John Donald Collier


This is the first issue of a new journal that a group of researchers in various fields have found necessary to present ideas that are at once specialized and highly interdisciplinary. Our common interests were first expressed at the first Semiotics, Evolution, Energy conference at the University of Toronto in the Autumn of 1997. From this conference, a mailing list, Organization, Complexity, Autonomy was started, and has attracted many scientists and philosophers who were not at the initial meeting. Discussion on the OCA list has been spirited and wide ranging, centering on semiotic and biological issues, but at times delving into cosmology, logic and religion.

     The views expressed on the OCA list and at the initial SEE conference were by no means uniform either in details or in grander perspective. I would say that if any of us were to reflect honestly, we would think that we are like the blind men and the elephant, each seeing a part of the elephant as like something with which we are familiar, but not agreeing on what it is. In this case, we can't even be sure that there is an elephant. On the other hand, despite disagreements about how to use words and even ideas, there seems to be some core paradigm emerging that allows us to communicate even when we are at our most stubborn. The linking ideas were energy, meaning and signs, evolution, complexity, organization, and development.

     Development was added to the title of the Journal at the suggestion of Jack Maze, and with general agreement. Although development and evolution are often rigidly distinguished, one playing out predetermined rules, and the other differentially culling chance variations, one view that is common to most of the OCA members is that the truth in each case lies someplace between, or perhaps better, beyond the mechanical models of instruction and selection, as H.C. Plotkin called them. A number of the biologists in our group have found that in their own research, evolutionary and developmental processes did not seem to be as distinct as the orthodoxy assumed -- the data did not fit the theory. In most cases it is a poor craftsperson who blames their tools, but some tools are better for certain jobs than others. Part of the purpose of this Journal is to develop and apply new tools to see how useful they might be. It should go without saying that this Journal is also open to articles that show how simpler and traditional mechanical models can be put to the same uses.

     The papers in this first issue vary from the extremely general study of semiotics and energy, through the application self-organisation to problems concerning the origins of phylogenetic branching, to a much more empirical paper that provides evidence that stages of development emerge as energy is transformed into functional matter, a form of information. In a sense, these papers make a full circle, with the last an empirical demonstration of the general ideas of the first, connected through the biological theory of the middle paper.

     No doubt, many of the ideas expressed are controversial, and I encourage critical replies. On the other hand, many may find the papers inspirational, or congruent with their own emerging thoughts, and I encourage these people to submit their work. Our hard working referees will at least be able to provide useful feedback. Special issues are planned on biosemiotics; physics, symmetry and energy; robotics, computers and cognition, and business management, economics and social development as we accumulate enough papers on these topics to fill out volumes. In the meantime, papers on any of these topics will by welcome, and considered for publication in general issues, especially if they should cross the somewhat arbitrary boundaries of these topics.


Revised: March 24, 2001