground) reinforced by various forms of niche construction of enormous significance.


It does not seem surprising to hear a physicist suggest that the universe and its laws are self-organized as Lee Smolin has done.[1] And when the label of "self-organized" is applied to processes at the origin of life, there is no surprise. Going into the reality closet with the self-organization language is, however, another matter. Consider where the notion of self-organization has found support over the domains listed in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Status of self-organization across various fields and epochs




Status of self-organization (current)




Good idea per the above reference




Understood for certain simple processes


Origin of life


Widely assumed; probably inescapable conclusion




Discussed but not part of the theory


Cultural (human) evolution








Arranged this way, it can seem striking that self-organization has spread to many more basic fields but not to the human era. Quite separately, one of the laments of our time is that the philosophical problem of dualism where matter and mind are conceived as completely separate yet making up one world is a foundational contradiction that must be borne mainly because there is no alternative. [NN?]

This is an hypothesis that is presented as an alternative to dualism. It is an evolutionary account of reality. Its development follows two entwined theoretical developments the rapid and massive structuration of the human environment (over hundreds and thousands of years) and the understanding of mind as distributed beyond the brain into the environment. It has been noted since the reflex arcs of Dewey and von Uexkuell and especially since the mind circuits of Bateson or the ecological psychology of Gibson that mind is an environment-wide property.[NN] Now the trend to extended mind is in full swing.(Clark 1997, Wilson 2004) The profound effects on humans of environments have been noted by architects, archaeologists, geographers, and a new field for material culture among others. (Jones & Boivin, 2010) What is attempted here is to take the two above theoretical lines to their logical conclusions, put them together, and then to generalize to the nature of reality itself. Key to this synthesis is realizing that behaviors probabilize the event structure of the matter in an environment and, conversely, the material structure of environments probabilizes the behavioral events of organisms.

Modern Worldview, undermined by dualism

It is commonly remarked that modernism or scientific realism is the bedrock of modern thought. This legacy is a mess.[2] The contradiction of dualism where matter is supposed to deterministically result in rational freedom is still glaring.[3] Objective reality itself is taken as obvious even as the conceptual preconceptions are ignored (Nelson 1996, Pp. 64-5). Putnam, who spent his life's work basically making a sympathetic review concluded that “The kind of scientific realism we have inherited from the seventeenth century has not lost all its prestige even yet, but it has saddled us with a disastrous picture of the world. It is high time we looked for a different picture.” (Putnam 1996, P. 15)

While the material world is presented as overly obvious, mind is an aspect that has no theoretical place in this worldview even as it's an ever present experience.[4]

This combination of the possibility of perfect external mastery of reality and internal copy world of a non-discovered substance of mind has been infamously called "the view from nowhere." (Nagel 1989) The image is the material world even while our awareness has no legitimate place in that world. One of the signs of conceptual breakdown here has been a history of contradictory ideas on agency that has run from the polar extremes of free will and behavioral determinism. [NN?] Another big lapse is that dualism treats the actions of humans as willful deeds that are outside of an evolutionary perspective. They are merely the results of our superior evolutionary status. For example, building the pyramids and the Panama Canal belong to the human hero but are not part of the evolution narrative. As Fox Keller notes:

"Nevertheless, tradition, even post-Darwinian tradition, excludes our doings from natural history. It may acknowledge our effects on the natural worldBat times (though less often in recent times) even celebrate themBbut these effects are treated as impingements, and never incorporated into our conception of self-organization. Yet to put this exclusion so baldly is to make its absurdity self-evident, and to invite us to challenge the entire tradition on which it rests.” (Fox Keller 2005, P. 1073)

Materialism as dualism is not just at odds with mind but also with life as both exhibit not easily absorbed qualities. Separation of environment and life has wormed its conceptual baggage into biology. As Lewontin has it: “By making organisms the objects of force whose subjects were the internal heritable factors and the external environment, ... Mendel and Darwin brought biology at last into conformity with the epistemological meta‑structure that already characterized physics since Newton and chemistry since Lavoisier.” (Lewontin 2001, Pps. 59‑60)

The following Table 2 attempts to portray how dualism shapes the conceptual territory of each of the same field/epochs as in the table above.

Table 2: Traces of dualism across fields/epochs


Field/ Epoch


Material environment












From mechanical view to Schroedinger to biophysicists today, subject is increasingly broached.


Generally avoided








Tradition of organic chemistry


Generally avoided




Origin of life




Last 100 years have seen a progression from vitalism through highly improbable origins to more probable self-organization














The assumption has been that causality goes one way from the environment to the species/organism; increasingly it appears that it might also go in reverse (see text below)


Cultural (human) evolution








There is a discontinuous jump from behaviors to mind/awareness (see text below)










The problem is how to get back and forth from the material to the mind.

What the table suggests is that dualistic materialism either has difficulty bridging to life and mind (physics, chemistry, reality) or keeps a separate set of books for life (biology) and mind or avoids the subject as much as possible. It also suggests that for the understanding of the origin of life and for evolution there is an increasing sense of environment-life reciprocity where this dualism could be breaking down.

The state of evolutionary theory

In fact, evolutionary theory appears to be undergoing a big shift so that even moderate voices can speak of a coming “extended synthesis.” (Pigliucci & Mueller. 2010) These theoretical eccentricities have ties to a consideration of dualism versus self-organization. In the center of view are several new explorations that don't fit easily within the Modern Synthesis evolutionary development theory, niche construction, symbiogenesis, and inherent self-organization.[5] Evo-devo and niche construction have the odd aspect that they in some ways allow the organism to modify the further evolution of its species (West-Eberhard 2003)[6]. Symbiogenesis is the process of having two or more organisms come together to form a new, combined species an extreme form of symbiosis that has happened at least a few significant times (Kozo-Polyansky 2010). Some have even underscored the radicality of this type of evolution by speaking of evolution as “bi-phasic.” (Koonin, 2007) That organisms might be made up of fundamental principles of organization has resurfaced in a strong way (Camazine et al 2001). The issue is whether evolution can tinker its way freely into almost any structure or whether the rules of biological organization only give evolution restricted types of organisms to select among.[7] Stronger still is the claim, with significant evidence, by some that biological form is not only self-organized to restricted forms but also highly convergent among evolutionary lines so that, for example, bats and birds converged on the same basic wing structure (McGhee 2011, Morris 2008).

These issues within evolutionary theory are surprisingly a muted story, possibly because of the noise from the intelligent design dispute. At least one biologist thinks that the sum of the above issues is very serious and calls for radical steps. Reid gives this assessment:

“I want reductionism and neo‑Darwinism and natural selection to be seen for what they actually are, and then find a different synthesis. Such a synthesis would be interdisciplinary as well as dialectical, since it must involve more than the conciliation of a set of apparent contradictions. Post‑Lamarckism, structuralism, complexity theory, the lucky‑strike paradigm of neo‑catastrophism, evo‑devo, and symbiosis studies all focus on important elements of evolutionary causation. But their individual adherents, whether modern mutineers or postmodern privateers, lack the resolve to escape the vortex of Darwinism. If they do not all hang together in a new synthesis they will all hang separately, to be scavenged by the Modern Synthesis, stuck in the hold, and forgotten.” (Reid 2007, P. 422)

Is the successive parade of species even the right frame to understand evolution? Two theoretical developments suggest that the answer might be "no." One serious theory of evolution posits that it is chemical in nature and that different evolutionary epochs have different chemotypes where each succeeding chemotype is a kind of Russian doll including a prior epoch's chemotype.[8] And even among biologists there is a questioning of the usefulness of the species concept within the general framework of evolution. For the first 2 billion years of evolution where bacteria and eukaryotes evolved before the emergence of multicellulars, a respected biologist, Koonin, can state: "In general, the species concept does not apply to prokaryotes and is of dubious validity for unicellular eukaryotes as well." (Koonin 2009, P. 474) Someone has suggested that the species concept over the course of evolution is like the shape of an onion where there are many species in the middle (e.g., millions of insects) but few towards the ends (e.g., relatively few primates at the top and basically LUCA or the first cell at the origin). [NN?] At the tip of this onion-shaped distribution of species are us humans where the scope of our effects is staggering for this one species. In 2000 Smil notes that humans have "appropriated" ("consumed or otherwise processed, managed, or destroyed") between 25 to 40% of the biosphere's net primary production and have impacted "no less than 55% of all nonglaciated land" (Smil 2002, Pp. 239-40). The top of this onion is very thin and the bottom disintegrates into the questionable species-defined bacteria and viruses [NN?].

What should be clear from even this brief reportage is that evolutionary theory is poised for a new synthesis. Candidate concepts for this new synthesis include greater inclusion of self-organization, greater cross causality between organisms and environments, and a possible shift away from species as the primary datum.

Origin of life research increasing confidence in self-organization

Way down at the bottom of the roots of the imaginary onion metaphor of species distribution lies the origin of life question. The research into this question through the viability testing of different scenarios even without direct historical evidence has grown in sophistication over the last decades. Besides ever more confidently supporting a self-organizing origin from an abiotic environment, this research highlights not only the same challenging views that have appeared in mainline evolution, as touched on above, but also basic processes of what life might look like in a predominantly abiotic environment such as conjecturally we might find in the object-rich human environment. Key to the research is breaking down the process of cellular formation into many chemical steps which supports the view that self-organizational and selectionist processes were present over much longer portions of early evolutionary history than just at the moment of some "lucky accident."

The self-organization of life is divided into three main camps, depending on which came first metabolism, replication, or compartments. For the latter two there are still some assumptions about a "preparatory metabolism" to supply the monomers and energy (Pascal & Boiteau 2011, P. 2949)

From the metabolism first viewpoint there is a wide distribution of processes and phases for these over the tens to hundreds of millions of years for the emergence of cells in the life process. Egel speaks of some seven phases (e.g., "RNA-assisted peptide synthesis" phase) before what he calls "cellular escape" when something like a Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) emerged and initiated r-selection type evolution (Egel 2011, Pp. 342-4).[9] He and colleagues can speak in promising detail over each of those phases. Morowitz and Smith speak of the more stable thermodynamic flow of small metabolites on which even the selection of macromolecules regulating these flows depends (Smith & Morowitz 2008, Pp. 406-8). "Chemical selection" is a recognized process that favors thermodynamically more stable molecules (Melendez-Hevia et al 2008, P. 516). It is important to remember that the concept of environment itself is a relative concept. [NN?] Even in the classical Darwinian epoch, the environment for a gene is different than the environment for blood cell and different again from an embryo. [NN?] This relativity of environment for molecules and types of molecules before a "cellular escape" was even more radically divergent from our simplistic inside/outside dichotomy. And even getting to this inside/outside relationship is the impetus to study the origins of functional membranes in the compartment-first approach.

Cultural evolution

At the top of the imaginary metaphorical onion of species distribution over evolutionary time is the human species whose selectionist story can be told when numerous hominid species compete across the last several million years until there is just us. This makes for an awkward last chapter of the evolutionary story since humans have presumptively won any competition among species while any biological diversity among humans is an awkward taboo. Ingold captures the dilemma in noting that even the UN in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights avoids the differences within populations that evolution demands to state "All human beings are endowed with reason and conscience." (Ingold 2008, Pp. 277-8) He continues: "That is why evolutionists find themselves in the curious position of having to admit that whereas in the non-human world, biology is the source of all variability and difference, in the human world it is what makes everyone the same!”

More difficult to include in the evolutionary narrative are the prodigious creations of civilization as noted by Fox Keller's quote above. The result is that the myth of human specialness and discontinuity appears to trump evolution.

