John Donald Collier

John Donald Collier
University of KwaZulu-Natal | ukzn · School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics

PhD Philosophy of Science

About

96
Publications
30,897
Reads
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2,550
Citations
Introduction
I work on foundations of information theory and complex systems and applications to biology, cognition, economics and whatever other fields people find my work useful for. I collaborate a lot. My current collaborations are on function in ecology with Charbel El-Hani and his lab in Salvador, Brazil, and Evolutionary Moral Realism with Michael Stingl at the University of Lethbridge.
Additional affiliations
May 2015 - present
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Position
  • Professor Emeritus
May 2013 - present
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Position
  • Senior research associate
June 2012 - June 2015
Universidade Federal da Bahia
Position
  • Researcher
Description
  • Three three month grant periods from the Brazilian government (CNPq).
Education
September 1976 - May 1984
The University of Western Ontario
Field of study
  • Philosophy of Science
September 1972 - June 1975
September 1971 - June 1972

Publications

Publications (96)
Conference Paper
Full-text available
We find symmetry attractive. It is often an indicator of the deep structure of things, whether they be natural phenomena, or artificial. For example, the most fundamental conservation laws of physics are all based in symmetry. Similarly, the symmetries found in religious art throughout the world are intended to draw attention to deep spiritual trut...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The emergence concept and its historical ground Some divergent ideas about emergence; weak and strong emergence The traditional logical conditions for emergence Complex organization and emergence Dynamical conditions for emergence in physical systems A problem with applying the dynamical conditions for emergence to systems in general Some possible...
Article
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Typically, we think of both artificial and natural computing devices as following rules that allow them to alter their behaviour (output) according to their environment (input). This approach works well when the environment and goals are well defined and regular. However, 1) the search time for appropriate solutions quickly becomes intractable when...
Article
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A system is autonomous if it uses its own information to modify itself and its environment to enhance its survival, responding to both environmental and internal stimuli to modify its basic functions to increase its viability. Autonomy is the foundation of functionality, intentionality and meaning. Autonomous systems accommodate the unexpected thro...
Book
Against standard approaches to evolution and ethics, this book develops the idea that moral values may find their origin in regularly recurring features in the cooperative environments of species of organisms that are social and intelligent. Across a wide range of species that are social and intelligent, possibilities arise for helping others, res...
Presentation
Full-text available
I have previously explored autonomy as the foundation of functionality, intentionality and meaning, which are best explained coherently via information theory. Later I argued that autonomous systems accommodate the unexpected through self-organizing processes, together with some constraints that maintain autonomy. A system is autonomous if it uses...
Article
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Information is usually in strings, like sentences, programs or data for a computer. Information is a much more general concept, however. Here I look at information systems that can be three or more dimensional, and examine how such systems can be arranged hierarchically so that each level has an associated entropy due to unconstrained information a...
Article
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Dimensional analysis is a technique used by scientists and engineers to check the rationality of their calculations, but it can also be used to determine the nature of the quantities used. Information is usually measured in bits, or binary digits, but it could be measured using any other base. I will be arguing that, given the possibility of an obj...
Chapter
I start with a brief summary of kinds of information used in science, showing how they are nested (or hierarchically arranged), with inner kinds inheriting properties of the outer kinds. I further argue that within each kind there is also hierarchical organization, and that the major kinds are distinguished by their dynamics, not just being ordered...
Chapter
Full-text available
I start with a brief summary of kinds of information used in science, showing how they are nested (or hierarchically arranged), with inner kinds inheriting properties of the outer kinds. I further argue that within each kind there is also hierarchical organization, and that the major kinds are distinguished by their dynamics, not just being ordered...
Research
Full-text available
Connects to 6 powerpoint lectures and numerous online references.
Conference Paper
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Although there are vast cultural differences in music and dance that are constrained only by the possibilities for human movement and the physics of sound and its production, every culture has some version of music and dance, typically closely integrated. These traits are not found in other animals (with some possible exceptions among captive anima...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
I start with a brief summary of kinds of information used in science, showing how they are nested (or hierarchical), with inner kinds inheriting properties of the outer kinds. I further argue that within each kind there is also hierarchical organization, and that the major kinds are distinguished by their dynamics, not just being ordered in a hiera...
Article
Full-text available
Examples of successful linguistic communication give rise to two important insights: 1) it should be understood most fundamentally in terms of the pragmatic success of each individual utterance, and 2) linguistic conventions need to be understood as on a par with the non-linguistic regularities that competent language users rely upon to refer. Synt...
Chapter
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A Sign is a Representamen with a mental Interpretant. Possibly there may be Representamens that are not Signs. Thus, if a sunflower, in turning towards the sun, becomes by that very act fully capable, without further condition, of reproducing a sunflower which turns in precisely corresponding ways toward the sun, and of doing so with the same repro...
Article
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The notion of information has developed in a number of different ways (as discussed in this volume), and many of them have been applied to biology, both usefully and gratuitously, and even misleadingly. These multiple notions of information have not surprisingly led to apparently contradictory claims by authors who have really been talking past eac...
