Nature’s Craft Behind the Experience of Our Lives
Abstract: I want to consider the complexities of our experience in the Universe, break out the principles of how it works and explain why we experience our lives the way that we do. To do this, I will divide this project into the three subjects of function, consciousness and ‘self’. Here, under function, I will derive the principles of the intangible functions behind thought and mind. Under consciousness I will explain our experience in terms of intangible functions. Finally, I will explain the intangible functions behind the agency of ‘self’.
Experience embellishes our view of the world. We can only be objective in studying and observing phenomena if we take into account the characteristics of our own navigation system. The experiential qualities contributed to our observations such as color, sound, taste, tactile feeling, the influence of emotion and the functional organization of our intellectual processing of data all taint the contents of our observations. There will always be a system design bias to our observations because the function of observation does not exist apart from the substrate that it depends on for its own existence. Observation, unfortunately, does not present the world as it is. We experience only the mental substrate of representation and not the world.
I am going to ask you to use your facility for reasoning to overcome, as much as possible, the inherent biases imposed by the mental substrate of representation. I want to construct the most free of system bias, fundamental model in our minds of the world that we can. Then we are going to use this model to consider how the world works. Experience and the memory of how things behave are the main elements of our minds’ biases. I am trying to minimize their influence.
To those ends, will you please begin with imagining the world as our minds represent it and then reduce the visual image of all objects in the world to a minimal gray, suspending all other sensorial attributes? Notice that we must use at least the experience of grays (or something else) or we will have no appearance at all. It is a fact that the world has no appearance but we need to model it if only minimally. Next, the world must be granular as opposed to the way our minds represent it. So, will you imagine the things in it as clumpings of particles? These two alterations should minimize the bias of experience.
The next alteration that I want you to make to the world that is now gray and granular is to forget the functions of objects in it. We have a huge awareness of what things do because each time that we see something do something we remember what it does. It will be difficult to explain how things work if you already know what everything does. I want to be able to start from simple circumstances and derive the principles of what drives changes in the world. This approach will allow me to demonstrate more clearly what the mind is. Some of the processes of the mind are familiar to you but I think you will be surprised at how much of the mind is created by intangible processes. The simplicity of the model will allow me to more clearly differentiate the physical processes from the intangible processes.
There is one more quality of objectivity that I would like you to achieve. Some of you will understand what I mean more than others do. The ‘self’ is a functional path of mental events. From its own point of view, the ‘self’ thinks of events happening in the organism and the mind as things that “I” am doing (will do or have done). It is identifying the activities of the organism as belonging to itself. It believes that it initiates and controls those activities. To achieve the objectivity that we need, to understand the mind, I want ‘you’ to not identify with your ‘self’ but rather to see your ‘self’ as just another event happening in your brain.
The physical path of your organism is a segment in the continuous and, for all practical purposes, endless path of the Universe. The functional path of your mind is marked by discontinuities. The ’self’ believes itself to be continuous but it isn’t. It is attached as a self-referencing idea to certain behavior. For example, we (our ‘selves’ ) think that we instigate our reasoning but the fact is that it is the our organisms that reason. The function of reasoning does not depend on ‘you’ thinking that you are reasoning. I want you to find an objectivity that allows you to see your perspective (on anything) to be just another event in the totality of events going on in the world.
We take it for granted that we can construct reasonable objectivity in our minds that can transcend the mind’s inherent biases. I believe that we can. Because the reasoning mind is intangible it is reasonably free from the substrate that creates it. Reasoning can apply itself to its own self. It can eat its way up its own tail, metaphorically speaking. Please don’t think this is silliness. Reasoning is certainly one of the most mysterious of phenomena that can be encountered. It has built our societies, our wars, our religions and our sciences. It is a powerful affecter in the events of our world but we hardly have any idea of what it is and how it works. Natural selection has turned reasoning loose on the world and we are all hoping that it won’t destroy us. We reason that it could.
