Autocatakinetics, the development of space-time, and the epistemic act: The collapse of the a posteriori and a priori at the foundations of a relational ontology.

Rod Swenson
Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action
Department of Psychology
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06268


The bifurcated or "Cartesian" mechanical world view on which modern science was built incommensurably separates the active epistemic dimension of the world from the "physical" portion ("mind" from matter, self from other, or more generally, physics from biology, psychology, and culture). The general result building on the Cartesian cogito and related theories of perception is to saddle modern scientific discourse with the "Problem of Parmenides", namely, asserting an ontology which does not and cannot account for or even accommodate the epistemic act (the existence) of the one doing the asserting. Epistemology and ontology, or the posteriori and the a priori, in different terms, become completely incommensurable. There are generic moves which follow from the slippery slope or degenerate position this characterizes. On the one hand ontology itself is abandoned in favor of epistemology which then itself becomes unstable, or on the other hand, as in the case of Parmenides, the ontology is held onto on some "rationalist" grounds, even though it is falsified by the epistemic act of simply asserting it (true or false) in the first place. The fallout from this incommensurable core is felt across the disciplines from the cognitive sciences (the issues of "mind" in nature), and biology or, more generally evolutionary theory, to theories of culture.

The relational ontology of autocatakinetic systems built on a newer understanding of "thermodynamics" and its implications provides the basis for dissolving these incommensurabilities and turning many of the old assertions directly on their heads. Rather than the production of order from disorder, or the opportunistic filling of higher-ordered dimensions of space-time, being infinitely improbable as the older view had it, we now understand how this follows directly from universal law. In addition, rather wondering how meaningful relations can hold in a meaningless world of extension, we can now see how the intentional dynamics of living things are likewise lawfully entailed in the relational context of autocatakinetic closure in the development of space-time. Finally, as we have been able to dissolve these and related incommensurabilities from what may be seen as an a posteriori view, it is with considerable excitement that we have come to recognize more recently that in complete contrast to the 'Problem of Parmenides' the a posteriori and what may be understood as the a priori given of the epistemic act and its entailments collapse to a single set of principles. Among other things, for example, the otherwise endless and insoluble debate as to whether idealism or materialism is immediately a non-starter from this view.