Abstract Details

Wild Systems Theory as a 21st Century Coherence Ontology for the Science of Consciousness  J. Scott Jordan (Psychology, Illinois State University, Normal, IL )   C13

Scientists often attempt to define reality in terms of its independence of observers. Within such realist ontology, epistemology becomes paramount as cognitive scientists work to discover the lawful correspondence between observer-independent reality and observers. Such realism implies that "truth" should be measured in terms of the degree of correspondence between observer-independent reality and whatever impressions, thoughts, representations, affordances, or other subjective, observer-dependent phenomena observers use to overcome this assumed epistemic gap. In contrast, coherence-driven philosophers rejected correspondence as a starting point for ontology because they believed the subject-object divide it engendered ultimately made it difficult to defend the reality of the subjective (Gardner 2007; Hegel 1971; Priest 1991; Tseng 2003). Given their commitment to the reality of phenomena such as consciousness, value, and meaning, coherence theorists refused to accept the ontological risks inherent in correspondence approaches. Instead, they proposed an alternative approach that admits the reality of consciousness, value, and meaning, and assesses truth in terms of the degree of coherence (i.e., non-contradiction) found in both experience and theory (Oakeshott 1933; Tseng 2003). The present paper proposes a framework (i.e., Wild Systems Theory - WST) that is inspired by the coherence approach to reality and truth, yet is entirely consistent with science. Specifically, WST follows the lead of physicists (Schrodinger 1992), theoretical biologists (Kauffman 1995) and ecologists (Odum 1988), and conceptualizes organisms as multiscale, self-sustaining energy-transformation systems. What is meant by self-sustaining is that the work of the system (i.e., the energy exchanges that actually constitute the system, such as the chemical work that constitutes biological systems) gives rise to products (e.g., other chemicals) that serve as a catalyst for the reaction that produced the product or some other reaction in the system. What is meant by multi-scale is that an organism can be coherently conceptualized as being constituted of different scales of self-sustaining work, ranging from the single cell (i.e., autopoiesis -Maturana &Varela, 1980), to the neural network (e.g., the cell assembly - Hebb, 1949), the behavioral level (e.g., positive reinforcement - Skinner, 1976) the social level (e.g., communication - Streeck & Jordan, 2009), and the cultural level (e.g., ecologies and educational systems - Odum, 1988 and Vandervert, 1995, respectively). Given such systems necessarily emerge from context, WST conceptualizes them as embodiments of context. They are therefore naturally and necessarily -about - the multi-scale contexts from which they emerged and in which they sustain themselves. From this perspective, every aspect of a self-sustaining system entails aboutness (i.e., is it about its context). In short, organisms are meaning. Given their status as embodied meaning they defy division into objective and subjective properties, meaning their reality status cannot be assessed in terms of correspondence between observer-dependent, subjective properties (i.e., empirical observations) and observer-independent, objective properties (i.e., reality). Instead, WST proposes that coherence (i.e., lack of contradiction in both experience and theory) constitutes the actual means by which we generate statements regarding reality and truth. WST is therefore offered up as a 21st century coherence ontology for science in general, and the science of consciousness, specifically.