Intro & formative terminology
Just because we don't spend every moment fully apprehending the interconnected, complex nature of existence doesn't mean its power is beyond reach. Heritability was a mystery prior to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Computation was a dream before the complex application of binary code. Grasping the underlying structure of existence remains a worthy pursuit.
Existence has a language and words are inadequate to describe it, unless we let certain ones be framed in complex relation to each other in a way that is in harmony with subtle, dynamic reality. ONT, short for ontology, is a relational database that captures such word- existence relationships in a way that is consistent with a proposed cosmologically real, complex algorithmic structure to existence. The resulting meaning-existence relationships beg unique forms of contemplation and are consistent with a wide range of perspective factories and factual gardens – from scientific and spiritual to philosophical.
In the header of Fig. 1, you find the phrase "ontological states". What does it mean? More broadly, why is ontology so central to a system that makes claims regarding contemplation, complexity, and intelligence?
In 1954 Paul Tillich published the book Love, Power, and Justice to articulate the ontological inter-relatedness of the concepts in its title. In his words,
[our search is] the search for basic meaning of all those concepts which are universally present in man's cognitive encounter with the world. Traditionally they are called principles, structural elements, and categories of being. Their elaboration is the work of ontology. Ontology is a way in which the root meanings of all principles... can be found. ... we may discover not only [the] particular meanings [of words] but also their structural relation to each other and to being as such.
He adds, [emphasis mine]
The warning and the help of the semanticist is perhaps in no realm so much needed as in the jungle of ambiguities which has grown up through the lack of conceptual control and the abundance of emotional drive in the sphere which is circumscribed ... The confusions are partly intrinsic and partly relational.
While Tillich's detailed analysis of Love, Power, and Justice was essential to my own understanding (especially how to work through the confusions without panicking!) it is only a small piece of the overall picture captured in ONT. Fig. 2 captures a few of the dynamic principles used to develop meaning in ONT.
To address the questions posed earlier, I use ontology in its metaphysical sense, that is, what exists and how to fully characterize what it is. Ontological states refer to structural meanings that bear relation to other structural meanings and to being itself. Further, I suggest there are numerous though limited (I derive 176) states that capture the structural elements, to borrow Tillich's phrase, essential to being. The number is not infinite (such as the notion of a collective unconscious or possible worlds might suggest) though the
expressions possible within it appear infinite due to the roles of abstraction and, paradoxically, tautological self-awareness. Tautologies are the "because I said so" of philosophy. As such they are the all-powerful parent who seems to know little and require everything!
Remember the states of confusion referenced in the Tillich quote ("jungle of ambiguities... conceptual control... emotional drive")? Rather than rely on semantics -- and thus extended dialogue -- to surface the most useful existential meanings, the intrinsic structure within ONT accomplishes much the same thing. And when our own inner dialogue flows in a way that cuts through confused abstractions, hidden even from ourselves, clarity of being-ness in both self and other arises.
Let me make explicit a perhaps strange-seeming aspect to what I am saying so far. There are formative dynamics to existence. There are words I am associating to key (ontological state) conditions within it. THE WORDS ARE SECONDARY TO THE CONDITIONS, such that existence is not beholden to the particular words. Language origin, spelling, word choice (use of synonyms), and even language type (species specificity), do not necessarily affect key conditions. When one resonates in feeling, thought, or action purely with an ontological state, the experience (and utility) is comprehension of the situation that, while not suspending the use of languages to tell stories, is evocative of a special sort of absoluteness that its conditions carry.
* * * [ invitation to breathe 🙂 ]
The artist Bonobo makes the strange poetic when evoking "Creation's Soul" in its song Days to Come.
Back to Fig. 1 and the funny funnel diagram. Within it, I make the following statement:
What appears and disappears, what perpetuates pressure, and what awaits readiness, blended algorithmically, result in scaling, auto-catalytic processes that exhibit both iteration and embedding.
The three "whats" summarize a triumvirate categorization of complex phenomena from which being-ness emerges at the cosmological level. I ask you to take them at face value, as it will be more helpful to discuss them later. My intended focus now is formative terminology. The term I use to group them is "behavior" (4th row in the table in Fig.1).
I refer to groupings such as "behavior" as algorithmic features, as well as to algorithmic blending. Algorithm is perhaps a surprising word choice in relation to ontology, though not so in relation to complex systems. Algorithm refers generally to a procedure with a finite number of steps that requires repetition of an operation. While math and computing are obvious places where such procedures are of use, they are also reflected within complex natural phenomena. For instance in Bernard Chazelle's scientific analysis in "Natural Algorithms," he derives an algorithm for the convergence of bird flocks.
I find the term algorithm useful because it suggests a route to unification or oneness of existence, a way of tying all things together, yet is not married to the concept of forces like modern theoretical physics is. (Yes, there are forces, as in things that act on each other, but it is quite another thing to insist that forces are what are responsible for something-ness at the unseeable level.)
Scaling, the suggested result of algorithmic blending, should bring to mind fractals, or the multitude of natural phenomena observed to repeat some feature over multiple levels.
Then, evoke fractals where the patterning over multiple scales is there but not visually detectible (exceeds the limits of our ability to discern through the senses or logically follow). In Fig. 1, read the paragraph under the table to get a sense of how non-linear phenomena might affect our ability to figure out meanings that persist at multiple scales.
Finally, auto-catalysis is on the other end of the science-y spectrum to algorithms, being used almost exclusively in association with biological, organic phenomena. It means a materially and energetically complex relationship in which at least one reaction product is also a reactant. A dynamic positive feedback system results. Order is increased within the system despite the thermodynamic tendency toward disorder (2nd law). I am not the first to suggest that such a dynamic might be central to the emergent nature of existence itself, though the case remains speculative and therefore fringe within the "empirical" sciences.
OPTIONAL: Listen to my spoken word piece "What Fuels the Universe, and Our Curiosity About It." Using the metaphor of cosmic engines, I build on the above description of auto-catalysis and give some broad stroke details of the cosmological principles behind ONT.