There is a theory of cultural evolution, or more accurately, several strands of an emerging theory of cultural evolution. [NN] Though the term "culture" does have a definite biological meaning as "interpopulational behavioral variation" for a species with social learning, the meaning of "culture" is perilously confused.[10] And though cultural evolution can be formulated as a combination of this behavioral variation with evolutionary developmental theory ("evo devo") so that learning and developmental plasticity can be selected for, the argument will be that the theory of cultural evolution falls short in several ways.[11]

When cultural evolution is understood as behavioral variation, social learning, and evo devo that selects for learning and plasticity, the theory has not moved out of a biological discussion that includes other species but yet it suffers from the same issues in mainstream evolutionary theory as highlighted above. When cultural evolution moves to include unique features to early humans such as varying ecology, cooperation, and teaching as possible early enhancements to the evo-devo culture engine, it enters a slippery slope towards human specialness. [NN?] Other factors are considered normativity, imitation learning, and theory of mind but there is a chicken-and-egg quality to know which factors were the early drivers or later selected aspects.[12] In almost all accounts there is an assumption that positive reinforcement promoted mutual growth among the factors especially learning and plasticity.[13] This itself has made for an exciting research avenue to trace the chronology of types of reinforcement.

But cultural evolutionary theory remains inadequate on several counts. One, it is largely ignored by evolutionists and by those in the humanities. Two, although hinting at a novel evolutionary process – Laland and Brown acknowledge that culture, as "represented by the school of cultural evolution, is a dynamic evolutionary system in its own right" – it fails to spell out some new type of evolution (Laland & Brown 2011, P. 216). The major transition literature flirts with the same unrealized possibility (Smith & Szathmary 1999). Three, it seems to drop its interest in human origins a few tens of thousands of years before the rise of civilizations so that it does not begin to address the hectic, technology-driven "evolution" that the average person can see in everyday twenty-first century life. [NN?] And four, it works hard to stick to the behaviors of organisms but slides imperceptibly to assumptions of human awareness so that the contradictory type of mind characterized by dualistic rationality becomes the picture for humans as they get closer to modern humans.

This last point underscores the real problem; cultural evolution is trying to bridge to human specialness and to the contradictory foundational theory of dualism where deterministic matter has to evolve rational mind.[14] Just as psychology and the social sciences over the last century have oscillated between types of behavioralism or forms of social determinism and accounts steeped in free will, so cultural evolution has managed to speak in two channels so that accounting in two separate books can be maintained. So far, human specialness remains assumed but unexplained, and cultural evolution remains a theory of the deep past that is mute about our present dynamics and that is not even assimilated into evolutionary theory.

Despite the allegation of its inadequacy, cultural evolutionary theory remains the best as well as a necessary bridgehead from mainline evolution to the human phenomenon. There are other variations of theory that are mentioned around the central discussion and that should be considered. In particular the too succinct characterization above should also allow some of the tentative arguments about the role of the human modified environment that is occurring within the context of niche construction and of material agency among archaeologists (e.g., Malafouris 2010, Laland & O’Brien 2010). The concept is that objects, especially the early hominin tools, entrain behaviors. Or, since tools and other behavior-facilitating objects left near other hominins induce adolescents or anyone to try using them, one can speak of these objects' being "agents" of behaviors. Combined with the cultural evolutionary model of the developmental plasticity-learning engine, tools and preferred objects reinforce the learning processes.

Before turning to other possible tools to seek ways to expand the bridgehead of cultural evolution, the frame of reference of the two shores that the theory is intended to link should be examined. The shore of evolutionary theory itself has been seen to be in need of and on the verge of an "extended" or modified synthesis. In particular it was brought out that evolution both lacks a theory of how an abiotic environment can produce the first replicators and is facing, among other challenges, the concept that self-organization already "selects" certain forms before Darwinian selection gets involved. Table 1 above points out that concepts of self-organization have generally not been seen in the discussion of cultural evolution other than the assumption that reinforcement drives many of the processes in the developmental learning engine. On the shore that the cultural evolutionary bridge is intending to reach, our philosophical conception about who we humans are today, it is doubtful that a bridge can be built to the dualistic, rational agent conceived at the eve of the Enlightenment. On this shore philosophical conceptions such as emergent agency or extended mind and popular culture that has shifted to seeing choice as developmentally and environmentally shaped and practically modifiable (e.g., "Use a wristband to remind you and others to ...") suggest that a new conception of human agency is moving towards situated, developmentally shaped responsitivity rather than as an autonomous decider. (See below)

A cultural evolution that challenges ontology

Given this framing, it is reasonable to pursue a view of cultural evolution that preferentially 1) seeks its own special process, 2) considers environmental drivers as well as behavioral drivers, 3) is open to a self-organization dynamic, 4) is more open to a situated rather than an autonomous view of humans, and 5) is open to tools from other disciplines.

Using these potential avenues and openings, the attempt here is to use all of these to show the viability of a path that sees, in addition to the growth of behaviors and acts of niche construction, growths 1) of an increasingly structured environment, 2) of probabilized behaviors with particular material constellations, and 3) of a common ground of potential behaviors among humans. A claim is that the structure of the human environment is self-organizing with the ever adapting behaviors and that a consequence of cooperation/coordination/defection possibilities is the emergence of a common ground of potential behaviors.

As an image of what this process might look like, here is how Gamble imagined a human clan around the time that regular places for fire or hearths were being used and how this would effect the developmental learning of children:

"What is of interest for the childscape is the creation of fire in a container so that we have not only fire but hearths. Hearths can be elaborated in many ways by digging fire pits, adding stone settings and creating clay ovens. The fires they contain have to be cared for. Ash and cinders need to be raked out and dumped elsewhere while activities that fragment things in order to enchain and accumulate feed them with leaves, wood, bone and peat. Fires consume and alter whatever is placed within them. Here they are analogous to eating because fires also embody and transform resources. Hearths attract bodies and care for them by providing warmth and keeping predators beyond the circle. The relationship is reciprocal. Hearths need those social agents if they are to grow, while people need the social technology of hearths, not just for practical reasons, but to involve others in projects. Hearths are an emotional resource for a diurnal animal. They have always formed a focus for the childscape because they act as nodes in the net gathering people into those intimate and effective networks. Fire and people form a ring of agency, a hybrid project." (Gamble 2007, P. 231.)

Fires, hearths, ashes, stones, and firewood facilitate behaviors and learning not to mention causal interactions among them. Gamble is both challenging dualism ("ring of agency") and defending the already mentioned concept of material agency. In its simplest form the argument runs that when an artefact such as knapped blades of flint were left lying around after some hominin made them, then these physical objects facilitated the learning and behaviors of others hominins. Moving along the historical timeline up to the present, consider the highways with traffic signs, barriers, and signals in our modern landscape. These structures strongly guide our behaviors. Five lanes of traffic going 70 miles per hour on a freeway reveal a "cooperation" that is not so much about choices of defection as about narrow degrees of freedom within physical constraints.

As another frame of reference here consider the structure of the material environment on land at three separated timeframes at 800 million years ago, 6 million years ago, and today. Painting in broadbrush, the first could be characterized as a denuded landscape with only a thin layer of bacteria in some places, the second (using the conjectured mosaic ecology of East Africa that was typical to hominins at the time of divergence from the common ancestor with chimpanzees) could be characterized as a landscape of diverse flora and fauna, and the last characterized as highly structured with buildings and diverse technologies. [NN?] The environment has moved. By a lot. Lewontin partly addresses this issue by noting that the Red Queen Hypothesis where organisms have to keep changing to keep up with an evolving environment only partly captures the phenomena since organisms themselves, by their changing, are also contributing to the changing (Lewontin 2000, Pp. 57-8) And humans were doing a lot of environmental changing especially of the small things that primed developmental engines.

Material agency should not just be conceived as material structure's probabilizing the behaviors of certain organisms but as changing matter’s own future trajectories. Learning or acquiring a new behavior also means that other organisms or things with which this new behavior might interact now have modified probabilities of interaction. Things are no longer just in themselves but are in the field of new interactional behaviors. For example, early humans learned to knapp flint, all ground level flint rocks became increasingly likely to be split and chipped. This is true not only of neutral objects that would be used such as tools but also of the organisms of other species as well as of conspecifics. Today, iron ore and guava trees have much different probabilities of interaction and selection than before 5,000 years ago. New behaviors were not just new talents of a Faustian agent, per dualism, but changed the interactional probability matrix of things, organisms, and conspecifics. As behavioral learning accelerated as posited by the current model of cultural evolution, the probability distribution for the future trajectories of things was highly changed.

Another tool that crosses the environment-organism boundary and that could augment an interface-rich cultural evolution is recent work in cognitive science on extended mind. Extended mind theory shows that mind makes more sense when considered as distributed throughout the body and the environment.[15] A key proponent, Clark, states that "body‑ and world‑involving cycles are ... quite literally extending the machinery of mind out into the worldas building extended cognitive circuits that are themselves the minimal material bases for important aspects of human thought and reason. Such cycles supersize the mind.” (Clark, A. 2008, Pp. xxv‑xxvi) Although there is little current literature on the crossovers possible between material agency and extended mind are seemingly few, the conceptual kinship seems strong. [NN?] Things facilitate behaviors, and things are part of the mind.

Before returning to extended mind, there is another aspect of human culture that needs to be considered the large collection of same potential behaviors among human groups. We commonly think of culture as differences among different ethnic groups or among the employees of specific companies. But there are other aspects of the term "culture" that are not included. It is commonly used in a slightly dismissive way as a contrast or a substitute for objectivity especially when that person is outside the mainstream as when we say something like "that's her cultural understanding." Anthropologists treat cultures as the reality of this or that ethnographic group, but they, like others in the "scientific culture," treat their view as reality itself. (Ingold 2000). That science chooses to take cultures of the non-mainstream societies as their reality and as inferior to mainstream, scientific reality reveals a path not taken. The frame of silly beliefs versus objective reality misses the alternative of group reality structures which evolve and mature with some more robust and consistent than others.

Nonetheless, it is important to notice how culture as these all-embracing group reality sameness matrices is a hugely significant part of our world. This can be seen in a thought experiment that imagines whether modern humans today with our almost identical genetic makeup could be induced to reproduce a stone age culture. What would it take to recreate humans of, say, 80,000 years ago given genetic equality? [NN?] Presumably, one would use an island (a net offshore to keep out debris? flights and boats routed away?), try to get volunteer parents to give birth there to children and some way to raise them to maturity without any hints beyond the Stone Age (parent volunteers who "go native" and speak only some pidgin for 16 years? who think of some crude religious grounds to have themselves disappear into a submarine some night?), and find some unsuspecting way to replace batteries for the secret cameras. The absurd difficulty of such an experiment is meant to convey the overwhelming guiding effect of our vast culture that is a developmental influence on a vast scale. This huge gap between our genetic makeup and who we are reveals that there is something, some collection of sameness things, ideas, practices, etc. that make us humans of today and not of earlier Homo Sapiens. And this something must fall in our conceptual basket "culture."

