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Essay: Physics, Nature and Mind

October 28th, 2014 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 64 views | Print this Article

By Robert DePaolo


This article presents ideas on the integration of theoretical physics, brain function and morality under the rubric of Information Theory. The factors of uncertainty, ultra-stability and systemic complexity are discussed in terms of how systems develop permanence and what mechanisms underlying human cognition and moral thinking might have in common with the laws of physics. The point is made that the increasing mass and complexity of brains produced a complementary chaos-to-order transition that is also responsible for the quantum-induced order observed in nature.


In discussing any information system it is necessary to begin with an apparent paradox: the notion that due to the laws of entropy, order cannot be either a permanent condition or a true point of origin. It must either emanate, i.e. evolve, from something else or undergo fluctuations whereby it represents a transition point on the uncertainty-to–organizational continuum. (Shannon & Weaver 1949), (Berger, Calabrese, 1975) In other words, like every system in nature it is not static but rather dynamic.

Such a process is an essential component of Information Theory; one tenet of which holds that information can only be gleaned from a prior state of uncertainty. The idea that uncertainty (confusion) is a necessary prelude to organization (whether in the domain of particle physics or human cognition) it is a pervasive, credible idea. It is seen in Piaget’s writings on human cognitive and moral development – wherein a state of disequilibrium is deemed a prerequisite to intellectual growth. (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). It is also seen in Freud’s theory of creativity, which he presumed is fostered by a state of uncertainty he referred to as anxiety. Beyond the human realm it is of course seen in Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty (1930) and de Broglie’s notions of the wave-particle duality and quantum fluctuations (1960) that seem at odds with Einstein’s equally valid (classical) theory of an orderly universe.

Theoretical physicists have grappled with the apparent contradiction between classical and quantum physics for some time, under the assumption that uncertainty and order seem to be at odds with one another. The question of how the cosmos can at once be lawful (at the macro-physical level) yet chaotic (in the particle domain) has been something of a mystery for decades. It need not be; particularly uses information dynamics as a bridge-building concept. In that context one merely needs to accept that order is not a natural state. Neither is chaos. Rather they are interdependent and complementary. One cannot exist without the other. Therefore one can begin with the premise that, as Bronowksi suggested, laws are as much a function of mind as of a true reality; an internal representation rather than an isomorphic reflection of nature than of true reality (1973).

Distinctions and Causations…

The assumption that chaos and order are complementary would seem to require some sort of operational description. How and/or why are the two states interdependent? The simple answer is that since all systems tend to run down, it stands to reason that since there are only two possibilities in the natural world that as one declines the other would emerge. There are of course varying degrees of uncertainty and order but it can be inferred that, all things being equal, a transition out of one state leads to the emergence of the other. Yet while that addresses the question of “what” it does not consider the how and why of the process. To address those questions one can begin by discussing how chaos evolves into order.

As a first explanatory step, the reader is asked to imagine what a state of absolute uncertainty would be like. In effect it would be one of complete monotony, in which there were no individualized features – nothing to stand out from the crowd – so to speak. The so-called cosmic egg, which was composed of plasma, would be one example of a nearly complete state of entropy or uncertainty. Being in such a state would by definition render it completely devoid of information content because information always involves a distinction between or among signals. Just as language grammar entails different sounds, semantic distinctions, parts of speech, definitions etc. (lest it be incomprehensible) so too does any information system.

Thus information begins with some sort of break from monotony or “noise.”
The reason why is a function of two things. First, because the “info-plasma”is not yet systemic, it has no implicit order and will, as a result of quantum principles, tend toward constant flux. That would render it highly volatile.

The second reason is that due to that flux there will always be some probability that a set of distinctions will emerge from within the plasmodic state. When the cosmos began, one such distinction was the formation of matter – which ostensibly became possible when the temperature cooled enough to enable particle formation and gravitational clustering. With that came a subsequent cascade of distinctions, including separate of elements, differing masses, forces and the like. Such an info-evolutionary process led to the creation and stabilization of the universe as we know it.

As distinctive clusters increased so did the information content of the universe, but the process did not end there. The flip side of the noise-to-information ( or flux to order) relationship, is that distinctions themselves tend to run down to a state of entropy, in the process devolving into mere noise and ultra-uniformity. That is because being separate they are less-influenced by outside sources. Therefore, lacking any sort of hybrid/complexity safety net, they will tend toward sameness and uncertainty – and so the cycle continues.

Yet clearly some systems have prevailed, most notably the universe and on a smaller scale, memories in the brain. With regard to the latter, one could ask why memories don’t run down as a result of entropy.

One possible answer can be found in the idea of complexity. As W.R. Ashby proposed, any system with enough complexity to encompass both stability and flux (i.e. develop ultra-stable parameters) can incorporate within its boundaries both chaos and order (Conant, 1981). That would enable it to endure over time. In effect complexity enables the system to change without changing, which provides a degree of insulation against systemic deterioration.

The Metaphysical Universe…

When physicist inquire as to what makes order, for example why there are only so many elements, forces, charges and the confusing co-existence of matter, anti-matter, symmetry and flux many have ended up with quasi-spiritual explanations. (It isn’t just Einstein who postulated that God was somehow involved in the structure of space, time and matter). While at face value, physics and faith seem mutually exclusive it is conceivable that a god-figure, say in the form of an immutable, governing process is responsible for the organization of the universe. If so, then without refuting either religion or science one can discuss the details of how this process might operate.