Let’s begin using our model of the world in which we have diminished things to a gray and granulated clumpiness. To begin with we are ignoring functions, what things do. The forces at work at this fundamental level are the forces of physical nature. Electromagnetic and gravitational forces are in evidence. Energy is either absorbed or released when atoms come together to form compounds or when molecules split apart. The agitation of molecules is subsequently increased or decreased by such events, sometimes to such an extent that they fly apart and form gases. The motion of molecules can be imparted to other molecules in a transfer of momentum that happens when they collide. Energy can be released from the structure of matter and increases the relative momentum of matter. Those compounds that become less agitated may form into solids and may be further formed into large crystalline structures. Material that is in motion tends to remain in motion along a straight line until it collides with other material or is acted on by gravity. The pervasive force of gravity tends to draw everything together but is resisted by momentum.
The changes of position and momentum of the things that we have just talked about are generated by forces and exchanges of momentum. The behaviors of these changes present definite regularities that have been codified into the laws of physics. Force and momentum appear to be intrinsic properties of materials, a part of their material or physical nature. Physics explains behavior relative to force, energy and momentum. It describes in terms of generalities the regularities of the physical nature of the material Universe that is the substrate of events. The laws of physics do not deal with the specificity of the relationships of things such as their relative spatial relationships of position, size and shape, their comparative masses, or the particular pattern or sequence in which events occur.
Events are the specific patterns of change that occur between things in the material world. Things behave with regularities defined by physics but physical nature (which the laws of physics describe) is clothed in the forms of interacting objects. Imagine a car’s engine running. The laws of physical nature explain how it does what it does but no what it is doing. What it is doing is a description of the time lapsed relationships of its specific forms. What it is doing is a functional description. Physics explains the regularities of physical nature as they relate to the engine’s activity but a functional description is necessary to explain what the engine is doing. A functional description expands the explanation of what something is doing to include the changing relationships of the components of the event. The relationships of the components in the running engine are intangible affecters and are co-affecters with physical nature in the event of the engine running.
Ever since the Big Bang that we suppose began the Universe, the materials of the Universe having been behaving in accordance with the laws of physics. But, the laws of physics tell us very little about why our Universe has the shape that it has today. The outward explosion of the Universe set the stage for the diffusion of energy and therefore the cooling of the Universe. That is a functional description of the event of the Big Bang. It is the same sort of description as saying that the piston is held by the connecting rod to the crankshaft so that the piston goes up and down while the crankshaft goes around and around. It is a description of the specific interactions of components composing an event. The material of the event and its inherent physical nature are the substrate or carrier of the event. That a violent interaction of particles set the Universe to expanding is a functional description of the event. It is a description of the interactions of forms.
When the forces driving particles away from each other in the Big Bang had sufficiently diminished, then the force of gravity caused the aggregation of galaxies. That is physical description. The relationship of pressure and heat are functions causing the violent interactions of particles in the thermonuclear engines of stars. The momentum of a planet proportionately offsets the force of gravity drawing the planet to its star. Here a physical description is sufficient to describe the event of an orbit. The eccentricity of the orbits of two stars circling each other relative to an outside frame of reference is a function of their masses. The variable gravitational effect that they have on their celestial environment is a function of their orbits and masses. Wherever we consider the relationship of specific forms to events we find that the relationship of forms affects the events. The function of the relationship, which is based in the forms of the components of the relationship and the pattern of their interaction, causes the effect.
On earth where there is a great diversification of forms, we naturally find that function has a greater role in determining events. On the primitive earth that was still devoid of life, the cycle of water evaporating from the ocean and falling on the mountains was a function of the relationship of the effects of the sun’s energy in evaporating water, the comparative weights of atmospheric masses, wind caused by the differential in heating between water and land masses and the wind pushing the water vapor up the mountains where it cooled, condensed and fell as rain. The heating of air can be explained by physics but its rising is explained by the relationship of the locations of masses of cold and hot air.