As mentioned, there is another concept that is more useful here to capture this sameness than the amorphous concept "culture" and it is the concept of common ground from language pragmatics studies and human interactional research that addresses the reservoir of shared potential actions.[16] “Common ground includes everything we both know, from facts about the world, to the way that rational people act in certain situations, to what people typically find salient and interesting.” (Tomasello 2008, Pp. 74‑5). The emphasis should be on the “both know.” Common ground are those parts of a context or situation where actors have agreement whether it is background understandings or agreed recognition of important current events.[17] It can be between two or more people “If communal common ground defines cultural communities, then personal common ground defines friends versus strangers.” (Clark, H. 1996, P. 115) The concept of common ground highlights that consensuality is a critical adaptation. It is directly tied to the human faculty of joint attention and the other aspects of the "interaction engine" such as intention reading, behaviors to have others follow our intentions, turn taking, and stops to repair intentional miscues (Enfield & Levinson 2006, P. 26). As Enfield and Levinson put it:

“At the heart of the uniquely human way of life is our peculiarly intense, mentally mediated, and highly structured way of interacting with one another. This rests on participation in a common mental world, a world in which we have detailed expectations about each other's behavior, beliefs about what we share and do not share in the way of knowledge, intentions, and motivations.” (Enfield & Levinson 2006, P. 1).

Just as the concept of culture reveals a big component of sameness among participants, common ground underlines the collective nature of a behaviorally synchronized group.[18] The term “common ground” will be used even though it connotes unwarranted sameness so that “overlapping ground” is probably a better name especially within a systems viewpoint.[19] That human groups not only transmitted behaviors through learning and teaching but reciprocally understood that others had the potential for these same behaviors was an evolutionary achievement.


The process of building common ground or the buildup of potential behaviors among humans adds interactional, modified probabilities of behaviors as the evolutionary emergence of reality. Common ground for members of a species with complex and cooperative behaviors are the interactions available for mutually engaged behaviors. The concept of reality advanced here can be given as an hypothesis: Reality is a common ground reservoir of potential behaviors among a collective group of a species and the external material structures supporting these potential interactions where the two mutually reinforce each other's structure.

There are two things to note here. The first is that this is a mutual understanding of reality where behaviors towards objects and the environmental structures that support these behaviors are co-constituting. The second is that this shifts the conception of reality from a unique perfection and towards an evolutionary interplay between a social organism and the environment. Perfecting the consistency of these interactions is a secondary process as cultures and methods became more refined and reinforced (e.g., names, norms, standards, epistemologies, etc.).

Chart 1: Reality as collective, mutual build-up of environmental structures & behaviors

Diverse, changing ecologies of early hominins

Assembly, structure of matter

Interactions of matter

Interaction matrix, intention tracking

Consistent, probabilized use of environmental structures (disappearance ,consistency, niche construction)

Consistent, probabilized potential behaviors

Cooperation; new behaviors & better learning

Behaviors are probabilized by new structure of matter; learning & cooperation yield shared potential behaviors

Matter is probabilized by new behaviors

Structure & interactions of non-consumed matter in human environments

While positing common ground as an evolutionary step and as a necessary component of reality, only a tentative step beyond potential behaviors can be offered to suggest how it is built. What is needed is a conception that defines a relationship with objects and that allows sharing among organisms. A promising step to elucidate the fabric of common ground beyond the hopelessly anachronistic concept of "ideas" is the use of affordance theory from ecological psychology and from the dynamic systems theory wing of cognitive science.[20] An affordance is a feature of the environment relative to an organism that facilitates, affords, or allows it to use it in a behavior.[21] One can say that a door handle affords a human the possibility of turning a handle to open the door. Within the tradition of ecological psychology “Behavior is defined as an animal's ability to change its relationship with its surroundings.”(Reed 1996, P. 97).

There are several advantages of affordances for an ontological bridge to objects. They have been empirically verified as effecting behavior and specifically so relative to an agent's size, handedness, etc. [NN?] They provide a very good theoretical bridge to objects. They strike a middle ground between imputing "agency" to objects or only treating objects as accessories to behaviors. They highlight that behaviors, like cognition, can and have been treated as systems which allows this cultural domain to be studied as enmeshed processes rather than as collections of inherited, agent-issuing behaviors.[22]

Significantly, affordances come with a natural and somewhat tested track to cooperation. What are called joint affordances are recognized as the ways that an object allows two people to use it from respective positions. After giving an example of how one person lifts a two-handled basket differently than if working with another person to lift it together, Knoblich and Sebanz explain that: “... embedded in joint intentionality, simultaneous affordance changes into a joint affordance, inviting two different actions from two co-actors." (Knoblich & Sebanz 2008, P. 2026)[23] Initial experiments such as with lifting different sized objects by two people indicate that modern humans have very clear senses of joint affordances (Marsh et al 2009). And this is roughly as far as the research goes at this point.

Chemero has already broached the implication that affordances suggest a different ontology. “But if the environment contains meanings, then it cannot be merely physical.... Radical embodied cognitive science requires a new ontology, one that is at odds with today's physicalist, reductionist consensus that says the world just is the physical world, full stop.” (Chemero 2009, Pp. 135‑6) The key proposal is then to conjecture that, similar to joint affordances, cooperating humans have shared affordances and that these are the substrate of which common ground was built.

The concepts such as affordances and common ground are there; these concepts fit well to the concepts of material structures carrying interactional probabilities and of potential actions; it must be clear that this field of potential behaviors among social apes arose as an evolutionary process that was not anything like the proverbial "turning the lights on" for the birth of a rational ape; and the door is open to recognizing these aspects as part of an evolutionary view of reality. As famously noted and paraphrasing Whitehead, the world of science describes a mess of particles and radiation colliding and tumbling around while it is we who bring beauty and meaning to them.[24]

Wider Frames and Conjecture

What has been casually employed and assumed here are the system dynamics of the world. This follows a curious trend in that systems concepts are ubiquitous from the hard sciences to the humanities yet still do not have a theoretical pedigree. [NN?] The use of system concepts here has ample advantages a shift away from the dualistic agent-behavior-object presumed transitivity, effectively providing degrees of “agency” that is a more appropriate way to include material influences, openness to new and weak factors, compatibility with much contemporary theory, and possibilities to clarify the assumed reinforcement dynamics of the cultural evolutionary process itself. [NN?] The hypothesis depends not on systems as existent entities but on features and effects of system concepts. Features would include positive and negative reinforcement, networks with other causal motifs such as feed forwardness, and the importance of constraints (Halley & Winkler 2008, P. 12); Alon 2007). Effects include attractors, simplified dynamics within complex processes, runaway growth, and multistability.

The use here of "self" in the phrase "self-organizing" of the title would more accurately be "system-organizing" since the claim is not about any kind of "self" but about the system properties of reality and in particular the system properties of humans interacting with each other and with the world (Weber 2010, P. 223). The word “self” is used, however, in the sense of “auto” or “circular” in a bootstrapping sense.

System concepts were not in use in the time of Darwin. The hypothesis that reality is self- or system-organizing is about the dynamic system features and effects that humans have with their environment and each other and about the cultural phase of evolution. It finds kinship with those concepts in biology that are stirring the waters for an extended synthesis of the theory of evolution such as were highlighted above and with the turn to systems biology [Note]. In particular it claims kinship with concepts of self-organization and of cross-causality between environment and organism.

Using the potential parallels raised here between two periods in evolution when environments have been relatively more important vis a vis organisms the origin of life and human evolution it is possible to generalize on the hypothesis in the form of a conjecture.

Revisiting the research on the origin of life, the parallel features to cultural evolution are worth mentioning. There are many potential features to highlight such as the thermodynamic requirement of generating order by trading away more disorder, the necessity of a solvent like water, the features of bilayer vesicles, network reaction architectures, properties of specific chemical elements, temperature/pressure ranges, and even fine tuned cosmic constants (Luisi 2006; Schulze-Makuch & Irwin 2008; Barrow et al 2008). Among these suggested and potential key features of life, three are worth highlighting.

The first is energy flow and the resulting almost steady states of matter cycling that result from its continuity. Mulkidjanian can note that: "We would like to emphasize that formation and maintaining of increasingly complex biopolymers could proceed only if supported by a constant flow of utilizable energy. This consideration severely constrains otherwise plausible hypotheses of origin of life under impact bombardment that tend to treat emergence of life as a one-time event." (Mulkidjanian & Galperin 2007, P. 2005) Continuous energy flow through a system results in both cycles and energized molecules.[25]

The second potential feature is the existence of system features, any reinforcement patterns to flows. This goes by a variety of names for example, autocatalysis, feedback, circular causality by event type, closed loops, non-linearity, systems biology, or systems motifs. [NN?] Even basic replication can be considered as a system feature since a replicator non-linearly catalyzes other identical molecules (Pross 2012). By speaking of these various non-linear aspects as “system features” the intention is to recognize specific processes while seeking to avoid any potential holism implied in the term “system” or that lingers from the image of the dualistic agent.[26] Where a substantive term is needed for a locus of pronounced system features, the term"Aeddy" will be preferred. Such features as revealed in the elaborate network architectures of systems biology are widely assumed and studied today in a variety of fields.

The third and last potential feature of life worth highlighting is the existence of unique boundary conditions such as the famous biopolymers (e.g., proteins and ribonucleic acids). Boundary conditions can include larger collections of particles such as self-collecting lipid membranes, but the concept is applicable to unique molecules. Thinking of a special biomolecule such as a catalyst or a genetic segment as a “boundary condition” shifts the frame of reference from a source of special powers to a physics concept where a particular physical structure results in different deterministic interactions with other molecules than, say, the proverbial billiard ball. A biopolymer shows two special features. One, it has very specific effects on certain other molecules, and two, its own origin is deterministically very similar to a large number of other polymers of similar length.[27] The second of these large differences from similar factors of origin is another aspect of boundary conditions, their arbitrariness, but magnified since such large specificity changes result with only slight changes in sequence. Morowitz can say that: "small free energy differences among different sequences, ... [make] the energetic landscape of sequence space flat compared with that of the metabolites themselves" so that “[p]olymer sequences are therefore much more likely to be governed by sampling bias in evolutionary history than are metabolites” and that "the informational and regulatory character of life emerges with this class [polymers].” (Smith & Morowitz 2008, P. 406) Others have referred to what is here highlighted as boundary conditions as constraints, memory, or information. [NN?]

These three features energy flow, system features, and unique boundary conditions are highlighted to make suggestive parallels to the building blocks of reality claimed here the behavioral systems of common ground and the special boundary conditions from intensive niche construction (energy consumption and throughput is assumed). Testing the parallels even further, the following conjecture is presented. Matter that is subject to a continuous energy flow from an outside source has a reciprocal relationship between the distribution of its structure and the number and types of circularly causal loops. Structures result in loops, and loops result in structures. [NN?]

This conjecture will not be defended; it is put forward here as a possible way to widen the hypothesis of self-organized reality and to support the main purpose of this paper to portray an alternative to the materialism-only heritage. The conjecture addresses boundary conditions and circular type causality in general; the hypothesis of reality addresses the human-made boundary conditions and rampant systemic features including complex activities and their latent pool of potential interactions.

Chart 2: Conjecture, how origin of life dynamics parallel hypothesis

Early Earth abiotic environments

Assembly, structure of matter

Interactions of matter

Flow loops with reinforcement

Chemical selection

Local consistency selection for system-matter collections

Energy flows causing loops

System features are probabilized by new chemical selection

Matter is probabilized by system features

Structure & interactions of matter at origin of life environment


This hypothesis, on the biological side, is meant as support for a necessary, yet-to-be extended synthesis for evolution. But it is especially meant to show how that extended synthesis will need to escape the yoke of dualism deep in its heritage. Not only the probabilities inherent in a world with system type causality but the interpenetration of the environment into organisms will have to be accounted for. As early as 1994 Ceruti could foresee science shifting from necessary to possible formulations.[28] And some researchers such as Piersma and van Gils below acknowledge the radical richness of the formerly clearly demarcated environment-organism boundary:

“... although bodies and environments are recognizable entities, they really are inseparable.... we also find that the genetic system that we all work with is just one of five such possible inheritance systems. Since organisms not only provide the beginnings and nurture of their offspring, but also build the environments in which they and their offspring live, there are very tight feedbacks of reciprocal causation, both in the development of organisms and in the relationships between the developing organism and their environments. Bodies are earth, and we would do well to acknowledge that in the ways that we study them.” (Piersma & van Gils 2011, P. 184)

Hidden in both of these frames is an as yet untold story of how the environment has evolved with ever shifting possibilities.


