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Am Anfang war die Tat
(In the beginning there was the deed)
Schopenhauer's formula for all that exists is:
the world = will + representation
Will is manifested in action. Will and action are inseparable. We understand will as the quality that allows to choose between the (possible) options and act. Action and will are two faces of essentially the same phenomenon, and in our philosophy action is its perceivable part. We rewrite Schopenhauer's formula as follows:
the perceivable world = action + representation
Of these two parts, action has the ontological primacy. Representation is, in the last analysis, a kind of action -- interaction of the subject and the object of knowledge. Different subjects may have different representations of the same action. Only action as such has a definite reality: if it took place, it did. If did not, it did not.

Cybernetic ontology is ontology of action In cybernetics we abstract from matter, energy, space, even time. What remains is interdependence between actions of various kinds. Communication, control, information -- all these are actions.

An action is a result of a free choice. The state of the world defines (or rather is defined as) the set of feasible actions for each will. The act of will is to choose one of these. We learn about action through our representations, i.e. our knowledge about the external world.

When we ignore the agent, we speak of actions as events.

When we speak of actions of human beings we know very well what the agent is: just the person whose action it is. We reconstruct this notion, of course, starting from our own "I". When we speak of animals, e.g. such as dogs, we again have no doubt in the validity of the concept agent. This reasoning can be continued to frogs, amoebas, and inanimate objects. We say: "the bomb exploded and ship sank". But what about a collision of two elementary particles, of an act (sic!) of radioactive decay? It is definitely an action, but whose action is it? We do not know -- meaning that we have, at present, no picture, model, or theory of the world which would make use of the agent of this collision or emission. Thus we call this action an event. Not that it has no agent: by the nature of our concept, each action is performed by an agent. We simply can say nothing about it, so we ignore it. It may well be that in some future physical theory we shall speak about the agents of subatomic events. It seems reasonable to speak of an agent which comes into being for the express purpose of causing an act of radioactive decay. At each moment in time this agent makes a choice bewteen decay and not decay. This immediately explains the exponential law of radioactivity.

Copyright© 1997 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

V. Turchin,

Oct 6, 1997 (modified)
Sep 1991 (created)


Metasystem Transition Theory


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