New Book by Aloisius Louie: “More Than Life Itself”

Mathematical biologist and former student of Robert Rosen, Aloisius Louie, has written a new book, More Than Life Itself: A Synthetic Continuation in Relational Biology [1], which continues the development of relational biology which began with Nicolas Rashevsky and Robert Rosen. From the two-page book summary:

Biology is a subject concerned with organization of relations.

     Life is not characterized by its underlying physicochemical structures, but by its entailment relations: what they do, and to what end. In other words, life is not about its material cause, but it is intimately linked to the other three Aristotelian causes, formal, efficient, and final.

     Robert Rosen, in his 1991 book Life Itself, discusses and answers the question “What are the defining characteristics of a natural system for us to perceive it as being alive?”. His answer, in a nutshell, is that an organism — the term is used to mean an ‘autonomous life form’, i.e., any living system — admits a certain kind of closure that makes it self-sufficient in a relational sense.

     A. H. Louie’s new book More Than Life Itself continues the exploration begun in Rosen’s Life Itself. The crux of relational biology, a term coined by Nicolas Rashevsky, is

“Throw away the matter and keep the underlying organization.”

This is an emphatic statement that we take the view of ‘function dictates structure’ over ‘structure implies function’. Thus relational biology is the operational description of our endeavour, the characteristic name of our approach to our subject of mathematical biology.

     More Than Life Itself represents a synergy of the mathematical theories of categories, lattices, and modelling, and the result is a synthetic biology that provides a characterization of life. On this journey in relational biology, one meets a cast and crew of mathematical and biological characters. They include partially ordered sets, lattices, simulations, models, Aristotle’s four causes, graphs, categories, simple and complex systems, anticipatory systems, and Rosen’s metabolism-repair systems. Along the way, Louie recasts Rosen’s theorems from Life Itself on a rigorously mathematical footing, and presents an alternate set of proofs.

     Organisms are not machines. Life is not a specialization of mechanism. Life, rather, is an expansive generalization of mechanism. To answer biological questions, it is therefore neither necessary nor sufficient to follow the reductionist strategy derived from the Cartesian metaphor and Newtonian mechanism, which is to break down what is complicated into simpler pieces, understand the pieces themselves, and then reconstruct organisms from this understanding-by-parts. Any question becomes unanswerable if one does not permit oneself a large enough universe to deal with the question. Renouncing mechanism in biology does not mean abandoning science. The failure of reductionism is due to the inability of a small surrogate universe to exhaust the real one. The limits of physicochemical and mechanistic dogma are very examples of the restrictiveness of self-imposed methodologies that fabricate non-existent artificial ‘limitations’ on science and knowledge. The limitations are due to the nongenericity of the methods and their associated bounded microcosms. One learns something new and fundamental about the universe when it refuses to be exhausted by a posited method.

     The relational closure of organisms, the answer to Rosen’s epistemological question of distinction of a living system from a nonliving one, also serves as an answer to “What makes a natural system alive?”, the ontogenetic form of the question “What is life?”. Succinctly, the relational closure achieved in the entailment network of a natural system is what generates the living being, what makes a natural system come alive.

     Complexitas viventia producit.

The book is scheduled to be printed within the next two months, and available through sources such as Amazon.com. In addition, it appears that the book may be already available now in e-book form.

[1] Louie, Aloisius H. 2009. More Than Life Itself: A Synthetic Continuation in Relational Biology. Ontos-Verlag, Frankfurt. 388 pp. ISBN: 978-3-86838-044-6.

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6 Responses to New Book by Aloisius Louie: “More Than Life Itself”

  1. Through the e-book form link in the post, you can download for free the first few pages of the book as a sample.

  2. I just paid for and downloaded my electronic version of the book. At the discounted price, after the exchange rate, it ended up being $46.71 in US dollars.

  3. John Mikes says:

    Tim’s intro is decent and educative.
    It tacitly hints to a suspicion that the term ‘live’, ‘living’ etc. stems from our reductionist ignorance of how to visualize (consider?) observational half-understandings imprinted with (religiously based?) selectivity. Upon a ‘biologic’ view we assume special (i.e. non generalized) characteristics to items deemed “live” and ‘living’ processes selected into such models (bio-model restricted). Omitting other possible relations.

    {I find the quoted RR definition circular (quoted by Tim, above):
    “…What[is]…being alive?” as: “…organism [=] an ‘autonomous lifeform’ i.e., any living system — admits a certain kind of closure that makes it self-sufficient in a relational sense” ((as idem per idem)).
    The “RELATIONAL” sense makes sense to me in my questioning about – what to understand as ‘process, function, (inter)action’ – as to what triggers such and what keeps it ‘on’ (instead of just “being there’ – idle) — as the missing notion of ‘basics’ in our new translation of the world (=Rosen complexity) from yesterday’s vocabulary. Beyond the ‘closures’.
    The ‘selective’ characterisation of ‘live’ can be generalized to fit what we deem in today’s opinion mostly ‘inanimate’ while other characteristics are omitted – mentioned in ‘non-living’ distinctions. }

    A mathematical treatment in my opinion does not extend the context, rather justifies the restricted views theoretically. No ‘rigorous’ math doesl include unlimited (unknown?) variables as instrumental conditions.
    Consider the wishful dream of a meaning-based analogue unlimited (conscious?) computation vs. a Turing machine comp mechanism.

    The book may be a treasure in stepping forward to a better understanding of RR’s novel ways – agreeing in all details, or not.

    John Mikes

  4. I’ve skimmed through the book and wanted to give some preliminary thoughts. Dr. Louie develops and derives the mathematical notation that Robert Rosen used in his books Fundamentals of Measurement, Anticipatory Systems, and Life Itself. If you have read any of these other works and felt that you did not have a full grasp of the mathematics used (category theory), then “More than Life Itself” takes the effort to develop the ideas from basic principles. Louis also derives and proves some concepts in ways differently than Rosen as well as provides novel insights. It is a book that must be labored through slowly, pausing to understand the ideas. It would be beneficial for both those who may read too much into Rosen’s words, and those who may read too little. I will be laboring through it for some time myself.

  5. Tim Gwinn says:

    Jeff, thanks for the comments on the book! I’m REALLY looking forward to reading this book, but I want to wait for paper version.

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