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Dangerous Skating: Kauffman, Jaeger, and Roli on the Need for a New Teleology

Photo credit: Joseph Costa via Unsplash.

Here is a fascinating article: “How Organisms Come to Know the World: Fundamental Limits on Artificial General Intelligence,” by Andrea Roli, Johannes Jaeger, and Stuart A. Kauffman, writing in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Notice how closely the authors skate to a robust teleology:

Our insights put rather stringent limitations on what traditional mechanistic science and engineering can understand and achieve when it comes to agency and evolutionary innovation. This affects the study of any kind of agential system — in computer science, biology, and the social sciences — including higher-level systems that contain agents, such as ecosystems or the economy. In these areas of investigation, any purely formal approach will remain forever incomplete. This has important repercussions for the philosophy of science: the basic problem is that, with respect to coming to know the world, once we have carved it into a finite set of categories, we can no longer see beyond those categories. The grounding of meaning in real objects is outside any predefined formal ontology. The evolution of scientific knowledge itself is entailed by no law. It cannot be formalized…What would such a meta-mechanistic science look like? This is not entirely clear yet. Its methods and concepts are only now being elaborated…But one thing seems certain: it will be a science that takes agency seriously. It will allow the kind of teleological behavior that is rooted in the self-referential closure of organization in living systems. [Emphasis added.]

All three authors insist on their naturalistic bona fides. That’s understandable. Openly breaking with naturalism can get one dispatched to the gulag of intelligent design. For most scholars, that is a one-way trip to academic Siberia.

So, to use a musical metaphor, I simply enjoy this trio’s lyrical melody, and ignore the “Just naturalism!” squawks when they occur.