The Inevitability of Life and Consciousness

Kantian Naturalist brought up the subjects of autopoesis and organizational closure whereby biological systems maintain a distinctive form while being thermodynamically open. Not only do they achieve a low entropy state but they maintain it over time.

From Wikipedia:

Autopoietic systems are “structurally coupled” with their medium, embedded in a dynamic of changes that can be recalled as sensory-motor coupling. This continuous dynamic is considered as a rudimentary form of knowledge or cognition and can be observed throughout life-forms.

 

This is not yet the inner conscious awareness possessed by higher animals but it is a step in that direction. Consciousness requires not just having a range of sense organs coupled to an ability to act in response. It involves having a nervous system which can combine the various sense experiences into a meaningful whole.

In a reply to Kantian Naturalist OMagain linked to the work of Jeremy England whose lab

searches for hidden order in complex, many-body dynamical systems that are drawn from or inspired by biology.

England has said that the appearance and subsequent evolution of life “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill”. In other words the properties of matter and energy are such that given the right initial conditions life becomes inevitable.

Individual animals from the moment of conception have the potential to mature and become conscious. The arrival of consciousness in the evolution of life on earth is no different. It is present in potential from the beginning.

According to Schrodinger life feeds on negative entropy and we could say that stars and galaxies do the same. The physical universe is set up with an abundance of energy available to make earthly life possible. The way the evolution of the universe is portrayed it can be pictured as a progression of entropy gradients from a very high hot state through the formation of gases and liquids and on to solids. in the beginning the universe was without form, and void. From chaos to cosmos. This is equivalent to the ancient conception of the stages of matter from the quintessence, to air, to water and finally earth.

There is a popular saying that we view life as if we were looking at a tapestry from the back. This is the same idea of the allegory of the cave by Plato. Many processes we see as random only appear to be so because our vantage point only gives us a glimpse of the back of the tapestry and so we don’t see all the connections which reveal the bigger picture.

32 thoughts on “The Inevitability of Life and Consciousness

  1. In a video where Sean Carroll talks to Jeremy English, English talks about biology and physics being different languages. He then goes on to say:

    I also think that the whole enterprise of the natural sciences is kind of like a black and white camera that you could use if you want to photograph a rainbow, right. You’re going to get a representation of the system in some sense, in the forms of representation it’s capable of. It will be accurate. But the question is whether you take it to be totalizing and complete, or whether you admit that its methodology and its assumptions kind of automatically focus it or limit it in what it seeks to capture or what it deliberately ignores.

    I think this is a good analogy. He acknowledges the limits of the natural sciences.

    Sometimes people have a faith in the power of the natural sciences to deliver more than they are capable of and intended to reveal to our understanding.

  2. The natural sciences focus on the forces pushing matter from behind to assume future undetermined configurations. We could also entertain the possibility of other opposite forces pulling matter towards attractors that produce a measure of inevitability of future states.

    Life can be thought of as a result of the rhythmic interplay of the forces of chance and necessity coming from both directions.

  3. Paul Davies talks about the arrow of time leading from matter to life to consciousness. He believes that comprehension should be added to the path of this arrow.

    Why should the universe be comprehensible to us?

  4. CharlieM: Sometimes people have a faith in the power of the natural sciences to deliver more than they are capable of and intended to reveal to our understanding.

    I don’t know what “intended” is doing here, but never mind.

    Carroll is perfectly right to stress that theories are models, and that models are limited — if they were not simplifications, they would not be useful.

    But we should nevertheless distinguish the following questions:

    1. Are scientific theories anything over and above useful but simplified maps or models of reality?

    and

    2. Are there forms of understanding that give us better or deeper insight into reality than the empirical sciences?

    Just because the answer to (1) is “no” it doesn’t follow that the answer to (2) is “yes”.

    CharlieM: Why should the universe be comprehensible to us?

