Teleodynamics: the transition from self-organization to end-directedness
Miguel Garcia-Valdecasas (Universidad de Navarra), Miguel Garcia-Valdecasas

February 18, 2022, 3:30pm - 5:00pm

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Throughout most of the last two centuries, the natural sciences have systematically shunned teleological explanations. This exclusionary stance is neither surprising nor problematic. Teleological explanations generally lack an account of their mechanism of action and seem to imply backwards causal influence. But teleological causality is not backward causation. It is a form of causality modeled on the familiar experience of purposeful action. Purposeful action is experienced as a disposition to achieve a general type of end, but without specifying how that end is to be produced. This “end” is instantiated in the form of a representation. So explaining the nature of representation is critical to an explanation of teleological causality, and problems with theories of teleology can often be traced to problems with the theory of representation that they assume. A recent effort to redefine representation in biology (as in genetic representation) has been proposed by Deacon (2007, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2021). The theory is called teleodynamics. In it representation is identified with constraints exhibited by a present physical medium (a sign vehicle) that can serve as an affordance for channeling physical work. But constraints by themselves do no work, nor does the unconstrained release of energy. Work requires constraint on the release of energy. So the causal influence of this constraint is provided by the way it guides the selection of dynamical activities likely to achieve a future physical state. This state must exhibit similar formal attributes (constraints) if these attributes are to re-present this similarity. So teleodynamics is a causal theory that describes teleology as the work of a physical system that is organized to take advantage of the constraints of a sign vehicle to select and impose constraints on an energetic process from a previous representation. Because this process is purposeful, it will have a beneficiary.

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February 18, 2022, 3:30pm CET

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