Ontic openness: An absolute necessity for all developmental processes
- øren Nors Nielsena, Robert E. Ulanowiczb
There are many ways of describing and explaining the properties of living systems; causal, functional, and reductive accounts are necessary but no one account has primacy. The history of biology as a discipline has given excessive authority to reductionism, which collapses higher level accounts, such as social or behavioural ones, into molecular ones. Such reductionism becomes crudely ideological when applied to the human condition, with its claims for genes "for" everything from sexual orientation to compulsive shopping. The current enthusiasm for genetics and ultra-Darwinist accounts, with their selfish-gene metaphors for living processes, misunderstand both the phenomena of development and the interactive role that DNA and the fluid genome play in the cellular orchestra. DNA is not a blueprint, and the four dimensions of life (three of space, one of time) cannot be read off from its one-dimensional strand. Both developmental and evolutionary processes are more than merely instructive or selective; the organism constructs itself, a process known as autopoiesis, through a lifeline trajectory. Because organisms are thermodynamically open systems, living processes are homeodynamic, not homeostatic. The self-organising membrane-bound and energy-utilising metabolic web of the cell must have evolved prior to socalled naked replicators. Evolution is constrained by physics, chemistry, and structure; not all change is powered by natural selection, and not all phenotypes are adaptive. Finally, therefore, living processes are radically indeterminate; like all other living organisms, but to an even greater degree, we make our own future, though in circumstances not of our own choosing.