code and the oracular

A New Physics Of Life

with one comment

Physics traditionally studies dead matter. All our analysis of biological systems is a reductionistic one that aims to reduce the extreme complexity of living systems into a form that can be explained using the ordinary laws of physics as they apply to matter and energy. The vitalists thought that life consisted of an indivisible life essence but the whole lesson of reductionism is that once you chop things into sufficiently small parts all you can see is non-living systems.

In modern parlance we describe the appearance of complex behaviours in a system built from its component parts as emergence. Emergent qualities include such things as consciousness. A theory of the living universe would have to explain how complex emergent phenomena arise.

The emergent characteristics of a simple system like a living cell are a consequence of the microscale interactions of the particles composing it. However the richness and complexity of an emergent phenomenon such as the cell would be intractably complex to deduce by simply knowing about the physics of the particles that compose it. And yet at some level the potential for any kind of emergent phenomena must be present within the laws of physics. So we become suspicious that a theory of Everything which could be summarised in a short mathematical form would not indeed contain enough information to explain every kind of phenomenon in the universe – we need a law of emergence.

In a sense one could thus ask whether it is a law of the universe that “Lukes” or “Maries” should exist in the universe.

What is the relationship between emergence and size scale?

Could it be that living organisms on planet Earth occupy the centre ground of size scales, so that the complexity of emergent phenomena is maximal at this central region?

We are used to seeing ripples on the beach in the sand. We are used to seeing anvil shaped clouds. These are easy examples of emergent forms. The very universal tendency that generates these beautiful patterns is the same tendency that generates the morphology of our bodies in their baroque complexity, and the one that makes our brains generate the emergent phenomena of technological artefacts too.

Physics resolves living systems into nonliving component parts with its reductions, cognitive science resolves thinking into nonthinking processes with its reductions. Neither can explain life or mind, except to say they are properties of a whole. But human science has been hitherto based on an innate common sense tendency to conclude that reductionism is the best way forward in analysis.

We had better start trying to develop new habits !

Divine Mysteries

A mobius strip cannot be subject to a reductionistic understanding, if you take a longitudinal section you will never see the topology. This topology, the strange loop at the heart of the strip cannot be seen unless you consider the whole as a single unit of analysis.

Thus I suggest consciousness also cannot be understood unless you consider the whole universe as a self organising evolutionary cradle. After all, human minds can calculate with infinity, despite the fact that everything we appear to see around us is finite.

Our minds can glimpse the totality of the universe because there are some survival challenges that require this.
Yes, reductionism and an understanding of emergent phenomena are incompatible but we know ourselves as conscious – a cosmos-spanning computation indeed.

Our instinct is so often to reduce, it’s easy and yields superficial results we must understand though that it has limited effectiveness as a strategy instead realising that we dwell in emergence, being ourselves an emergent phenomenon.

At university all the skeptics criticised me when i talked about spirituality but i maintained my quest to understand faith…

First comes evolution then intelligence (which accelerates the evolutionary process further) and is there indeed a further stage awaiting reality – that of pure creative power ? Or even an infinite series of maturational steps approaching that divine asymptote ?

I hold that it is God who set the great evolutionary game in motion how else could something sentient grow out of something nonliving ? Unless the potential for infinite mind were already buried somehow in physical law
awaiting its reawakening in human form… and infinite we shall be, or tending towards it as the great cognitive crystal expands and spreads.

If consciousness is emergent as a high level result from the brain, then how can this high level act on and effect changes in the lowest level, it doesn’t touch the lower levels of neurons so maybe alll freedom and sense of self is an illusion… can the whole affect its parts, no it is only the parts that affect the whole, for they compose it. How can I will to move my arm, and this high level entity and intention, this decision that’s part of my phenomenology affect motor neurons ? i don’t get it.

Events and properties of units at a low level “cause” properties of higher levels, there can be no causation that travels downwards from high level structures to lower, since an effect cannot cause its cause. yet we feel that ideas plans and choices cause our bodies to move. what is going on ?

The topology of a mobius strip is emergent, but it cannot cause an atom in the paper to do anything. Paradox is everywhere. Society too is an emergent phenomenon. the norms and values of a society can influence the individuals, is this the whole affecting the parts too ?

Maybe we should infer from this paradox that our idea of causality is limited, and that one can get hung up on it if one applies the idea willy nilly. Living things clearly make choices and behave as a result of computations in their brains which involve emergent and higher level processes. If the causality of consciousness generates paradox then we should weaken our attachment to the concept. There must be a different kind of causality at work in complex systems than the primitive image of newtonian billiard ball particles interacting.

I hold that when we percieve personality we are seeing at the highest level of any system. If we try to personify any complex system this may be the best way forward. Maybe anthropomorphising the very universe is not so naive after all ! Praise god and long live I-Thou relations.

a brain is like a flower,
it forms naturally to do its job
But what about mad brains ?
Are they broken machines ?
or just natural human variation


Written by Luke Dunn

July 22, 2009 at 12:52 pm

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Nicely laid out, except there is no such thing as first causation so there can be no God, or God that is defined as it is now. There ultimately is a single reality, so to invision the word God to mean independent from reality is, simply false. The word does mean something, we understand it genetically, experiencially, emotionally, and to a degree intelligently but but the current defining term used for that word is simply not logical. God exists in very hidden places, not at the upper end of the scale of complexity but in the base, or in Zero if you will. It’s simply ego projection and thus ego inflation to think of God in terms of a greater than, God needs to be understood as a quality of a lesser than, ego deflation, or the elimination of self from the equation. Religion has it partially right but is looking in the wrong direction.

    david thurman

    December 24, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: