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(About this term and its meaning, with respect to computer-simulations, see :
EMMECHE, C., 1994, The Garden in the Machine, for instance p. 18)
It is evident that a FORM needs a substrate in order for it to exist in Reality. But is the specific nature of this FORM also dependent upon the nature of the substrate?
In the case of larger and complex wholes, like organisms, it seems that their Specific Identity, their Whatness, is less specifically dependent on the (virtual or actual) elements of which they are composed. They can, it seems, remain the same, despite a certain variation in their composition (i.e. the choice of the composing elements making up such a whole) or the nature of those elements. Said differently, their Whatness is in a certain degree medium-independent.
In this way we could understand the phenomenon of an Essence that is constant among different individuals, despite the fact that these individuals do not just differ numerically, but also with respect to content, even in such a degree that we cannot indicate anything concrete in which they would exactly correspond (i.e. what they would have in common). We know this in the case of human individuals : The Essence (HUMAN BEING) is (according to classical metaphysics) the same in Socrates, Plato, Peter, etc.
In the case of smaller wholes, like Methane-molecules, we can point to something concrete that they have in common (i.e. that is the same in every such molecule). Their chemical constitution is identical. There are no chemical differences between the individual Methane-molecules. Among human individuals we do see chemical differences, as their immunity phenomena demonstrate. The chemical substrate (or medium) appears to be able to vary in such larger wholes while their Whatness remains the same. Of course the statement about their Whatness is no more than a stipulation. But in this case the stipulation is reasonable. This reasonability especially relates to the human individual, for example myself : Through my self-consciousness I directly experience that I remain the same with respect to content under changing conditions, chemical changes included. Thus the self-consciousness is a direct experience of ontological independence, as well as of being-one, and of remaining the same during alterations of conditions. This of course applies for every human individual.
The fact however that we call those other individuals (also) human individuals, is the stipulation mentioned. Each individual remains, during its individual existence, identical with respect to Essence, but whether that something in the individuals, which remains identical, is, over and above that, also identical to that something that remains identical in Plato, Peter, etc., is a stipulation, or at most a conclusion based on a number of vague indications.
Let us formulate all this a little bit more precise :
Socrates remains Socrates during his individual existence, despite certain changes. Plato remains Plato during his individual existence, despite certain changes.
But what thereby is being stipulated by Metaphysics is contained in the following :
The HUMAN BEING Socrates remains the HUMAN BEING Socrates during his individual existence, despite certain changes, and the HUMAN BEING Plato remains the HUMAN BEING Plato during his individual existence, despite certain changes.
So HUMAN BEING not only is 'vertically' constant, but also 'horizontally' (i.e. spatially) from Socrates to Plato.
The contancy of being-Socrates, respectively being-Plato is directly experienced by them. But this is not, just like that, the case with the constancy of HUMAN BEING from Socrates to Plato. The constancy of this 'essence' is stipulated. The biological recognition between individuals of the same species could perhaps be based on such a constancy of an essence-with-respect-to-content over individual cases. From here the stipulation appears as yet to be more or less reasonable.
Such a being-identical of something among those individuals could however perhaps be less evident if we also knew the transition-phases leading from our non-human ancestors to man as we know him today. Along this historical lineage the specific identity (whatness) must have been changed more or less gradually, resulting in the fact that the individuals of this historical lineage were not 'essentially' the same, and this lineage still continues (into the future). If we would -- knowing those ancestors -- then compare 'human' individuals, belonging to the root of this ancestral tree, with recent human individuals, then the human nature would not be so evident, i.e. we probably would not call the individuals, belonging to the root of the ancestral tree, "human beings" without hesitation. This is so, because, as it seems to be, the transitions were more or less gradual. Also if the latter turned out not to have been the case with the human evolution, then still the problems remain with respect to many other organismic species which did gradually evolve.
