Symmetry Breaking + information

extract from the ”Renewed Novelty of Symmetry by Greg Lynn”

”Therefore, symmetry breaking could be a sign of the incorporation of information into a system from the outside in order to unfold latent diversities. ”

Gregory Batterson looked at all of the monstrosities and mutations to find rules and laws, rather than looking at the norms. So, instead of trying to find the ideal type or the ideal average, he’d always look for the exception. So, in this example, which is an example of what’s called Bateson’s Rule, he has two kinds of mutations of a human thumb. So, what he found is that in all cases of thumb mutations, instead of having a thumb, you would either get another opposable thumb, or you would get four fingers. So, the mutations reverted to symmetry. And Bateson invented the concept of symmetry breaking, which is that wherever you lose information in a system, you revert back to symmetry. So, symmetry wasn’t the sign of order and organization — which is what I was always understanding, and as is an architect — symmetry was the absence of information. So, whenever you lost information, you’d move to symmetry; whenever you added information to a system, you would break symmetry. So, this whole idea of natural form shifted at that moment from looking for ideal shapes to looking for a combination of information and generic form.




What is most striking about Bateson’s discoveries of the 1890’s is the rethinking of the relationship between order and variation and homogeneity and heterogeneity. Bateson’s insight, that was inherited by his son Gregory, was that a loss of information leads toward symmetry. This is obvious as iterative reduction through phenomenological variation is exactly that, the elimination of difference (or more technically what would be refered to as “alternations of deformation”) toward a reduced eidetic type. This insight equates difference with information; Gregory Bateson has gone as far as defining information as “the difference that makes the difference.” [4]

William Bateson did not arrive at this theory of symmetry through classical reduction to types but rather by beginning with a theory of variation itself [5]. What distinguished his views on symmetry and symmetry breaking was his explanatory rather than taxonomic perspective toward form, in order to theorize variation, outside of an irregular relationship to a norm. For Bateson, monstrosities and mutations were indexes of the polymorphic nature of repetition, growth and variation that responded specifically to particular temporal and environmental conditions. The similarity between this theory of polymorphism, Galton’s “multiple positions of organic stability” and later Waddington’s temporalization of the Galton-Bateson concept as epigenetic landscape has been argued by Gerry Webster [6].. Against Darwinists, Bateson postulated a theory of “essential diversity” rather than “random mutation” and organization through “discontinuous variation” rather than “gradualism.” As a teratologist he realized that even monstrosities adhere to recognizable forms of those classified as normal and they therefore might lead to a theory of order which does not treat the variant as merely contingent or extraneous, as he notes; variant forms are as definite and well formed as typical forms. The variations of monstrosities led him to a theory of diversity and differentiation. Like the earliest experimental morphologists such as August Trembley, [7] Bateson looked for typicality in the atypical.

For example, in the two mutations of the thumb, the monstrosities exhibit higher degrees of symmetry about a mirror axis than is exhibitted in the normal hand. In the place of the asymmetry between four fingers and thumb there is a symmetry of four fingers reflected along the axis of the hand. In the other case within the assymetry of the thumb to four fingers is nested a second level of symmetry between the normal thumb and an extra thumb that is opposed to it in a mirror plane. This realization that there were classes of mutations that exhibited higher degrees of symmetry than the normal led to two possibilities. The taxonomic assumption would locate extra information at the point of mutation in order to explain the higher degree of symmetry and the increases in homogeneity and sameness. Bateson proposed an alternative whereby the increase in symmetry and decrease in complexity and heterogeneity was an index of a loss of information. Where the information for the thumb was decreased the growth reverted back to a default value of mirror symmetry. Thus symmetry was not an underlying principle of the essential order of the “whole organism” but was instead a default value of simple disorganization. Moreover, symmetry was not a global attribute of the whole, but rather was an aspect of generative and regenerative processes. The organism or order was not attributable to some reduced simplified type but was rather the result of dynamic non-linear interactions of internal directives, the viscissitudes of a disorganized context, and the organized context or generative fields that are configured by a flexible and adaptable system of integrating differences. For these morphological processes he invented the term “genetics.” “Genes” were not generators but modifiers of morphology as his theory was that information was intermittently applied during growth and development to regulate more general autonomous growth processes. Genes did not provide a blueprint in his theory but would guide development at critical junctures.

The location of the information that makes the difference was still in need of theorization by Bateson. He argued that these variations were specific responses of a biological system to perturbations that could be either environmental or genetic (opening the door in a very provocative way to Lamarkian inheritance of acquired characteristics developed through somatic evolution). Therefore, symmetry breaking could be a sign of the incorporation of information into a system from the outside in order to unfold latent diversities.

Thus contexts tend towards entropy. Contexts lack specific organization and the information that they provide tends to be general. In this regard contexts might be understood as entropic in their homogeneity and the uniform distribution of differences. Information and difference are being used here almost interchangeably, and homogeneity is understood as a sameness of differences or a lack of information. Thus, homogeneity and disorganization, or lack of difference, is a characteristic of symmetry.

Adaptive catalysts configure that information into organizations by breaking their own internal symmetry or homogeneity. Symmetry breaking should not be confused with a simple dialectic of assymetry, just as exact geometries do not dialectically invert into inexact forms. Rather, symmetry breaking from the exact to the anexact indexes the incorporation of generalized external information into a dynamic, flexible, and temporally and contextually specific stability. Symmetry, and any exact form for that matter, indicates a lack of order due to a lack of interaction with larger forces and environments. Deep structure and typology are just what they seem to be; suspect, reductive, empty and bankrupt. But, once triggered by generalized and unpredictable external influences (it must be emphatically maintained that “context” is meaningless and in and of itself it is unorganized, and “organized context” requires an agent of differentiation) these “types” unfold through differentiation into highly heterogeneous yet continuous organizations. Once put into a non-linear relationship with external forces a directed indeterminacy becomes a robust system for the unfolding of unforeseen and unpredictable dynamic organizations and stabilities.



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