Page 196 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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The distinction between rate-dependence and rate-independence is crucial; structures,
significance and identity are all rate-independent. A change from one structure to another is
rate-independent and is generally irreversible in some sense. Of course, one can change the
level of analysis, so what is discrete and rate-independent can appear as continuous and rate-
dependent. Death is rate-independent, but the death rate is not. In such switches the level of
analysis has changed and one is talking about something different. The whole point here is to
avoid use of the level of analysis in the slovenly way that realism encourages. Behavior
involves a change of state and is rate-dependent. Rate-dependent processes are the links
between structural levels in a hierarchy. So we need both laws and rules to deal with
hierarchical conceptions.
If laws versus rules is our starting point of tension, scale and type present our second
polarity. Scale and type are commonly confused, at least in ecology. Almost all freshman-
level biology textbooks start with grand hierarchies, from the cell to the biosphere. However,
these are not scaled arrangements; the textbooks mistake type for scale. For instance,
organism is a type of thing, and organisms come in all sizes. Type does not relate to scale in
any simple way. A type is what stands out from the background and is assigned to a class. If
types are linked in a hierarchy, it is not by scaled relationships, but by definition. Population
linked to organism is not bigger than organisms in general, because there is a proviso in the
definition of population, that the organisms (comprising the population) should be similar in
some relevant way. Populations are not simply collections of any old mixture of organisms,
the members have to be equivalent in some way. As a result, the population of dust mites on
your dead skin is smaller than the organism that is you. You are not equivalent to a mite, and
so are not in their population, your proximity notwithstanding. Scale is a matter of relative
size in things that are linked in a way sufficient to apply the scale.
The third paired distinction is between protocol for observation versus what is seen
thereafter. Both scale and type have a protocol for measuring before the fact, as well as an
application after the object is observed. The scale protocol involves things like choosing a
microscope versus a telescope. The protocol for seeing a type of organism comes from past
experience leading to expectations as to what one might see. Organism is one such scale-
independent class, but once you have seen an elephant, it will be of a certain size. So scale,
type, protocol, and observed entity interact in complicated ways.
The last distinction is essence versus realization. By essence we do not mean
something in the external world that is concrete, as Plato asserted. An essence does not exist
independent of a model created by the observer. Essence needs to be investigated by the
model, and comes into consideration only as an observable is used to propose a model.
While the model is a human creation, there are things that are observed independent
of the process of model building. We use the model to probe and understand those
independent parts of observation. We try to understand what we see that we did not fix and
decide. Essence helps us do that, but it is always tied to the specific model. Essence emerges
from how we play the model and has no generality beyond that. Essence for us is therefore
not Platonic Idealism, where for Plato the essence was a reality that gives the shadows on the
cave wall. For us there is no essence until there is a shadow. Essences are not “out there.”
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