In fact in classical Metaphysics we depart (i.e. we start) from the supposition that the Essence in Socrates is the same (with respect to content) as in Plato, etc., and from there we construct an ontology. It seems that larger wholes can express this phenomenon because a same whole can be generated in different ways. Certain complex functions, like all kinds of organic functions, can originate from several divers media, and the repeatability of an essence, over, not only numerically different individuals, but also over individuals differing with respect to content (at lower levels), is based on this.
The existence or non-existence of such a medium-independence of a certain number of organic functions plays a role in the many computer-simulations (Artificial Life, Artificial Intelligence). The evaluations of such simulations will decide on the existence (or non-existence) of such an independency. Also with respect to small simple wholes (mixta) such simulations can be done. But in this case no complex behavioral patterns are involved, but at most some very simple little specific, and especially more or less static properties. Beyond this the simulation (simulans) does not show any correspondence with the simulated (simulatum). In the case of these small mixta we can hardly speak of any, more or less 'skimmable', higher levels.
So there is a large difference indeed between the smaller simple mixta, like (small) molecules, and large very complex mixta, like (higher) organisms.
Several, different-with-respect-to-content, Accidental make-ups of Substances, from a same substrate
Let us, regarding the problem of medium-independency and related issues, react upon the following text of St Thomas, In VIII Met., lectio 4, nr. 1734, 1735 and 1736 :
"... the Philosopher first of all says that from the same matter different things can be generated by virtue of a moving [ = an external efficient ] cause. Or because every time another moving cause [ for the generation of those different things ] is active. Or because the same moving cause is active in diverse ways with respect to those diverse things. Which is especially clear with respect to artificial things. Afer all, we see that by one [ and the same ] artisan is made from wood : a box, and [ also ] a bed, according to the diverse forms of the craft which he possesses."
It is clear that the text is concerned with accidental 'in-formation' : A certain material can, by virtue of one or another efficient cause, obtain several different forms. This, -- in so far as it is accidental in-formation -- also applies however to many cases of natural in-formation : Thus it is possible that a same material, say, Calciumcarbonate, is able to crystallize in diverse crystalforms : it can crystallize in the Orthorhombic Crystal System, to be sure in the crystal-class 2/m 2/m 2/m of that system (NOTE 1), and then it manifests itself as the mineral Aragonite.
But Calciumcarbonate can also crystallize in the Hexagonal Crystal System, to be sure in the crystal-class 3*2/m of that system (NOTE 2), and then it manifests itself as the mineral Calcite.
So if we would interpret a chemical material as a Substance (in the metaphysical sense), and the crystal-forms as conditions (states, accidents) in which such substances would find themselves, then we have the diverse accidental in-formations mentioned earlier with respect to one and the same material.
But if however we interpret the crystals themselves as Substances, and if we characterize such a Substance by : Chemical Composition + Space Group (See the Essay on Crystals) -- which I prefer -- then we can exemplify the things, St Thomas has said, also with natural things :
Sodiumchlorate normally forms cubic crystals when it crystallizes. But under other circumstances crystals are formed with a tetrahedral form. Thus the same substance, namely crystalline Sodiumchlorate, can assume different (outer) forms (under constancy of the inner structure) by virtue of external causes. Despite the change in (outer) form the crystals keep belonging to the Tetartoidal Crystal-class, symbol 23, of the Cubic Crystal System. Besides this Point Symmetry, also the Translative Symmetry remains the same (See the above link). The total symmetry, and also the chemical composition, remains the same, implying that the overall internal structure remains the same, i.e. the inner structure of the crystal remains the same in all its possible different (outer) forms. Said equivalently : The Chemical Composition + Space Group -- and thus by definition the Substance -- remains the same, despite the different outer forms (i.e. the different conditions) of those Sodiumchlorate crystals (NOTE 3). In a thematic context we can say that the Essence of a crystal causes its substance, whereby this substance is characterized by Chemical Composition + Space Group, and whereby the Essence of that crystal is the dynamical law (in this case a crystallization law) that generated this crystal.
