Table of Contents
Life and persistence
Function and Metabolism
The Thought Experiment
Life as a dynamic system
What is catalysis?
What are solitons?
Solitons in biology
Scale invariance in biology
Structure, energy, unity and resonance
Application of catalysis 1
Application of catalysis 2
Life as catalysis
Ontology of consciousness
Fractal catalysis and autopoiesis 1
Fractal catalysis and autopoiesis 2
The ontology of consciousness
Before we examine the ontology of consciousness in detail, it is necessary to explain how this term 'ontology' is being used in this paper. 'Ontology' is a philosophical term that deals with fundamental questions of existence or 'being.' However, I wish to use this term in a more general sense to signify the properties (or behaviors) of objects and phenomena of the world. So, for example, the ontology of water may include all those properties that we associate with water -- the way it flows, finds its own level etc. Also, we may include geometric properties; for example, for a triangle, we would include that it has three sides and three angles, etc.
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In contemplating how life and the brain evolved, we can sometimes take for granted aspects of the physical world that are apprehended by cognition as being meaningful outside of the context of perception. For example, we have little doubt that a mountain exists whether we are looking at it or not. However, this assumption (although trivially true) begs an important question. Exactly what do we mean by the statement that 'a mountain exists?'
I suggest that for this statement to be true there must be a corresponding phenomenon in the world that can be demonstrated to unify the necessary features of a mountain into a single process. However, it is quite easy to demonstrate that, in the case of a mountain, this is not the case. Closer examination of the mountain reveals that it is comprised of a great many discontinuous elements, stones, boulders, rock strata, etc. Each of the elements that comprise the 'mountain' exhibits its own properties that are quite independent of the apparent properties of the mountain. I suggest that it is more consistent to argue that the mountain is only 'implicit' in a set of relationships that remain invariant in space and time.
So, although we may observe many objects and phenomena that exhibit tendencies and properties, we should not assume that these aspects of their apparent ontology are explicit aspects of the phenomena themselves. For example, we may assume that a rocking chair explicitly embodies the tendency to rock. However, let us set the same rocking chair adrift in space and it seems to lose this aspect of its nature.
Most of the classical objects of our perception exhibit what may be described as 'implicit ontology.' The behavior of most objects and phenomena in the classical world arise as a result of very many discontinuous elements, such that we cannot marry the object to its properties in a way that we can understand them as being the same thing.
In fact, there are very few macroscopic phenomena that exhibit what might be described as 'an ontological unity.' In the quantum world, however, the reverse is true. Quantum coherent phenomena exhibit a unity such that we may claim that they are not comprised of discontinuous elements. Their behavior and 'what they are' may be claimed to be identical.
In order to distinguish these 'quantum coherent' types of phenomena from phenomena like mountains I shall coin the phrase 'ontologically unified phenomena' to denote the fact that, unlike mountains, their existence (and their ontology) cannot be claimed to be artifacts of perception or categorization, but that they exist as unified self-consistent processes.
Following on from this, I suggest that the term 'implicit order,' as it is used in this argument, is equivalent to the 'implicit ontology' of objects and phenomena. So, 'the mountain' actually refers to its implicit ontology or set of invariance that characterizes 'the mountain.'
Previously, we examined what might be happening in a child's brain at the moment that the child learns to recognize a triangle. It was suggested that the triangle, as it exists in the world, is actually comprised of a great many discontinuous elements. Thus, the 'triangle' was only implicit in a set of statistical invariance in space and time. We may describe this as a non-ontological triangle because the implicit set of relationships are discontinuous, and thus, it cannot be claimed that the triangle exhibits ontological unity.
However, once the triangle becomes an aspect of cognition, not only does it become unified, the unification is effected by establishing dynamic relationships via the invariance exhibited by the triangle. From this it follows that the perception of an object, such as a triangle, amounts to an explication of its implicit ontology. Thus, in the case of a triangle, the geometric invariance that characterize triangles become the means by which a self-generating and unified triangle can exist -- an ontological triangle.
What is suggested is that phenomenology (qualia) is directly related to ontology. That is to say that the observation of an object is equivalent to making ontology explicit. This represents a departure from theories of mind that involve the concept of 'representation.' The perception of an object is not a representation, but rather, an explication of the object's implicit ontology experienced as phenomenology or qualia; thus:
Phenomenology = Ontology
Furthermore, within the context of language, it should be stressed that a word such as 'horse' is not simply a signifier. This hypothesis is also a departure from purely logical or epistemological approaches that assume that the conscious state associated with the 'meaning' of a word arises as a result of some sort of computation. Words such as 'horse,' I suggest, have content (although this may depend upon context) and are thus ontological in nature. 'Meaning,' then, is a content of consciousness, the ontology of which is to be correlated with the order that is implicit in how the word occurs and in what context.
Conscious states that arise as result of language are a relatively new ontological phenomenon. For the first time in the history of life on this planet, there exists a stimulus that embodies a complex of implicit relationships, not only in its own terms, but also in terms of its relation to a whole variety of other aspects of our experience. What language can teach us is that if we introduce a stimulus into the conscious realm, and if it embodies implicit spatio/temporal orders and relationships, then the brain will make those implicit orders explicit as a new 'content' or qualia. 'Meaning' emerges as an ontological phenomenon the existence of which makes explicit the implicit relationship between language and the objects and phenomena of our experience, it does not arise as a result of a logical process of analysis.
In my opinion, the great utility of language is not that it can describe or explain the world around us, but rather, that it opens up a world of conscious states that we call concepts, abstractions, ideas. Thus, the abstract concept of a triangle is implicit in the use of the same word in a variety of different contexts that share certain invariance. Without language we would not be able to liberate ourselves from the moments immediate experience. With language we may explore the landscape of platonic forms, of 'memories'; we may explore the domain of possible conscious states as we please. There is much to write on this subject - but that will have to wait for another paper.