Physical nature and function are co-affecters of events. Function is the relationships of forms and their patterns of interactions. A relationship as such is intangible. Therefore, function depends on the substrate of the material world for its existence and its ability to affect. This might be easier to understand if I said it is the shape of things now that will determine the shape of things to come. We don’t have any trouble understanding this truth. The problem is that our current scientific culture does not recognize that function (the shape of things now) is actually an affecter of things to come. It is the intangible interactive relationship of forms to each other that determines the shape of things to come. Every form will produce an emergent property in dynamic relationship to other forms. The substrate for the emergent property is material and material’s inherent physical nature but the form adds its affect to that of physical natures. The specificity of the form determines what the emergent property or the effect of the form will be.
The events of the evolving Universe began with the Big Bang. I am saying this for the conceptual convenience of being able to talk about a place in time and space where there was no differentiation of forms, a place of unbroken symmetry. I grant that this is arguable but what it was is not the point I am after. If it truly was an unbroken symmetry, then what started the differentiation of forms, the events of the evolving Universe? There appears to be a ground for the Universe, some sort of foundation. The first evidence is that the Universe is what it is as opposed to not existing. That in itself is astounding because it defies our desire to explain the existence of things. Next, its physical nature is what it is, a set of four forces, energy/matter and momentum. It could have been something different. Then, there is space. If you take a locus of all points equal distance from the same point you will define a sphere. We take this geometry for granted but it sets a ground for what the Universe can be. I am uncomfortable about all of this because I don’t believe that we really understand physical nature or the ground of the Universe.
What seems to be clear, is that there are three categories of factors affecting the evolution of events. The first is the ground: what is possible in the kind of Universe that it is. Next, there are the regularities of physical nature. Lastly, there are the effects of relationships. The ground and physical nature are intrinsic to what we consider to be the material Universe. It was only after the Big Bang and the breaking of the symmetry of the initial singularity that there were forms and events. Events are something that happens between forms. The initial singularity was eventless. Whatever the reason for the breaking of the singularity, once the process of differentiation began, it embarked on creating great diversity. The ground and physical nature of the Universe did not change (at least one would think that they haven’t) so it seems apparent that the cause of events and the diversification of forms are due to the forms themselves (behaving, of course, within the limitations of physical nature and the ground). The evolution of all things is due to the interactive relationships between things. That was so just after the Big Bang and is now. The shape of things then has determined the shape of things now. The material Universe is the carrier of events but the events themselves are the determining factor of future events. The diversity of events and forms is attributable to the evolving diversity of relationships between things. As those relationships became more diverse then so did events and forms become more diverse.
Let me briefly take you a step further into the implications of this argument. Since the beginning it has been the effects of relationships that have determined the evolution of the Universe. Relationships are not tangible. They are the way that one thing interacts with another. The wrong key will not open a lock whereas the right key will open the door to a cascade of consequential events. The wrong key has its consequences but they are different consequences. It is the relationship of the key to the lock that determines the effects. The relationship is an intangible affecter and so it is with every relationship in every event. Intangible affecters have caused the evolution of all species (forms) and all events of the Universe. Organisms such as ourselves are a multilevel complexity of intangible relationships. As such, we are truly spirits invested in the material of our beings. Though we are truly spirits, our spirits are absolutely dependent on our material substance for their existence. One’s spirit is life itself and will die when the organization of the organism ends in death.
In order to explain our own experience of being, we must explain the relationships that make us what we are. Everything about everything and therefore everything about being human is explained by the ground, physical nature and the effects of relationships. The ground and physical nature are intrinsic to being, so as you can see, it is the effects of relationships that have differentiated all forms and events including ourselves from the unbroken symmetry of the initial Universe.