That raise the question of how can one characterize this God-process in a way that satisfies both physics and metaphysics? In addressing that question, consider the following.

Suppose a common feature of all things underlying cognition, memory, morality and cosmological constancy lies can be described as a duality consisting of absorption and separation. More specifically In effect, any system with distinct elements that is capable of absorbing new elements can resist entropy and consequently will have a capacity to grow, evolve, learn, adapt and endure.


With regard to the universe, this would signify a complex system in which flux prevailed at the particle level, while constancy prevailed at the classical level – comprising all one ultra-stable system rather than two separate worlds. With respect to human functions like memory, moral thinking, learning, social relationships it would mean having the anatomical and psychological capability to both change and maintain of an overall identity or set of values without unraveling the overall system.

This idea is speculative but has interesting implications for human brain function. It is apparent that the brain operates through a flux to order, general to specific neural activation mechanism (Kak 1996). In addition to Kak’s work, Lashley’s notion of mass activation and equi-potentiality comprises another example of how mental activity unfolds (1950). Indeed the very structure of brain cells, which proceed from soma to multiple branches and back again, suggests information transmission in the brain proceeds from the general to the specific. In that sense human cognition would seem to involve an uncertainty-reducing process. By that line of reasoning terms such as intelligence, emotion, memory and cognition might be convenient but less than accurate descriptions of what is most fundamentally an information retrieval process. All of our mental activities, from artistic expression to literary endeavors, to picking out a pair of shoes in a department store to finding just the right words to say in some social context, simply reenacting the same process that gave rise to the origin and maintenance of the universe.

Encoding the Haystack…

Speaking of word finding, it is conceivable that the advent of language, while adaptive for a wide variety of reasons, was most essentially an adaptation to increased uncertainty within the expansive human brain. Having 86 billion neurons and vastly more inter-neural connections creates the potential for a lot of uncertainty. Perhaps one reason insanity is such a human problem is due to the high potential for such chaos. One way nature could have modulated human brain expansion would have been to provide neuronal configurations by which to codify experience (both from the outside world and within internal brain impulses). Such a linguistic, noise-busting mechanism, would have been essential in warding off insanity, confusion and other states of internal chaos.

One fortuitous byproduct of that would have been a new and enhanced capacity to integrate new and old ideas, familiar and novel perceptions, sounds and memories to produce broader, systemic representations of the natural world and of human experience – something we now call art. It might also have given rise to human morality, which includes themes of distinction-absorption. For example, with regard to distinctions: having an individual identity facilitates goal setting, which to leads to achievement. On the other hand with regard to absorption, having a capacity to extend experience in incorporating the feelings of others leads to empathy, compassion and a capacity to blend ideas and customs from other peoples and cultures – as the Romans did with religion, art, architecture and law in creating a template for subsequent societies.

One can even apply this model to the most basic component of life – the cell. It too has a distinction/absorption capability. It can sustain itself individually via the insulation of nuclei and mitochondria within its inner enclaves yet extend beyond itself and assimilate new inputs through a semi-permeable membrane enabling an exchange of nutrients, chemicals, light and waste materials.

Whether it is described as chaos to order, uncertainty-to information, or distinction-to–absorption, this information model might well be a core feature of our world, governing, or at least making possible, all we are, all we do and all we see around us. It could not be defined as god in the traditional sense, e.g. as a figure with specific physical traits, voice or and temperament but it could be defined in a way similar to Aristotle’s concept of a true, pervasive cosmic anchor point which he called the “unmoved mover.”


Aristotle Notes: In Book 8 of Physics, and Book 12 of Metaphysics Aristotle expressed a belief in an unchanging entity responsible for creating the order in nature. He was no other possibility than to conceive of a point of stability as being primal and capable of regulatory functions, i.e. not mired down in its own complexity yet omni-influential.

Berger, C.R. Calabrese, R.J. (1975) Some Exploration in Initial Interaction and Beyond: Toward a Developmental Theory of Communication. Human Communications Research 1; 99-112

Bronowski, J. The Ascent of Man. Boston/ Toronto Little Brown &Co

Conant, R.(1981) (ed.) Mechanisms of Intelligence: Ross Ashby’s Writings on Cybernetics. Inter-systems Publishing

DeBroglie, L. (1960) Non-Linear Quantum Mechanics: A Causal Interpretation. Amsterdam, Elsevier.

Heisenberg, W. (1930) The Physical Principles of the Quantum, Chicago, University of Chicago Press

Kak, S.C. (1996) The Three Languages of the Brain; Quantum, Reorganizational, and Associative. In. K. Pribram, J. King (eds) Learning as Self-Organization. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates pp 185-219.

Lashley, K. (1950) In Search of the Engram. Society of Experimental Biology Symposium. 4: 454-482

Piaget, J., Inhelder, B. (1969) The Psychology of the Child; The Definitive Account of the Psychologist’s Work. Basic Books

Shannon, C.E., Weaver, W. (1949) The Mathematical Theory of Communication. (Urbana, ILL) University of Illinois Press.

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