    “The world is subject-matter for knowledge, because mind has developed in that world; a body-mind, whose structures have developed according to the structures of the world in which it exists, will naturally find some of its structures to be concordant and congenial with nature, and some phases of nature of itself. The latter are beautiful and fit, and others ugly and unfit. Since mind cannot evolve except where there is an organized process in which the fulfillments of the past are conserved and employed, it is not surprising that mind when it evolves should be mindful of the past and future, and that it should use the structures which are biological adaptations of organism and environment as its own and its only organs. In ultimate analysis the mystery that a mind should use a body, or that a body should have a mind, is like the mystery that a man cultivating plants should use the soul; or that the soil which grows plants at all should grow those adapted to its own physico-chemical properties and relations”

    — John Dewey, Experience and Nature

    In other words, the comprehensibility of the world to our minds — insofar as it is comprehensible at all — is a consequence of the fact that our minds are a part of the world, and that therefore the structure of the world partly corresponds to the structures of the mind that evolved within that larger, more encompassing structure.

  5. CharlieM: Why should the universe be comprehensible to us?

    The world is comprehensible to us for the simple reason that we are the arbiters of what “comprehensible” means. Or, in other words, it doesn’t actually mean much of anything to say that the world is comprehensible to us.

  6. Neil Rickert: The world is comprehensible to us for the simple reason that we are the arbiters of what “comprehensible” means.Or, in other words, it doesn’t actually mean much of anything to say that the world is comprehensible to us.

    There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

  7. I would argue that the irreconcilably of quantum theory and relativity is a big Not Comprehensible flag.

    Maybe NC all the way down.

  8. petrushka: I would argue that the irreconcilably of quantum theory and relativity is a big Not Comprehensible flag.

    Maybe NC all the way down.

    I’d suspect it’s too early for that. We’ve only had those two things for a relatively small period of time, too small I’d say for any conclusions along those lines as yet.

    Before energy quantization, physics threw up may irreconcilable things. I suspect another big piece is yet to be found.

  9. I’m not making a prediction about future theories.

    Merely generalizing about the iterations of atomic thinking.

    The idea that existence is rational, made of countable stuff.

    I suspect not. We keep seeing smaller and smaller stuff, but there’s no actual reason to believe there’s a real end to it.

  10. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: Life can be thought of as a result of the rhythmic interplay of the forces of chance and necessity coming from both directions.

    Neil Rickert: That’s not how I would think of it.

    Think of the example of a daffodil and the annual cycle of its life. It takes up earthly matter and combines this with solar energy as its form rises out of the earth each spring. When the flowers die back the plant carries on storing energy in the bulb in preparation for the following years growth.

  11. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: Sometimes people have a faith in the power of the natural sciences to deliver more than they are capable of and intended to reveal to our understanding.

    Kantian Naturalist: I don’t know what “intended” is doing here, but never mind.

    Carroll is perfectly right to stress that theories are models, and that models are limited — if they were not simplifications, they would not be useful.

    But we should nevertheless distinguish the following questions:

    1. Are scientific theories anything over and above useful but simplified maps or models of reality?

    and

    2. Are there forms of understanding that give us better or deeper insight into reality than the empirical sciences?

    Just because the answer to (1) is “no” it doesn’t follow that the answer to (2) is “yes”.

    You are right and I think that Goethean science is an extremely empirical science.

    CharlieM: Why should the universe be comprehensible to us?

    Kantian Naturalist (quoting Dewey): “The world is subject-matter for knowledge, because mind has developed in that world; a body-mind, whose structures have developed according to the structures of the world in which it exists, will naturally find some of its structures to be concordant and congenial with nature, and some phases of nature of itself. The latter are beautiful and fit, and others ugly and unfit. Since mind cannot evolve except where there is an organized process in which the fulfillments of the past are conserved and employed, it is not surprising that mind when it evolves should be mindful of the past and future, and that it should use the structures which are biological adaptations of organism and environment as its own and its only organs. In ultimate analysis the mystery that a mind should use a body, or that a body should have a mind, is like the mystery that a man cultivating plants should use the soil; or that the soil which grows plants at all should grow those adapted to its own physico-chemical properties and relations”

    — John Dewey, Experience and Nature

    In other words, the comprehensibility of the world to our minds — insofar as it is comprehensible at all — is a consequence of the fact that our minds are a part of the world, and that therefore the structure of the world partly corresponds to the structures of the mind that evolved within that larger, more encompassing structure.

