Dissertations >> Philip Franses - Living Ambiguity

Philip Franses - Living Ambiguity


Originally the title of this dissertation was ‘Growing Points’ containing the idea of a theory of structure into which living experience could bring transformation. This opening page described dryly the importance of context to define a growing point in the dynamic fold of life, in which the surprise of the realization of potential broke through momentarily into the substantive world. The concept of growing point was vast and abstract, trying to join together the uniqueness of the spiritual with the generality of the theoretical as two great domains across a tiny bridge of the ‘growing point.’

In writing the second chapter, ‘the science of choice’, ambiguity became apparent as the fundament in which modern physics expressed the nature of substantive reality and that allowed experience to reveal its essence into that realm. Ambiguity allows one to approach the grand canvas before the world has determined how it will represent itself, as the common or the exceptional. The attempt to encapsulate the whole of life into one concept changed into seeing the world emerge from one idea.

Into the openness of accepting ambiguity, my Schumacher teacher Brian Goodwin provided the opportunity to reproduce the work of Cancho and Sole modeling the effects of ambiguity on language. The work examined the nature of the transition point in which speaker and hearer needs were in fine balance. The point of transition was characterized by a discernible mathematical characteristic of a power law distribution of the degree of ambiguity in the elements expressing the system.

The quantification of the moment of transition, in which the freedom of elements developed into a coherent whole, provided a gateway into the processes of biology. Many critical biological networks are identifiable by a power law distribution of connections that were now given a concrete meaning. This then opened the way to seeing biology as completing in choice the ambiguity present in the foundations of the substantive domain of physics.

A trip to Cambridge to see an ex Schumacher MSc student also provided an opportunity for Brian and I to present these ideas to the Molecular Development Lab. Nervous at this exposure to a field in which I was a complete novice, we were met by a group of scientists dumbfounded by the complexity of the data on genetic expression of developing embryo’s. Instead of getting closer to mechanical explanations of the behavior of these elemental systems, the harder they worked the further they seemed from arriving at any new understanding.

The concept of ambiguity preserving intelligibility while avoiding the apparent failure of the simple causal approach struck a note of promise. So the theoretical focus on growing point had metamorphosed into an engagement with life to show its true nature through ambiguity.

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