Ontic opening

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Four humorous takes on ontic openings: the uncertainty principle, used as a ploy or apathy; the second law viewed as a model of universal disorder increase, taken as standard model; "information" sold in the guise of entropy to argue about everything, and Godel's incompleteness theory, used as a get out of jail card.

In hmolscience, ontic opening (TR:113) (LH:10) (TL:123), aka "Einstein twisters" (Lovecraft, c.1929), refers to the use of conceptual, hypothetical, or perceived scientific “openings”, in the deterministic scheme of things, e.g. chance (Lucretius, 55BC), the mechanics of “quantas” (Einstein, 1905), uncertainty principle (Heisenberg, 1927), “information” (Shannon, 1949), “unique events” (Elsasser, 1958), “bifurcations” (Prigogine, 1971), "emergence", holism, etc., among about a dozen other variations, employed to make or attempt a contrived “ontological”, being or becoming based, "teleological", i.e. design or purpose as an explanation, “theological”, i.e. finger of god in physics, or “anthropomorphic”, e.g. free will, metaphysical arguments about natural phenomena or universal experience (Ulanowicz, 2009).


The prefix “ontic” is a shorthand reference to "ontology", the study of the emergence of being, becoming, and or existence, and hence ontic is short for the study of these in regards to being and becoming questions related to human existence, particularly in regards to the modern physical sciences.

In c.1920s, Martin Heidegger, supposedly, employed the concept of “ontic openness” or ontic openings, in some way or another; presumably in respect to being and becoming.

One who employs two or more ontic openings in their argument, tends to become classified as a "melting pot" theorist.[1]

Einstein twisters

In 1929, Howard Lovecraft, in a letter, warned a correspondent not to be tricked by what he referred to as "Einstein-twisters", namely scientists and litterateurs who used Einstein, e.g. energy = matter views (see: mass-energy equivalence) or relativity ideas, to bolster previously outmoded views regarding god and the soul.[2]


In 2009, Robert Ulanowicz, in his The Third Window: Natural Life beyond Newton and Darwin, attempted to sell the concept of "ontic openings" as a new metaphysics of nature; the following is one summary of this:[3]

“Let us formulate the first postulate our new metaphysic as follows: I. The operation of any system is vulnerable to disruption by chance events. Had we remained unaware of singular events, the postulate would have seemed mundane. But Elsasser has robbed us of our innocence, and we now realize that the statement also pertains to the more pervasive actions of radical, singular occurrences that evade even rudimentary methods of prediction. The postulate is also meant to affirm the untie nature of chance. That is, chance is not merely an illusion to be explained away by the operation of laws, if only one knew matters surrounding the event with sufficient precision. To understand why one must foreswear universal lawfulness, it becomes necessary to know more about the nature of physical laws. To the contrary, the postulate is implying that the world is not a seamless continuum. The fabric of causality is porous. In analogy with Caratheodory's (1909) statement of the second law of thermodynamics, we can say that arbitrarily close to any event that is amenable to lawful resolution lie innumerable instances of radical chance (holes). Put in other words, the universe is not causally closed, but open in the sense of Popper (1982) and Peirce (1894).”

Ulanowicz's book, to note, was funded by Templeton Foundation, which caters to "spiritual science" themed publications. Ulanowicz, in this sense, is a chemical engineer, an ecologist, a theist, and a spiritual philosopher; a rare combination, to say the least.[4]

In 2009, Erland Lagerroth, in his review of Robert Ulanowicz’s The Third Window, explains the gist of “ontic openings” as follows:[5]

“Robert Ulanowicz is professor in theoretical ecology with the University of Maryland and his A Third Window. Natural Life Beyond Newton and Darwin appeared in 2009. Already his choice of subject tells something about his way of thinking. For ecology does not deal with fixed objects but with relations and processes, wholes and systems. So Ulanowicz is critical against atomism and reductionism in ortodox science, and after Newton and Darwin but following Ilya Prigogine and Gregory Bateson, he wants to open a third window towards reality. Strangely enough, however, the science of life itself, biology in the form of molecular biology, remains the most ardent champion of the old approach. But the author shows that the DNA molecule does not direct evolution. Instead this is done by the enzymatic processes that read, select and edit the genome.

The difficulty with the old world view is: how can the world change? An essential explanation is chance. Chance can be handled with statistical mechanics and insurance mathematics, but that depends upon the units here being (functionally) identical. But as Walter Elsasser has shown, the universe is full of unique chance events. It is not causally closed but open and so it exhibits a flexibility that is essential, if evolution is going to continue. For the new world view the problem is the opposite: how can the world persist? The question now is what process might yield ordered form out of chaotic substrate? And Ulanowicz finds the answer by Gregory Bateson: "In principle, then, a causal circuit will generate a non-random response to a random event." Such circuits can endure, for with their feedback function they can react non-randomly upon random stimuli. In short, they govern themselves. Positive feedback and autocatalysis then create systems that are so stable that they can resist most disturbances. Otherwise life would not be possible.

Process-ecology accomodates a "soft" form of materialism. Aristoteles "material causes" play a rather passive role. Furthermore, this ecology shows that we have "read the text of nature backwards". The material objects of everyday life are actually the endpoints of evolutionary processes from big bang and onwards. But we have taken these end stages as starting points for scientific explanation. We have placed the cart before the horse. In principle, Ulanowicz means, life originated in the same way, from a series of processes . This makes its origin less enigmatic, he thinks.

What is missing in his book is a large exposition of the form of existence, common to life and non-life, which Bateson divined, Prigogine discovered and Erich Jantsch developed further: "dissipative structures" or self-organizing systems. This want depends upon the author through his window focusing only life, not the processes and systems of non-life. But he does not need to worry. In 2007 he was awarded the Prigogine medal, a prize set up by The Wessex Institute of Technology and the University of Siena in the year after Prigogine's death in 2003. That prize might become a meeting place for us who in our thinking in the spirit of process and wholeness have reached beyond Newton and Darwin and analytical reductionism in the humanities.

Ulanowicz declares himself for theist (like Newton): he believes in god and his possibilities to intervene in what happens on earth. The clue to this is the the ontic openings of nature. "Examples include Gödel's incompletenes theorem, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the Pauli exclusion principle, and Elsasser's unique events." He also finds some kind of solution to the problem of theodicy. Disturbances are essential if systems are to develop. But they can involve both suffering and evil. Without a certain tolerance for this mankind cannot advance. Without mistakes there is no creativity.”

Here, in short, Ulanowicz wants to “open” a third window in the natural view of things, beyond the standard windows of Newton and Darwin.

End matter


  1. Melting pot theory – Hmolpedia.
  2. Lovecraft, H.P. (2010). Against Religion: the Atheistic Writings of H.P. Lovecraft (editor: S.T. Joshi; foreword: Christopher Hitchens) (abs) (pg. xix). Sporting Gentlemen.
  3. Ulanowicz, Robert. (2009). The Third Window: Natural Life beyond Newton and Darwin (ontic, 7+ pgs; ontic opening, pgs. 47, 151, 159). Templeton Foundation Press.
  4. Robert Ulanowicz – Hmolpedia 2020.
  5. Lagerroth, Erland. (2009). “In the Beginning was the Process” (Amz), Amazon Reviews, Aug. 11.

Further reading

  • Jorgensen, Sven. (2007). A New Ecology: Systems Perspective (§3.2: Why is Ontic Openness so Obscure?, pgs. 36-). Elsevier.

External links

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