The Framework

The framework presented here was inspired by, and aspires to be consistent with, David Deutsch’s Constructor Theory.  Deutsch’s Theory was created by and for physicists, including the requisite esoteric mathematical formulas, and I was despairing of doing it justice when I came upon a book titled The New Mechanical Philosophy by Stuart Glennan. Unbeknownst to me, there was an entire field of Philosophy called either the New Mechanism or the New Mechanical Philosophy. This new Philosophy (apparently largely developed in the last twenty years) turns out to be entirely compatible with Deutsch’s Theory, which Theory is pretty much just a special case of Mechanical Philosophy. So much so that in the following, which was originally developed with respect to Constructor Theory, I have simply replaced several references to Constructors with references to Mechanisms (or agents), with no violence to the ideas presented.

Constructor/Mechanism/Agent

The basic premise of Constructor Theory is that all physical theories can be described in terms of which transformations of matter (processes or tasks) are possible, which are impossible, and why.  For the purpose of the current framework, a “task” consists of an input configuration of matter (which can be described by a finite set of physical variables), an output configuration of matter (ditto), and a Constructor (Agent/Mechanism) which performs the task by generating the output when presented with the input. While the New Mechanical Philosophy contemplates one-off processes, we (like Constructor Theorists) will be concerned entirely with tasks wherein the Constructor/Mechanism/Agent remains essentially unchanged and able to repeat the task.

A task will typically be diagrammed as follows:

where x1, x2, etc. are the input variables and y1, y2, etc. are the output variables.

Complex Agents

One important implication which follows from this framework is that the outputs of transformations can become the inputs of other transformations.  Mechanisms can be combined such that any regular network of tasks can be considered a new, higher level task with a new higher-level (super) agent.

Thus, individual atoms can be considered Mechanisms, and certain combinations of such Mechanisms can be considered a super Mechanism. Note: the sub-Mechanisms are still Mechanisms in their own right.

Causation

Another important implication which follows from this framework will be what we mean by causation.  For the time being we can put aside the baggage that philosophers have added to the idea of causation. For now, we can say that a Mechanism causes Output when presented with Input. Also, any system of matter can be considered the Output of one or more tasks. Thus, any system of matter, including any Input, will have a Causal History which includes all of the tasks that led up to that system and going all the way (at least) to the Big Bang.

Function

There are two different concepts of function that will be important to us. The first, (from Wikipedia), is the mathematical concept: a relation between a set of inputs and a set of permissible outputs with the property that each input is related to exactly one output. Thus, any task can be considered a function wherein the mechanism is abstracted away, leaving only the inputs and associated outputs

The second concept of function refers to working or operating in a proper or particular way. Thus, we say the function of the eyeball is to relay visual information to the brain.

In the current Theory, “function” will mean function in the mathematical sense, and when we want to discuss an entity operating in a proper way, we will say the function is associated with a purpose.

Purpose

For the current Theory, teleological “purpose” is essentially an explanation of why an entity came to exist. To my knowledge, there are two known processes which create things with a purpose. The first is goal creation by intentional agents. Such agents can create mechanisms that have the purpose of furthering one or more goals. The other process is natural selection. This process can create mechanisms, such as eyeballs which have the purpose of relaying information to the brain. Purposes can have hierarchies, such as, in the case of eyeballs, increasing the reproductive fitness of a species.

Semantic Information

The final puzzle piece we will need for the current Theory is a concept of semantic information. We adopt Luciano Florida’s definition described in his book The Philosophy of Information. There he defines semantic information as data which is well formed, meaningful, and true. For our purposes, “data” pretty much refers to the input and output variables of tasks as described above. “Well-formedness” refers to appropriateness for a given level of abstraction. We probably would not consider lists of specific sub-atomic particles and their properties to be well-formed data in the context of the task “making a hamburger”. “Meaning” is a bit like function, in that there are two competing concepts to which we apply the term. One refers to the product of intentional minds, as in the meaning of words, and the other refers to a natural relation between physical events, as in smoke means fire. More specifically, we can describe that relation as saying that one set of data, in this case smoke, can be used to refer to something in the causal history (as described above) of that data, in this case, fire. I will (eventually) claim that intentional meaning is a special case of natural meaning, but that claim is not necessary for the statement of the Psychule Theory. Finally, “truth”, for our Theory, pretty much refers to whether the causal history of the data in question actually supports the “meaning” perceived. In some cases, you can have smoke without an actual fire.

This should be enough to support the statement of the Theory,