Using our gray, granulated and clumpy model of the world lets imagine an ocean beating on a shoreline. The ocean is a sea of particles that are loosely held together and that have been caused to flow into a low pocket of the earth by gravity. The atmosphere is an even thinner sea of particles that are not held together at all but are held down to the surface of the earth by gravity. The atmosphere sweeps across the ocean whipping it into waves that dash against the shore. The shore is composed of particles held tightly in crystalline structures. The momentum of the wind shapes waves in the ocean that are dashed against the rocks of the shore and water is thrown high in the air. I hope you are able to keep the integrity of imagining in the mode of the gray model because it is hard for me to describe this event without using words that imply sensorially expansive experiences and familiar functions. I don’t want you to see the typical shoreline beaten by wind tossed waves that is a portrait of our mind’s representation of the event. I want you to see everything in shades of gray with a granulated appearance representing particles. There is no way to direct your mind to consider what the world outside of your mind’s representation of it really looks like. That is true because there is no such thing as appearance except as is fabricated by the mind. So what I am doing is trying to negate the bias of your mind so that you understand that what is out there is material imbued with a physical nature that is metamorphosing from form to form through the interactions of its forms. The form of matter has been continuously changing since the Big Bang. We are considering the present moment in that continuum.
The form of a wave on the ocean is whipped into shape by the momentum of the wind and then it is smashed against the rock forms. Imagine it all as a sea of particles in gray with different densities and shapes. It doesn’t matter that it is a wave, air, wind, water, ocean, rocks or shoreline. We are imaging the pure relationships of interacting forms being carried like specters invested in the sea of particles. The particles are probably as old as the Universe but the forms into which they are being configured are always changing. The changes are determined both by physical nature and by the interactive relationships of forms.
Now imagine in the same way that a hurricane is blowing through a rural town. A large tree is blown down on top of a house breaking through its roof. A wood fence is shredded apart sending missiles everywhere. The effects of the collisions of forms are directly relevant to the shape, density and other characteristics of the forms. Now, still imagining in gray, visualize an axe chopping firewood. We see the movement and the relationship of the axe to the log section. We have to admit to more going on than just physics or a simple relationship. From the physical point of view, there is the momentum of the axe striking the wood and imparting its energy in splitting it. There is the simple functional relationship of the wedge shape of the axe driving itself into the log and its inclined plane pushing apart the sides of the splitting log from each other causing the wood to tear apart. But, we also recognize that there is intention, that the axe is a tool intended to cut wood that will be used to build a fire.
This is challenging conceptually because when we considered just the simple relationship of the axe driving into the section of a log it seems that the affecting relationship is physical. The relationship of the axe to the log is physical but ‘what it is doing’ is not physical. At any moment in time during the event of chopping into the log, the axe is in physical relationship to the log. On the other hand, what the axe is doing (chopping wood) is not physical because what it is doing does not exist in the moment. ‘What it is doing’ only exists over the lapsed time of the event. It is the specificity of the axe’s form in relationship to the task of chopping wood that is an intangible affecter with the emergent property of being an axe. If you imagine it in our gray world, chopping wood is the effect that one form has on another form and the specificity of the axe’s effect is determined by the specificity of the relationship of their forms. If a sledge hammer were used, the result would be different. If an axe were used in an attempt to split a steel anvil in half, the result would be different. Physics explains how the energy of momentum is transferred into a tearing force through the shape of the axe at each moment but without a functional description of the time lapsed event we haven’t fully described what is happening. The axe is chopping wood. The man is chopping wood for the fireplace to keep the house warm on a cold winter night.
Imagine this again in our gray model to see that it is the relationships of forms that define the event. The sea of particles is the carrier of the forms of the axe and the log section. The result of their interaction is determined by the specificity of their forms. If it were a wave beating on the shore, then it would be different forms and a different result. The physical nature of the substrate is essentially common to either event. It is the forms that determine what the event is and what its outcome will be. The effects of the interactions of forms are different from the effects of physical nature. Physical nature acts through forms and the forms add their effect to that of physical nature’s creating emergent properties. In the case of the axe splitting a log section, it is the specificity the relationship of the axe to the log that makes it possible for the axe to split the log section.
