How Future Depends on Past and Rare Events in Systems of Life

Giuseppe Longo
2017 Foundations of Science  
The dependence on history of both present and future dynamics of life is a common intuition in biology and in humanities. Historicity will be understood in terms of changes of the space of possibilities (or of "phase space") as well as by the role of diversity in life's structural stability and of rare events in history formation. We hint to a rigorous analysis of "path dependence" in terms of invariants and invariance preserving transformations, as it may be found also in physics, while
more » ... ng from the physico-mathematical analyses. The idea is that the (relative or historicized) invariant traces of past organismal or ecosystemic transformations contribute to the understanding (or the "theoretical determination") of present and future states of affairs. This yields a peculiar form of unpredictability (or randomness) in biology, at the core of novelty formation: the changes of observables and pertinent parameters may depend also on past events. In particular, in relation to the properties of synchronic measurement in physics, the relevance of diachronic measurement in biology is highlighted. This analysis may a fortiori apply to cognitive and historical human dynamics, while allowing to investigate some general properties of historicity in biology. As a consequence of this approach to historicity we claim that, in biology: rare events crucially contribute to history. In this perspective, a distinction will be made between: time of processes vs. time of history, as different observable times in the same physical dimension 3 . In a sense, the proper historical time is scanned by rare events and changes of the phase space. This analysis will allow to discuss the dependence of present (and future) phenomena on past events in systems of life. History dependence will be understood also on the grounds of measurement as the scientific form of access to phenomena, including past phenomena. The characteristics of measurement result from theoretical hypotheses, such as the choice of observables and parameters, and, in biology, from the historicity of their dynamics. In philosophical terms, this will be viewed as an epistemic issue, in reference to knowledge of history in terms of measurement, and, in particular, by a distinction between synchronic measurements vs. diachronic measurements (as access to past histories). Finally, the physico-mathematical notion of invariance, joint to the transformations that characterize it 4 , will be used, in biology, in the novel sense of -historicized invariance, that we will gradually specify 5 .
doi:10.1007/s10699-017-9535-x fatcat:ufhujkls55ca7jetsgo66n5kjq