    That seems reasonable to me. As Goethe said: “If the eye were not sun-like, the sun’s light it would never see.”

    It is due to the fact that we have bodily senses through which we experience the world that we have reached the stage of egohood. Our bodily nature allows us to be part of nature but at the same time comprehend ourselves as distinct beings.

    Lower organisms such as bacteria and protists demonstrate that this level of comprehension is not necessary to be very successful in evolutionary terms, but it is necessary if a being is to become creative in an individual way.

  12. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: Why should the universe be comprehensible to us?

    Neil Rickert: The world is comprehensible to us for the simple reason that we are the arbiters of what “comprehensible” means. Or, in other words, it doesn’t actually mean much of anything to say that the world is comprehensible to us

    That is an interesting thought. I can comprehend the theory that the universe is expanding from an initial dense condition leading to the formation of stars and galaxies whereas I don’t believe that the birds in my garden have anything like that level of comprehension. What should we conclude from that if anything?

  13. Flint to Neil Rickert:
    Neil Rickert: The world is comprehensible to us for the simple reason that we are the arbiters of what “comprehensible” means. Or, in other words, it doesn’t actually mean much of anything to say that the world is comprehensible to us.

    Flint: There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

    Well said! 🙂

  14. petrushka:
    I would argue that the irreconcilably of quantum theory and relativity is a big Not Comprehensible flag.

    Maybe NC all the way down.

    So is science just a waste of time? I see comprehension as more like a rheostat than an on/off switch.

  15. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM,

    I’m okay with that.What I was questioning, was “forces of chance and necessity”.

    I suppose what I was trying to say is that the future is somewhat predictable but not wholly deterministic.

  16. CharlieM: I can comprehend the theory that the universe is expanding from an initial dense condition leading to the formation of stars and galaxies whereas I don’t believe that the birds in my garden have anything like that level of comprehension.

    Maybe birds can comprehend things (such as about the experience of flying) that are foreign to us. We need to stop putting humans on a pedestal.

  17. CharlieM: So is science just a waste of time?

    Not at all.

    Science is how we find better ways of navigating our environment. And it seems to have been working pretty well.

    I suspect that you are trying to think of science as a way of finding truth. But that misunderstands science and it misunderstands truth.

  18. CharlieM: I suppose what I was trying to say is that the future is somewhat predictable but not wholly deterministic.

    I’m not sure that means anything.

    From my perspective, “chance” and “necessity” are useful descriptive terms. But they are not forces, even in the broadest understanding of “force”.

  19. I guess my understanding of the concept of comprehensible is too vague.

    My understanding of early cosmologists like Kepler is they were hoping to find a God’s eye view of the universe.

    What he found was a pretty good astronaut’s view.

    I think that’s our lot.

    To have increasingly precise measurements and predictions. To build better and better clocks.

  20. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: I can comprehend the theory that the universe is expanding from an initial dense condition leading to the formation of stars and galaxies whereas I don’t believe that the birds in my garden have anything like that level of comprehension.

    Neil Rickert: Maybe birds can comprehend things (such as about the experience of flying) that are foreign to us. We need to stop putting humans on a pedestal.

    Without doubt flying birds have a vast amount of dashboard knowledge.

    By dashboard-knowledge, Barfield means merely operant knowledge of the world: the ability to manipulate and control–to drive–nature, an ability which does not at all depend upon actual understanding of its meaning or purpose.

    But do these birds have any knowledge of the aerodynamic forces that enable their aerial expertise?

  21. CharlieM: But do these birds have any knowledge of the aerodynamic forces that enable their aerial expertise?

    The have all of the knowledge that they need. They perhaps lack mere intellectualist knowledge.

  22. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: So is science just a waste of time?

    Neil Rickert: Not at all.

    Science is how we find better ways of navigating our environment. And it seems to have been working pretty well.

