Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What is diaphysics?

Some readers might be wondering whether diaphysics has something to do with the views of L. Ron Hubbard. It doesn’t. If you thought it did you were probably confusing it with dianetics.

Diaphysics is the title of a book by Troy Camplin, an interdisciplinary scholar, poet and short story writer, who maintains the blog, Interdisciplinary World. The book was published recently by University Press of America. (I bought my copy from Amazon.)

Troy defines diaphysics as “a set of natural laws that manifest themselves in different ways at different levels of complexity, which then give rise to new levels of complexity” (p vi).

So, what does that mean? The levels of complexity are levels of reality (or perhaps stages in the evolution of reality). The first level is pure energy. This gives rise to the second level, quantum physics, which gives rise to chemistry. From this level we get the emergence of biology and the evolutionary processes that result eventually in various levels of human thinking (276 -278). The higher levels of reality are more complex than the lower levels of reality. “With emergence into each new level, those new levels are able to use more and different kinds of information and energy not available to the levels below them” (99).

Troy’s theory is that “a common thread” runs through the emergence from each level of complexity to the greater level of complexity that follows it. He is proposing “a mechanism for creation of more objects, and more complex objects and emergent orders of complexity ...”. “Evolution occurs such that the fitness landscapes evolve towards increasing smoothness ... . Once smoothness, or a new symmetry, is reached, a new set of fitness landscapes emerge with the emergence of the new, more complex level from the far-from-equilibrium state” (267).

The passage quoted above seems to be at the heart of the theory, but I don’t understand it. The author seems to be saying that there is a natural law at work such that as the fitness landscape becomes smoother a new fitness landscape must emerge. I don’t see a common mechanism by which smoothness of the fitness landscape always results in the emergence of a more complex level, but that may just reflect the limits of my cognitive capacities. The nature of the common mechanism that Troy is attempting to describe remains a mystery to me.

It would be nice to think that there might be a common thread, that is not beyond my understanding, that could explain the evolution of complexity from the big bang to modern civilization. I am content enough, however, to be able to understand what Friedrich Hayek wrote about the relatively recent evolution of modern society:

“It is because it was not dependent on organisation but grew up as a spontaneous order that the structure of modern society has attained that degree of complexity which it possesses and which far exceeds any that could have been achieved by deliberate organization. In fact, of course, the rules which made the growth of the complex order possible were initially not designed in expectation of that result; but those people who happened to adopt suitable rules developed a complex civilization which then often spread to others” LLL, Vol. I, p 50.

Before I end this review I must commend Troy Camplin for the many nicely written passages in his book. For example: “ ... in a region of phase transition, in an edge-of- chaos regime, we have complex interactions, swirls and eddies, a combination of the predictable and unpredictable. In other words it is like a good story, which can be neither purely ordered and predictable nor disordered and unpredictable, but must have elements of both in order to be enjoyed” (272).

Troy’s book is not just an attempt to identify a common thread in our past. He also speculates about the future direction of human development. Diaphysics is probably the most ambitious book I have ever attempted to read.


Troy Camplin said...

Thank you for the review. I could use a review like this over at Amazon.

Of course, what I describe is not inconsistent with Hayek's view. Quite the contrary. In fact, I argue that there is a universal discovery process of the rules of spontaneous order that results in the emergence of new kinds of self-organizing systems. Of course, since the book was sent to the publisher, I have developed a theory of the differences between self-organizing system-entities, and spontaneous order environments that fine-tunes the theory. I presented it at the Fund for Spontaneous Orders conference. The paper should be published by Studies in Emergent Order in the Fall.

I also made a few addenda to Diaphysics on my web page.

In a sense, I am laying out in the book an outline for future research and potential mathematical models. At the same time, I hope to show that complex systems are inherently incalculable, and can only really be spoken about in philosophical-poetic texts. In other words, as Hayek observed, you simply cannot predict the future, no matter what math, no matter what calculating power you will ever have.

Winton Bates said...

Thanks for your clarification. I certainly didn't mean to imply that what you describe is inconsistent with Hayek's view.
Another way of stating the point I was trying to make is that while the big picture of a common thread of relating to the evolution of complexity remains a mystery to me, it is nice to have some understanding of the parts of the picture that are in closest proximity to the emergence of modern society.

Troy Camplin said...

Certainly a lot of work needs to be done with the idea of economy, culture, society, etc. as spontaneous orders. If you haven't read it, you should read Stuart Kauffman's "Reinventing the Sacred," particularly the chapter on economics. He makes a strong case for government to keep out of the economy precisely because it is deeply unpredictable in its details. All that is possible to say about an economy can be said using only the broadest statistics, which says nothing in fact about what the economy will do.