To exist as recognized is to have become affordable to some organism. This acts as a filter to matter configurations bringing some within range of the interactionally probable. Restricting ourselves to human affordabilities, all reality is afforded to some human and more consequently to many humans. Objects or types of objects that are affordable to many and in the same way and in turn-taking or in contested, reinforced ways can be said to be afforded and shared. These attributes are more general than the discovered and verified aspects of objective reality.

Objects are more or less consistent with each other. This is seen when new key technologies are introduced, such as for example the gasoline engine, causing a ripple effect of losing many other types of objects (e.g., buggies, steam engines) and the co-introduction of a whole new suite of more consistent objects (e.g., carburetors, antifreeze) (Rogers 2003). This can be thought of as a type of inter-object affordability. Similarly, behaviors are more or less consistent with each other. This is true among behaviors and among parts of behaviors (e.g., consider the effort that some put into perfecting performance training) as well as back and forth to the supporting material structures. [NN?] On a small scale performance training slowly makes behaviors more efficient in a form of consistency. Consistency can also be described as system features that reinforce interactions among the same types of components.[29]

A further quality is that at any one time existing material structures have been selected. Considering our modern world or better the specific local environment of an individual at a specific time, the objects and plants and animals all exist in virtue of various selection histories of which the selection by human processes is the under-acknowledged component. These are selected by their affordances to humans and to their consistency among other affordances. And those selected at one particular time afford the interactions that occur to then facilitate the selections that result for another, later time. It is the selection for consistency among objects and behaviors that promotes self-organization.

All the above attributes of structured matter are attributes of things relative to behaviors around them. Treating behaviors as systemic attractors distributed across objects recognizes that things, even if they are not what we thought they were, contribute causal aspects to the initiation, dynamics, and success of behaviors. [NN?] A log in my vicinity while hiking might contribute to my decision to sit; if I fall because it is rotten, it has still contributed to my behavior despite its lack of success. Reality today is full of such suggestive affordances; our modern world is riddled with constructed affordances that beg for our attention.

Contrasts of self-organizing reality with objective materialism

It would be good to contrast this conception of reality with objective reality as conventionally conceived. The new conception is more inclusive. Traditional reality does not include potential actions; the new conception acknowledges that potential actions modify the probabilities of the matter of the world. The plans that people make are real in that they exert definite probabilities on the course of events and on the likely trajectories of matter. Traditional reality treats the things of the world as given independently before humans; the new reality acknowledges two human pathways to things and from things behaviors that successfully domesticate matter structures and a very long history of having modified the material structure of the contents of the world. [NN] Organisms, particularly human, behaviors give matter highly constrained future event probabilities. And, these behaviors, by their past activities have given the world today a highly modified structure.

In the old conception, evolution results in humans and behaviors which then add our creations to the world (see Fox Keller above). In the new conception evolution and the environment select and develop behaviors which modify the environment which then further select and develop behaviors and so reciprocally on.

The new conception shifts from the traditional independent observer with agency to the conceptions of extended mind theory where mind is distributed as system triggers across brains, bodies, objects, and others. [NN] It might have been prudent in the time of Francis Bacon to avoid the mental "idols" of our beliefs in order to pursue a push for material laws, but going so far as to deny that our environments are saturated with behavioral cues and that all our beliefs including "errors" are other cues for the cascading of events drives out the everyday subtle cues that are all important in our lives. [NN?]

At the same time we cannot take the massive structuring of our human environments for granted as if the world just happens to have these completely rich material features. The laws of physics are formulated independently of given boundary conditions. But these given boundary conditions are far from random. One simply has to take a look around to see, say, furniture, stereo, trees (planted), electric pole, ceiling, rugs, computer, etc. There is no random or unselected part of my environment without some effort to even find a disturbed ecology of weeds, itself richly selected.

A world of random particles or even one of a model ecology are ideal cases for laboratories. But we live in highly structured environments like homes and malls. If one could formulate a null hypothesis for the distribution of material structure that is consistent with pure materialism, then one would have to imagine a world where particles and randomly sized chunks of particles whirred around at random speeds. Of course this does not happen because, among other things, there are abiotic pattern forming processes such as gravitational sinks, fluid flow networks, fluid vortices, and so forth (Ball 2009). But still the contrast between our everyday world of massive, selected structuring (i.e., homes and malls) in no wise matches what some null hypothesis of what a pure materialism would suppose where random chunks and trajectories of matter obtain. Our world is two steps removed from a materialist null hypothesis. It contains, namely, the products of biological evolution and the products of human evolution. One has to say that reality is biologically and humanly structured matter, at least for the significant surface of Earth. In fact it would seem as if Darwinism itself can be turned around in a figure and ground way to frame evolution not just as selection of the fittest but as filling the environment with fit, and in some ways, compatible organisms. [NN?] What this suggests is that there is a missing understanding of the origin of complex boundary conditions of structured matter on the surface of the planet. [NN?]

Table 3 below lists phenomenon and then contrasts how they are understood in objective materialism and in the hypothesis of self-organized reality. Some, but not all, are covered in the text.

Table 3: Distinctions of hypothesis reality with traditional materialism






Self-organizing reality


Collective nature of reality






Self-organizing contents


Nothing beyond some Darwinian analogies for the selection of objects [NN?]






Can only say that truth sometimes has agreement








Organism involvement


Formed to give options




U Public spaces are heavily built with boundaries, options, and enticements.


Is full of positive & negative values


No, it is value free




Exists without observers




Is irrelevant


Allows feeling at one with an object


No, it is independent of us




Main criteria


True / false


Adaptable usage


Exhibits runaway change from observation


No, it is independent of us


Yes (E.g., popularity craze, e.g. tourist resort)


Exhibits synchronistic and intuitive responses from more than one person


No, it is independent of us


Common ground is both complex enough and similar enough for people to jump to similar patterns.


Is fixed and malleable


Default is fixed; malleability results from human intervention [NN?]


It is both


Contains surprise yet background can be ignored


Surprise is only result of ignorance


Yes, part of its systemic nature


Contains plans


No, these are human interventions


Yes, these are modified probabilities for behavioral and material events


Characterized by structured environment


Determined by physical processes and random events


Determined by physical processes, random events, and selective organization by the processes of organisms.


Shows truth improvement/growth of reality


Truth depends on discipline and method to clear out ignorance.


Is a natural growth of consistency including methods.


Environment, politics of


The environment just is


Fosters recycled learning decisions


Economy, politics of


Everything is measurable rise and fall


Self-organizing dynamics are increasingly studied [NN]


The sad part of objective reality is that it is not really relevant today. To a contemporary child in the developed world surrounded by computer games, smart phones, and advertizing the world is addressed to the child as deZengotita points out.[30] Her world is a world of options and she is the center of it. This world is almost the opposite of the world of the discoverers like Descartes or Newton at the birth of modernism. Instead of mystery waiting to yield to patient, unbiased, cunning experimenters or sailors the current world surrounds us with controlled pretense and services. True or false can seem superfluous when what the environment asks of us is our attention.[31]

In fact, it is hard to imagine anyone besides a subset of academics getting interested much less excited about objectivity. In the business world decisions are framed in forecasts, costs, and risks because it is understood that conditions are dynamic. Others have pointed out that managing the environment will have to similarly be run as iterative cycles of precautions and recoveries to conflicting goals when there is no and never was a fixed environment. [NN] This turn from timeless perfection to iterative management of our unintended consequences is itself a critique of dualism.[32]

Technology too is now in high speed evolution. Technology watchers such as Arthur conclude that technology itself is a new chemistry with its own Ametabolism.” (Arthur 2009, P. 25, 205) In some ways the things themselves drive the need for and the appearance of new things. The focus shifts from the "object" of objectivity to needs, possibilities, and repercussions.

The alleged independence of objects from humans breaks down not just in their apprehension and in which ones show up in the environment but in how we conduct our lives. In the extreme many forms of talk therapy espouse "letting the world go" in order to facilitate focusing on feelings and attitudes coming from ourselves. [NN] The assumption is that when only objects are foregrounded as real, then our understanding of our entangled relationships becomes invisible and thus often problematic.

Our idiosyncratic understandings and our errors (or our odd relationships) still carry immense effects in the world. Denial of errors, biases, etc. as in the Baconian tradition is not an escape. The "idols" of our fantasies, traditions, and errors are here with us to stay, have become magnified by mass media technology, can be helpful or dangerous, but are not about to be wished away. A significant part of the world is the cognitive engineering that others do to steer the rest of us. Geographers recognize that landscapes are inextricable from the activities and expectations within them. (Chapura 2009). In this world of entangled, biased, and marketed relationships, it is not the chasing and often selling of truth that will clear things up but the more general practice of finding greater consistency. [NN?]

Including the interactively probabilistic in one's conception of reality is an easy step of something we generally already do. Imagine a physical location that you know, say, a public space. In your catalogue of “things” in its space, include the events that are likely to happen there, include the uses of public space that all the other people have for it (e.g., kite flying, passing out leaflets, etc.). Include the possibilities from the original designs, from the filed-away studies, and from the responsible planning commission(s); and include the memories of those who have left it behind. Imagine the long history of interactions that the objects in the place have gone through to hone their present design and modifications (e.g., the height of the steps, the pruning of the trees). Add in the internet devices to get the additional ties with others to and from those in the public space. And include the organisms of other species and the many actual and potential uses they have in the space, often with humanly non-used features. Now look at the people currently spinning through the space and add in their histories of reaction probabilities and the intermixing of these with others and with the physical space. This collection is enormous. And it is ongoingly causal. [NN? Fauconnier?]

Philosophy Frames

A key test of compatibility for interactional reality is whether and how it addresses the long-running debate in science and philosophy over constructivism versus objectivism. This is similar to the longer-running rhetoric versus truth dimension of Western philosophy. The problem goes away with interactional or self-organizing reality as a clear both-and answer. Portraying cultures and reality as a growth of interactional consistency reveals the whole process towards the stunning capture of universals rather than focusing on either the process or the universals.

A good analysis is provided by Hacking (Hacking 1999). He pulls out three different points of disagreement: contingency of paths to discovery, the importance of the already given inherent structure of the world, and whether stable sources of explanation come primarily from internal (phenomenon derived) or external (arguments to other fields, say) considerations.[33] For him, neither constructivism and objectivism will not go away (Hacking 1999, P. 101). Contingency to discovery is part of growth; some things are only domesticated on the inherent structure of their terms; and sources for concept stability, whether internal or external, are relative to the kind domesticated. And by "kind" he singles out things that he designates as “interactive kinds” by which he means things that are more subject to human interactions than are others. Concepts such as mental health, child abuse, etc are more subject to feedback loops from their adherents, their commercial interests, and their social stigmas than are Maxwell's equations in electromagnetism (Hacking 1999, P. 123). For interactional reality such a kind speaks to the types or sources of consistency that things and concepts find among other objects, among a subgroup, across subgroups, in conjunction with painful issues, etc.

