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Contents tagged “possibility space”

There are 6 contents with the tag “possibility space”:

  1. Comment le hasard façonne le vivant ?

    Comment le hasard façonne le vivant ?

    Figurer le hasard : questions de théorie

    En biologie, le hasard est une notion essentielle pour comprendre les variations ; cependant, cette notion n'est généralement pas conceptualisée avec précision. Nous apportons ici quelques éléments allant dans ce sens.


    La physique possède plusieurs concepts de hasard qui reposent néanmoins tous sur l’idée que les possibilités sont données d’avance. En revanche, un nombre croissant de biologistes théoriciens cherchent à introduire la notion de nouvelles possibilités, c’est-à-dire des modifications de l’espace des possibles - une idée déjà discutée par Bergson et qui n’a pas été véritablement poursuivie scientifiquement jusqu’à récemment (sauf, en un sens, dans la systématique, c’est-à-dire la méthode de classification des êtres vivants).
    Alors, le hasard opère au niveau des possibilités elles-mêmes et est à la base de l’historicité des objets biologiques. Nous soulignons que ce concept de hasard n’est pas seulement pertinent lorsqu’on cherche à prédire l’avenir. Au contraire, il façonne les organisations biologiques et les écosystèmes. À titre d’illustration, nous soutenons qu’une question cruciale de l’Anthropocène est la disruption des organisations biologiques que l’histoire naturelle a structurées, conduisant à un effondrement des possibilités biologiques.

    Montévil, Maël. n.d. “Comment Le Hasard Façonne Le Vivant ?” In Figurer Le Hasard : Questions de Théorie, edited by Anne Duprat and others
    Manuscript Citation Full text
  2. How does randomness shape the living?

    How does randomness shape the living?

    Figuring Chance: Questions of Theory

    In biology, randomness is a critical notion to understand variations; however this notion is typically not conceptualized precisely. Here we provide some elements in that direction.


    Physics has several concepts of randomness that build on the idea that the possibilities are pre-given. By contrast, an increasing number of theoretical biologists attempt to introduce new possibilities, that is to say, changes of possibility space – an idea already discussed by Bergson and that was not genuinely pursued scientifically until recently (except, in a sense, in systematics, i.e, the method to classify living beings).
    Then, randomness operates at the level of possibilities themselves and is the basis of the historicity of biological objects. We emphasize that this concept of randomness is not only relevant when aiming to predict the future. Instead, it shapes biological organizations and ecosystems. As an illustration, we argue that a critical issue of the Anthropocene is the disruption of the biological organizations that natural history has shaped, leading to a collapse of biological possibilities.

    Montévil, Maël. n.d. “How Does Randomness Shape the Living?” In Figuring Chance: Questions of Theory, edited by Anne Duprat and others. Routledge
    Manuscript Citation Full text
  3. Possibility spaces and the notion of novelty: from music to biology

    Possibility spaces and the notion of novelty: from music to biology


    What is a biological novelty? Is it possible to coin a sound concept of new possibility? What articulation between the concepts of novelty and function?


    We provide a new perspective on the relation between the space of description of an object and the appearance of novelties. One of the aims of this perspective is to facilitate the interaction between mathematics and historical sciences. The definition of novelties is paradoxical: if one can define in advance the possibles, then they are not genuinely new. By analyzing the situation in set theory, we show that defining generic (i.e., shared) and specific (i.e., individual) properties of elements of a set are radically different notions. As a result, generic and specific definitions of possibilities cannot be conflated. We argue that genuinely stating possibilities requires that their meaning has to be made explicit. For example, in physics, properties playing theoretical roles are generic; then, generic reasoning is sufficient to define possibilities. By contrast, in music, we argue that specific properties matter, and generic definitions become insufficient. Then, the notion of new possibilities becomes relevant and irreducible. In biology, among other examples, the generic definition of the space of DNA sequences is insufficient to state phenotypic possibilities even if we assume complete genetic determinism. The generic properties of this space are relevant for sequencing or DNA duplication, but they are inadequate to understand phenotypes. We develop a strong concept of biological novelties which justifies the notion of new possibilities and is more robust than the notion of changing description spaces. These biological novelties are not generic outcomes from an initial situation. They are specific and this specificity is associated with biological functions, that is to say, with a specific causal structure. Thus, we think that in contrast with physics, the concept of new possibilities is necessary for biology.

    Keywords: Novelty, Possibility space, Biological functions, Organization, Emergence

  4. Entretien sur l’entropie, le vivant et la technique : Deuxième partie

    Entretien sur l’entropie, le vivant et la technique : Deuxième partie

    Links series

    Entretien entre B. Stiegler et M. Montévil sur l'entropie et l'anti-entropie dans l'étude du vivant et des techniques et les enjeux de l'Anthropocène.

  5. A Few Pending Challenges from the Perspective of a Theory of Organisms

    A Few Pending Challenges from the Perspective of a Theory of Organisms

    Constructivist Foundations

    I discuss convergences between the approach of N. Palfreyman and J. Miller-Young and my work aiming for a theory of organisms, in particular on randomness.


    Open peer commentary on the article “What Is a Cognizing Subject? Construction, Autonomy and Original Causation” by Niall Palfreyman & Janice Miller-Young. http://constructivist.info/13/3/362.palfreyman Upshot: I discuss convergences between the approach of the authors and my work aiming for a theory of organisms. I also discuss some pitfalls and challenges pertaining to biological randomness, which, I argue, require original developments.

  6. No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere

    No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere

    Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference

    The evolution of life marks the end of a physics world view of law entailed dynamics. We discuss the notions of causation and of enablement.


    Biological evolution is a complex blend of ever changing structural stability, variability and emergence of new phe- notypes, niches, ecosystems. We wish to argue that the evo- lution of life marks the end of a physics world view of law entailed dynamics. Our considerations depend upon dis- cussing the variability of the very ”contexts of life”: the in- teractions between organisms, biological niches and ecosys- tems. These are ever changing, intrinsically indeterminate and even unprestatable: we do not know ahead of time the ”niches” which constitute the boundary conditions on selec- tion. More generally, by the mathematical unprestatability of the ”phase space” (space of possibilities), no laws of mo- tion can be formulated for evolution. We call this radical emergence, from life to life. The purpose of this paper is the integration of variation and diversity in a sound concep- tual frame and situate unpredictability at a novel theoretical level, that of the very phase space. Our argument will be carried on in close comparisons with physics and the mathematical constructions of phase spaces in that discipline. The role of (theoretical) symmetries as invariant preserving transformations will allow us to under- stand the nature of physical phase spaces and to stress the differences required for a sound biological theoretizing. In this frame, we discuss the novel notion of ”enablement”. Life lives in a web of enablement and radical emergence. This will restrict causal analyses to differential cases (a difference that causes a difference). Mutations or other causal differ- ences will allow us to stress that ”non conservation princi- ples” are at the core of evolution, in contrast to physical dynamics, largely based on conservation principles as sym- metries. Critical transitions, the main locus of symmetry changes in physics, will be discussed, and lead to ”extended criticality” as a conceptual frame for a better understanding of the living state of matter.

    Keywords: conservation properties, symmetries, biological causality

    Longo, G., Maël Montévil, and S. Kauffman. 2012. “No Entailing Laws, but Enablement in the Evolution of the Biosphere.” In Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference, GECCO’12. New York, NY, USA: GECCO’12; ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2330784.2330946
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