First principles in the life sciences: the free-energy principle, organicism, and mechanism | Matteo Colombo and Cory Wright


The free-energy principle states that all systems that minimize their free energy resist a tendency to physical disintegration. Originally proposed to account for perception, learning, and action, the free-energy principle has been applied to the evolution, development, morphology, anatomy and function of the brain, and has been called a postulate, an unfalsifiable principle, a natural law, and an imperative. While it might afford a theoretical foundation for understanding the relationship between environment, life, and mind, its epistemic status is unclear. Also unclear is how the free-energy principle relates to prominent theoretical approaches to life science phenomena, such as organicism and mechanism. This paper clarifies both issues, and identifies limits and prospects for the free-energy principle as a first principle in the life sciences.

Keywords Adaptation · Free energy · Life · Mechanism · Organicism

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‘Overpopulation’: A Cover Story for the Money Cancer System | Prof John McMurtry

It is not “the rising tide of human numbers” simpliciter that loots, pollutes and destroys the life carrying capacities of the planet. It is what all over-populationists conveniently ignore:

(1) the much still exponentially self-multiplying tides of private money demand on the earth’s resources that drives every degenerate trend in the planet’s life carrying capacities, and

(2) its ultimate driver of limitlessly self-maximizing private profit to the top which now puts more demand on the earth’s resources by a few plutocrats than by 90% of the population .

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Samadhi – “be still and know” | AwakenTheWorldFilm

Samadhi, (Sanskrit: “total self-collectedness”) in Indian religion, and particularly in Hinduismand Buddhism, the highest state of mental concentration that a person can achieve while still bound to the body and which unites him with the highest reality. Samadhi is a state of profound and utterly absorptive contemplation of the Absolute that is undisturbed by desire, anger, or any other ego-generated thought or emotion. It is a state of joyful calm, or even of rapture and beatitude, in which one maintains one’s full mental alertness and acuity. Samadhiis regarded in Hinduism and Buddhism as the climax of all spiritual and intellectual activity. The power to attain samadhi is a precondition of attaining release from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara). Hence, the death of a person having this power is also considered a samadhi. By a further extension, the site where a person believed to be so empowered was cremated is in modern times also referred to as a samadhi; thus, the site of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s cremation in Delhi is officially named Gandhi’s Samadhi.

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A Processual Perspective on Cancer | Marta Bertolaso and John Dupré (2018)

This chapter attempts to illuminate the dynamic stability of the organism and the robustness of its developmental pathway by considering the biology of cancer. Healthy development and stable functioning of a multicellular organism require an exquisitely regulated balance between processes of cell division, differentiation, and death (apoptosis). Cancer involves a disruption of this balance, which results in unregulated cell proliferation. The thesis defended in this chapter is that the coupling between proliferation and differentiation, whether normal or pathological (as in cancer), is best understood within a process-ontological framework. This framework emphasizes the interactions and mutual stabilizations between processes at different levels and this, in turn, explains the difficulty in allocating the neoplastic process to any particular level (genetic, epigenetic, cellular, or histological). Understanding these interactions is likely to be a precondition of a proper understanding of how these mutual regulations are disrupted in the processes we call cancerous.

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The Unspeakable: Understanding the System of Fallacy in the Media | Prof. JOHN McMURTRY (1998)

At the heart of informal logic is its con­cern to detect fallacious structures of reason­ing in natural language discourse. The nor­mal procedure is: where we are able to iden­tify a flaw in premise, inference, relevance or the like in any route of reasoning, we hold that a fallacy has been committed and we seek to demonstrate it. Otherwise put, logical analysis is directed at what is argued, and fallacies are found in this or that par­ticular way of arriving at a conclusion.

This method of analysis is indispensable to sound logical construction of individual arguments, but misses the overall pattern of assertion and non-assertion for the par­ticular claims within it. What has been so far overlooked is that reasoning can be mis­led not only in its steps of making a case, but by what is ruled out from being made a case: not only by what is wrong within this or that route of assertion, but by what is wrong with the structure of these routes of assertion taken together. We have, that is, missed the forest for the trees, or more accurately, for the logical landscape within which the forest and trees are located.

I will argue that there is a deeper, more comprehensive structure of subverting reason that misleads our thinking across propositional routes, and not through any fallacy of any such route. And I will show that this disorder obstructs and deforms our thinking and our reasoning by a general system of deception which has so far operated underneath the reach of our tools of logical detection and correction.