It is not difficult to understand the effect of a simple physical relationship because our minds can project quite easily the effect of physical nature through the forms through which it acts. Imagine again an internal combustion engine. The combustion of gases in the cylinder forces the pistons down, which are pushing on the connecting rods which are pushing on the eccentricities of the crankshaft causing it to turn. An engine is a network of physically connected physical relationships. It is the specificity of those relationships that produces power at the crankshaft. The emergent property of the relationships of an internal combustion engine is power at the crankshaft. Clearly, that emergent property is the product of the relationships in the forms of the components and between them. It seems difficult to think of power at the crankshaft of an engine being the result of intangible relationships but if you will imagine it in the gray model you will see the material as the carrier and the relationships of forms as the affecters of the event. Just as the right key is needed to open a lock, so too, just the right relationships have to exist for an internal combustion engine to work. The relationships required are not just any old relationships but are ones of certain specificity. That specificity is what determines the event.
It is relationships that determine events. So far we have talked mostly about relationships that have been physical relationships. Physical relationships are ones in which the relationships are interactions between forms of the material substrate. There are two aspects to such a relationship. There is the simple relationship of where things are relative to each other in space and time and there is the functional relationship, which is the lapsed time affect that the relationship has on events. Neither relationship is tangible. The spatiotemporal relationship is merely a concept describing a circumstance. The functional relationship has a real effect on material events. Since what is affecting material events is intangible, then are affecters of material events limited to physical relationships? We will see that relationships other than physical relationships are affecters.
Lets consider the relationships in organisms such as ourselves. Certainly there are networks of physical relationships such as there are in the engine but there are also coincidental relationships. To understand what I mean by coincidental relationship, consider the relationship of rain to photosynthesis. Water is essential to life. Life on land could only have evolved on account of rain. The evolution of life on land implies the physical relationship of water to the evolving life forms. Yet the life forms’ relationship to the precipitation cycle is coincidental. They are related events on which life is dependent but they are not physically connected.
Let me bring you back to trying to imagine this in our gray world. Imagine clouds forming over an ocean and then being blown up a mountain to fall as rain on a tropical rainforest. Without rain life in the rainforest will perish. How will you imagine this relationship in gray? There is no physical connection between the precipitation cycle and life like there is between a piston and a crankshaft through a connecting rod. Life exists on land only because of the coincidental reliability of rain. The coincidental relationship of the precipitation cycle to the cycle of life on land is an intangible affecter making life on land possible. It can be correctly said in a scientific context that life on land anticipates rain. Imagine a seed lying dry on the parched earth during a period of drought. Is it anticipating rain? In the old physics based way of scientific thinking we would not allow the concept of anticipation to be a part of a proper description of events but then we did not recognize that relationships are true affecters. The seed is anticipating rain.
Human physiology involves many coincidental relationships. In fact, the integration of subsystems is what an organism is. Like the emergent property of power at the crankshaft of an internal combustion engine, the relationships of the many organ systems in our bodies cause the emergent property of being living, walking and breathing human beings. The circulatory, pulmonary, digestive, musculoskeletal, integumentary and nervous systems are all coordinated so that the emergent result is a viable organism. An organism is the effect of relationships from the simplest chemical processes to the organization of tissues and organ systems and even to the organism’s interactive relationship with its environment because we could/would not exist or function without an environment. Through and through we are systems of relationships.
Over the course of this discussion, our gray granulated model of the world has taken on a new character. Instead of there being only the forces of physical nature tossing about in the sea of particles we find forms in the sea that are forces in their own right. The life of an animal is dependent on its physical nature but it is very different from it. Imagine a tiger in our gray model. It is a system of relationships that has evolved from the sea of particles and has, quite literally, clawed its way to survival. Its body seems to move independently from the rest of the sea of particles. It acts as an autonomous agent, something that directs its own activities. It defies gravity by springing through the air. It plays with momentum. It sidesteps entropy by killing other animals and feeding itself. Yet in the final analysis, the tiger is nothing more than a system of relationships, which applies the forces and energy of physical nature. The relationships that are a tiger are powerful affecters of physical events.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, one of those complicated contraptions you see in art exhibits or school science fairs that has a ball that starts at its highest point and begins rolling downward via ramps and falls and at every point it causes something to seesaw, swing, turn, dump water, whistle or whatever but in the end really accomplishes nothing. Well, that is what the Universe is like. During its evolution, forms begot forms, more and more forms. At its beginning there was material, physical nature and the potential of the emergent effects of relationships. I have used the gray model as a way of demonstrating to you that the fundamental qualities of the Universe, material and physical nature, have not changed. It is the forms that material takes that create change and events. Each relationship that evolves creates a new foundation for new forms and new events. There seems (I believe) no point to where it all is going. We are not looking for why the world is unfolding in the way it does in the sense of where it is heading or for what reason it heading there. No, the world is like the science fair contraption. It just is and it just does what it does. The puzzle is figuring out how it got to be the way that it is.
