End-directed Behavior Dependent on Meaning
There is an extremely important property of the
intentional dynamics of living things, of the river that flows
uphill, that remains to be addressed. At the beginning of this
paper intentional dynamics was defined as end-directed behavior
prospectively controlled, or determined by meaning, or
information, about paths to ends, and this was contrasted with
end-directed behavior which can be understood as determined by
local potentials, and fundamental laws. Examples of the latter
were a river flowing down a slope, or heat flowing down a
gradient. We can elaborate this discussion, given what we have
covered in the interceding pages, by including examples of
autocatakinetic systems, for example, such as the Bénard
experiment, tornadoes, and dust devils, systems that we call
self-organizing, but we do not say are characterized by
intentional dynamics. The autocatakinesis of such systems,
which breaks symmetry with previously disordered regimes to
access and dynamically fill higher-ordered dimensions of space
time, is still determined with respect to local potentials with
which they typically remains permanently connected. The
autocatakinesis of living things, in contrast, is maintained with
respect to non-local potentials, potentials discontinuously
located in space-time to which they are not permanently
connected (Swenson, 1991b, Swenson in press-a; Swenson &
If we understand from universal principles that the world
acts, in effect, to maximize its extension into space-time, to
produce as much order as possible, we can see immediately what
intentional dynamics provide. By providing the means for linking
together or accessing and dissipating, discontinuously located, or
non-local, potentials in the building of order, intentional dynamics
provides access to vast regions of space-time otherwise
inaccessible. Just as there is a qualitative leap in the
transformation of disorder to order, intentional dynamics, with
respect to the potentially accessible dimensions of space-time it
offers, constitutes a symmetry-breaking or qualitative leap in
terrestrial order production. Likewise, the origin of human
cultural systems, which, with highly developed symbolic langauge,
provides what may be thought of as intentional dynamics about
intentional dynamics, and with it dramatic access to new
dimensions of space-time, was also a terrestrial symmetry
breaking event (see also Dyke's [this volume] discussion on the
increase of space-time dimensions in human cultural systems).
In the section on evolution, it was shown that the assertion
of evolutionary epistemologists that evolution constitutes a
progressive knowledge acquisition process from amoeba to
Einstein was an assertion that could not be made (nor accounted
for) from the ground of Darwinian theory. According to
Darwinian theory amoebae and Einsteins are incommensurable,
and hence like Kuhnian paradigms, or generic closed-circles,
incomparable. It was pointed out that evolution would have to be
about something other than fitness to make the assertion that
evolutionary epistemologists would like to make. Our
understanding that from a universal standpoint terrestrial
evolution is a planetary process about entropy production
maximization, and as a consequence the filling of space-time
dimensions, provides the principled basis to make the assertion.
Terrestrial evolution is indeed a progressive knowledge
acquisition process from amoeba to Einstein (more appropriately
from Archean prokaryotes to the contemporary globalization of
human culture), and what the system is learning, in effect, is the
accessing of space-time dimensions.
But now the part that still needs explaining: If intentional
dynamics are not determined by local potentials, then how are
they determined? To simply say that they are meaningfully
determined, at this point, begs the question. Autocatakinetics
has the property of insensitivity to initial conditions, or
macrodeterminacy, but what is the basis for the
macrodeterminacy of intentional systems if not local potentials?
