Causality and Anticipation

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Science  18 Jul 1975:
Vol. 189, Issue 4198, pp. 194-198
DOI: 10.1126/science.189.4198.194


I have discussed the problem whether an explanation of the phenomena of life can be deduced from an exclusive reliance on causal relationship as in the currently accepted physical description, or whether attention should be given to something more. For this more the concept of anticipation is taken. Starting from what we observe in our own minds various notions involved in the idea of anticipation have been brought forward. The picture is derived from the philosophy of A. N. Whitehead. It is admissible in this philosophy to postulate an influence of anticipation on the statistical weights which play a part in quantum physics. This influence could change the probability distribution of the results of atomic reactions and thus account for living beings having a way of behavior of their own.

I have also tried to show that an inquiry into the possibility that living organisms possess features not covered by present-day physics need not lead to a belief in supernatural phenomena. The idea of purpose should not be condemned. It does not mean being directed toward a definite goal for some billions of years. Although no quantitative relations have come forward the role of anticipation can be discussed on a rational basis and finds support in an important philosophical system. It introduces some attractive features into the definition of life and it can help to probe the depth of problems which the reductionist principle leaves unanswered. It might be considered as a picture complementary to the physical picture.