Past Meetup

Jim Benvenuto - Why Are Organisms Different from Machines

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Matthew Colborn in Pluralism and the Mind (2011) wrote:

“The major dilemma for Western science – and those who follow it – is how to fit subjective experiences in to a larger world-view that at least appears to preclude them.

As the philosopher John Searle put it:

“How can we square [the] self-conception of ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc. agents with a universe that consists of entirely mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles?”.

Searle is claiming that the background assumptions of Western science conflict in some fundamental way with our everyday view of ourselves.”

As expressed by Colborn (and Searle), there is a discordance between the science we use to understand the world and how we view and understand ourselves as living beings. Can this be resolved by improving (and expanding) what science can express without resorting to vitalism or mysticism?

Not many people have heard of Robert Rosen. He was a theoretical biologist who spent his entire career trying to understand life. His research was to answer the question: “What is it about certain material systems that confers upon them the characteristics of life, which makes them living beings?” In order to approach an answer, Rosen was forced to investigate how it is that science answers questions. This lead him to a deep study of the Newtonian Paradigm and what can and cannot be understood in its terms. Rosen formulated a language based on Category Theory that reaches beyond Newtonian mechanics to answer the question “How is an organism different from a machine?” His work spans numerous books, book chapters, and many scientific papers.

Donald Mikulecky’s paper “Robert Rosen: The Well-Posed Question and its Answer – Why Are Organisms Different from Machines?” is one of the best overviews of Rosen’s work.

This talk will take a journey through this fascinating and controversial territory. (