Article
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We argue that living systems process information such that functionality emerges in them on a continuous basis. We then provide a framework that can explain and model the normativity of biological functionality. In addition we offer an explanation of the anticipatory nature of functionality within our overall approach. We adopt a Peircean approach...
Article
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Evolutionary moral realism is the view that there are moral values with roots in evolution that are both specifically moral and exist independently of human belief systems. In beginning to sketch the outlines of such a view, we examine moral goods like fairness and empathetic caring as valuable and real aspects of the environments of species that a...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter focuses on the need for identity criteria for ecosystems that must be dynamic, because measurements with other interactions and interventions in ecosystems are themselves dynamic, and because important accounts of ecosystems focus on processes, rather than mere descriptions of their structures or states at various times. It backs up th...
Article
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There are many different mathematical definitions of information that have their various uses, but I will be con-cerned with notions of information used in applications in various branches of science that are distinguished by their topic, i.e., what they apply to. I describe the major uses information, and show their relations to each other. I will...
Article
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It is generally agreed that organisms are Complex Adaptive Systems. Since the rise of Cybernetics in the middle of the last century ideas from information theory and control theory have been applied to the adaptations of biological organisms in order to explain how they work. This does not, however, explain functionality, which is widely but not un...
Article
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Almost fifty years ago Wilfrid Sellars described two competing ways of imagining the world, the Manifest Image and the Scientific Image. The Manifest Image is an idealization of common sense aided by critical philosophy, whereas the Scientific Image is the product of our best science. The methodologies of the two images are very different: the Mani...
Chapter
Full-text available
The subject of this chapter is the identity of individual dynamical objects and properties. Two problems have dominated the literature: trans-temporal identity and the relation between composition and identity. Most traditional approaches to identity rely on some version of classification via essential or typical properties, whether nominal or real...
Article
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Complexly organized systems include biological and cognitive systems, as well as many of the everyday systems that form our environment. They are both common and important, but are not well understood. A complex system is, roughly, one that cannot be fully understood via analytic methods alone. An organized system is one that shows spatio-temporal...
Article
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Anticipation allows a system to adapt to conditions that have not yet come to be, either externally to the system or internally. Autonomous systems actively control their own conditions so as to increase their functionality (they self-regulate). Living systems self-regulate in order to increase their own viability. These increasingly stronger condi...
Article
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Emergence has traditionally been described as satisfying specific properties, notably non-reducibility of the emergent object or properties to their substrate, novelty, and unpredictability from the properties of the substrate. Sometimes more mysterious properties such as independence from the substrate, separate substances and teleological propert...
Article
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Economic logic impinges on contemporary political theory through both economic reductionism and economic methodology applied to political decision-making (through game theory). The authors argue that the sort of models used are based on mechanistic and linear methodologies that have now been found wanting in physics. They further argue that complex...
Book
This book argues that the only kind of metaphysics that can contribute to objective knowledge is one based specifically on contemporary science as it really is, and not on philosophers' a priori intuitions, common sense, or simplifications of science. In addition to showing how recent metaphysics has drifted away from connection with all other seri...
Article
Full-text available
Symmetry often indicates the deep structure of things, natural or artificial. For example, the conservation laws of physics are grounded in symmetry, and the symmetries found in religious artefacts can indicate deep spiritual truths. Not only do we find symmetry pleasing, but its discovery is often also surprising and illuminating as well. However,...
Article
Full-text available
Anticipation allows a system to adapt to conditions that have not yet come to be, either externally to the system or internally. Autonomous systems actively control the conditions of their own existence so as to increase their overall viability. This paper will first give minimal necessary and sufficient conditions for autonomous anticipation, foll...
Article
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"Complex systems are dynamic and may show high levels of variability in both space and time. It is often difficult to decide on what constitutes a given complex system, i.e., where system boundaries should be set, and what amounts to substantial change within the system. We discuss two central themes: the nature of system definitions and their abil...
Article
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Speculation about the evolutionary origins of morality has yet to show how a biologically based capacity for morality might be connected to moral reasoning. Applying an evolutionary approach to three kinds of cases where partiality may or may not be morally reasonable, this paper explores a possible connection between a psychological capacity for m...
Article
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The target article proposes an error theory for religious belief. In contrast, moral beliefs are typically not counterintuitive, and some moral cognition and motivation is functional. Error theories for moral belief try to reduce morality to nonmoral psychological capacities because objective moral beliefs seem too fragile in a competitive environm...
Article