We are given the fact of its material existence, the ground rules and basic geometry (explained earlier) and physical nature. The rest of what happened was the result of the intangible effects of relationships. You could say that spirits began to run wild creating every imaginable kind of thing and species in the Universe. You would be right but there is a limitation to spirit madness in that every event is dependent on material as its ultimate carrier and material behaves with the regularities that are observed by physics. You will see that this does not mean that events must occur within the regularities of physical law. It only means that, ultimately, events do not exist if there is not a material substratum.
With the advent of life we have the advent of highly interdependent systems of physical relationships and something more. We noted that a seed anticipates rain. This is an abstract relationship that has no physical form. You shouldn’t be too surprised because we have already shown that the affecter in a dynamic physical relationship such as an axe chopping wood is intangible. The seed’s anticipation of rain is the expectation of its life cycle being complemented by the precipitation cycle. It is abstract because the relationship is not in the physical substratum at all as is, for example, the axe’s. Anticipation is a real property effecting physical events, one that will probably result in the germination of the seed and perpetuation of the species.
A navigation system in mobile animals is the abstract relationship of two abstract relationships. The movement of the animal is coordinated to the environment. That is an abstract relationship. The environment is represented in the navigation system. That is the other abstract relationship. An animal’s brain navigates by coordinating a Map representing the environment to the motor responses of the animal. Coordination and representation are abstract intangible affecters of the animal’s movements. Without a description of these relationships we cannot adequately explain the event of navigation. Coordination and representation are true affecters of the physical events of navigation.
An animal’s navigation system is a two-phase function. The Map (what we experience as the world) is the presentation phase. The information presented in the navigation map is analyzed and applied to motor responses. That is the response function. This two-phase relationship holds true even at the level of the spinal reflex. The efferent neuron synapses on the afferent neuron. Motor responses can be simple reflexes or they can be constructed via very complex action plans formulated in the conscious mind. Looking just at the response phase, we are going to make some organizational distinctions.
In the simple spinal reflex there is no logic that mediates the response to an afferent input from, say, a tactile receptor. The afferent signal synapses directly on the efferent nerve and causes a response. Should there be a signal, say from the brain, to the spinal reflex that affects this response then we have a modulated response. Should one neuron have many inputs of either excitatory or inhibitory signals then it becomes a computer or a signal processor. The combination of signals coming from other systems creates an output from the affected neuron that represents a net summary of the input signals. Its output is a representation of the combined condition of several other systems. Even though the output of the neuron may be a computed summary of other conditions, we are still dealing with a physical processing in the summary output and a physical processing in the recipient neuron of that output. This is tricky stuff so watch carefully what I am doing.
So far we covered a simple reflex, neuron to neuron. Then we covered a modulation of a simple reflex. These were all physical relationships: Material things affecting material things, their intangible relationships producing emergent properties, but still material things. The signal processing neuron whose output is a summary, on the other hand, is delivering something that is not formulated in a material substrate—the summary. The summary is an abstract intangible affecter that is carried in the signal. The quality of its output signal has built into it the summary of the condition of the other systems that have affected it. Its effect is the effect of a summation of other process. Still, the summary is produced mechanically and is processed mechanically by the neuron receiving it. Here is where this gets really interesting.
