Of course Hebb never wrote of phase shifts in the full Kauffman sense. There is an analogy, not a homology. What is fascinating is how often ideas come, slip away into historical dust, rise again (with a dusting), are joined by new thoughts.....and stay basically the same. Dynamic systems language is actually not new; its just popular and more complicated than before. Quantitative changes, like heating water, give sudden qualitative changes (boiling water). Its all true. Our challenge is how to model these things in an explicit and testable manner.
I think Hebb did a pretty good job for his times, but still he was open to criticism that some of this ideas were more in the realm of academic myth than empirical science. Sometimes I read the dynamic systems material and wonder what is really being said, and how to test what is being said. So, the world is dynamic and interconnected. Yep. How do we deal with it as dynamic and interconnected - and still be comprehensible to ourselves and to others? Don't know. It would be sad if dynamic slogans became mantras of some strange new age movement. That can happen.
Kauffman is a pretty bold, and controversial, guy. He is trying hard to see the world as it is, or at least might be. This is a world different from one of static and disconnected parts. And its not just simple interactions. The parts mutually mold each other's properties in time, and we end up with an intellectual tangle (bootstrap) which is hard to get out of. Yet it may be "true".
So here we are. I hope that the offerings and limits of dynamic systems ideas, phase shifts included, will continue to get serious exploration. Sometimes its hard to keep our feet on the ground in doing this. A few flights of fancy are great, but grounding ain't so shabby either.
I like what Hebb said: Building theories is like skating on thin ice - keep moving or drown. Don't think he meant random movement. There are exciting challenges ahead, folks!
Keep on skating (and watch for those thaw related phase shifts!)