The Emergent Mind


Simple systems exhibit obvious cause and effect, complex systems however are much more nuanced.  Complex systems don’t follow strict cause and effect “rules” but instead they have a lot of emergent “associations”.  So unlike simple linear systems we cannot learn about complex nonlinear systems by simply learning the “mathematical rules”.  To understand complex systems we need a different type of model.

Compressible Linear Dynamics

Physics is the ultimate science of deterministic cause and effect.  In general the science of physics likes to believe that all natural behaviour 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 most stuff in the real world is not so easily compressed.

Incompressible Nonlinear Dynamics

Over the last 400 years Physics has become the science that we have come to rely on to explain the behaviour of the universe, but in reality the universe has a range of behaviour from simple to complex.   And although mathematical physics is good at explaining the obvious linear dynamics of  cause and effect, it turns out that it fails quite miserably when it comes to explaining the not-so-obvious nonlinear dynamics of “Natural Evolution and Emergent Complexity”

Physics is, in a sense, a science of linear dynamics, a science of “dynamics without feedback”; such dynamics are indeed easily compressible, but the real world is a world that abounds with feedback, a “nonlinear” world full of “incompressible dynamics”

Fortunately for us Mother Nature long ago figured this out, and evolution set to work designing a biological tool to model complex nonlinear dynamics.

[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 “Biological Brain” is a nonlinear tool that has been designed by millions of years of evolution to navigate an external world full of incompressible nonlinear dynamics.  The “Emergent Mind” is simply a reflection of how the brain is wired up.

The brain tries to understand the external world by trying to build abstract nonlinear models; and it does this by trying to best fit the models to the available data (as we say in model speak)…

In the real world, we used abstract models all the time to give us a qualitative understanding of something.  A map of the London Underground is a perfect example.


This map is obviously not an exact representation of locations in physical space, but it is nonetheless a good enough model to give us a good understanding of the nature of the underground network.

Similarly, at the subconscious level the mind attempts to build a qualitative, or “intuitive”, understanding of everything in the external world.  And it is the “integration” of all this intuitive understanding that results in the “Emergent Conscious Mind”