Page 144 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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setting energy dissipation will follow, because the choice of one path can alter the
possibilities available for further flows, given that they will always follow the momentarily
open fastest routes (Annila & Salthe, 2012). In that sense, possible flow paths cannot
generally be known in advance. As a collection, flow pathways could be characterized as
being vague before the flows occur. An image of this process would be rainwater trickling
down a bare hillside, with some channels disrupting or capturing others, all of them
dissipating gravitational potential energy as they go.
This vagueness of possibilities aligns naturally with the kind of cause that the Second
Law institutes in nature. It is a
final
cause (Matsuno & Salthe, 2000; Salthe, 2006, 2010b);
indeed, it is the most generally applicable finality of any. It requires that energy gradients
dissipate as quickly as possible, but provides no specifications other than urgency. The
finality here becomes clear when we understand that the universe is far from thermodynamic
equilibrium, and thus “calls for” entropy production everywhere.
Vagueness has been considered a problem in analytical philosophy and legal
discourses (e.g., Keefe, 2000; Keefe & Smith, 1999), but here I will model it as a plenitude of
possibilities, or pluripotentiality (Salthe, 1993). Vagueness, as equivocation, could be created
by a deliberate blurring of choice; or it could result as ambiguity, when an image of some
thing or situation is for practical reasons impossible to obtain or describe; or it could be
because some object itself is intrinsically vague, as were the opportunities for water flow as
that flow began to take place in the example given above. An uncanny example of this kind
of vagueness would be the actual value of any real number. Other, more interesting examples
of this particular mode of vagueness are the following:
1.
Possible choices, constituting a Shannon-type informational entropy, form a definite
array of possibilities, as in a die when the possibilities are taken all together while
the die is in transit. Here the possibilities and outcome are considerably more
definite than those on the hillside mentioned above.
2.
Inferences from possibilities become clearer as a process of inquiry or construction
develops, as in a Bayesian process of revelation, where a prior estimate leads to a
succession of posterior refinements. Here no definite actuality may be uncovered,
but may become increasingly manifest as further experiences or computations
proceed, narrowing the variety of possibilities and diminishing the vagueness. In
neurobiology, for example, this would be a process of “coarse to fine” construction
of a message (Peyran et al., 2010).
3.
Possibilities are all in principle definable or realizable, and there may be a multitude
of them, many of which may be realized together. Along with water trickling down
the hillside, this is the situation in an as yet undeveloped embryo, which can be
characterized as being vaguely embodied because we know the definitive forms to
be attained by way of the developmental process. Hence, we can understand
embryonic anlage as being vague precursors of the known forms that will gradually
be revealed as the embryo develops (Salthe, 2012). In this particular case, the search
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