Recursive definition of a center

A center is a kind of entity which can only be defined in terms of other centers. The idea of a center cannot be defined in terms of any other primitive entities except centers.

A center is not a primitive element. Centers are already composite. Yet they are the most primitive elements available. They are bits of wholeness which appear as structures within the wholeness.

Sounds a lot like category theory to me, where entities are not really defined directly, but by the relationships (morphisms) among them.

We are used to a view where we try to explain one kind of entity by showing it to be constructed of other different kinds of entities. […] If we ask what the centers are made of, we come up against a brick wall. Here we have a question so fundamental that it cannot be explained or understood, as a composite of any other more fundamental kind of entity. Instead, we shall see centers are only made of other centers. This is the most fundamental concept. The nature of these centers can therefore be understood only reflexively, or recursively. This is one reason wholeness looks so mysterious to those who are wedded to mechanistic thought.

We seamlessly jump between levels of abstraction with the help of these centers: we can talk about a tree, and see it as a whole, but then we can also easily drop down a level and see what the tree is made of — branches. And the same again with each individual branch, each individual leaf or fruit, etc. And it works in the other direction too, when we can see the forest made of individual trees.

Grasping this idea [of recursion], and grasping the fact that this bit of understanding is a positive step forward, and not problematic, is the key to understanding wholeness. The apparent circularity here is — I believe — the crux of the problem of wholeness. The reason that deep wholeness (or life) is so mysterious, is that centers are built from centers, wholeness is built from wholeness.

It seems we software people should have an unfair advantage then, because this is a concept we are most likely very familiar with.

In the mechanistic world-view, a machine is built out of elements. We define the elements, and then assemble them to form some larger structure which gets its behavior from the interaction of the elements. However, wholeness does not come about in such a simple-minded way. It is my view that wholeness comes about precisely under those circumstances where centers are made, only, from other centers, and where more primitive elements do not exist.

The relative wholeness or centeredness of any given center can only be understood in terms of the relative centeredness of its component centers and their organization. There is no way of describing the centeredness of a leaf — or anything else — which does not invoke the centeredness of its various component parts, and of those around it. If I try to explain why a given thing feels like a center — why a center occurs at a particular point in the organization of the leaf — I cannot avoid talking about the other centers which occur at other levels. The centeredness or centrality in the leaf comes from the organization and interplay of its centers, and they are only centers because of their organization and their relatively greater centeredness.

So there is a fundamental circularity which we cannot escape. This circularity is not a mistake, or an indication of something logically vicious in the argument. On the contrary, it is the essential feature of the situation. Our understanding of both wholeness and life will come into focus just at the moment when we thoroughly grasp this circularity and what it means.

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/4 How life comes from wholeness#

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