Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Nature of the Universe, Emergence, Time, and Complexity

It seems to me that one could posit both reductionism and emergence simultaneously, depending on what level of reality -- what perspective -- you are talking about. Let's take the example of biochemistry and the cell. Suppose you were a conscious amino acid. The material world consists, for you, of fellow biochemicals, and you know too that you are made up of atoms, and that those atoms are made up of electrons, protons, and neutrons. You go about your business, acting as an individual amino acid, sometimes joining into larger groups (proteins), and then separating out from them. You wander around your society of biochemicals, imagining that this is all there is. And then one day, a nucleic acid comes to you and tells you that you are part of this larger entity, that your mind is not entirely your own, but that there is this thing out there, this "cell" of which you are a part, that comes in and influences your actions. All that you thought were your choices or merely random events is in fact run by this higher intelligence known as the "cell." It is not that you don't have choices -- you can be in this or that part of the cell, you may attach yourself to a tRNA, to a protein, to a short polypeptide, etc. -- but you are now informed that there is a greater purpose involved, that you are part of this larger cell, and that your actions help to keep this cell alive. Now, from the point of view of the amino acid, the cell will seem, in relation to you, "immaterial." It will make no sense from your material point of view. It will seem very strange indeed. You may believe in the cell, or not (and be an atheist). There will be discussions among your fellow biochemicals regarding the nature of the cell. Is it material? That is, if it even exists. The "cell" theory does seem to make a lot of things make more sense -- but it is nonetheless troubling. If it is not material in the same sense as a biochemical, is it really material? From our more complex, emergent human perspective, the cell seems to be just as material as as its constituent biochemicals. While, on the other hand, our "mind" appears to be just as immaterial as the cell is to the biochemical. The ideal seems, then, to be emergent from the real. The amino acids might get together and come up with all sorts of theories about the nature of the cell that seems to transcend them. They may get it more or less correct, but how would they know for certain, as what is above them is so much more complex than they are? Let me tell a short story of emergence. In the beginning was pure information, or pure energy. Information is inform, yet gives form. It is the foundation of all things. (In the beginning (archae) was the word (logos).) As the universe expanded and cooled, that pure energy crystalized out into quantum particle-waves. It became more material. Some of those quantum particle-waves combined to form emergent atoms with greater complexity. These atoms were more material than their constituent particle-waves. Some of those atoms combined to form chemicals (more material than atoms) --- and some of those chemicals were able to interact in complex cycles to give rise to cells with emergent complexity. These cells were more material than their constituent chemicals. Some cells were able to develop complex interactions such that multicellular organisms were able to emerge, giving rise to greater complexity and more complex interactions. These multicellular organisms were even more material than their constituent cells. One species of animal evolved a highly complex brain with an emergent intelligence. This brain resulted in more complex social behaviors, the evolution of language, and the emergence of complex culture and religion. It was so complex that it was able to contemplate itself and the universe (thus, the universe became complex enough to become self-aware, to be able to contemplate itself). It seems that there will soon be 10 billion members of that species, with brains so complex that the minding function of that brain has given rise to the appearance of permanence (the same way that while each of the lower levels that constitute it are in fact always in flux, always in time, they nonetheless gain more appearance of permanency). This species has more time and more time experience, more material being, than do all the levels below it that constitute it (there is a nested hierarchy -- a new Great Chain of Being). And that mind is much more material than the brain that gave rise to it. If we were at a level more complex than the mind, we would look at it as we currently look at the cell, or at chemicals vs. quantum particles, and wonder at something as insubstantial the brain gave rise to something as substantial as the mind.

Perhaps we should think instead of levels of reality, since different levels of reality in fact act quite differently from each other, though there are some similar traits that keep repeating themselves at each level, though with variations (information is one of those things -- all information is similar in form, but also differs considerably, if you consider quantum information vs. the information needed by an animal to survive, for example). I fear that if we look for "reality-in-itself," all we are doing is trying to reduce everything down to just one of these realities -- as though quantum physics, for example, is real reality. Emergent properties are just as real and have real results.

