Since the sixties and the seventies, when for the first time in science not only theoretical considerations but also experiments were carried out in terms of self-organization, the disciplines of science - beginning with natural sciences like physics, chemistry, biology, ecology and the mathematics which is espoused with them and ending with human sciences, that is social science and humanities - have been increasingly focussing on synergetic effects in the self-structuration of matter, e.g. in laser light (Haken), on dissipative structures, e.g. in chemical reactions (Prigogine), on hypercycles of autocatalytic reactions, e.g. in the origin of living matter (Eigen), on autopoiesis. e.g. in organismic structures (Maturana and Varela), on resilience, e.g. in ecosystems (Holling), on punctuated equilibria, e.g. in the phylogenetic evolution (Eldredge and Gould), on deterministic chaos (Lorenz), catastrophes (Thom), fractals (Mandelbrot), and on self-organization phenomena in social systems (Luhmann), in economy (Weise, Blaseio, Bauer und Matis), in the political and legal sphere (Willke, Teubner), in cultural development and history of mankind (Artigiani, Mannermaa), and in medicine, psychology and psychotherapy, and so forth. And the awareness of similarities and commonalities these phenomena exhibit has been growing.
The replacement of system theory I and cybernetics I with system theory II and cybernetics II (also called second-order cybernetics) (Bertalanffy, Rapoport, Foerster) and the overcoming of the mechanistic interpretation of the Darwinian model of evolution as well as getting rid of its restrictions to the biological domain (Cs·nyi) have been another expression of the urge to transcend the borders of disciplinary research, of the trend towards transdisciplinarity. They have set the stage for synthesizing systems thinking and evolutionary thinking. Thus a theory of open, non-linear, complex, dynamic, self-organizing (in short: evolutionary) systems is an idea whose time has come. A theory of like kind no longer must deal merely with mechanisms, strategies and controls for achieving/maintaining homeostasis or the development of species; it is rather to comprise the interweaving and the coming-into-being, the unfolding and the senescence of real-world systems whatsoever, from the formation of the earliest known particle, through the arrival of terrestrial life forms, to the shaping of specific human socio-technical systems what is the domain of this new theory.
This paradigm shift affects not only the disciplines of science one by one. It is so profound a change that it affects philosophy and world view as well. Philosophical repercussions triggered by this search for a base of understanding between the different domains of science guided by the notion of self-organization, while dating back to the seventies (Jantsch, Laszlo), have multiplied in recent years (Ebeling, Goerner, Kanitscheider, Mainzer).
The relationship between the emerging unified theory of self-organization and the disciplines of science and philosophy both dealing with self-organization phenomena may be visualized in a way such that an aimed-at Theory of Evolutionary Systems may be located on an intermediate level between the level of the manifold variety of natural, formal, and human sciences, on the one hand, and the level of philosophical attempts of post-hoc unifications of world views, on the other.
If the chief objective of philosophy today is looked upon as a critical taking in sight of disciplinary findings as well as theoretical results in terms of evolutionary systems and their raising to an even more general level, thus reconstructing the totality of references of meaning and establishing sense - for by gaining distance to local problems and their detailed fine structure, philosophy is able to achieve insight into new perspectives from a global point of view -, then philosophy can put forward heuristic offers to a Theory of Evolutionary Systems and - via this yet-to-be-developed theory - to the disciplines of science which are in the process of being reshaped as so-called nonlinear sciences.
At the very moment there are, among others, the following fields of knowledge in which gaps can be identified in the course of the shifting paradigm and in which heuristic offers are in demand:
First, there is the problem of the traditional way of thinking in scientific disciplines not being appropriate to tackle with challenges that arise from complexity. This is an onto-epistemic problem. Due to the fact that in the development of complex systems there are events of choice by chance of one of the variants of solutions in bifurcation points, the classical method of regarding a particular event as an appearance of some general law in special conditions does not work any more. Ontologically, it is a challenge not to regard emergence as the mere unfolding of pre-determined possibilities in a phase space, but as the sudden appearance of new possibilities, and at the same time to avoid idealistic, nonscientific consequences - a challenge that does not seem to be met yet. Epistemologically, V. Stepin, e.g., tries to describe the type of scientific rationality required today as a postnonclassical one which includes the cognitive subject along with the method and the object and their interrelationship in the cognition process and which follows the nonclassical one in which only the method was integrated (like in the theories of relativity and in quantum mechanics). This may be a promising idea for working out the characteristics of scientific undertakings in the domain of evolutionary systems.
