Dynamics and Self-Organization

“The third problem  [the two first ones being (i) infinite-dimensional space and (ii) preparation of a system in an arbitrary state] seems potentially more tractable, although not yet solved. This is the problem of observation. Indeed, we may distinguish two problems of observation: ignorance and error. By “ignorance” I mean that we look at an infinite-dimensional state, but record only a small number of parameters. Even if we measure without error, the data describe only a point in a finite-dimensional space. Thus, the observation procedure, at best, defines a projection map from the infinite-dimensional state space, S, to a record space, R, of finite dimension. I shall refer to this as the output projection map.”

Ralph H. Abraham



“We can do things for ourselves or we can pay others to do them for us. These are the two “systems” that support us; we might call them the “self-reliance system” and the “organization system”. The former tends to breed self- reliant men and women; the latter tends to produce organization men and women. All existing societies support themselves by a mixture of the two systems; but the proportions Vary.

In the modern world, during the last hundred years or so, there has been an enormous and historically unique shift: away from self-reliance and towards organization. As a result people are becoming less self-reliant and more dependent than has ever been seen in history. They may claim to be more highly educated than any generation before them; but the fact remains that they cannot really do anything for themselves. They depend utterly on vastly complex organizations, on fantastic machinery, on larger and larger money incomes. What if there is a hold-up, a breakdown, a strike, or unemployment? Does the state provide all that is needed? In some cases, yes; in other cases, no. Many people fall through the meshes of the safety net; and what then? They suffer; they become dispirited, even despondent. Why can’t they help themselves? Generally, the answer is only too obvious: they would not know how to; they have never done it before and would not even know where to begin.

John Seymour can tell us how to help ourselves, and in this book he does tell us. He is one of the great pioneers of self-sufficiency. Pioneers are not for imitation but for learning from. Should we all do what John Seymour has done and is doing? Of course not. Total self-sufficiency is as unbalanced and ultimately stultifying as total organization. The pioneers show us what can be done, and it is for every one of us to decide what should be done, that is to say, what we should do to restore some kind of balance to our existence.”

Schumacher’s foreword to “The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency” by John Seymour

Physiological Optics

“The natural philosopher must stick to the facts and try to find our their laws; and he has no means of deciding between these two kinds of speculation, because materialism, it should be remembered, is just as much a metaphysical speculation or hypothesis as idealism, and therefore has no right to decide about the matters of fact in natural philosophy except on a basis of fact. It is safer in my opinion to connect the phenomena of vision with other processes that are certainly present and actually effective, although they may require further explanation themselves, instead of trying to base these phenomena on perfectly unknown hypotheses as to the mechanisms of the nervous system and the properties of nervous tissue, which have been invented for the purpose and have no analogy of any sort. The only justification I can see for proceeding in this way would be after all attempts had failed to explain the phenomena by known facts. But, in my judgment this is not the case at all with the physiological explanation of visual perception. On the contrary, the more attentively I have studied these phenomena, the more have I been impressed by the uniformity and harmony everywhere of the interplay of the psychic processes, and the more consistent and coherent this whole region of phenomena has appeared to me.”

Hermann von Helmholtz

The Nature of Explanation

“… owing to the Principle of Uncertainty. This lack of verifiability is an unfortunate fact but still does not justify, in my opinion, the confusion between a limit of observation and a limitation of experience. I am not asking physicists to make unverifiable hypotheses as to the nature of the electron (…); I am only asking them to refrain from saying that reality must have the same limitations as their methods of observation. Science surely is an attempt to find our the nature of reality by experiment, theoretical formulation of hypotheses, and verification; not an attempt to assert that reality has the same limitations as our methods of observation. This last is a kind of subjectivism into which science has fallen though it started out to be most objectivist, refusing to accept anything that was not verifiable. It is verifiability which is the fatal link. If a phenomenon is verifiable, it exists; but this does not mean that if it is not verifiable it does not exist. This is the old fallacy: ‘All S are P, therefore all P are S’. The verifiability of statistical predictions shows that the statistical laws are true -that actual objects do behave according to these laws; but it certainly does not prove that these are the ultimate laws which they obey and that there may not be more ultimate mechanisms. Science is not reality; it is a method of investigating reality. (…)”

Kenneth Craik