What is Transilience?

          Transilience is a theory of being which holds that different forms of being emerge as physical materials take on different properties when arranged (dynamically structured) in different patterns. Thus, merely physical being manifests a particular set of properties - including the constancy through time and space of a small number of types of things, which leads to greater variation by degree than by type. In addition, for merely physical beings, size, density, and movement are determined by a small number of immediately-acting forces that operate with separable impacts because they tend to exert degrees of force at different scales. These features give great power to mathematical and experimental approaches and enable the formulation of a relatively small number of laws to explain physical being.

          In contrast, biological being - though it is constituted of nothing but physical matter - manifests the distinctive properties we identify as "life." Biological beings maintain quasi-stable forms that they reproduce in different physical particles, and they do so through networks of feedback circuits that channel and stabilize inputs. Although biological beings are directed through immediate physical forces, and can be explained in an accord with the laws of physics, they cannot be fully explained in this fashion. The patterns of physical forces immediately operating are determined by a history (specifically an environmentally embedded lineage), so that full explanation requires understanding of this lineage. Biology is thus inherently a historical science, and it is also a science of the particular rather than the universal. Knowledge of biology is therefore not knowledge of universal laws, but of models, motifs, and lineages, and biological being is best understood as systemic and opportunistic rather than deterministic.

          The properties of living beings are different from non-living properties solely because of their unique arrangements. Similarly, symbolic beings - though they are constituted of nothing more than particular dynamic interactions of biological beings with other physical matter - are distinctly different in capabilities and behavior from merely biological beings. Symbol systems consist of highly mobile, convergent flows. Where we described physics as deterministic and biology as systemic and opportunistic, we describe symbolic being as having "fantastic" qualities, which include an arbitrary or historically based physical materialism, the consequent ability to bind time and space, and the ability to create both fictions and moral codes. These capacities enable human beings to imagine cathedrals, to build castles, to launch nuclear bombs, and to expand their reformatting of the environment around them even into the cold, airless vacuum of the moon. We note in passing that this ontological framework would specify that silicon-based intelligences would constitute neither biological life nor merely physical being, but a fourth type of being.

          We employ the term "transilience" both to recognize the argument of E.O. Wilson in favor of "consilience," and also to suggest that the differences in forms of being require not a reduction to a singular mode of study and set of laws (the unitary vision of consilience), but rather connections across different modes of being.




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