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Abstract After distinguishing reductive explanability in principle from ontological deflation, I give a case of an obviously physical property that is reductively inexplicable in principle. I argue that biological systems often have this character, and that if we make certain assumptions about the cohesion and dynamics of the mind and its physical...
Article
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Functionality is essential to any form of anticipation beyond simple directedness at an end. In the literature on function in biology, there are two distinct approaches. One, the etiological view, places the origin of function in selection, while the other, the organizational view, individuates function by organizational role. Both approaches have...
Article
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Self-organisation is a process by which larger scale order is formed in a system through the promotion of fluctuations at a smaller scale via processes inherent in the system dynamics, modulated by interactions between the system and its surroundings. The self in self-organisation presents certain problems: 1) What is the self that organises? 2) Wh...
Article
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The hierarchical dynamical information systems are discussed with emphasis on biology. These systems are hierarchical structures with respect to expression of lower level information at higher peak. This allows a distinction between macro and microstates within the system, with resulting statistical dynamics, including the possibility of self organ...
Article
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The paradigm of Laplacean determinism combines three regulative principles: determinism, predictability, and the explanatory adequacy of universal laws together with purely local conditions. Historically, it applied to celestial mechanics, but it has been expanded into an ideal for scientific theories whose cogency is often not questioned. Laplace'...
Article
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Bénard convection, is one of the more intensely studied dissipative systems, both theoretically and empirically. It is therefore a useful starting point for discussing the properties of dissipative structures and developing an analogy between such structures and development and evolution. Both the simplifications involved in the Bénard cells and th...
Article
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. Function refers to a broad family of concepts of varying abstractness and range of application, from a many-one mathematical relation of great generality to, for example, highly specialized roles of designed elements in complex machines such as degaussing in a television set, or contributory processes to control mechanisms in complex metabolic pa...
Article
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Most accounts of functionality are based in etiology, either design or selection. In this paper I give an account of function as serving autonomy, which is the closure of self-maintaining processes, including those interacting with the environment. Autonomy is inherently dynamic, being based entirely on interacting processes, whose organization con...
Article
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Both natural and engineered systems are fundamentally dynamical in nature: their defining properties are causal, and their organisational and functional capacities are causally grounded. Among dynamical systems, an interesting and important sub-class are those that are autonomous, anticipative and adaptive (AAA). Living systems, intelligent systems...
Article
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Abstract Many anticipatory systems cannot in themselves act meaningfully or represent intentionally. This stems largely from the derivative nature of their functionality. All current artificial control systems, and many living systems such as organs and cellular parts of organisms derive any intentionality they might have from their designers or po...
Article
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Progress has become a suspect concept in evolutionary biology, not the least because the core concepts of neo-Darwinism do not support the idea that evolution is progressive. There have been a number of attempts to account for directionality in evolution through additions to the core hypotheses of neo-Darwinism, but they do not establish progressiv...
Article
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Since the origins of the notion of emergence in attempts to recover the content of vitalistic anti-reductionism without its questionable metaphysics, emergence has been treated in terms of logical properties. This approach was doomed to failure, because logical properties are either sui generis or they are constructions from other logical propertie...
Article
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Rhythmic entrainment is the formation of regular, predictable patterns in time and/or space through interactions within or between systems that manifest potential symmetries. We contend that this process is a major source of symmetries in specific systems, whether passive physical systems or active adaptive and/or voluntary/intentional systems, exc...
Article
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Four general approaches to the metaphysics of causation are current in Australasian philosophy. One is a development of the regularity theory (attributed to Hume) that uses counterfactuals (Lewis, 1973; 1994). A second is based in the relations of universals, which determine laws, which in turn determine causal interactions of particulars (with the...
Article
Full-text available
We find symmetry attractive. It interests us. Symmetry is often an indicator of the deep structure of things, whether they be natural phenomena, or the creations of artists. For example, the most fundamental conservation laws of physics are all based in symmetry. Similarly, the symmetries found in religious art throughout the world are intended to...
Article
Full-text available
Natural kinds are central to most scientific reasoning about the world. For that matter, they are central to most kinds of systematic reasoning that are not purely analytic. In this paper I will investigate why natural kinds are used in science, and the extent to which science requires them. These issues revolve around the role of nomological neces...
Article
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We propose an objective and justifiable ethics that is contingent on the truth of evolutionary theory. We do not argue for the truth of this position, which depends on the empirical question of whether moral functions form a natural class, but for its cogency and possibility. The position we propose combines the advantages of Kantian objectivity wi...
Article
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Hilary Putnam [11, 12] considered whether, in the light of contemporary theories of meaning, the theory that we are brains in vats could be true. His conclusion that it could not has caused consternation among realists, since his conclusion implies that an ideal theory satisfying all of our methodological and theoretical constraints could not be fa...