The Bénard convection, which, in effect, "solves the packing
problem" by producing a regular array of hexagonal cells during
the course of its evolution or development can be understood in
terms of the system's proximal relation to, or embeddedness
within, a field of local potentials, but how is intentional behavior
determined with respect to non-local or distal potentials? How
does it solve the packing problem with respect to non-local
potentials? What is the physical basis for the epistemic
relations by which the accessibility of new space-time levels of
order are effectively opened up? How, in other words, does one
get from an otherwise meaningless world of extension, or usual
physical description, to a meaningful world of intension, or
From Extension to Intension
We return to our "first principles", in particular, first-law symmetry, second-law broken symmetry, and the law of maximum entropy production as ordering principle, for immediate clues. First, we recognize that, consistent with thermodynamic inquiry, the search here is for macroscopic observables. Autocatakinetic systems are macroscopic systems, embedded in macroscopic flow, and the search is thus not for "meaning" in individual particles, but macroscopic flow variables that capture invariant properties with relevance to intentional ends. Following the same methodology suggests further that the search for macroscopic observables involves a search for symmetry and broken symmetryfor observables that capture the nomological relation between persistence and change of the distal objects of intention with respect to the proximal or local space-time position of the epistemic subject. It turns out this is exactly the insight of Gibson's (1979/1986; Swenson & Turvey, 1991; Turvey & Shaw,1995) ecological conception of information. The idea developed by Gibson with respect to animals and their environments, has now been extended to life in general, and embedded in a universal thermodynamic context by "neo Gibsonians," and, or "third-wave Gibsonians" (e.g., Peck, in press; Swenson in press-a; Swenson & Turvey, 1991; Turvey & Shaw, 1995). The core idea is deceivingly simple, but has profound explanatory consequences.
Living things are embedded in ambient energy flows (e.g., optical, mechanical, chemical) for which the mean energy content is extremely low relative to the energy used by living things from their on-board potentials to power their intentional acts. As a consequence of first-law symmetry, lawful or invariant relations exist between the macroscopic properties of such ambient energy distributions, and their sources, with the further consequence that the former can be used in the prospective control of intentional ends to specify or determine the latter. A chemical gradient that lawfully specifies the source of their food can be used by bacteria, diffusion fields of diffusing volatiles that lawfully specify the sources of their intentional ends may be used by animals, and fields of mechanical waves and optical fields can be used in similar ways.
A particularly crucial and widespread requirement for the intentional dynamics of many living things, for example, is the ability to effect controlled collisions (e.g., soft collisions with little or no momentum exchange as in a bird landing on a branch, hard collisions with substantial momentum exchange as when a predator attacks a prey, and collision avoidance where the ends of an intentional agent require that it not collide with particular things). The fact of first-law symmetry means that "information about" such collisions is lawfully carried in the ambient energy field (the "optical flow field") that transforms itself as a living thing moves through it. Just as in the Bénard case where local potentials, and laws of form specify the origin, production, and development of order, so too with non-local potentials and the invariant or epistemic properties of ambient energy flows with respect to intentional dynamics.
Following the case of controlled collisions further, for example, the time-to-contact (), as shown in Figure 9, is determined by the inverse of the relative rate of expansion of the optical flow field, and the information
||information about whether a collision will be hard or soft is given by the time derivative or rate of change of the relative rate of expansion () (Lee, 1980; Kim et al. 1993). In
the case of a bird landing on a branch, and requiring a soft
collision, for example, the rate of change must be . This
example shows how a single macroscopic variable nomologically
carried in the optic flow, can precisely determine the intentional
dynamics of living things, in this case when a particular bird, for
example, must open its wings to decelerate now so that it does
not, in effect, crash into a branch later. This deceivingly simple
understanding exposes the fact that, not only are the shapes
and forms things assume nomologically determined by laws of
form (e.g., that there is, within tolerance, a requisite ratio
between flight muscle weight and body weight, or between wing
span and body weight, or brain weight and body weight [e.g.,
Alexander, 1971]), but that information about or meaning
carried in macroscopic flow variables nomologically determines
the behavior of things towards their intentional ends.
Ecological science addresses the relations of living things to their environments, and the study of human ecology the particular case of humans. There is an opposing tradition built into the foundations of modern science of separating living things, and, in particular, humans from their environments. Beginning with Descartes' dualistic world view, this tradition found its way into biology by way of Kant, and evolutionary theory through Darwin, and manifests itself in two main postulates of incommensurability, the incommensurability between psychology and physics (the "first postulate of incommensurability"), and between biology and physics (the "second postulate of incommensurability").
The idea of the incommensurability between living things and their environments gained what seemed strong scientific backing with Boltzmann's view of the second law of thermodynamics as a law of disorder according to which the transformation of disorder to order was said to be infinitely improbable. If this were true, and until very recently it has been taken to be so, then the whole of life and its evolution becomes one improbable event after another. The laws of physics, on this view, predict a world that should be becoming more disordered, while terrestrial evolution is characterized by active order production. The world, on this view, seemed to consist of two incommensurable, or opposing "rivers", the river of physics which flowed down to disorder, and the river of biology, psychology, and culture, which "flowed up", working, it seemed, to produce as much order as possible.
