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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 Second Web Papers On Serendip

Are you there God? It's me, a Complex-Adaptive System

Arshiya Bose

Are you there, God? It's me, a Complex-Adaptive Story-teller

Dear God,

It's me. Again. This time, I am writing because I have been thinking about you. I have been thinking about my own life and the life that I see around me. I have been thinking about my origins and destinations, where I came from and where I will go. But more than thinking about myself, I have been thinking about how I created you.

It happened in 4th grade. It happened when I raised my hand in a classroom full of people that I had never seen before. It was my first day at a new school and I had come in a day late. Before I could finish introducing myself, a student interrupted me. He asked the teacher if she was able to identify whether I was a boy or a girl. He explained that it was hard to tell with my short hair and loose t-shirt. It was during that moment that I created you. It only took a couple of seconds and just like that I had shaped a story that took away all the confusion and made me feel better instantly. The mystery over my gender faded away quickly but my story of you stayed with me. I told myself the story to understand objects that I saw around me, birds, waterfalls, and courting vine snakes. I repeated the story over and over when I couldn't make sense of things. Since then, I have revised and retold my story many times, adapting it a little every time to suit each new context. I have rethought certain bits depending on what I have recently read or been taught at school. However, thirteen years after the 4th grade, I still have my story. I have believed in it in spite of the various threats that have challenged its existence. First, there have been those fundamentalist story-tellers who are certain that their own story is the only story and no alternatives exist. Then, there have been the occasional non-believers in stories, who try to convince me that all stories are false. But I seem to have held on to my story of you. Why? Blame it all on my biology.

My brain, along with my body is a complex, adaptive system. It recognizes patterns and regularities in streams of data that it is exposed to and then develops a belief or creates a story based on its structure. The stories act as models that allow me to make predictions about the future contents of the incoming data streams. My complex-adaptive system cannot seem to function when the pockets of data are too chaotic and disordered. Then, it is simply unable to recognize a pattern or model that can trigger off its story-telling process. Stories are my version of an algorithmic and adaptive process. They are evolutionary adaptations that enable me to survive in a world that I don't realize and have no influence over. My adaptation allows me to live with the conviction that I can understand what I see and can explain what I have just described. Like all evolutionary adaptations, my stories too boost my relative fitness in a population and increase my chances of survival. But what part of my complex-adaptive system automatically generates new stories in response to data streams?

My brain, they say, consists of two parts. There's the neocortex, which allows me an internal experience and the ability to feel emotional responses to stimuli. The neocortex functions as a semi-independent agent. It is a story-teller, analyzer, thinker, imaginer and an idealist (Grobstein 2005). The rest of my nervous system is much like a frog's brain. It permits many specialized skills and responds to changes in the external world around me (Grobstein 2005). The complex-adaptive neocortex is responsible for the mechanism through which I create my stories about you. It detects the various alternative stories that I can use and employs the information that comes from the frog-brain to mould a final and useable story. However, the presence of neither my neocortex, nor my frog-brain explains my urgency for creating stories. This is because it isn't particular sections of the brain that make me a story-teller but the gaps and distances between these sections. It is the gap between the neocortex and the frog-brain, the "existential gap", that is responsible for my innate need for building stories. My stories serve as adaptations that substitute for the uncertainties and ambiguities that I have about my existence. The existential gap prevents me from knowing who I am and understanding my place in the world around me. It limits what I know about my identity. The gap is real and my perception of the real world is clouded by its presence.

The real world is a rhythmic, oscillating, chaotic struggle of forces. It is an indifferent world, without purpose or consideration. The existential gap in my brain drives me to credit the external world with order. It causes me to operate under the illusion that the world is ordered and designed. And I do this through my stories.

My stories represent a labyrinth. In this labyrinth, I am incubated in the fantasy of an ordered world that can be explained through additional stories such as logic and language. My stories allow me to live in a world of explanatory delusions. Along with my stories of logic and language, my stories of God too shield me from reality and offer me chaos in a seemingly ordered package in the labyrinth. The stories created by my neocortex wander through the astonishingly complex network in the labyrinth. They hit dead ends. They turn around. Then the neocortex revises them and they continue to wander again. I haven't found my way out of these labyrinths yet. Perhaps this will happen only when the doors of perception are opened. Then, I will be able to step out of the labyrinth and into a realization of disorder.

I am writing to tell you that I have decided to take on this path to realization. I see this enlightenment as a state where the gap between my neocortex and frog-brain has been revealed. I imagine it as a place where my consciousness is aware of myself as an adaptive process. It seems as though in that state, I will be able to create stories about God that represent the deepest truths about the infinite, chaotic world of which I am a part.




Although not explicitly cited, this essay was conceptualized based on the following material:

Birx, James (2001). Nietzsche, Darwin & Evolution. Last accessed 3/2/2005

Cline, Austin. Existentialism & Darwinism. Last accessed 3/2/2005

Dennet, Daniel (1995). Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Simon & Schuster Publishers: New York.

Grobstein, Paul (2005). Stories of Evolution and Evolution of Stories: Exploring the Significance of Diversity.

Huxley, Aldous (1954). The Doors of Perceptions; and Heaven and Hell. New York: Harper & Row.

Santina, Peter (2005). The Law of Karma. Last accessed 3/2/2005 Skolnick, Michael. Seeking the Divine in Evolution: Implicit Parallelism & Nietzsche Last accessed 3/2/2005

Trungpa, Chogyam (1975). The Tibetan Book of the Dead. 3rd Edition: Shambhala Publishers: New York.

Whalen, Liam. Chaos & Labyrinth. Last accessed 3/2/2005

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