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Tuesday, August 4 • 13:30 - 15:30
Life Itself: A Relational Theory

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Background: Robert Rosen claimed that the existence of life can be explained in terms of closed causal relations. This is quite a different approach from explaining life in terms of behavior alone. It defines life in terms of the way a system is "organized" across all levels of causation. In his book "Life Itself" Rosen described a minimum "organization" of relations between natural causes that could be called alive. His study of life followed along two lines of reasoning: (1) that causal organization can be described in Mathematics prior to quantification (using Category Theory), and (2) that all living systems involve "Modeling Relations" that are "anticipatory".  He did not integrate these two tracks in his work, but left that to his followers. He did, however, give many hints on how to do it, one being his diagram of a "Metabolism-Repair (M-R) System," another his diagram of a modeling relation. He explained that such systems cannot exist within the mathematical restrictions we adopted to describe a strictly mechanistic world (the Modernist view). There is a great deal we can learn from this initial work, and following Rosen's leads we can also move forward with developing a relational theory applicable to any system. We will examine the initial steps in doing that, as thoroughly as possible in 4 hours.

Workshop Agenda:

This workshop will be based on examining the four cause relational entailment structure outlined in Robert Rosen’s work in Category Theory entailments and Modeling Relations – that is, linking entailment with relation to form a meta-model of a ‘whole’ system that may also have the fundamental properties of life. We will go through the foundations of this idea and recent developments that seem very promising for articulating a theory of whole systems. The approach not only realizes Rosen’s concepts, but also the initial insight of Arthur Koestler working with Ludvig von Bertalanffy, into a new theoretical object that he called the “Holon”.

The Workshop will be conducted mainly as an interactive tutorial. Since there is a lot of difficult material to cover, there will not be time for a contributed paper stream. We may be able to integrate short, highly relevant contributions from participants by prior arrangement.

Hour One:  Definitions and Philosophical World View

In this section we will explore the fundamentally different perspectives of traditional science and relational science. We will see how ‘ontology’  (how we imagine nature to be) determines ‘epistemology’ (what we can learn about it); and how ‘crises’ arise when learning challenges those basic assumptions, leading to advances science to new paradigms. We will trace the key discoveries that shook up the modernist/positivist worldview and the surprising source of inspiration from our own ancient past that led to our post-modern view of physics. We will then see how that transition was ‘just enough’ for physics but not enough for biology, and we will examine how, by capturing more of the deep causality view, we can create a  new analytical method for understanding whole systems in terms of whole systems, using relational mathematics. We will thus discover the “relational holon”.

Hour Two:  Relational Frameworks

Armed with a basic ability to step into the relational universe, we will, in this section, examine mathematical constructions and deconstructions that derive from the relational holon, and how this view can provide a framework for conducting systems research. We will also compare this framework to many other research frameworks that are in surprising agreement but nevertheless remain isolated in different disciplines, despite their profound collective implication of a general pattern in nature.

Hour Three:  Methods and techniques

In this section we will introduce and discuss methods for applying relational analysis to problems, giving examples, and allowing participants to analyze a case of their own choosing. We will collectively explore methods and discuss their further development in various technical domains. We will also consider implications of the framework for coupling research models and establishing a new kind of informatics architecture.

Hour Four:  Case Studies

In the final section we will discuss results of our own case study attempts and compare them with other prepared examples. We will end with an open discussion of the utility of relational modeling and directions for future development, including its potential linkage to other approaches and contribution to the goal of finding a General System Theory.

It is highly recommended that workshop participants explore the following references prior to the workshop, and come equipped with relevant questions and/or insights:

Baianu, I.C. (2006) Robert Rosen’s Work and Complex Systems Biology. Axiomathes, 16, 25–34.

Checkland, P. (1988) The case for “holon.” Systemic Practice and Action Research, 1, 235–238.

Cilliers, P., Biggs, H.C., Blignaut, S., Choles, A.G., Hofmeyr, J.-H.S., Jewitt, G.P. & Roux, D.J. (2013) Complexity, modeling, and natural resource management. Ecology and Society, 18, 1.

Cornish-Bowden, A. (2006) Putting the Systems Back into Systems Biology. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 49, 475–489.

Cornish-Bowden, A. (2015) Tibor Gánti and Robert Rosen: contrasting approaches to the same problem. Journal of theoretical biology.

Cornish-Bowden, A. & Cárdenas, M.L. (2008) Self-organization at the origin of life. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 252, 411–418.