As a consequence of Boltzmann's view of the second law, evolutionary theorists, right up to present times, have held onto the belief that "organic evolution was a negation of physical evolution" (Levins & Lewontin, 1985, p. 69), and that biology and culture, work somehow to "defy" the laws of physics (Dennett, 1995). With its definition of evolution as an exclusively biological process, Darwinism separates both biology and culture from their universal, or ecological, contexts, and advertises the Cartesian postulates of incommensurability at its core, postulates that are inimical to the idea of ecological science. An ecological science, by definition, assumes contextualization or embeddedness, and as its first line of business wants to know what the nature of it is. This requires a universal, or general theory of evolution which can uncover, and explicate the relationship of the two otherwise incommensurable rivers, and put the active ordering of biological, and cultural systems, of terrestrial evolution as a time-asymmetric process, back into the world.
The law of maximum entropy production, when coupled with the balance equation of the second law, and the general facts of autocatakinetics, provides the nomological basis for such a theory, and shows why, rather than living in a world where order production is infinitely improbable, we live in and are products of a world, in effect, that can be expected to produce as much order as it can. It shows how the two, otherwise incommensurable, rivers, physics on the one hand, and biology, psychology, and culture on the other, are part of the same universal process and how the fecundity principle, and the intentional dynamics it entails, are special cases of an active, end-directed world opportunistically filling dynamical dimensions of space-time as a consequence of universal law. The epistemic dimension, the urgency towards existence, in Leibniz's terms, characterizing the intentional dynamics of living things and expressed in the fecundity principle, and the process of evolution writ large as a single planetary process, is thus not only commensurable with first, or universal, principles, but a direct manifestation of them.
The view presented here, thus provides a principled basis for putting living things, including humans, back in the world, and recognizing living things and their environments as single irreducible systems. It provides the basis for contextualizing the deep and difficult questions concerning the place of humans, as both productions, and producers, of an active, and dynamic process of terrestrial evolution, which, as a consequence of the present globalization of culture is changing the face of the planet at a rate which seems to be without precedent over geological time. Of course, answers to questions such as these always lead to more questions, but such is the nature of the epistemic process we call life.
Special thanks as always to the Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action and especially to Claudia Carello, Michael Turvey, and Bob Shaw for there work in providing an extraordinary environment conducive to the development of these ideas. Special thanks also to Lee Freese, Series Editor, and also Chuck Dyke for their perserverance in seeing that this article was brought to fruition. Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part b the National Science Foundation Grant # SBR9422650. All errors are mine.
1. In fact, Descartes (1644/1975), recognizing the necessity of a conservation principle for a law-based world proposed the conservation of "motion," which he thought would still allow him to get around the problem of interactionism. He thought "mind" could interact with "matter" by changing its direction but not the quantity of motion. Motion, as Leibniz (1696/1925), pointed out, however, is not a conserved quantity. It is momentum which is conserved., and momentum is a vector the conservation of which, like the conservation of energy, would be violated by exogenous interaction.
2. It was Tait who first pointed out how counterintuitive it was to refer to the dissipated potential of a system as a quantity that increased, and he proposed reversing the sign so it would be possible to talk about entropy as the potential for change and thus being minimized. Maxwell picked up on this, but it never caught on. Because the idea of entropy increase is oftentimes hard to conceive, in this text I will often use "minimize the potential" in additon to or instead of "maximize the entropy". They should be take as equivalent expressions.
3. Since its coinage by Clausius to refer to the dissipated potential in a system the word "entropy" has taken on numerous, and non-physicall, as well as subjective, or observer-dependent quantities (e.g., Shannon's information "entropy") where the "entropy" of a system depends on what an individual knows about it. The reader should be aware that some authors illegitimately conflate these meanings. In the present paper, to be clear, the word entropy is used in its physical thermodynamic sense as defined.
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