    I suspect that you are trying to think of science as a way of finding truth. But that misunderstands science and it misunderstands truth.

    In my opinion science is the method of observation and thinking whereby we attempt to gain a fuller understanding of the world.

  23. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: I suppose what I was trying to say is that the future is somewhat predictable but not wholly deterministic.

    Neil Rickert. I’m not sure that means anything.

    From my perspective, “chance” and “necessity” are useful descriptive terms. But they are not forces, even in the broadest understanding of “force”.

    But we can think about how “chance” and “necessity” relate to force. Hit a ball with a bat and it will follow a trajectory which can be determined by the forces acting on it. That is necessity. Hit a dog with a bat its reaction cannot be determined in advance. It might turn on you. That is the chance you are taking. The dog has an integral volition that is not present in the ball.

    Evolution produces creatures with increasing amounts of self-determination.

    I live close to a country park with a large lake where hundreds of geese overwinter and then return north for the summer. This year a large flock remained and bred. I don’t know why they decided not to follow their companions on their migration. Nobody foresaw this but it demonstrates how unpredictable animals can be, especially higher vertebrates.

  24. CharlieM: This year a large flock remained and bred. I don’t know why they decided not to follow their companions on their migration. Nobody foresaw this but it demonstrates how unpredictable animals can be, especially higher vertebrates.

    You really can’t think of a reason?

  25. petrushka:
    I guess my understanding of the concept of comprehensible is too vague.

    My understanding of early cosmologists like Kepler is they were hoping to find a God’s eye view of the universe.

    What he found was a pretty good astronaut’s view.

    I think that’s our lot.

    To have increasingly precise measurements and predictions. To build better and better clocks.

    We make progress by looking beyond the senses to the reality behind them.

    As Steiner said:

    It was at that time when Copernicus began to think out what exists in the cosmic space beyond the evidence of the senses, that our modern astronomy as a science began. And so it is in every domain of science. Wherever science, in the most modern sense of the word, has arisen, it has done so in opposition to what had been apparent to the senses. When Copernicus declared “what you see is Maya or deception; rely on what you cannot see” — that was the moment when the science came into being which is recognized as such today. It might thus be said to the representative of modern science “your science itself only became ‘science’ when it was no longer willing to depend upon the senses only.”

    And following on from Copernicus, Kepler, being able to use the precise measurements of Tycho Brahe, understood the harmony of the heavens and their laws. Tycho Brahe was the observational astronomer, but it took Kepler to see in the mathematics the beauty which observation alone would never grasp.

    These days we gaze constantly at our extremely accurate clocks and generally ignore the fact that there is much more to time than the regimental, unchanging beat of digital processions. I compare the old clock in Prague with the time digits on my screen and I can see how times have changed.

    Our lot is what we make it. We can still regain much of what has been lost but with a new understanding.

  26. Neil Rickert:
    CharlieM: But do these birds have any knowledge of the aerodynamic forces that enable their aerial expertise?

    Neil Rickert: The have all of the knowledge that they need. They perhaps lack mere intellectualist knowledge.

    And all of us participating here have vastly more knowledge than what we need to survive.

  27. Alan Fox:
    CharlieM: This year a large flock remained and bred. I don’t know why they decided not to follow their companions on their migration. Nobody foresaw this but it demonstrates how unpredictable animals can be, especially higher vertebrates.

    Alan Fox: You really can’t think of a reason?

    Of course I can speculate, but do I really know the reason? Do they have one or two leaders which make the decisions and the rest just follow suit, or do they decide individually? It is a large flock and I often see small groups flying off on local outings. Maybe these are family groups, I don’t know.

    Salmon generally migrate to the oceans from the breeding grounds, do any of them decide to stay in the ocean to breed? I’ve never heard of this happening.

  28. petrushka:
    I would argue that the irreconcilably of quantum theory and relativity is a big Not Comprehensible flag.

    Maybe NC all the way down.

    That you consider quantum theory and relativity to be a big NC seems itself a very C thing. Or is it that C is not a thing but a figment of the imagination, that pesky evolutionary appendix.

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