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The biological default state of cell proliferation with variation and motility, a fundamental principle for a theory of organisms | ANA M. SOTO, GIUSEPPE LONGO, Maël Montévil, and CARLOS SONNENSCHEIN (2016)

The principle of inertia is central to the modern scientific revolution. By postulating this principle Galileo at once identified a pertinent physical observable (momentum) and a conservation law (momentum conservation). He then could scientifically analyze what modifies inertial movement: gravitation and friction. Inertia, the default state in mechanics, represented a major theoretical commitment: there is no need to explain uniform rectilinear motion, rather, there is a need to explain departures from it. By analogy, we propose a biological default state of proliferation with variation and motility. From this theoretical commitment, what requires explanation is proliferative quiescence, lack of variation, lack of movement. That proliferation is the default state is axiomatic for biologists studying unicellular organisms. Moreover, it is implied in Darwin’s “descent with modification”. Although a “default state” is a theoretical construct and a limit case that does not need to be instantiated, conditions that closely resemble unrestrained cell proliferation are readily obtained experimentally. We will illustrate theoretical and experimental consequences of applying and of ignoring this principle.

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Biological organisation as closure of constraints | Maël Montévil, Matteo Mossio (2015)

We propose a conceptual and formal characterisation of biological organisation as a closure of constraints. We first establish a distinction between two causal regimes at work in biological systems: processes, which refer to the whole set of changes occurring in non-equilibrium open thermodynamic conditions; and constraints, those entities which, while acting upon the processes, exhibit some form of conservation (symmetry) at the relevant time scales. We then argue that, in biological systems, constraints realise closure, i.e. mutual dependence such that they both depend on and contribute to maintaining each other. With this characterisation in hand, we discuss how organisational closure can provide an operational tool for marking the boundaries between interacting biological systems. We conclude by focusing on the original conception of the relationship between stability and variation which emerges from this framework.

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Toward a theory of organisms: Three founding principles in search of a useful integration | ANA M. SOTO, GIUSEPPE LONGO, PAUL-ANTOINE MIQUEL, MAËL MONTEVIL, MATTEO MOSSIO, NICOLE PERRET, ARNAUD POCHEVILLE, and CARLOS SONNENSCHEIN

Organisms, be they uni- or multi-cellular, are agents capable of creating their own norms; they are continuously harmonizing their ability to create novelty and stability, that is, they combine plasticity with robustness. Here we articulate the three principles for a theory of organisms proposed in this issue, namely: the default state of proliferation with variation and motility, the principle of variation and the principle of organization. These principles profoundly change both biological observables and their determination with respect to the theoretical framework of physical theories. This radical change opens up the possibility of anchoring mathematical modeling in biologically proper principles.

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Organisational closure in biological organisms | Matteo Mossio, Alvaro Moreno (2010)

The central aim of this paper consists in arguing that biological organisms realize a specific kind of causal regime that we call “organisational closure”, i.e. a distinct level of causation, operating in addition to physical laws, generated by the action of material structures acting as constraints. We argue that organisational closure constitutes a fundamental property of biological systems since even its minimal instances are likely to possess at least some of the typical features of biological organisation, as exhibited by more complex organisms. Yet, while being a necessary condition for biological organization, organisational closure underdetermines, as such, the whole set of requirements that a system has to satisfy in order to be taken as s paradigmatic example of organism. As we suggest, additional properties, as modular templates and control mechanisms via dynamical decoupling between constraints, are required to get the complexity typical of full-fledged biological organisms.

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Key Papers on Theory of Triadic Influence | Brian R. Flay, John Petraitis and Frank Snyder

Some theories of health behavior focus on proximal cognitive predictors of behavior, some focus on expectancy-value formulations, some focus on social support and bonding processes, some focus on social learning processes, and some point toward personality and intrapersonal processes. Very few extant theories of health behavior incorporate several of these viewpoints, and those that do are limited in various ways. We propose a new comprehensive theory that integrates constructs from all previous theories. Triadic influence theory includes seven “tiers” of “causes” of behavior that range from very proximal to distal to ultimate, and three “streams of influence” that flow through the seven “tiers”: (I) cultural- environmental influences on knowledge and values, influencing attitudes, (2) social situation-context influences on social bonding and social learning, influencing social normative beliefs, and (3) intrapersonal influences on self determination / control and social skills, leading to self-efficacy. In addition to the direct influences of these streams, there are important inter-stream effects and influences that flow between tiers. The theory is intended to account for factors that have direct effecls as well as indirect effects on behavior. It is also intended to account for both new behaviors and regular behavior. Experiences with related behaviors and early experiences with a new behavior lead to feedback loops through all three steams adding to the prior influences of these streams. Our integration of existing theories leads to a meta-theoretical view that suggests higher order descriptions and explanations of health behavior, leads to a new and comprehensive view of health behavior change, and suggests new approaches for health promotion and disease prevention.

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