Self-organizing reality makes this conclusion explicit in noting that the real is approached by interacting creatures that grow their degrees of consistency with the environment. The now confirmed possibility of structure largely independent of us such as the laws of physics is a significant growth level for life not an escape from ignorance.

The history of ideas provides a check for the above concepts. Some writers on the Greco-Roman tradition note that what began as a pageant of details turned gradually towards universal themes. Snell describes the Greek culture well before Socrates and Plato: “The effulgence of the divine, he [Pindar] feels, is reflected in the appearances of the world; his sensuous delight in the multiplicity of things is not yet obscured by the knowledge that the essence which really matters is located beyond the visible world, and that it can be known only by reason.” (Snell 1953, P. 86) By the time of the Greek philosophers "Socrates insists on solving the problem through knowledge of the good. That is the ultimate abstraction of the real, its transformation into a teleological concept. Where a divine world had endowed the human world with meaning, we now find the universal determining the particular." (Snell 1953, P. 112)

The rise of science renewed this search for the universal behind the scenes of appearances. Chasing out Bacon's idols and even throwing out the age old truism that all moving objects come to rest in the name of a new principle of inertia where movement is eternal unless interrupted, the quest for the universal and the timeless took many steps forward. The story from science is that superstitions gave way to methodologically disciplined truths. The science story of timeless truth is not a story in the evolutionary framework; it's a release from darkness story.[34]

The alternative of self-organizing reality suggests that the growth of consistency among behaviors with matter expanded so that some cultural creodes approached the universal functional constraints of matter itself. Science and the quest for universal truths is a convergence story, not an escape from darkness story. And like most evolutionary transitions, it is a both-and story particulars and universals, idols and truths, constructions and objectivity. Or, “If art is ‘unnatural’ variation, science is ‘unnatural’ selection.” (Boyd 2009, P. 411)

To offer a conception of reality is to also offer a conception of agency. The hypothesis depends on extended mind and entangled or emergent agency. Representative of this direction is this statement by Kirsh:

“Once we conceive the agent environment relation to be a dynamic one where agents are causally coupled to their environments at different temporal frequencies with less or more conscious awareness of the nature of their active perceptual engagement, we are moving in a direction of seeing agents more as managers of their interaction, as coordinators locked in a system of action reaction, rather than as pure agents undertaking actions and awaiting consequences.” (Kirsh 2004, P. 7, quoted in Clark 2008, P. 73)

Unlike with objective materialism where any conception of meaning is elusive and where words or signs are reduced to an arbitrary game, the approach to things via affordances and potential actions offers a place for meaning in language. When common ground is foregrounded as overlapping affordances, then language and meaning become not vacuous substitutes for concepts but niche constructed enhancements of affordances. Borghi and Riggio explain in similar terms:

“A recent body of work has revealed that words are not linked in an arbitrary way to their referents but are grounded in perception, action and in sensorimotor processes. According to the 'embodied' theory of language comprehension, understanding a sentence regarding an object would entail a mental simulation of the situation the sentence describes. This implies that the same neural areas are recruited as those involved during perception and interaction with the object. Much recent evidence obtained with response time studies, with kinematic measures, with eye tracking studies, and with brain imaging studies, suggests that words evoke perceptual and motor information regarding their referents. In particular, words, like visual stimuli, evoke objects affordances. Affordances are what the environment offers acting organisms. They pertain to both perception and action.” (Borghi & Riggio 2009, P. 117; also see Stout & Chaminade 2009)

Crudely put, using something or doing something can have vocal accompaniments so that the thing "affords" either use or vocalization. Words become extensions of the behaviors of using an affordance. Words and behaviors become melded, elaborated behaviors that can be done in tandem as in babies speaking holophrastically. Or words and behaviors can be done as alternative pathways toward the same potential behavior. The main suggestion is, like the suggestion above by Borghi and Riggio, affordances and potential behaviors, here conceived as a necessary aspect of reality, offer a meaning substrate for which language becomes a natural niche construction, a natural reinforcement for interpersonally coupled behavioral systems.[35] Sounds, like other parts of the environment, are exploited for cognitive inputs between cooperating humans.[36] Like material implements that reinforce behaviors, sounds associated with behaviors are fast niche construction for active cooperators (Odling-Smee & Laland 2009). And sounds associated with behaviors and objects of behaviors help build and reinforce common ground. Word-affordances then find their own mutual enhancements through consistency selection and quickly generate their own system dynamics that results in languages as complex adaptive systems (Ellis et al 2009; Ragir & Savage-Rumbaugh 2009, P. 122). The central point is that the trends in language study and origin support a system, self-organizing approach to reality better than the old word substitutionalism for objects under dualism.

In a world caught morally simplistically between the poles of rules and relativism, it should be noted that one of the best recent studies of a general ethics finds that systems thinking is the best option (Fox 2006). The moral value of "responsive cohesion" was found to be the most meaningful moral concept. It related to the importance of living in our everyday systems neither too far towards fixity nor too far towards chaos (also Oyama 2000, P. 183).

To address the context in which this hypothesis is put forward and to broach foundational questions is to stir up questions of theology that were present when the modern foundations were laid. The concept of self-organization has carried a mildly theological overtone ever since it became topical around the mid Nineties (e.g., Kauffman 1996).

An analysis by Gillespie provides a good dissection of modernism=s relationship to god. His conclusion is that from an earlier philosophical trinity of nature, humans, and god modernism dissolved god by moving previously divine attributes to matter and to humans (Gillespie 2008). Nature acquired the perfect causality of god's will while humans acquired knowledge access effectively equal to god's mind.[37] Besides inflating these two poles, the consequence has been an imbalance yearning for an external frame to explain the given order. Smolin, quoted at the beginning, notes that the search in physics for a final theory shares with a belief in god the conjecture of a timeless realm of first principles.[38]

On the life side of dualism, temptations to vitalistic explanations have slowly died away but intimations of vitalism can be seen even among biologists when ideas such as Panspermia and lucky accident appear. Biologists could be charged with arguing against creationism while entertaining special qualities for life. Dualism thus leaves us either imagining a remote, timeless god or a version of life that varies between magic and chance.

Turning to self-organization as a primary aspect of the world takes away some of the deficits of dualism. By facing self-organization squarely, theistic tropes tend to immanence, actual possibilities in the present, the aesthetics of growth, and Durkheim-like group convergences. Appreciating the ubiquity and subtlety of self-organization around us has the possibility of moving back as a third leg with Gillespie's duo of matter and humans where there has been a gap with order, connections, trust, and value.


Without an idea of reality other than modernism=s picture of materialism we are condemned to continue our worn, dualism-lamenting critiques. The idea broached here, self-organizing or interactional reality, is meant to offer consistency both intrinsically and across fields. Self-organizing reality is an evolutionary concept and an enactive concept, not a timeless concept with a human epistemological patch (Thompson, E. 2007, Pp. 51-2). By acknowledging the human approach to the object/other up front, it reveals the full and present reality of interactions themselves rather than rushing to an all too-seldom-found timeless perfect result. Now that the discoveries of cognitive science have revealed the complexity of interactional coordination, this complexity itself needs to be recognized as part of the field of reality. While cognitive science speaks of mind as complex dynamic systems spread through our bodies and the environment, still lingering in the modern worldview is the magical stuff of mind that Descartes could still imagine as the stream of knowledge loaned to us from god's mind. [NN?] It is thus not surprising that their strengths in the things of extension were much more successful than those for the mind.

Philosophically, the goal in this paper has been to underline the inherent contradiction of dualism and present a candidate alternative. Modernism or objectivism or dualism presents an impossible story that philosophers have sneered at for at least two centuries while being ignored probably at least partly because of the wild success of science. [NN?] This impossible story has matter with mind and life springing from it somehow but still largely alien. The result is that we traffic in one genuine substance, matter, and two related, semi-miraculous substances life and mind. For this impossible model, it is not reaching to argue that there are costs for society. Many contemporary accounts portray the result as a wasteland sprinkled with selfish narcissists fueled by powerful technologies yet with ecological blindness that has just been a ground for nihilistic or fantasy escapes.[39] This smear is a concern and not a diagnosis but nonetheless troubling. Contradictions and concerns deserve alternatives.

The alternative to the philosophical, impossible model is the biological necessity for self-organization to be also seen in the interactional dynamics between behavior-sharing minds and the structured matter around them. The dense self-organizational interplay of potential behaviors, a highly structured material environment, and skewed event probability distributions is our reality. Improbable maybe, but impossible, no. We can and have expanded it to include laws of timeless material transformations, but we are creatures of this reciprocal web of constraints and systems.

To make an hypothesis about the nature of reality germane to biology, several points have been made. One, philosophical foundations hinder biology=s intellectual path. The inability to find an understanding of the nature of life is indicative of an ongoing source of confusion. Two, while biology has been predicted to be the science most likely to build new important discoveries in this century, progress in important fields the nature of human evolution, the possible shape of macro-evolution, among others atrophies while high data input detailed studies proliferate.[40] Three, although biology provides a unique vehicle to approach questions of ultimate concern, it needs to face foundational issues such as the starting point of presumed environment-organism separation.

Noting that human cultural evolution even with all its current explanatory progress is about 100,000 years short of the world of cars and television, the hypothesis was proposed as an improbable alternative. The hypothesis builds on current theory and offers more strength to the cultural evolution engine while addressing the foundational issue. The hypothesis adds to the behavioral-learning engine the growth and interweaving of potential behaviors and their collectivization as well as more fully includes the modified rich environments with the mutually reinforcing and selecting dynamics among all three. This hypothesis then gives an alternative foundation. And it steers theory away from agent-like behaviors framed as dualistic, independent rationalists and toward self-organization, a more promising avenue within biology.

In biology self-organization is pregnant with need and possibilities to be elucidated. In philosophy self-organization should be considered as a viable foundations alternative to a discredited contradiction.


[1] “On the other hand, perhaps for the first time in human history, we know enough to imagine how a universe like ours might have come to be without the infinite intelligence and foresight of a god. For is it not conceivable that the universe is as we find it to be because it made itself; because the order, structure and beauty we see reflected at every scale are the manifestations of a continual process of self-organization, of self-tuning, that has acted over very long periods of time? If such a picture can be constructed, it may be possible to understand the fact that the universe has structure and phenomena at every scale, not as some enormous accident or coincidence requiring the fundamental theory to be so finely tuned, but merely as evidence that the maker of the universe is nothing more or less than the random and statistical process of its own self-organization.” Smolin, Lee. 1997. The Life of the Cosmos. Oxford University Press. P. 176.

[2] “…the mind-body problem is not just a local problem, having to do with the relation between mind, brain, and behavior in living animal organisms, but … it invades our understanding of the entire cosmos and its history.” Nagel, Thomas. 2012. P. 3.

[3] “The division of labour [mind and matter] has endowed cognition with autonomy; autonomous cognition has engendered a nature within which no activity can be autonomous [deterministic conception of matter]. That is the problem. ” Gellner, Ernest. 1988. p. 136.

[4] Rockwell notes that this worldview began when Descartes imagined a soul=s access from god to individual brains but changed as later materialists substituted perceptual impressions coming in through our senses. AThe world itself does not get into the brain, only an impression or copy of the world. We thus are compelled to accept idealism, and conclude that we never get to see the real world, only a world of appearances. This position is so irritatingly counterintuitive that it is eventually rejected even when no one can find any good arguments against it.@ Rockwell 2005, P. 84.

