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brain is mind
Posted: 19 September 2007 02:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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mckenzievmd - 19 September 2007 01:43 PM

I suspect it may be just an epistemological phenomenon, but I do wonder if there might be some literal truth to the idea that the “whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Complex systems, we presume, are perfectly predictable with a perfect understanding of the relevant variables, though in practice most are not actually predictable since we can’t hope to manage the volume of information and calculation involved. But I wonder if ideas like chaos theory or QM might hint at some real difference between components in isolation and systems. I don’t have any real evidence this is true, and so I remain skeptical of my intuitive sense that it might be, but I don’t know that it is a closed case. And I’m not sure how one would prove it wither way, beyond developing the ability to accurately predict the behavior of any system, such as the brain, perfectly, which seems unlikely. This is the core of my position in the free will debates—Hard determinism (provisionally) but with a recognition that in practice the heuristic models we use may be as or more useful than the formal analysis of something as complicated as the brain because we can’t yet (or can’t?) apply the formal models well enough to get detailed, reliable predictions.

Well, what we do know from chaos theory and QM makes predictions literally impossible beyond a relatively short timeframe. Let’s take a schematic example. Say we’re talking about a chaotic system of planets, and we’re trying to predict their orbits arbitrarily into the future. In order to do this we have to measure their present positions and momentums with some precision. And the farther into the future we want to predict, the more accurate our measurements have to be. If the system is particularly chaotic, we need to be extremely fine with our measurements, because the chaotic complexity simply explodes the options into the future, and very small mistakes in our initial measurements may well produce predictions that are dramatically wrong.

Knowing about quantum mechanics, and in particular the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle we can both see where this is going. It is in principle physically impossible to know the position and momentum of a particle to beyond a certain level of accuracy. Speaking metaphysically, one might argue that there simply is no fact to the matter about these measurements beyond a certain level of accuracy, IIRC that level, relevant both to distance and time, is given by the Planck constant, which is an extremely small number.

So yes, chaotic systems are in principle unpredictable beyond a certain time frame or accuracy level. (In fact, any physical systems are unpredictable far enough into the future; it’s simply that chaotic systems become unpredictable a lot quicker).

But that said, I’m not sure it’s the same thing to predict the future behavior of a system, and to know what its emergent properties would be. A chemist can tell us why it is that H2O at ordinary temperatures flows, is transparent to visible light, cools us off when we splash it on us, increases in size when frozen, etc., etc. These are all quite complex, in some sense “emergent”, properties of H2O molecules, and they are all “predictable” (that is, knowable; one doesn’t literally need to do any predicting into the future) from the chemical properties of the molecules themselves.

So the chemist may know all about these emergent properties of H2O while still not being able to predict the behavior of any given body of water very far into the future at all.

Similarly with living things. In the 19th century it was fashionable to believe that life was made up of tiny molecular machines, but that the machines themselves were not alive. They needed “élan vital” to really work properly, and this special property was not contained among the properties of the constituent molecules. That view is clearly pseudoscientific. There is a short discussion of all this in the wiki page on Vitalism.

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Posted: 19 September 2007 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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Well, I certainly don’t think we need anything non-material or non-physical to explain emergent properties. That’s why I like the idea. Because it’s a way of getting at the complex relationship between component and system properties without giving in to magic or “God did it.” I guess the larger question is what implications we can or should draw from the level of certainty to which we can understand or predict something. It is a core assumption of many scientists that our understanding of complicated phenomena is ultimately limited only by our understanding of the components and their relations and our ability to model these. And this is drawn from our experience at being able to reduce systems to their components experimentally and then make effective models to predict the behavior of the whole system. So on some level, it works and must be correct.

And yet I used to work in animal behavior, a discpline in which the phenomenal understanding of neurons and their properties has proven very difficult to scale up into an understanding of the output of the system as a whole (the brain). The question is do I just fall back on the assumption that our understanding of neurons and their relations is not yet adequate, but we will get there eventually (or we may not, but if so this is really only an epistemological failure of our own cognitive abilities)? Or do I draw the conclusion that there may be some underlying reason why the system behaves in ways that fundamentally cannot be deduced or predicted no matter how thorough our understanding of the components? The former is a sound, but ultimately unprovable assumption about how nature works. The latter is also probably unprovable, and is a bit more dangerous in that it can lead to ignoring what can be understood and predicated by refining our reductionist data. So I tend to provisionally accept the former.

But I am a generalist by temperment, and I’m much better at seeing forests than trees. Professionally, I’m particularly interested in, and best at, diagnostics, because I tend to seek patterns, and those I find tend to be demonstrably correct better than average. I’m much less good at details and have to rely heavily on reference materials and my notes to keep track of them in individual cases. So by taste I’m draw to systems level understanding and multidisciplinary approaches. And I’m pleased that such approaches are becoming more common and respectable in science again. I think we lose as well as gain with increasing specialization and focus on the details rather than the whole. There are pros and cons to both approaches. Earlier in my training and career, I had to battle against what I saw as excessive, narrow reductionism and a certainty that the answer was in reducing and reconstructing systems. Now it’s a little easier to get away with saying that some answers come from looking at the whole system in action. In fact, in cases of systems that may be truly beyond our ability to model (or in some way unmodelable), it is probably more useful to look at them at a larger scale, even if we end of with heruristics that are technically incorrect at some level.

Anyway, you needen’t fear the vitalist heresy from me. grin

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Posted: 01 October 2007 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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Mind and Brian are complements of a one organic thing, where brain is anything that can be translated to quantity, and mind is the connector of these quantities, that enables to define their relations with each other.

In other words, mind is the whole and brain is separated parts that are collected by the whole. The result is a one organic system that enables to define simultaneously more than a one thing at a time, and to examine and define the relation between more than a one thing.

So Mind\Brian complementation is equivalent to Whole(Mind)\Part(Brian) relation, where Mind and Brian are not defined by each other, but they define an organic structure which is both one and enables to get things beyond one.

The expressed power of this organic structure is measured by its ability to be aware of any symmetrical state that can be found by a given cardinal, that is related to the organic structure.

Organic structure is not limited to separated individuals, but it is not less then the individuals (the parts, or the brains) and their common environment or realm (the whole, or the mind) as a whole\part complementary realm.

A whole\part complementary realm is measured by its cybernetic efficiency, as represented here: http://www.geocities.com/complementarytheory/MonadCK.pdf

[ Edited: 01 October 2007 06:39 PM by DoronShadmi ]
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