In the same way (to return to the classical example) the wood remained the same under changing forms (conditions) -- box, bed -- when we interprete, for convenience, wood as a substance (NOTE 4).
We must qualify things further : The cubical and tetrahedral (outer) forms are states (conditions) of Sodiumchlorate crystals. Wood, just like that, is a Second Substance (A Second Substance is that something that is predicated of a First Substance ( = an individual real being) when we ask what that particular first substance specifically is). Only a determined piece of wood (to which we can point with the finger) is a First Substance (when we consider it, as an aggregate, then we have a collection of first substances). This piece of wood can occur in the form of a box or in the form of a bed, or in some other form. So these forms are states in which a piece of wood can happen to be in. These states are, it is true, much more exterior than the above mentioned crystal forms, but they are nevertheless comparable with them. The examples given by St Thomas relate to states, but perhaps are meant (also) to indicate that substances differing in content can in principle be generated from a same substrate. A crystal-example can relate to the two different subsances Aragonite and Calcite, that originate from a same material, namely Calciumcarbonate. Accordingly different Substances do not necessarily always require different substrates, and this could be an indication for the existence of a certain degree of medium-independency.
The same (species of) Substance from different substrates?
We continue with the text of St Thomas, nr. 1735
"Although prime matter is common to everything, the proper [ = specific ] matters of the diverse things are nevertheless divers : So in order that somebody does not ascribe all diversity among the things [ only and exclusively ] to a moving cause [ = efficient cause ], and [ if he would do so ] and not at all [ also ] to a material principle, he [ Aristotle ] adds that in some things which are divers [ among each other ] there must necessarily be a diverse matter, namely the proper [ = specific ] [ matter ].
Again the examples are from the accidental sphere, but the meaning is clear.
After all not just anything can be generated from any matter. Like a saw, that cannot be made from wood. Nor the craftsman can make it, for we know that he never [ always ] uses one and the same material for every piece of work : it is clear that he cannot make a saw from wood or wool, which because of their softness are not suitable for the function of a saw, which is sawing."
One or another specific thing, say, A, cannot be generated from a randomly chosen material, but only from appropriate material.
But nonetheless a choice from a small number of different materials is still possible : A functional saw can be made from iron as well as from, say, nickel. So in such cases no strict medium-dependency is demanded. The material only needs to satisfy certain general conditions like hardness, workability, etc.
How should we interprete all this when it concerns the substantial sphere? In the case of crystals, seen as substances, another material directly implies another substance : If we completely substitute, within one and the same crystal-lattice, one or more atomic species by other atomic species, then we get a different substance. So in the case of crystals a fairly strict medium-dependency prevails. But this of course results from a stipulated definition of an "inorganic crystalline substance" : Such a substance is defined by Chemical Composition + Space Group (See the Essay on Crystals).
If we would define a crystalline substance with its Space Group only (which means that we only consider its total symmetry), then it is in principle possible that a same crystalline substance with Space Group 'X', i.e. a same species, can originate from two (or more) different materials, and then such a crystalline substance shows a certain degree of medium-independency. This is possible when the chemical components of those different materials do not differ too much from each other, for example (differing not too much) in the size of their atoms. However this can be easily the case : The different atomic species quickly differ in size. Also the affinity of the atoms (of one material, compared to another) must be such that the strengths and directions of their bonds are about the same, if we want to substitute these other atoms into the same symmetric arrangements. But of course it is possible that the same symmetry (Space Group) is realized with all the atomic constituents being much larger, and with the same configuration of bonds, but not necessarily of the same strenght as those of the other crystal. Also the total assembly of atoms, and their number, can be different, and still showing the same symmetry. Despite all this there are nevertheless some restictions in obtaining the same symmetry in different materials.
However such a view of crystalline substances -- characterized by their Space Group only -- does not, according to me, seem to be correct.