Second, part of this problem as well as a problem in its own right because of its reaching out in everyday life is the antagonism of the formal and the non-formal languages in that there is a never-ending effort to formalize the yet non-formalized or maybe even non-formalizable together with a seemingly irremediable excess of meaning expressed in hermeneutic logic, an antagonism which is aggravating when dealing with complexity. This is another onto-epistemic problem whose solution obviously consists of a kind of reconciliation of both languages, the formal one and the hermeneutic one. A solution like that may be envisaged in terms of what R. E. Zimmermann calls transcendental materialism. According to this transcendental materialism, humans thinking about nature can be thought of in turn as nature thinking about itself, if humans are visualized as a product of nature and reflexion is deemed as a human characteristic - altogether assumptions that are highly confirmed by the findings in the field of evolutionary systems.
Third, on the part of social sciences and political ideology there is a problem of increasing inefficiency in providing society with a means of enhancing its problem-solving capacity regarding the challenges it is confronted with. There has been a rising demand for governance, since the gap between the necessity to tackle the global problematique and the (im)possibility of acting in face of tendencies of fragmentation, heterogenization and desintegration, has been widening. Attempting to come to grips with these problems is not possible without trying to steer society, for these very problems turn out to be basically problems of governing of society in that the old forms of control and regulation have proven obsolescent, and so new forms are needed. This problem extends to the fields of axiology or ethics. The production of guidelines for acting which may help to trigger the development of the social system as a whole, or the human, natural, or technological systems as parts of this whole, in such a direction that the maintenance of the overall system, and its functions critical for the survival of mankind, are ensured, will have to acknowledge complexity in that society is but another self-organizing system that constitutes that step in the overall evolution which represents the most sophisticated form known hitherto. Contrary to evolutionary systems on the pre-human level, the kind of self-organization which is needed to overcome the crises in question requires actions of conscious individuals, and will not emerge from technological progress alone.
The research programme is broken down into three tasks, each of it divided in sub-tasks. According to the clusters of fields of knowledge that are affected by the new world view and that have already been identified above, the first task will be to address rationality in science, the second task will be devoted to the unification of language, and the third task will elaborate on values, norms, and the dynamics of society.
First, in addressing rationality in science, three sub-tasks are to be performed.
- There are those, who interpret the phenomena of self-organization of matter, and the results of their own research, against the background of an old mechanistic world view. In their view there is no room for objective uncertainty, open developments, or freedom of choice; everything that happens here must be due to an unambiguous principle of cause and effect (e.g. Holland, even von Foerster). On the other hand, the category of emergence that, in the course of self-organization research, has been revisited during the attempts to comprehend the way complex systems are working remains vague and suffers from its idealistic heritage.
And yet the latter may serve as a proper philosophical foundation of the former, if the self-organization paradigm is understood as a turn away from the mechanistic world view and if the philosophy of emergence gets rid of its idealistic heritage as well. A clear-cut concept of emergence that is neither mechanistic nor idealistic is what represents the first sub-goal of this project. It can be reached by reframing the underlying world-view assumptions.
- In this context it does not come as a surprise that what in different schools is esteemed the core of self-organization depends on what is looked upon as its philosophical foundation.
In this respect, by providing with unifying assumptions as to the world view the research team will be in a position as to reformulate the concept of self-organization into a consistent, single one. This will be the second sub-goal of this project.
- Having recapitulated these rather ontological premises the project will shift the focus onto rather epistemological/methodological consequences (though never leaving out of mind that ontology and epistemology are coupled in a feedback loop) and discuss how explanations as well as predictions are supposed to work. Since indeterminacy is deemed here to play a vital role in emergentist arguments, considerations that are based on formal logic only do not seem to suffice.
Based upon the revised concepts of emergence and self-organization, it is possible to work out the special features of explaining and predicting in the case of complex systems as well as the common grounds of explaining and predicting throughout all disciplines. Cornerstones of a unified methodology of the like form the third sub-goal of this project. It will make the old logic of explanation · la Hempel/Oppenheim just a special kind of argumentation which applies to mechanical systems instead of evolutionary systems.
