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biophile's picture

Patterns and Consciousness

This is a bit random, but I was working at the Franklin Institute today and one of the exhibits reminded me of what we've been talking about very strongly. Basically, this particular exhibit is about the intersection of physics and art. In one part, there were many pendulums set up containing sand that slowly leaked out so that they made patterns as they moved. Each stand was different, but each had only one pendulum (for example, one had a conveyor belt under the pendulum that complicated the pattern that the sand made.)

There was also a strange structure next to them that was composed of three cogs that one could turn individually or in different combinations; as each cog was turned, a luminescent tracing was left by a needle. The bottom line is that these showed how "complicated things can get when you combine two or more simple motions." It's mind-blowing to think that this concept can also explain the evolution of consciousness.

On a slight tangent, I was reading about Bergson today and thought about emergence yet again. It may not seem terribly related, but the author was talking about how the philosopher Bergson disagreed with Darwin's theory of evolution in that it did not explain the evolution of instinct or of consciousness. They can't be the inherited accumulation of acquired characteristic habits; it's generally agreed that that's not how evolution works. So how did these higher functions come to be? Maybe both instinct and reason emerged fully formed, but that makes little sense. Perhaps it makes more sense to think of instinct and reason not as discrete, heritable characteristics but as emergent properties which are intrinsic to the human brain and are acted upon by internal interactions and external forces throughout life. Instinct and reason didn't emerge spontaneously; perhaps they were inevitable byproducts given the evolving structure of the brain.

And while I'm on a roll with the general incoherence, does anyone think that the emergence of life is inevitable given reasonable conditions? It seems as if life exists everywhere on earth: beneath the earth, in deep sea vents, in the Arctic... For years scientists thought that life could only exist within very narrow parameters; however, now it's known that microorganisms exist everywhere on our planet. It seems as if life is destined to exist, as if chemical components are innately compelled to interact and form more complex structures. It just never seems to stop.

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