[5] West-Eberhard 2003, Odling-Smee 2003, Kozo-Polyansky et al 2010, Camazine et al 2001.

[6] “Whereas classical evolutionary theory sees the organism as the key that has to fit into the environment’s lock, both ecological developmental biology and niche construction see interactions between them. Niche construction emphasizes the ability of the organism to alter its environment; eco-devo emphasizes the ability of the environment to alter the developing organism.” Laland et al 2008, P. 550)

[7] “But it is perhaps owing to the work of Gould and Lewontin as well as Goodwin that many contemporary biologists are now aware of the fallacy of pure ‘selectionism’, according to which natural selection is the sole, almighty sculptor of all phenotypic traits. Natural constraints in organismal design, emanating from the inescapable laws of chemistry, physics and even mathematics, as well as from history, present prefabricated modules of high complexity for natural selection to choose from. But the complexity itself is not the work of natural selection.” Huang 2011, P. 150.

[8] “By using the word chemotype, as opposed to genotype, we are therefore using an all_embracing thermodynamic concept based in part upon the concentrations of elements in the energised genome, the proteome, the metabolome and the metallome. As stated we are then forced to describe also the spaces (volumes) which are under consideration, the energy which is put into both compounds and concentrations since many of the elements are not in equilibrium with their surroundings, as well as the internal organisation, and any relationship to the environment.” (Williams & da Silva 2006, P. 131).

“The term Chemotype is not just analytically descriptive but includes concentrations, energy content, space limitations and organisation, and is therefore a comprehensive thermodynamic description. We have shown that evolution is not constrained by the changing information in coded molecules, which had to follow rather than lead change, but depends upon an ever wider ability of organisms in the ecosystem to sense, obtain information about, and then exploit both changing environmental materials and energy sources not just internally but, finally, also externally. The whole system is an inevitable, not a random, development and is a cooperative ecosystem of energy stored in chemicals both in cells and in the environment.” (Williams & da Silva 2006, P. 421)

[9] Even though the term LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor) is used, many including Egel think of it as an oversimplification.

[10] The phrase “interpopulational behavioral variation” is particularly cogent and condensed and is from Wynn et al 2011. Regarding varieties of definitions of culture, it is often cited that Kroeber and Kluckholm were able to collect 164 different definitions of culture even in 1952 (Laland & Brown 2011. P. 214, Kroeber & Kluckholm 1952).

[11] “Culture is the part of phenotypic variance that results from information transmitted across generations through social influences. It is the part of transmittability that results from social learning.” (Danchin et al 2008, P. 700).

[12] Here is a sample of these discussions:

“Evolutionists have offered many explanations for human cooperation, including indirect reciprocity, group selection on genes, sexually selected display, innate algorithms for detecting rule violators, Machiavellian intelligence, reputation effects, and the cultural group-selection process we describe above. None of these proposals can easily be ruled out.” (Richerson & Boyd 2008, P. 92)

“We hypothesize that this new social world, created by rapid cultural adaptation, led to the genetic evolution of new, derived social instincts. Cultural evolution created cooperative groups. Such environments favoured the evolution of a suite of new social instincts suited to life in such groups including a psychology which ‘expects’ life to be structured by moral norms, and that is designed to learn and internalize such norms. New emotions evolved, like shame and guilt, which increase the chance the norms are followed. Individuals lacking the new social instincts more often violated prevailing norms and experienced adverse selection.” (Boyd & Richerson 2009, P. 3286)

“To get from ape group activities to human collaboration, we need three basic sets of processes. First and most importantly, early humans had to evolve some serious social-cognitive skills and motivations for coordinating and communicating with others in complex ways involving joint goals and coordinated division of labor among the various roles – what I will call skills and motivations for shared intentionality. Second, to even begin these complex collaborative activities, early humans had first to become more tolerant and trusting of one another than are modern apes, perhaps especially in the context of food. And third, these more tolerant and collaborative humans had to develop some group-level, institutional practices involving public social norms and the assignment of deontic status to institutional roles.” (Tomasello 2009, Pp. 54-5)

[13] Typical is: “The idea, then, is that positive feedback links social foraging and intergenerational social learning. Intergenerational learning provides much of the informational fuel that makes social foraging successful, and the rewards of social foraging support the life spans and expensive metabolisms that make extensive intergenerational learning possible.” (Sterelny 2012, P. 14)

[14] “The study of human evolution remains committed to a Cartesian model of cognition and consciousness in which the process of thinking is abstracted from its real world context.” (Coward & Gamble 2008, P. 1969)

[15] A famous example is Hutchins study of ship navigation distributed over a team and their instruments. His conclusion: “But I believe the real power of human cognition lies in our ability to flexibly construct functional systems that accomplish our goals by bringing bits of structure into coordination. That culturally constituted settings for activity are rich in precisely the kinds of artifactual and social interactional resources that can be appropriated by such functional systems is a central truth about human cognition. The processes that create these settings are as much a part of human cognition as the processes that exploit them, and a proper understanding of human cognition must acknowledge the continual dynamic interconnectivity of functional elements inside with functional elements outside the boundary of the skin.” (Hutchins 1995, P. 316.)

[16] Representative is this description by Gibbs. “Much research in psycholinguistics demonstrates the importance of ‘common ground’ between speakers and listeners in successful communication. There are three primary sources for common ground. The first source is ‘linguistic co-presence,’ where the listener takes as common ground all of the conversation up to and including the utterance currently being interpreted. A second source for common ground is ‘physical co-presence,’ where the listener takes as common ground what he or she and the speaker are currently experiencing in terms of their immediate physical environment, including the actions and positioning of their own bodies. The final source of evidence is community membership. This includes information that is universally known in a community and can be represented by mental structures such as scripts or schemata. Moreover, it also covers mutually known conventions governing the phonology, syntax, and semantics of the sentence uttered.” (Gibbs 2006, P. 172)

[17] For a complementary view, here is Enfield. “Common ground constitutes the open stockpile of shared presumption that fuels amplicative inference in communication, driven by intention attribution and other defining components of the interaction engine. Any occasion of ‘grounding’ (i.e., any increment of common ground) has consequences for future interaction of the individuals involved, thanks to two perpetually active imperatives for individuals in social interaction. The informational imperative compels individuals to cooperate with their interactional partners in maintaining a common referential understanding, mutually calibrated at each step of an interaction’s progression. Here, common ground affords economy of expression. The greater our common ground, the less effort we have to expend to satisfy the informational imperative. Second (but not secondary), the affiliational imperative compels interlocutors to maintain a common degree of interpersonal affiliation (trust, commitment, intimacy), proper to the status of the relationship, and again mutually calibrated at each step of an interaction’s progression. In this second dimension, the economy of expression enabled by common ground affords a public display of intimacy, a reliable indicator of how much is personally shared by a given pair (trio, n_tuple) of interactants. In these two ways, serving the ends of informational economy and affiliational intimacy, to increment common ground is to invest in a resource that will be drawn on later, with interest." (Enfield 2006, Pp. 399-400)

[18] “We hypothesize that becoming a temporary unit of social action with another person also involves creation of a new perception action system with new capabilities. The individual becomes embedded in a social unit, with a reality of its own. By engaging in joint perception or joint action with another, our actions serve to impact and define the social unit of which we are a part, and in turn our actions are constrained and channeled by participation in this relationship or group.” (Marsh et al 2009, P. 1219)

[19] “Theories of common ground formation propose similar arguments as those that we made regarding shared representations, in that common ground is a facilitator of interactions. However, these theories typically assume that both agents know what is shared, which is not essential in our model. Despite so, theories of common ground can be considered as complementary to our proposal, as they emphasize interactive dynamics and the coordination of co-actors at the level of cognitive processing, not only of overt behavior.” (Pezzulo & Dindo 2011, P. 626)

[20] “In this emphatically interactionist view [ecological psychology] of how actors and environment relate, it is assumed that information arises as an invariant relation between actors’ dynamically changing movements and their dynamically changing perception. As a consequence, perception and movement reciprocally (co-)specify each other. In contrast to most cognitive science notions, intentions are not considered as a mental or psychological state within a person. Instead they are considered to be a property of the ecosystem arising in the interaction between organisms and their environment. Accordingly, intentions are considered to be an aspect of the physical world rather than the mental world. A key concept that illustrates this notion is ‘affordance’, which refers to ‘action possibilities’, that a particular environment provides for an organism given the organism’s particular action repertoire. A further implication of the ecological approach is that actor-object relations and actor-actor relations are considered as being governed by the same dynamical principles.” (Knoblich, G. & N. Sebanz 2008, Pp. 2022-3)

[21] “Affordances are opportunities for behavior. Because different animals have different abilities, affordances are relative to the behavioral abilities of the animals that perceive them.” (Chemero 2009, P. 108)

[22] “Dividing an organism’s world into behavioral and biological factors has created counterproductive explanatory problems, often presented as a conflict between reductionism and explanation based on publicly accessible external variables. The main purpose of this paper is to suggest that an organism’s integrated repertoire of operant behavior has the status of a biological system, similar to other systems, like the nervous, cardiovascular, or immune systems.” (Thompson, T. 2007, P. 423)

[23] They also agree on the importance of objects as affordances as transmitters of social agreement. “The creation of enduring artefacts opened up a whole new world of affordances and ways of interacting with the world in a direct manner. The resulting fact that artefacts embody socially transmitted knowledge about ways of interacting with objects is hardly ever acknowledged in the research on object perception.” (Knoblich & Sebanz 2008, P. 2027). Alternately, a coupling for coordinated action similar to common ground that also emphasizes distributed cognition but through shared representations is work by Pezzulo and Dindo. “Our analysis suggests that agents engaged in joint actions do not solve their problems individually, but ‘distribute’ some of them externally; in this sense, the agent-environment dynamics and the agent-agent dynamics are part of the problem-solving strategy. Indeed, our graphical model formulation emphasized that the two agents are coupled at the level of cognitive variables as well as at the physical level of interaction.” (Pezzulo & Dindo 2011, P. 626)

[24] Another take on Whitehead’s insight is from Rilke:

“What birds plunge through is not the intimate space

in which you see all forms intensified.

(Out in the Open, you would be denied

your self, would disappear into that vastness.)


"Space reaches from us and construes the world:

to know a tree, in its true element,

throw inner space around it, from that pure

abundance in you. Surround it with restraint.

It has no limits. Not till it is held

in your renouncing is it truly there.” (Rilke 1982, P. 263)

[25] “... the appearance of metabolic steady states is a mathematical necessity that does not require natural selection or any other special mechanism to explain it ...” (Cornish-Bowden 2004, P. 90). “In steady state systems, the flow of energy through the system from a source to a sink will lead to at least one cycle in the system.” (Morowitz 1968, P. 33).

