Did “Consciousness” just appear from nowhere, or is there something about the physical universe that means that consciousness is almost guaranteed to emerge?...
PART 1 – CONSCIOUSNESS
Over the last 400 years or so Mathematical Physics has become the science that we rely on to explain the behavior of the universe. Mathematical physics is the ultimate science of deterministic cause and effect. But although physics is good at explaining the obvious dynamics of cause and effect, it turns out that it fails quite miserably when it comes to explaining the not-so-obvious dynamics of “Natural Evolution and Emergent Complexity”…
Compressible Linear Dynamics
In general the science of physics likes to believe that all natural behavior can be explained mathematically, and consequently physicists like to build “mathematical models” of (cause and effect in) the real world. Sometimes these models are unbelievably concise, and can be compressed into a single neat equation, and when this happens we confidently call the model a “Deterministic” “Law of Physics”. However in reality the universe has a range of behavior, from simple to complex, and so unsurprisingly many behaviors are not so easily compressed.
Incompressible Nonlinear Dynamics
The reality is that physics is, in a sense, primarily a science of “linear” dynamics, a science of dynamics “without feedback”. Such dynamics are indeed easily compressible, but our real world is a world that abounds with feedback, a “nonlinear” world full of “incompressible dynamics”.
Nature is the ultimate example of a complex “adaptive” system full of incompressible dynamics. And while there are many systems within Nature which exhibit obvious cause and effect; most of Nature’s behavior is however much more nuanced, and consequently much more difficult to predict.
Complex adaptive systems do not follow strict cause and effect “rules” but instead they have a lot of emergent “associations”. So unlike simple linear dynamics we cannot learn about complex nonlinear dynamics by simply discerning the “mathematical rules”. To truly understand complex nonlinear systems we need a different type of model.
[Note: In the simplest possible terms, linear dynamics are dynamics where the effect is proportional to the cause, and nonlinear dynamics are where the effect can be disproportional to the cause.]
A Different Type of Model
The “Brain” is a “Biological Tool” that has been designed by millions of years of evolution to navigate an external world full of complex nonlinear dynamics.
The Brain mirrors Nature in that it is also a complex adaptive system, and it is constantly adapting its own internal “neural” network to the available data from the external world. This neural network is, in effect, an “abstract model” – effectively, “a map of what is connected to what”…
[Note: In the real world, we use such abstract models all the time. A map of the London Underground is a perfect example.
This nonlinear map is obviously not an exact representation of locations in physical space, but it is nonetheless a good enough model, to give us a working understanding of the fundamental structure of the underground network.]
So the “Brain” is basically a complex connectivity map, and the “Emergent Mind” simply a reflection of how the brain is wired up.
“Consciousness” bubbles up from this emergent mind. And at its most fundamental, “Emergent Consciousness” is nothing more than the “surface representation” of a subconscious “Library of Instincts” and “Laboratory of Intuitions”…
PART 2 – DEEP INTUITION
So emergent consciousness is simply the “surfacing” of a biological process of “abstract modeling and pattern recognition”. But over many millions of years however, “The Conscious Mind” has developed way beyond mere pattern recognition. This development is most obvious in modern humans. Over long periods of time Mankind slowly turned recognizable patterns of cause and effect into technology and engineering by a gradual process of trial and error. And in the last 400 years or so, human consciousness took things a step further by actually teasing out the underlying mathematics that governs the linear dynamics of cause and effect. But despite all this incredible evolution of conscious and rational linear thinking, we can still struggle badly when it comes to dealing with “the dynamics of feedback and nonlinear complexity”…
Fast Nonlinear Thinking
The Brain has been designed to deal with a nonlinear world, and complex nonlinear pattern recognition is actually it speciality. The subconscious mind is a library of instincts, and a laboratory of intuitions. Essentially we can think of instincts as simply hard-corded intuitions, but intuitions themselves are better thought of as soft-coded works in progress…
Some time ago Daniel Kahneman wrote a book called “Thinking, Fast and Slow” in which he basically suggested that we cannot rely on our fast thinking intuition; that generally speaking while our intuition works well when dealing with simplicity, it tend to lets us down when dealing with even the smallest amount of complexity.