Nothing. Unstable nothing gave rise to the singularity. Energy burst forth, the Universe was born in space-time. Energy rolled back and forth across space-time, in solitons that pushed space-time out, causing the universe to expand. These solitons, waves, pushed out and interacted with each other, creating more complex patterns of waves. Waves interacting with waves to create more complex patterns of waves, trillions of wavelets that interacted with each other in simple systems to create the first particle-waves of matter-energy. Matter came about through the folding of space-time, and the interactions of those folds to create the first, simple, complex systems. And when these folded back onto themselves, creating folded folds, the first atoms emerged. And these new folded realities folded again, and chemistry was born, and this folded once again, and living things were born into the world. Complexity emerged with ever more folds, and as living things enfolded themselves, more complex organisms, including vertebrates, were born. And more complex vertebrates emerged from more enfolding, and more complex nervous systems emerged with more neural enfolding, creating more complex behaviors, driving even deeper, more complex neural folding. And human intelligence emerged, in deeply folded neurons, in a deeply folded brain. And then...? What, indeed, is the next, and then...? But what have I in fact just said? I have said, first, that all existence is in fact nothing more than folded space-time. It is ever-enfolded and enfolding space-time. Any entity is not in space-time, but is space-time. It constitutes and is constituted of space-time. If gravity is curved space-time, then the curving is caused by the pull created by the folds – by the external folds, those folds that are “external” on the system. In a less densely folded object, there is in fact more externality to the system, since the folds are farther apart. A sun is both heavier, and less dense than the planet Earth – it thus has less dense folds, though many more, though simple, objects in it. This is what bends space-time. The earth is denser in that it has more complex, and thus more densely folded, atoms in it – and this is what causes it to have the gravitational pull it has, despite its relatively small size. One may suppose, then, that if this model is correct, then molecules should have greater density than atoms, and thus must weigh more. Obviously this is incorrect. But one thing we have failed to take into account to this point is the fractal geometry of the folding. When we have a fractal object, we have an object that has a finite area surrounded by an infinite border. With a real-world fractal, we have a finite area that can be surrounded by an increasingly long border. The addition of more folds creates more border, but the amount of space occupied remains the same. This is what allows for a relatively moderately-sized bipedal ape like ourselves to nonetheless have very complex brains – the folding in fact encompasses a similar area. Certainly, brain size increased as humans evolved, and this helped with the creation of even more complexity – the same way that a uranium atom is both more complex and larger than a hydrogen atom – but we can compare the human brain to a similarly sized-brained animal, and the human is still more intelligent, and has a more complex brain. So the fractal model still holds. The human brain in fact has many more folds in it than does the brain of any other mammal with a brain of similar size, and yet takes up the same area. More, human brains take up much less area than does an elephant brain, or a blue whale’s brain, and yet humans are much more intelligent, due precisely to the deeper folds. But if greater complexity is caused by more folds in space-time, and all folds in space-time are in fact energy waves, doesn’t this mean that there is in fact more matter in a more complex entity? After all, we all know that E=mc2. Well, in a sense, there is in fact more mass in more complex entities – just not in the same way as exists in relatively simple objects like atoms. Another thing to consider is that when we split an atom, we are reducing the atom, which is one of the lowest levels of folding, to the less folded pure space-time. It is a violent reaction, but it is in fact a low-level one. Higher levels of folding must first unfold into lower levels, and go down level by level. The human can be reduced to the animal, an animal reduced to chemicals, and chemicals reduced to isolated atoms. Thus does the energy level of an entity decrease, level by level, the way that high-energy electrons drop down electron shell by electron shell. In this way, the matter of more complex entities increase, while the matter stays, in one sense, the same. What we will need will be new ways of measuring “mass” and “matter” in order to understand how deeper folds of space-time give rise to more complex entities. One way of looking at things is to see space-time itself as the real, and emergence into new levels of complexity as new levels of quasi-reality. Thus, it is space-time that is the real, while particle-waves are quasi-real, atoms are quasi-quasi-real, chemicals are quasi-quasi-quasi-real, etc. through biology and humans. Thus, in a sense, each emergence is more “ideal,” and the philosophies of “realism” and “idealism” are allowed to co-exist along a continuum. But another way of looking at things is to see that each time more space-time is folded and enfolded, more space-time comes into contact with more space-time. Thus, there is an emergence into ever greater levels of reality. More space-time is experienced by a complex entity, and thus it becomes more real. With this latter view, we are able to see how nothing can give rise to something, and not only that, the way in which that something grows, and grows more complex.

In my unpublished-manuscript-looking-for-a-publisher "Diaphysics" I argue that there are in fact a set of rules which go through each of the emergent levels of reality, but which can get expressed in different ways at different levels. Information is one such rule. The information at quantum levels is also necessarily used at higher levels, (like livings things), though other forms of information can also emerge at higher levels -- entire chemicals, sound waves, etc. So too do the rules underlying self-organization. And symmetry-breaking. The rules underlying emergence itself seem to change (and yet continue to resemble each other) at each level, as the emergent properties of an atom are certainly different than of a mind from the brain. So I would argue that these new emergent systems do in fact develop new ways of doing the same old things -- that what we see is new variations on the same old processes. Further, it seems that as systems evolve, when a system develops similar processes as resulted in the previous level of emergence, that is when we get the next level of emergence. A living cell, for example, more resembles an atom in behavior and structure than does a salt crystal. I would argue that it is more the living cell than the crystal which has qualities not predictable from the constituent atoms. Is anyone really surprised that NaCl results in a square crystal? But if you start with the constituent chemicals, the living cell is quite a surprise.