[26] Morange makes the point that molecular reductionist studies and self-organization/system work can be complementary. “To reduce the present state of biology to a transition from a reductionist to a holistic vision of biological phenomena does not acknowledge the richness of the studies being presently done. It prevents us from seeing that what is at stake is a search for a way to link different explanatory schemes. The most active works pursued today in systems biology does [sic] not seek to replace the molecular description by a holistic one, but rather to link a molecular description to another one – in terms of the structural and dynamic properties of networks – located at a different level of organization.” (Morange 2009, P. 23)

[27] “The physical basis of the immense number of forms is a consequence of the immense number of linear sequences of material units that laws cannot distinguish because of their similar energy or similar stability. This is the genetic memory. Only some forms of ‘frozen accident’ or higher level selection process affects which memory sequences survive over time.” (Pattee & Kull 2011, P. 214, Pattee speaking)

[28] “The science which we defined as >classical= wanted to create a grand dichotomy around the pair necessary/not necessary, and to consider it as fundamentally isomorphic to the dichotomy existent/non‑existent. The possible (and not necessary) hence appeared relegated to a twilight zone of indeterminacy.... It is the explosion of this area of the possible which characterizes the multiple developments of contemporary science. Today it is the pair possible/not possible which reformulates the classical problems of necessity, and this dichotomy is not at all identifiable with the pair existent/non‑existent.... We can indeed talk about a transition from a notion of prescriptive requisite law to an idea of law understood as the expression of a constraint.” Ceruti 1994, P. 23).

[29] See Monge 2003, P. 207 re cognitive consistency or Wimsatt 2007, P. 7 re self-correcting reason.

[30] “The issue is no longer representation versus reality, phony versus authentic, artificial versus natural. That was for nineteenth-century Romantics to worry about... But there is no going back to reality.... We have been consigned to a new plane of being engendered by mediating representation of fabulous quality and inescapable ubiquity, a place where everything is addressed to us, everything is for us, and nothing is beyond us anymore.” (De Zengotita 2005, P. 11)

[31] “It is no longer physical stuff that is in short supply, we are told, but information about it. So, we live in an ‘information economy.’ But information is not in short supply in the new information economy. We’re drowning in it. What we lack is the human attention needed to make sense of it all. It will be easier to find our place in the new regime if we think of it as an economics of attention. Attention is the commodity in short supply.” (Lanham 2006, P. xi).

[32] AScience=s ability to predict and control often seems inadequate to the cascade of unintended consequences that frequently follows technological advance. These two, excessive power and inadequate power, are not contradictory. Both are aspects of our embeddedness in the world, an embeddedness denied by conventional accounts of objective scientific knowledge.@ (Oyama 2000, P. 151)

[33] “If contingency is the first sticking point, the second one is more metaphysical....”

“It is countered by a strong sense that the world has an inherent structure that we discover....”

“Constructionists think that stability results from factors external to the overt content of the science. This makes for the third sticking point, internal versus external explanations of stability.”

“Each of these three sticking points is the basis of genuine and fundamental disagreement. Each is logically independent of the others. Moreover, each can be stated without using elevator words like ‘fact,’ ‘truth,’ or ‘reality,’ and without closely connected notions such as ‘objectivity’ or ‘relativism.’ Let us try to stay as far as we can from those blunted lances with which philosophical mobs charge each other in the eternal jousting of ideas.” (Hacking 1999, P. 33).

[34] “It is then most significant that one of the things that the cosmologies of Plato and Newton have in common is that they lack the notion of evolution, in either the biological or the astronomical sense. Stuck with a universe in which past and future cannot fundamentally differ from each other, we see how those things that we now understand as born and bound in time are instead set as timeless oppositions. Thus, both Plato’s myth [The Statesman, pilot of the universe with hand on the rudder] and Newton’s universe are framed in terms of a duality in which the intelligence of a god who exists outside the universe is forever opposed to the imagined tendency of material things to disintegrate to chaos.” (Smolin 1997, P. 143)

[35] “A much better approach, it seems to me, and one that takes into consideration how utterances are actually produced in modern speakers, would be to start with the assumption that the transition into referential or language-like expressions involved hands and body, face and voice and mouth, all together, as an integrated ensemble. What so many writers on this topic – ‘gesture firsters’ and ‘speech firsters’ both – pay little attention to is the fact that modern humans, when they speak together in face-to-face situations, especially in the informal settings of everyday interactions, always mobilise face and hands and voice together in complex orchestrations.” (Kendon 2009, P. 363.)

[36] “Relevance is defined as a property of inputs to cognitive processes (whether external stimuli, which can be perceived and attended to, or internal representations, which can be stored, recalled, or used as premises in inference). An input is relevant to an individual when it connects with available contextual assumptions to yield positive cognitive effects:...” (Wilson & Sperber 2012, P. 6)

[37] “Viewed from this perspective, the process of secularization or disenchantment that has come to be seen as identical with modernity was in fact something different than it seemed, not the crushing victory of reason over infamy, to use Voltaire’s famous term, not the long drawn out death of God that Nietzsche proclaimed, and not the evermore distant withdrawal of the deus absconditus Heidegger points to, but the gradual transference of divine attributes to human beings (an infinite human will), the natural world (universal mechanical causality), social forces (the general will, the hidden hand), and history (the idea of progress, dialectical development, the cunning of reason).” (Gillespie 2008, Pp. 272-3)

[38] Besides drawing a parallel between god and a final theory, he makes another critique of the search for objectivity. “Thus, belief in a final theory shares with a belief in a god the idea that the ultimate cause of things in this world is something that does not live in the world but has an existence that, somehow, transcends it. This is why the belief in god and belief in the existence in a final theory are both related to the metaphysical idea that what is really true about the world is true about a timeless transcendent realm and not about the world of the things we see around us.

“There is still another issue that arises if we aim to give up on the idea that the goal of physics is the discovery of a final theory, in which the properties of the elementary particles are fixed by first principles, independent of the history of the universe. For it might seem that if we give up on the idea that there is a single final theory, we may also be giving up on the possibility of gaining a complete and objective description of the world. Is it possible then to have objective knowledge, if that knowledge does not tell us how the world of appearances is constructed out of what ultimately exists?

“I would like to argue that the answer to this question is, in fact, yes. It is, to begin with, not really the case that the aspiration to discover the final theory, or apprehend the true Being, has really helped the project of gaining objective knowledge. It is true that it is often presumed that objective knowledge, to the extent that it is possible, is knowledge of some absolute reality that lies beyond the subjective appearances. But it seems to me that to equate the world of appearances with the subjective is to make a kind of category error. What we have given to us, from which we will deduce all possible knowledge, is nothing other than the appearances of the world. If objective knowledge exists at all, must it not be knowledge about the world of appearances? Must it not then be possible to construct or deduce any real knowledge from the appearances alone? Do we, as observers who live in the world, have any other choice?

“The idea that objective knowledge must be about something other than the appearances carries with it a presumption that it is possible to imagine a view or a picture of the world that is somehow more true than the views of human observers. Such a view would not be limited to the incomplete and incompletely reliable views of observers present in the world. It might be a view of the world in its entirety, as it is.

“But such a view cannot be the view of any real observer living in the world. It could only be the view of some imagined being who is outside the world. In this way the idea that there is a world behind the appearances, an absolute Being, a world as it is, carries with it, in every context in which it appears, the dream that there is a view of the world from outside of it. And if one subscribes to this dream, then it is clear that the ultimate justification for objective knowledge must lie not in any incomplete view from inside the world, but in this all encompassing view from the outside. Thus, if one believes in the possibility of this view from outside the world, one is led to identify objective knowledge with knowledge of the absolute world behind the appearances. All other knowledge is at best incomplete and tainted by subjectivity.

“If such a view were possible, then we would certainly like to aspire to it, for we would all like to have a kind of knowledge which is liberated from our situation, just as, indeed, we would all like not to die. The questions is then, is such a view possible? Or, at least, is it conceivable?

“I do not think that such a view can be achieved; we can learn this from both relativity theory and quantum theory.” (Smolin 1997, Pp. 199-200).

[39] “Modernity harbored the ideas of individual emancipation, the generalized secularization of values, and the distinction between the true, the beautiful, and the good. However, individualism henceforth no longer only meant autonomy and emancipation but also atomization and anonymization. Secularization meant not only liberation from religious dogmas but also loss of foundations, anxiety, doubt, and nostalgia for the great certitudes. The distinctiveness of values led not only to moral autonomy, aesthetic exaltation, and the free search for truth but also to demoralization, frivolous estheticism, and nihilism. The erstwhile rejuvenating virtue of the idea of the new (new = better = necessary = progress) was exhausting itself and was typically reserved for detergents, television screens, and automobile performance.” (Morin 1999, P. 58).

[40] Strohman’s view is not atypical: “The Kuhnian revolution in which we are now embedded is all about the special qualities of living matter and of discoveries, now underway, and still to come, of the very special boundary conditions that harness the material forces to the purposeful pursuits of organisms. The evidence that these boundary conditions must be present is everywhere. Their absence from our current theories of life is at the root of confusion coming from genetic determinism.” Strohman 1997, P. 197)

REFERENCES (Incomplete):

Alon, Uri. 2007. An Introduction to Systems Biology: Design Principles of Biological Circuits. Chapman & Hall/CRC.

Arthur, W. Brian. 2009. The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How it Evolves. Free Press

Ball, Philip. 2009. Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts.  Oxford University Press.

Barrow, John, S.C. Morris, S. Freeland & C. Harper. (Eds.) 2008. Fitness of the Cosmos for Life: Biochemistry and Fine-Tuning.  Cambridge University Press.

Borghi, Anna & Lucia Riggio. 2009. ASentence comprehension and simulation of object temporary, canonical and stable affordances.@ Brain Research. 1253. Pp. 117‑128.

Boyd, Brian. 2009. On the Evolution of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Harvard University Press.

Boyd, Robert & Peter Richerson.  2009. “Culture and the evolution of human cooperation.” Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society – Biological Sciences. 2009. 364. Pps. 3281-3288.

Camazine, S., Deneubourg, Franks, Sneyd, Theraula, & Bonabeau. 2001. Self-Organization in Biological Systems. Princeton University Press.

Ceruti, Mauro. 1994. Constraints and Possibilities: The Evolution of Knowledge and the Knowledge of Evolution. Gordon and Breach Science Publishers. Translated by Alfonso Montuori.

Chapura, Mitch. 2009. “Scale, causality, complexity and emergence: rethinking scale’s ontological significance.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 34: 462-474.

Chemero, Anthony. 2009. Radical Embodied Cognitive Science. MIT Press.

Clark, Andy. 1997. Being There: Putting brain, Body, and World Together Again. MIT Press.

Clark, Andy. 2008. Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford University Press.

Clark, Herbert. 1996.  Using Language.  Cambridge University Press.

Cornish-Bowden, Athel. 2004. The Pursuit of Perfection: Aspects of Biochemical Evolution.  Oxford University Press.

Coward, Fiona & C. Gamble. 2008. “Big brains, small worlds: material culture and the evolution of the mind.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 363: 1969_1979.

Danchin, E., L. Giraldeau & F. Cezilly. 2008. Behavioural Ecology. Oxford University Press.

De Zengotita, Thomas.  2005.  Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It.  Bloomsbury.

Egel, Richard.  “Integrative Perspectives: In Quest of a Coherent Framework for Origins of Life on Earth.”  Pp. 289-360.  From Egel, Richard, D. Lankenau & A. Mulkidjanian, Eds.  Origins of Life: The Primal Self-Organization.  2011.  Springer.  Pp. 342-4.

Ellis, Nick & D. Larsen-Freeman, C. Beckner, R. Blythe, J. Bybee, M. Christiansen, W. Croft, J. Holland, J. Ke & T. Schoenemann, Eds. 2009. Language as a Complex Adaptive system. Wiley-Blackwell.

Enfield, N.J. 2006. "Social Consequences of Common Ground." Pp. 399_430. From Enfield, N. & S. Levinson.  Roots of Human Sociality: Culture, Cognition and Interaction. Berg.

Enfield, N. & S. Levinson. 2006. “Introduction: Human Sociality as a New Interdisciplinary Field.” Pp. 1-35. From Enfield, N. & S. Levinson.  Roots of Human Sociality: Culture, Cognition and Interaction.  Berg.