The neurological patterns in the functions of thought represent things that are not their own selves. The neurons have become carriers of a higher level process. Just as a computer stores data inputted to it in a storage system that contains the data in some sort of configuration of states, the brain stores data in a similar way. Admittedly, we don’t know how exactly but we can be certain that it is some sort of analogous form. The data stored in a computer is not in the form that we hold in our minds when we are inputting it. If we are using a keyboard, the keyboard is translating the data into something that the computer can store. In the same way, the information that is presented in the brain’s navigation system in the presentation phase of navigation is analyzed and stored as memory. That memory is available for manipulation by the brain. The signal processor neuron still processes the signal that synapses on it in a normal way but the signal (like the summary signal) now carries abstract information. The way the neurons function remains the same, but the network of symbols (information representations) that they are carrying has rules embedded in its configuration that determine what neurons will fire on what neurons. The rules are embedded in the higher abstract level of configuration. It is control of the substrate level by the higher abstract level. This is no different than a computer whose programs tell the hardware what to do. The information being processed is being processed through a virtual processor that is being run on a neurological processor. Our language facility and its inherent organization along with our visualization abilities and their inherent organization are being run on a neurological computer and are the operating systems directing the underlying neurological system. Abstract relationships in the data being processed are controlling what signals are being processed by the signal processor neurons. I said at the beginning of this paper that reasoning could be reasonably free of bias. It is because reasoning is minimally tied to the physical realm that this is possible.
Okay! This is the realm of thought. It is where the ‘self’ exists. It is where we experience consciousness and it is also where our unconscious mind operates. It is a specialized form of neurological processing where the computing power of the brain is sub serving the logic of systems of knowledge that run as a higher level (virtual) computational devise. The same thing can happen in this virtual computer as can happen at the signal processing level of a neuron. The inputs into the system can be processed to produce a net summary. The output of these virtual processes is conceptual.
The concepts don’t necessarily represent realities because they are representations and not realities. In comparison, the outputs of signal processing neurons are always realities but they are processing higher level abstractions which level has its own rules for interaction. The outputs at this level are thought, language, communication and motor command initiators.
By formulating abstract systems of knowledge (systems that process information) the human organism is able to think. The primary system of information processing in the abstract mind is the action planning function. Action planning is the ability to associate a subject to an action and to the object of that action. Language is an extension of that function. The application and refinement of these primary systems of knowledge then lead to systems such as logic and mathematics.
It would be unreasonable at this level of complexity of relationship to ask you to imagine the world of thought in gray. Too much of what is happening is abstract or virtual. It is not happening in a material realm. On the other hand we have developed the principles of what causes events sufficiently to begin to understand how our experience of thought is created. Whatever we experience is explainable in terms of functional relationships between ‘things’ (which can also be between virtual things) that are ultimately dependent on the material world. I say ultimately because in some cases the existence of abstract functional relationships depends on a substrate of other abstract functional relationships, which in turn depend on physical relationships.
Have I provided enough understanding of the intangible mechanics of the world for us to understand our experience? Here are some questions that we should now be able to answer. What is knowing and thought? How do we know?
There is nothing physical about thoughts. Thought is the intangible or virtual processing of information. The images we experience in the Map (the presentation phase of navigation) are physical brain states. These images have no meaning in themselves because they are neither the world nor what it looks like. The images are given meaning by comparison to memories of previous brain states of the same or similar images. A current image in an experiential brain state becomes a symbol (information) by being compared to memories of the same or similar images. (The comparison data is not necessarily experiential.) By this process our brain adds a sense of familiarity to the experience of an image. Memories contain the functional path of what things did. The functional paths are analyzed by the function of action planning. This function establishes (or has established in memory) knowledge of the functional relationships between images. Whereas experience presents information in a tangible form, knowledge of functional relationships is abstract. The step of comparing the current image to memory makes the current image and the stored images into symbols or, in other words, into abstract representations. The analysis of the functional paths of these symbols for their subjects, actions and objects of action puts the symbols into a processing relationship that can be used for navigation. This is thinking and it is the basis for our understanding a situation in our environment to which we need a response. The action plan function creates categories for subjects, actions and results of actions. The brain can then use the action plan function to mix and match items in the categories to make new action plans or to test new ideas against memories. It then decides when and if to use an action plan based on motivational criteria.