Cornish-Bowden, A. & Cárdenas, M.L. (2005) Systems biology may work when we learn to understand the parts in terms of the whole. Biochem.Soc.Trans., 33, 516–519.

Edmonds, B. (2007) The Practical Modelling of Context-Dependent Causal Processes – A Recasting of Robert Rosen’s Thought. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 4, 2386–2395.

Edwards, M.G. (2005) The integral holon: A holonomic approach to organisational change and transformation. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 18, 269–288.

Hoffmeyer, J. (1997) Biosemiotics: Towards a new synthesis in biology. European Journal for Semiotic Studies, 9, 355–376.

Hoffmeyer, J. (2001) Life and reference. Biosystems, 60, 123–130.

Hofmeyr, J.-H.S. (2011) Relational humanism. The Humanist Imperative in South Africa, 181.

Hofmeyr, J.-H.S. (2007) The biochemical factory that autonomously fabricates itself: a systems biological view of the living cell. A: Boogerd, F. C, 217–242.

Kineman, J.J. (2011) Relational Science: A Synthesis. Axiomathes, 21, 393–437.

Kineman, J.J. (2012a) R-Theory: A Synthesis of Robert Rosen’s Relational Complexity. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 29, 527–538.

Kineman, J.J. (2012b) The Ontology of Anticipation. Anticipatory systems: philosophical, mathematical, and methodological foundations IFSR international series on systems science and engineering., Springer, New York.

Kineman, J.J. & Poli, R. (2014) Ecological Literacy Leadership: Into the Mind of Nature. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 95, 30–58.

Koestler, A. (1969) Beyond atomism and holism: the concept of the holon. Beyond reductionism, 192–232.

Louie, A.H. & Poli, R. (2011) The spread of hierarchical cycles. International Journal of General Systems, 40, 237–261.

Luz Cárdenas, M., Letelier, J.-C., Gutierrez, C., Cornish-Bowden, A. & Soto-Andrade, J. (2010) Closure to efficient causation, computability and artificial life. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 263, 79–92.

Miller, R., Poli, R. & Rossel, P. (2013) The Discipline of Anticipation: Exploring Key Issues, UNESCO, Paris.

Nadin, M. (2010) Anticipation and dynamics: Rosen’s anticipation in the perspective of time. International Journal of General Systems, 39, 3–33.

Poli, R. (2010a) An introduction to the ontology of anticipation. Futures, 42, 769–776.

Poli, R. (2009) The complexity of anticipation. Balkan Journal of Philosophy, 19–29.

Poli, R. (2010b) The Complexity of Self-reference. A Critical Evaluation of Luhmann’s Theory of Social Systems.

Rosen, R. (2012) Anticipatory systems: philosophical, mathematical, and methodological foundations, 2nd ed. Springer, New York.

Rosen, R. (1993a) Drawing the Boundary Between Subject and Object: Comments on the Mind-Brain Problem. Theoretical Medicine, 14, 89–100.

Rosen, R. (1999) Essays on Life Itself, Columbia University Press, New York, NY.

Rosen, R. (1991) Life itself: a comprehensive inquiry into the nature, origin, and fabrication of life, Columbia University Press.

Rosen, R. (1993b) On models and modeling. Applied Mathematics and Computation, 56, 359–372.

Rosen, R. (1994) On Psychomimesis. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 171, 87–92.

Rosen, R. (1990) The Modeling Relation and natural law. Mathematics and Science, pp. 183–199. World Scientific Publishing.




John Kineman

SIG Chair: Relational Science, International Society for the System Sciences
Senior Research Scientist, CIRES, University of Colorado Stellenbosch Research Fellow (2016), Stellenbosch South AfricaAdjunct Professor, Vignan University, Vadlamudi, IndiaPresident (2015-2016), International Society for the Systems Sciences ISSS SIG Chair: Relational ScienceDr... Read More →

ISSS Board & SIG Chairs
avatar for Judith Rosen

Judith Rosen

CEO, Rosen Enterprises
SIG Co-Chair: Relational ScienceJudith Rosen is a writer, researcher, and artist who, through interaction with her father, the mathematial biologist Robert Rosen, has a comprehensive understanding of his scientific work. She traveled on numerous scientific trips with Robert Rosen... Read More →

Tuesday August 4, 2015 13:30 - 15:30 CEST
Copenhagen 2 Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz, Gabriele-Tergit-Promenade 19, 10963 Berlin, Germany

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