This however need not always be the case. The reality is that, in an ever more complex interconnected world, our fast “nonlinear” thinking can be a much more valuable, and “insightful”, tool than our slow “linear” thinking – but in order for this to be so, we do need to train it correctly…
Integration for Free
In his book “Bounce” Matthew Syed argues that “Talent” is not God-given, but must be worked at — the ultimate result of many long hours of practice. Virtually anyone who is any good at anything will recognize the truth in these words. But how exactly does practice make perfect?…
Think about what is involved in learning to play tennis to very high level. Bad tennis players essentially play every shot more or less the same way; the forehand is almost the same shot as the backhand, even the serve is essentially just racket meets ball. People who play tennis well however, have learned to separate, or differentiate, one stroke from another; they have fine-tuned the mechanics of each individual stroke from hours and hours of practice and “evaluated feedback”.
Strangely enough though, despite this constant focus on training the mechanics of each unique stroke, nobody ever seems to train the transition from one stroke to another — that somehow just seems to come naturally over time. It seems that the co-training of a diversity of different strokes means that the integration comes for free…
In truth however while “practice focused on feedback” may consolidate the technique of each individual stroke, it is only through “competitive practice” that these finely-tuned strokes are ultimately combined into a single integrated style of play. It is this competitive practice, this necessary “integration” (of a repertoire of differently trained strokes) that ultimately makes “the whole greater than the sum of its parts”…
Differentiate + Integrate
Learning to play tennis (or anything else for that matter) is simply a process of work and play, of training and application, of differentiation and integration, repeated over and over again. In a similar vein, “Intuition” can be thought of as a nonlinear map, built from the bottom-up by the constant interplay of conscious differentiation and subconscious integration.
[Note: In general, as humans, we learn to model the world by trial and error (although trial and evaluation of feedback is probably a more accurate, if clumsier, representation). The brain makes sense of the world, the same way a child makes sense of a jigsaw puzzle. A child will separate out all the edge pieces, separate out all the sky pieces, separate out all the castle pieces etc, etc, and then try to fit them all together.]
The brain carries out the conscious process of differentiation when awake and deeply focused and the subconscious process of integration when asleep and deeply relaxed. During sleep the subconscious mind is effectively trying its best to compress and integrate the diversity of information it has learnt into a single “Coherent Whole”.
[Note: The information can only be compressed to its maximum compression but no more — this is the basic idea behind something called “information entropy”].
Language is probably the most obvious example of the nonlinear emergence of integrated feedback. A child does not learn to speak by learning the linear rules; it is only with much practice, attention to feedback, and deep sleep, that nonlinear language ultimately bubbles up to the surface…
This nonlinear learning, this subconscious integration, bubbling up to the surface is the same process that drives our “Intuitive Pattern Recognition”. And so if the premise of Matthew Syed’s argument (that only “evaluated” practice makes perfect) can be extended to the nonlinear mind, then any lack of “deep pattern recognition” is simply a lack of subconscious integration, which itself results from a lack of both conscious differentiation and conscious awareness of feedback…
Integration + Inspiration
It is often said about great discoveries that, “chance favors the prepared mind”, and so it is with deep pattern recognition.
Through the subconscious integration of a diversity of information a fully formed coherent idea can suddenly emerge into consciousness as if by a random thought. But this is not really a random thought. This “information structure” has probably been forming in the subconscious mind for a very long time indeed — before ultimately surfacing into consciousness in what appears to be a moment of “eureka” inspiration.
So although such spontaneous insights (about “how things fit together” ) can seem as if it they come out of nowhere; they are in fact simply the result of the nonlinear integration of a diversity of information which ultimately surface in moments of “Deep Intuition”.
Below is a graphical representation of the interplay of diversity and selection (by compression + reinforcement)
Both “Consciousness” and “Deep Intuition” are obviously merely different levels of cognition and “Awareness”, but what differentiates them is what drives them…
“What Drives Consciousness is the Subconscious Compression and Reinforcement of Data”.
But what drives deep intuition is slightly more nuanced.
“What Drives Deep Intuition is the Subconscious Integration of Chaotic Diversity of Information”.
And consequently just as the integrated game is a free by-product of the co-training of a diversity of different tennis strokes, so too when we co-train our conscious linear minds on a wide diversity of data,
Our Subconscious Nonlinear Minds will often provide
“Deep Intuition for Free!”…