You can see that our experience of thinking is just what I have described. All that we know about something is its function, primarily because knowledge stems from memories of the functional paths of events and the conscious mind is organized to analyze actions and construct action plans. Our brains naturally analyze functional paths and categorize the information into subjects, actions and objects of action. That is the fundamental organization of the processes of thinking. It is also the fundamental organization of language. There is obviously a lot of explaining about how the brain identifies subjects, actions and results of actions to do but I would be presumptuous to push my theorizing further. Computers can be made to identify things having similar characteristics so we should believe that a brain can do the same.
The brain is a computer in which information is represented by brain states. Natural selection discovered the trick of representing the exterior environment internally. Neurological processes began to carry abstract information that was no longer merely the interaction of physical forms. Information carried by the senses to the brain is coded into images and then is further coded into information about the functions of those images. The virtual level of the information being processed manipulates the physical level of processing so that the virtual level uses the physical level as a carrier of virtual processing. (This is exactly what a program does in our PCs.) Our experience is primarily of this virtual processing but keep in mind that there would be no experience of consciousness if there were not experiential states of the brain. Therefore, when we are consciously aware of thinking there is a feedback that is initiating experiential physical states in the brain. We are doing that when we are visualizing what we are thinking about or forming it into words that we hear in our minds. To explain why (for what reason) our brains do this, I suggest that it is probable that experiential states are accessible to other systems of data analysis in the brain and so act as a workspace where different outtakes of the experiential information can be made. Few of us realize that our world is our navigation system. The navigation system presents an analogy for the world in the presentation phase for which it computes appropriate motor commands in the response phase. The organism’s responses take place in the external world which feeds back information to the presentation phase for monitoring purposes and adjustment of responses. The external world is part of the loop but we only experience the navigation system that is within the boundaries of our organisms.
It is these processes that make the experience of what it is like being ourselves. Primarily what we experience is a navigation system. It is how a mobile organism is able to get around. We don’t experience the world as it is. We make our own world by representing information from the external world in experiential images. Our minds create the sense of function, meaning or significance by being able to represent the lapse time occurrence of an event and analyze its functional path. It is in this processing that we have the experience of thinking and consciousness. (See ‘PINOCCHIO: Consciousness’ for a more detail on experience.)
In the study of consciousness we have come face to face with the shortcomings of physics as the ultimate arbiter of explanation. Consciousness could not exist if relationships did not effect physical events. It is only in recognizing that relationships are affecters of physical events that we will be able to explain any event adequately. Applying the understanding of intangible affecters is something we do naturally in everyday living, probably because we are intangible agents ourselves. We could go on in the dark about intangible affecters and it probably would never matter. On the other hand, it is uncomfortable to think of how naïve we have been in science. There is sure to be much to gain by investigating the structure of the intangible world. It has as its foundation physical relationships and its structure evolves through steps of development. This points to a way to get a handle on intangible affecters as a science, but it means that science will have to admit to spirits. Science has never been able to dissuade man from totally abandoning the idea of spirits. Now they are back but I think we will have a more mature perspective on what they are. Recognizing that intangible affecters are a fact opens a can of worms. I see that there will be a lot of people on the fringe of science that will capitalize on intangible affecters as a way of justifying beliefs. Their problem is in needing to believe in something but it will not prevent skeptical minds from inquiring for the truth. Physics as the final arbiter for the explanation of events was clean, neat and rigorous but unfortunately, not true. The relationship of physics to intangible affecters is that of physical nature to the emergent properties given physical nature by the relationships of forms. Therefore, the foundations of the intangible world begin in the foundations of the physical world. Both hold vast mysteries about the essence of existence. I do doubt that we can find the ultimate answers and so we can expect that there will always be speculation about our origins.