Second, the unification of methodology is closely connected to the unification of language which forms the subject of the second task. The scientific divide, that is, the gap between the two cultures (Snow) of natural sciences, on the one hand, and social sciences and humanities, on the other rests upon a language divide. For using formal logic and mathematics in describing empirical facts and building models is widely seen as appropriate in the case of natural sciences, but not so in the case of social sciences and humanities. It is often argued that findings in one realm can only be put in a language that cannot be translated into another language that is proper for another realm.
The approach held by the project team, however, orients towards identifying commonalities and qualitative differences. Two sub-tasks are planned (certain results have recently been achieved - see http://www.arXiv.org -
- One sub-goal is to outline the boundaries of formal languages in the perspective of being aware that all languages share common grounds.
- Another sub-goal is to relate the non-formalized to the formal and neither reduce the former to the latter nor cut the former free from the latter
Third, elaborating on values, norms and the dynamics of society shall be accomplished in another three sub-tasks.
- Though having entered the information age, the sciences in the information societies do not include a "science of the information society". A scientific understanding of this new form of society has not had time to develop.
While there are a number of theories of information society or the like which focus on either the historical, economic, political, cultural, or technological aspects of the emerging society, a synoptic look, however, was not achieved within this lineage. In parallel, many disciplines deal with certain aspects of information without relating the concept of information to the concept of information society and the challenges that confront this society. It is only conceptualizations like Beniger's hypothesis of the control revolution or Haefner's hypothesis of the evolution of information-processing systems from the second half of the 1980s that mark a new period in which the interrelations and interconnectedness of these two lineages came to the front.
A single and comprehensive understanding of information as well as the information society is now becoming possible. This can be done through the application of the philosophical implication of a theory of evolutionary systems that information society is that stage in the evolution of social systems that, by the spread of information and communication technologies around the globe, allows for tackling the challenges that arise in the course of society's own development and threaten its maintenance. This is what sub-task 6 is going to do. The sub-goal is to re-conceptualize information and communication in the context of evolution.
- Sub-task 7 will focus on the interplay of macro- and micro-levels in human information-generating systems and address the role education might play in helping individuals to trigger social systems as to choose a sustainable path of development. This is to be dealt with under the premise that innovation is required for societal change and that innovation is due to the variation of behaviour. Actors do not always act according to values and norms as if they were a rigid set of rules.
The sub-goal is to deliberately devise a framework for enabling societal actors to influence the systems they are part of in the direction of finding solutions for the global problems.
- Globalization - a process that, in the evolutionary systems perspective, is tantamount with a metasystem transition and the emergence of world society - is more and more taking the shape of a social conflict between the net and the self (Castells) as a conflict of the one and the many in economic, political and cultural terms.
The sub-goal here is to reframe the relationship of the one and the many in order to reconcile them. Concepts like "glocalization" shall be given a new and sound theoretical basis in that the global dimension and the local dimension are represented by looking upon glocalization as a process which is as much integration as differentiation. Introducing the terms of evolution of systems, glocalization can be made visible as a two-way process of globalization and "regionalization". That's what the last sub-task is about.
The relationship of the tasks and sub-tasks is as follows:
- Two sub-tasks of the task 1 dealing with rather ontological questions of causality and emergence, on the one hand, and principles of synergetics, on the other (sub-tasks in which all of the teams are involved), will provide the common terminology for the project and therefore feed into the remaining sub-task of task 1 concerned with rather epistemological and methodological items of description, explanation and prediction in nonlinear studies as well as into society-related, rather axiological themes which are covered by task 3.
- Due to the assumption that justice cannot be done to the ontological, epistemological/methodological, and axiological aspects when being separated, the work on task 2 on models and metaphors, also a rather epistemological one, will be carried out in parallel with sub-tasks 1.1 and 1.2. However, task 2 will last longer and it will be prepared to enter the discussion with the rather ontological results at half-time of its planned duration. It will end at the same time sub-task 1.3 will do. Both of them then, referring to rather epistemological subjects, will influence and eventually modify task 3 which, in turn, will go on for one more period.
Thus, there is an onto-epistemic crossingover (which initiates the ethic path) after the first third of the project and an epistemo-ethic one after the second third.