How does complexity emerge? “The theory of quantum mechanics gives rise to large-scale structure because of its intrinsically probablistic nature. Counterintuitive as it may seem, quantum mechanics produces detail and structure because it is inherently uncertain” (Lloyd, 49). In other words, chances are that a number of waves will become particles in a small region, which, because particles have mass, will gravitationally bend space there, making it more likely that more particles will accumulate there. The probablistic distribution of particle-waves resulted in tiny variations amplified through butterfly effects into large-scale structure (49-50). So, since quantum mechanics supplies random quantum fluctuations, “From a single initial state, obeying simple physical laws, the universe has systematically processed and amplified the bits of information embodied in those quantum fluctuations. The result of this information processing is the diverse, information-packed universe we see around us: programmed by quanta, physics gave rise first to chemistry and then to life” (61). Since “gravity responds to the presence of energy, where the energy density is higher, the fabric of space-time begins to curve a little more” (195). This “gravitational clumping supplied the raw material necessary for generating complexity. As matter clumps together, the energy that matter contains becomes available for use” (199). Further, the same interactions that increase entropy “make quantum objects behave in a more classical way” (108), so entropy resulted in the production of order in the universe through decoherence and gravitation. In other words, “information tells space how to curve; and space tells information where to go” (174). As a result of these random inputs from quantum fluctuations in combination with the laws of quantum mechanics, we get “a universe with a mix of order and randomness, in which complex systems arise naturally from simple origins” (185). Emergence is emergence into new levels of greater complexity. The word “complex” means “folded” – thus the universe, as it becomes more complex, becomes more folded. Space-time becomes more folded as it becomes more complex – thus, it becomes increasingly fractal in its geometry. As space-time becomes more folded, more space-time comes into more contact with more space-time. This will affect the way space and time act and interact. As this happens, they way space-time acts and interacts will change. For one, interactions will speed up. This idea is complementary with the previous idea that we are coming to know the nature of space-time more accurately with emergence into each new level, as each new level also has to come to know itself, and is as much a part of space-time as lower levels. Each new level is just a more folded version of space-time. With emergence into each new level, those new levels are able to use more and different kinds of information and energy not available to the levels below them – much of which is only available once that level has evolved (we can process and use language – which was only available to process once language emerged). Thus, it is illegitimate to say that just because one level does something, that it is relevant to all other levels. Einstein’s discoveries about relativity are useless in the realm of ethics, which is a different hierarchical level of reality. At the same time, each higher level is made of the levels below it – and there is a common thread, a diaphysics, that seems to unite them. Humans are a nested hierarchy of self-similar complex systems. We contain the biological, which contains the chemical, which contains the quantum, which contains energy. And each level transmits up certain aspects of its reality. There is a randomness to quantum physics’s probablistic experience. And chaos theory expresses both randomness and probability in a deterministic fashion – as we see in fractals. And each of these are expressed in organisms. The purposeful behavior of organisms is found too in humans, though we supplement it with symbolic and concrete goals. This feed-forward of each level’s reality seems to be strongest precisely in those systems that have emerged into higher systems. Rocks have less complex fractal geometry than cells, precisely because a rock is a systems dead-end. Consider this: Is it “the mind” or “the minding function of the brain” (as Fraser would have it)? Let us put it another way: is it the organism, or the organism-ing of the cells? Is it the cell, or the cell-ing of organic chemistry? Is it chemistry, or the chemistry-ing of atoms? Is it atoms, or the atom-ing of particle-waves? And is it particle-waves, or the particle-waving of strings? The answer, in a sense, is “yes”. The danger of nouns is that people make the mistake of thinking of these things as having some sort of permanent “being.” The danger of verbs is that people make the mistake of thinking that something always changing does not have any kind of form or order (dissipative structures belies this belief – but most people are not yet thinking this way). Each noun-form is the emergent structure of the action of its constituent parts – the verb-form of those elements. A photon of wavelength 700nm reflects off an object and is picked up by a color receptor in the eye. The configuration change in the receptor causes an electric signal to be transmitted to the brain, which maps the signal onto a pattern associated with the pattern associated with the pattern for the word “red.” Even adjectives are actions.
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