Article
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I look at some recent information based approaches to semantics, representation and perception and point out some of their limitations. I bring together what is common, and ask what the world must be like if we are able to have information about it. In particular it must be possible for us to have representations that are isomorphic to things in th...
Article
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Integrating concepts of maintenance and of origins is essential to explaining biological diversity. The unified theory of evolution attempts to find a common theme linking production rules inherent in biological systems, explaining the origin of biological order as a manifestation of the flow of energy and the flow of information on various spatial...
Article
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Supervenience is a relationship which has been used recently to explain the physical determination of biological phenomena despite resistance to reduction (Rosenberg, 1978, 1985; Sober, 1984a). Supervenience, however, is plagued by ambiguities which weaken its explanatory value and obscure some interesting aspects of reduction in biology. Although...
Article
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The most casual observer notices that order, complexity and organization are found in biological organisms. The most striking evidence for evolution is the regular increase in these properties displayed in the fossil succession. Despite this, the core of conventional selectionist evolutionary theory avoids mentioning the order concepts altogether....
Article
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Article
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Daniel R. Brooks and E. O. Wiley have proposed a theory of evolution in which fitness is merely a rate determining factor. Evolution is driven by non-equilibrium processes which increase the entropy and information content of species together. Evolution can occur without environmental selection, since increased complexity and organization result fr...
Article
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Putnam's writings on realism have stirred up a rash of responses which raise questions both about Putnam's argument against metaphysical realism, and about internal realism, his positive view. A number of papers question Putnam's "brain in a vat" argument by trying to show that Putnam equivocates. Others argue that Putnam relies to heavily on forma...
Article
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Thomas Kuhn (1962) proposed that there are theories which are not only incompatible but also semantically incommensurable in order to explain historical evidence that scientists who hold consecutive theories often fail to come to terms with each other, being unable to resolve differences by appeal to evidence, authority or convention. Despite Kuhn'...
Article
Ronald Giere's analysis of causal effectiveness in populations involves the comparison of two hypothetical populations, one in which every individual has the suspected causal factor, and the other in which none do. Elliott Sober has argued that in cases where causal effectiveness depends on relative population sizes, Giere's analysis breaks down. I...
Article
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A major goal of science is to discover laws that underlie all regular phenomena. This goal is best satisfied by eternal principles that leave fundamental properties unchanged and unchangeable. Science has been forced to accept that some processes, especially biological processes, are inherently time oriented. It can either forgo the ideal of univer...
Article
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The purpose of this paper is to describe some limitations on scientific behaviorist and computational models of the mind. These limitations stem from the inability of either model to account for the integration of experience and behavior. Behaviorism fails to give an adequate account of felt experience, whereas the computational model cannot accoun...
Article
Full-text available
Almost fifty years ago Wilfrid Sellars described two competing ways of imagining the world, the Manifest Image and the Scientific Image. The Manifest Image is an idealization of common sense aided by critical philosophy, whereas the Scientific Image is the product of our best science. The methodologies of the two images are very different: the Mani...
Article
Full-text available
1. Abstract Toaccount,for a perceived ,distinction it is necessary to postulate a real distinction. Our process of experiencing the world is one of, mostly unconscious, interpretation of observed distinctions to provide ,us with ,a partial world-picture that is sufficient to guide action. The distinctions, themselves, are acorrigible (they do not h...
Article
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Biological systems are typically hierarchically organized, open, nonlinear systems, and inherit all of the characteristics of such systems that are found in the purely physical and chemical domains, to which all biological systems belong. In addition, biological systems exhibit functional properties, and they contain information in a form that is u...
Article
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disciplines, is much more concerned with form and organization than other biological and physical sciences, in which dynamics plays the central role. Within the biological sciences, Nelson (1970) characterizes disciplines that study diversity and patterns “comparative” and those that search for process and dynamics “general.” The goal of “general”...
Article
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Although the complexity of biological systems and subsystems like DNA and various transcription and translation pathways is of interest in itself, organization is of fundamental importance to understanding biological systems. It would be convenient to have a general definition of organization applicable to biological systems. I propose that C.H. Be...
Article
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Developments in science in the last few decades have led to doubts about the validity of the mechanical paradigm that has dominated science since the Scientific Revolution. The new views, coming from recently founded disciplines like non-equilibrium thermodynamics, chaos theory and the theory of dynamical systems, are rooted in physics. Nonetheless...

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Projects (7)
Project
The basic idea is the it is biological autonomy that individuates organisms and other biological entities like cells and ecosystems. All physical things are individuated by relative dynamical cohesion. which can be stronger or weaker, but got many thing, like rocks, the cohesion is strong and not easily modifiable. I organisms, however, organisation is teh main basis for cohesion and hence individuation. I am extending this to ecosystems currently..