Fox, Warwick. 2006. A Theory of General Ethics: Human Relationships, Nature, and the Built Environment.  2006.  MIT Press.

Fox Keller, Evelyn.  2005.  AEcosystems, Organisms, and Machines.@  BioScience.  55(12):1069-1074.

Gamble, Clive. 2007. Origins and Revolutions: Human Identity in Earliest Prehistory. Cambridge University Press.

Gellner, Ernest. 1988. Plough, Sword and Book: The Structure of Human History. University of Chicago Press.

Gibbs, Raymond. 2006. Embodiment and Cognitive Science.  Cambridge University Press.

Gillespie, Michael Allen. 2008. The Theological Origins of Modernity. University of Chicago Press 

Goodman, Nelson.  “Words, Works, Worlds.”  Pp. 61-77.  From McCormick, Peter.  1996.  Starmaking: Realism, Anti-Realism, and Irrealism.  MIT Press.

Hacking, Ian. 1999. The Social Construction of What? Harvard University Press.

Halley, Julianne & D. Winkler.  “Consistent concepts of Self-organization and Self-assembly”  2008.  Complexity.  Vol. 14, No. 2, 10-17.

Huang, Sui.  2011.  “The molecular and mathematical basis of Waddington’s epigenetic landscape: A framework for post-Darwinian biology?”  Bioessays 34: 149-157.

Hutchins, Edwin. 1995. Cognition in the Wild. 1995. MIT Press.

Ingold, Tim. 2000.  “Culture, nature, environment: Steps to an ecology of life.”  Pp. 13-26. From Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment: Essays in livelihood, dwelling and skill.  Routledge.

Ingold, Tim. 2006.  AAgainst Human Nature.@  Pp. 259-281.  From Gontier, Nathalie, J.P. Van Bendegem & D. Aerts, Editors.  Evolutionary Epistemology, Language and Culture: A Non-Adaptationist, Systems Theoretical Approach.  Springer.

Jones, Andrew & Nicole Boivin. 2010. “The Malice of Inanimate Objects: Material Agency.” Pp. 333-351. From Hicks, Dan & Mary Beaudry. The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies. Oxford University Press.

Kauffman, Stuart. 1996. At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. Oxford University Press.

Kendon, Adam. 2009. “Language’s matrix.” Gesture. 9:3, 355-372.

Kirsh, D. 2004. AMetacognition, distributed cognition and visual design.@ From Cognition, education and communication technology. Ed. P. Gardinfors and P. Johansson. Erlbaum.

Knoblich, G. & N. Sebanz. 2008. “Evolving intentions for social interaction: from entrainment to joint action.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B. 363, 2021-2031.

Koonin, Eugen.  2007.  “The Biological Big Bang model for the major transitions in evolution.”  Biology Direct.  V. 2, Article 21, Aug 20, 2007.

Koonin, Eugene. 2009. AThe Origin at 150: is a new evolutionary synthesis in sight?@ Trends in Genetics. V. 25. No. 11. Pp. 473‑5

Kozo-Polyansky, B., Margulis, Fet & Raven. 2010.  Symbiogenesis: A New Principle of Evolution. Harvard University Press.

Kroeber, A. & C. Kluckholm. 1952. “Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions.” Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology. 47: 1-223.

Laland, Kevin, J. Odling-Smee & S. Gilbert. 2008.  “EvoDevo and Niche Construction: Building Bridges.”   Pp. 549-566.  Journal of Experimental Zoology (Mol Dev Evol) 310B:549-566.

Laland, Kevin & M. O’Brien. 2010. “Niche Construction Theory and Archaeology.” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. 17:303-322.

Laland, Kevin & G. Brown. Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour. 2011. Oxford University Press. P. 214.

Lanham, Richard. 2006. The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information. University of Chicago Press.

Lewontin, Richard. 2000. The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment.  Harvard University Press.

Lewontin, Richard. 2001. AGene, Organism and Environment@ Pps. 59‑66.  From Oyama, Susan, Paul Griffiths & Russell Gray. Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution. MIT Press.

Luisi, Pier Luigi. 2006. The Emergence of Life: From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology. Cambridge University Press.

Malafouris, Lambros. 2010. “The brain-artefact interface (BAI): a challenge for archaeology and cultural neuroscience.” SCAN. 5, 264-273.

Marsh, Kerry, L. Johnston, M. Richardson & R. Schmidt. 2009. “Toward a radically embodied, embedded social psychology.” European Journal of Social Psychology. 39: 1217-1225.

McGhee, George. 2011.  Convergent Evolution: Limited Forms Most Beautiful.  MIT Press.

Melendez-Hevia, Enrique, N. Montero-Gomez & F. Montero.  “From prebiotic chemistry to cellular metabolism–The chemical evolution of metabolism before Darwinian natural selection.” 2008.  Journal of Theoretical Biology.  252(2008) 505-519.

Monge, Peter. & Noshir Contractor. 2003. Theories of Communication Networks. Oxford University.

Morange, Michel.  2009. “Articulating Different Modes of Explanation: The Present boundary in Biological Research.”  Pp. 15_26.  Barberousse, Anouk, M. Morange & T. Pradeu, Ed.  Mapping the Future of Biology: Evolving Concepts and Theories.  Springer.

Morin, Edgar. 1999. Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for a New Millennium. Hampton Press.

Morowitz, Harold.  1968.  Energy Flow in Biology.  Academic Press.

Morris, Simon C. 2008. “Tuning in the frequencies of life.” Pp. 197-224. From: Barrow, John, S.C. Morris, S. Freeland & C. Harper. (Eds.) Fitness of the Cosmos for Life: Biochemistry and Fine-Tuning. Cambridge University Press.

Mulkidjanian, Armen & Michael Galperin.  2007.  APhysico-Chemical and Evolutionary Constraints for the Formation and Selection of First Biopolymers: Towards the Consensus Paradigm of the Abiogenic Origin of Life.@  Chemistry & Biodiversity.  Vol. 4. Pp. 2003-2015.

Nagel, Thomas. 1989.  The View from Nowhere.  Oxford University Press.

Nagel, Thomas.  2012.  Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.  Oxford University Press.

Odling-Smee, F. John, Kevin Laland & Marcus Feldman. 2003. Niche Construction: The Neglected Process in Evolution. Princeton University Press.

Odling-Smee, John & K. Laland. 2009. “Cultural niche construction: evolution’s cradle of language.”  Pp. 99-121.  From Botha, Rudolf & C. Knight.  The Prehistory of Language.  Oxford University Press.

Oyama, Susan. 2000. Evolution=s Eye: A Systems View of the Biology‑Culture Divide. Duke University Press.

Pascal, Robert & L. Boiteau. 2011. “Energy flows, metabolism and translation.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: B. 366, 2949-2958.

Pattee, Howard & K. Kull.  “Between Physics and Semiotics.”  Pp. 213-233.  Emmeche, Claus & K. Kull, Eds.  2011.  Towards a Semiotic Biology: Life is the Action of Signs.  Imperial College Press. 

Pezzulo, G. & H. Dindo.  2011.  “What should I do next?  Using shared representations to solve interaction problems.”  Exp Brain Res.  211: 613-630.

Piersma, Theunis, & J. van Gils.  2011.  The Flexible Phenotype: A Body-Centred Integration of Ecology, Physiology, and Behaviour.  Oxford University Press.  

Pigliucci, Massimo & G. Mueller. 2010.  Evolution – the Extended Synthesis.  MIT Press.

Pross, Addy.  2012.  What is Life?  How Chemistry Becomes Biology.  Oxford University Press. 

Putnam, Hilary.  AIs There Still Anything to Say about Reality and Truth?@  Pp. 11-28.  From McCormick, Peter.  1996.  Starmaking: Realism, Anti-Realism, and Irrealism.  MIT Press.

Ragir, Sonia & S. Savage-Rumbaugh. 2009. “Playing with meaning: normative function and structure in play.” Pp. 122_141. From Botha, Rudolf & C. Knight. The Prehistory of Language. Oxford University Press.

Reed, Edward S. 1996. Encountering the World: Toward an Ecological Psychology. Oxford University Press.

Reid, Robert. 2007. Biological Emergences: Evolution by Natural Experiment. MIT Press.

Richerson, P. and R. Boyd. 2008. “Cultural Evolution: Accomplishments and Future Prospects.” Pp. 75-99. From Brown, Melissa, Editor. Explaining Culture Scientifically. University of Washington Press.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. 1982. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Vintage.

Rockwell, W. Teed. 2005. Neither Brain nor Ghost: A Nondualist Alternative to the Mind‑Brain Identity Theory. MIT Press.

Rogers, Everett M. 2003. Diffusion of Innovations. Fifth Edition. Free Press

Schulze-Makuch, Dirk and Louis Irwin. 2008. Life in the Universe: Expectations and Constraints. Second Edition. Springer.

Smil, Vaclav.  The Earth’s Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics, and Change.  2002.  MIT Press.

Smith, E. & H. Morowitz.  “Framing the question of fine-tuning for intermediary metabolism.”  Pp. 384-420.  From: Barrow, John, S.C. Morris, S. Freeland & C. Harper. (Eds.)  Fitness of the Cosmos for Life: Biochemistry and Fine-Tuning.  2008.  Cambridge University Press. 

Smith, John Maynard, and Eörs Szathmary.  1999. The Origins of Life: From the Birth of Life to the Origin of Language. Oxford University Press.

Smolin, Lee.  1997.  The Life of the Cosmos.  Oxford University Press.

Snell, Bruno. 1953. The Discovery of the Mind in Greek Philosophy and Literature. Translated by Rosenmeyer. Dover.

Sterelny, Kim.  2012. The Evolved Apprentice: How Evolution Made Humans Unique.  2012.  Bradford Book, MIT Press.

Stout, Dietrich & T. Chaminade.  2009.  “Making Tools and Making Sense: Complex, Intentional Behaviour in Human Evolution.”  Cambridge Archaeological Journal.  19(1): 85-96.

Strohman, Richard.  1997. “Epigenesis and Complexity: The coming Kuhnian revolution in biology.”  Nature Biotechnology.  Volume 15: 194-200.

Thompson, Evan. 2007. Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind. Harvard University Press.

Thompson, Travis. 2007. “Relations among functional systems in behavior analysis.” Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.  87, 423-440.

Tomasello, Michael. 2008. Origins of Human Communication. MIT Press.

Tomasello, Michael. 2009. Why We Cooperate. MIT Press.

Weber, Bruce.  “What is Life?  Defining Life in the Context of Emergent Complexity.”  Origin of Life in the Evolving Biosphere.  (2010) 40:221_229.  February 19, 2010.

West-Eberhard, Mary Jane. 2003. Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. Oxford University Press.

Williams, R.J.P. & J.J.R. Frausto da Silva.  2006. The Chemistry of Evolution: The Development of our Ecosystem. Elsevier.

Wilson, Deirdre & D. Sperber. 2012. Meaning and Relevance.  Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, Robert A. 2004. Boundaries of the Mind: The Individual in the Fragile Sciences. Cambridge University Press.

Wimsatt, William. 2007. Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality. Harvard University Press.

Wynn, Thomas, R. Adriana Hernandez-Aguilar, L. Marchant & W. McGrew.  2011.  “‘An Ape’s View of the Oldowan’ Revisited.”  Evolutionary Anthropology.  20:181-197.

Home Up

Thoughts or suggestions; Email