Edwina Taborsky, co-editor SEED
This issue moves us into an examination of the hierarchies of information dynamics. We have, with the first and second issue, suggested that energy exists within gradients; that these gradients are established within asymmetries in space and time; that these asymmetries enable a dynamical interaction of energy-as-mass, which is also to say, energy-as-information. These interactions operate within a complex network of relations and constraints, the constraints establishing matter within different typologies of informational or semiosic existence. These typologies, at their most basic, are triadic, requiring a long term model or habit; a short term concept or crisp closure, and a process of 'attraction' or emotion.
In this issue, we examine in more detail, the structure of the complex network. The first paper, by Wolfgang Hofkirchner, sets up a scalar model of self-organization, with this organization understood to operate as a means of increasing control over both informational content and informational interactions. Essentially, this paper considers that the organization of energy/matter is based around the capacity to 'inform and 'be informed'. These information processes operate in an evolutionary manner, moving from the simple to the more sophisticated information processing capacities. Three basic stages or scales of semiosic organization, are the physical, the biological and the socio-scientific and they form successive levels of systemic self-organization. The idea that energy dynamics is an evolutionary process is a controversial theme that is, nevertheless, attracting a great deal of commitment. This means that semiosis is a pan-semiotics; and that the triadic development of energy to informed mass takes place at the very 'lowest' level of our cosmos and evolves in its capacities to organize energy.
Jonathan Smith's paper continues the examination of hierarchical levels in complex systems, working to define their nature and the role of information within such an architecture. He provides several examples of hierarchies in an attempt to answer his question of 'what constitutes a hierarchical level'? These include the specification and scalar hierarchies developed by Stan Salthe, as well as those within set theories. We then move to an examination of what may be or may not be basic constitutive functions of a hierarchical level, which include such attributes as cognitive regularity and modularity or the linearly ordered scale of processes. Then, we are given examples of physical hierarchies and biological hierarchies, and can then move into one of the results of a hierarchical level; namely, a phase transition. From this, Smith moves us into a consideration of energy gradients and the relationship between symmetry/invariance and entropy/information. The concept that information is generated within a differentiated architecture that enables symmetry-breaking and energy dissipation invokes some of the themes of earlier papers.
Stan Salthe, who has worked for years with the concept of hierarchical levels, sets out a theme that matter exists because of the loss of equilibrium due to the rapid expansion of the universe. He sees information as 'just contraint' that holds a system away from dissipation. In this sense, Salthe sees information as the lessening of degrees of freedom, as boundary configurations developed by a system seeking to lessen its loss of energy. Additionally, information is understood to be historically acquired as a result of contingency. This sets up information as an evolved property and we are reminded of the first paper in this issue, of the evolution of organization.
Georgi Gladyshev focuses in particular on the hierarchies of the biological realm, examining equilibrium thermodynamics within open living systems. In this paper, the focus is on problems associated with 'applying the second law of thermodynamics' to the research of open systems. Since living systems, cells, consist of molecules or abiotic atomic particles, then an organism may be considered 'a complex living polycrystal' but it can be examined within a hierarchical architecture made up of both chemical processes and also supramolecular processes. Gladyshev introduces the concept of temporal hierarchies as an active dynamic process, and this temporal differentiation makes it possible for the biomass to form 'quasi-closed thermodynamic systems within a given hierarchy'. We can then apply the second law of thermodynamics to the study of open living systems. This recalls both papers in this issue as well as the papers by D. Brooks in earlier issues of this journal.
We then move to Loet Leydesdorff who takes the examination of information dynamics into the social domain. Leydesdorff focuses on language and symbolic communication processes. His comment on this evolved achievement is its capacity to provide a 'two-dimensional communication' process providing both certain and uncertain units of information. A molecule, for example, cannot be both a hydrogen and an oxygen molecule at the same time, but a symbolic sign can 'mean' anything. The means to deal with this capacity to provide both uncertainty (and future openness) and meaning (i.e., closure) is by the provision of a social system offering complex levels of textual mediation. This mediation operates as layers of embedded texts, with each new dimension multiplying and also constraining the number of possibilities of meaning. Leydesdorff provides us with a detailed insight into the complexities of a multi-dimensional, stratified social system of communication.
Then, the work of Norman Johnson examines a particular type of socialization, operating not as a social or communal textual discourse as outlined by Leydesdorff but as a decentralized action of collective self-organization in interaction with its environment. His example is the computer simulation of a community, the ant community; that is, a network of isolate near-identical agents without the capacity for language yet whose very existential reality requires cohesive organizational operations within an informational network. How is this achieved? His answer, which brings to mind the decentralized architectures of many current global systems, focuses on the development of a 'mediate structure’ or 'collective structure’ that so many of our papers have been exploring. However, a collective sustainable structure that is unable to adapt to rapidly changing environments will eventually destroy the entire system and Johnson explores tactics of dealing with such eventualities and enabling a dynamic information process.
This brings us to the end of this collection of papers. SEED will, however, explore these issues in later volumes. We plan to have several volumes devoted to topics dealing with the triadic process, with the mediate structure, with temporality, and with energy dynamics. Each volume will consist of two to three papers, plus a special section devoted to the authors discussing the arguments in each paper.