Complexity

In a barbershop quartet, each member sings a different part of the over-all arrangement. In complex systems language, that’s bottom-up influence: an emerging pattern is created by a collective of individual inputs. As they sing, their voices mix in the air around them, so each is hearing all four parts combined in an organized whole. And as they experience the ongoing song, each member attempts to fit in with the pattern. That’s top-down influence: the over-all song is shaping the behavior of its creating constituents. That means the song created by the singers acts to shape the behavior of the singers. That’s called a feedback loop. In a similar manner, the mind, inhabiting the immaterial aspect of brain/body activity, immediately feeds back on the brain/body and shapes its behavior. That means rather than being an epiphenomenon, the immaterial mind shapes activity in the material brain.

Our brain is a complex system that includes top-down, bottom-up, as well as sideways (nodal) influences at play. There are both the material elements such as neurons, supporting cells, synapses, neurotransmitters, general fluid baths, etc., and the immaterial aspects such as the network organizations, electromagnetic fields permeating everything, and countless relationships among the constituents of the brain/body. Is there a clue, here, about the nature of the mind? It seems like it. The mind is a field-like phenomenon, extending over time and space. Electromagnetic fields show similar behavior and thus are an interesting candidate for mind. Here’s a greatly simplified (and highly speculative!) overview of how that might work: as we think about something, different neurons or neuronal circuits change their activity — that’s the material component to the thought. This change in activity changes the configuration of the cell’s contribution to a wide area field over the brain. When we are in the process of thinking about something, we typically have a number of different thoughts, each making its own contribution to the complex over-all field. As wave after wave of field variation sweeps across the wide area field both additive and destructive interference influence the field’s shape. Ultimately, the thoughts coalesce into a decision as the fluctuating field settles into a more stable complex wave profile. This stability signals a coherent influence on the downstream effector circuits that, unconflicted, carry out the decision.

All living cells are awash in electromagnetic fields, if for no other reason than the constant ion movement in and around them. Neurons, however, specialize in creating these fields, taking it to an entirely different level. That’s not unusual. Cells forming different organs are typically specialized so they can efficiently carry out their function. Neurons are especially adept at creating and manipulating electromagnetic fields, more so than they are at any of the other fundamental forces. That’s one reason electromagnetic fields seem like the best candidate for the footprint of mindness. The function of neurons? To process information, and apparently creating electromagnetic fields helps with that task. Our mind may be what it’s like, from the inside, to be a type of complex electromagnetic field.

At the same time… We know that not everything in the material aspect is a diamond. Likewise, in the immaterial realm, not everything is a mind. A checkerboard pattern is likely just a pattern, not a mind. Similarly, not every electromagnetic field need be a mind. What we experience as a conscious mind may only emerge from fields of sufficient complexity. Given sufficient complexity, am I equating electromagnetism with mind? Sort of.

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