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  Metaphysics (Newtonian versus ecological)

After Ulanowicz, R.E. 1999. Life after Newton: An ecological metaphysic. BioSystems 50:127-142.

Causal Closure :

No outside influences other than those prescribed as forces by Newton's theory. Only material and efficient causes allowed.


Indeterminacies (“genetic” events) can arise at any time at any scale. Efficient causes tend to arise at lower scales and propagate upwards; formal causes appear at the focal level; and final causes at higher levels to constrain events downscale.


Systems are strongly decomposable. Larger units are regarded as decomposable aggregates of stable least units. That which can be built up can be taken apart again. Increments of the variables of the theory can be measured by addition and subtraction.


Propensities (contingent causes) always exist in a context, which includes other propensities. Propensities in communication grow progressively more interdependent, so that observation of any element in isolation (if possible) reveals ever less about how it acts within the ensemble.


The laws specifying motion and change can be calculated in both temporal directions. There is no inherent arrow of time.


Genetic events degrade predictability and thereby engender irreversibility. The effects of genetic events are retained in the material and kinetic forms of the system. Interaction of propensities defines a more likely direction or telos for system development.


Given the initial position of any entity in the system, a set of forces acting on it, and stable closure conditions, every subsequent position of each particle or entity in the system is in principle specific and predictable. Mechanical (efficient) causes are everywhere ascendant.


The causes of biotic events involve inherent contingencies. They resemble propensities (sensu Popper) more than Newtonian forces.


Laws are applicable everywhere, at all times and over all scales. Time and space are uniform throughout the universe. There should be no complications in applying a law from very small scales and short times (e.g., intranuclear forces) to phenomena at very large scales and long times (e.g., gravitation.)


An event at any one scale can affect a second event at any other scale only with a magnitude that diminishes as the difference in scale between the events increases. Ergo, the range of explanation for any law is circumscribed, and the effects of contingencies cannot propagate indefinitely without attenuation.