So we stick to the fairly strong degree of medium-dependency of crystalline substances, especially with respect to simple chemical compounds, like, say, a sodium-chloride crystal, because their whatness is directly dependent on the chemical composition.
But in the case of very complex and larger wholes this need not necessarily to be so, for example with organisms : The individuals of a population of a certain ant species can, among other properties, differ fairly well -- in a chemical sense -- from those of another population of the same (biological) species, which is clear in the case of all animal species that allow for geographical races to be distinguished, which can differ relatively strongly among each other, and whose differences must finally be based on chemical differences. This is -- be it a fairly weak -- form of medium-independency. And this is compatible with the idea that the whatness of something -- in the sense of its Essence ( The whatness is a form-component of the Essence which itself consists of matter and form ) -- is a whatness on the highest level of the thing, which is not in every respect totally dependent upon a specific matter. There the matter-component of the Essence is only a principle that causes a sensible thing as sensible to be distinguished from a non-sensible thing as non-sensible. So there the matter-component is only a principle of changeability. However this is matter-considered-as-prime-matter. The form is the content, and comprises not only the last 'over-forming' (the last in-formation), but also all the 'previous' in-formations of the matter (of this prime matter). Those previous in-formations as prime-matter-informed-by-only-those-previous-informations together are matter in a broader sense, which is physical matter, just 'before' the last (final) in-formation. This physical matter is the substrate for the final in-formation, and this particular physical matter, so considered, has content, but need not necessarily to be the only specific matter possible for (to be the bearer for) that final in-formation, i.e. the content of the substrate need not necessarily to be unique for it to be a bearer of that particular final in-formation (the in-formation of such a bearer). This final in-formation can perhaps be supported by (specifically) other -- also appropriate -- substrates.
In this way we see a version of medium-independence in the case of storing, for example, music on (or in) a certain medium : music can be stored on a grammophone record, or on a compact disc, or on a magnetic tape. The music thus is transferable from one medium to another : We can for example copy the music from a grammaphone record to a magnetic tape. Also in this case not just any substrate can be used. It must be an appropriate carrier.
The same considerations apply to the well-known Hardware-Software relationship with respect to computers (This relation is in fact a generalization of the previous case).
A much stronger form of medium-independence is presupposed in the investigation of computerbased artificial life (a-life) (See the Essay on Artificial Life), and computerbased artificial intelligence (AI). Here we have to do with totally different substrates, i.e. different from the usual organic substrates of natural life and natural intelligence.
We continue with the text of St Thomas, nr. 1736 :
"So it is clear [ It seems that everything was clear in those old days! ] that the diversity of things originates from moving causes as well as from material ones. If it is thus possible that something specifically the same is generated from another matter, like a drinking-bowl from gold and [ also ] from silver, it is clear that the moving [ = efficient] principle must be the same, namely the craft [ = the 'art' (or skill) of the craft in question ]. [ And ], if, after all, the matter would be different, and [ also ] the moving cause would be different, it follows that the things generated must be diverse too."
A certain (degree of) medium-independency, be it fairly limited, does not only involve matter, but also the moving cause, if we consider such a moving cause as a medium. This is because, say, a drinking-bowl could be carved out of, say, a piece of silver, but such a bowl could also be made by flattening, rolling, forcing or straining that piece of silver. However the efficient (moving) cause is an external cause (not an intrinsic cause, intrinsic with respect to the thing generated), and consequently it falls more or less outside the scope of Metaphysics, i.e. outside the scope of the metaphysical 'thing-philosophy', in which only the intrinsic constitution of the thing is investigated.
As has been said, medium-independency plays a role in (the interpretation of) computersimulations of life-functions. In this area interesting results are already obtained, for instance successfull simulations of the foraging-behavior of ants, the flock-behavior of some species of bird, etc. They stimulate further thought about the constitution of complex things and processes, and can lead to new insights.
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