Sunday, December 29, 2013
Entropy, form, and consciousness part II
The body, of course, also ingests impressions of its own inner world, that is, the chemical manifestations and interactions created by its structural nature, but these take place below the local level of our ordinary consciousness. So for the purposes of this essay, we'll discuss consciousness mostly in terms of the gross macrobiotic experiences we have which we call thoughts, physical movements, and emotions.
But before we do that, some details.
Since rough estimates suggest the total number of impressions in the form of neurons firing is on the order of 20 million billion calculations per second, We might come up with a rough number of neuron impressions during a single 70 year lifetime of 44,150,400,000,000,000,000,000,000 neurons firing, or, impressions individually registered by the nervous system. (Admittedly, it is a drop in the proverbial bucket relative to the probable number of stars in the known universe, but it's a starting point in terms of appreciating the expressive complexity of the human organism. Recall once again, if you will, that this is just the neurons; other cells transmit chemical impressions within themselves and to one another, too.)
I present this number simply to illustrate how incredibly vast number of impressions a single individual registers to the nervous system in the course of a lifetime. These impressions are ordered into emergent systems whereby the chaotic complexity is organized into macro-impressions we refer to as sensory impressions, thoughts, feelings, and sensations. These are further organized by conscious action into a larger hierarchy of contexts which relate them to one another, in an overlay of yet another layer of complexity... and another, and another, and so on.
Consciousness is, therefore, an overarching generalization arrived at by imposing form on all of these impressions. The form is emergent, and we call that emergent form a life, with emergent properties such as thought, feeling, and the action derived from agency.
From the moment of birth, a human being is engaged in the creation of form. If it weren't for this engagement, the impressions would be completely chaotic and random. Indeed, in individuals with severe psychological processing deficits, behavior becomes in fact random, and the ability to respond to the world deteriorates or is not even present. So the process of life is a process of the development and imposing of form. That is, consciousness is in and of itself an ascendant effort that contradicts the force of entropy and organizes a set of impressions that would otherwise decay into meaningless relationships. The greater the effort at organized consciousness — an action which is generally valued by human societies, in that intelligent people are often (not always) seen as being more valuable than others (take Einstein for example) — the greater the action that contradicts entropy in this microcosmic scale.
Ah, you might say. But look at what happens — in the end, we die. Entropy wins, doesn't it?
That might be true in the most literal sense, but as I pointed out earlier, we can't measure the transcendent on either end of this equation, so there are things taking place that lie beyond our understanding. This is lawful and will never change; Ibn al 'Arabi explains very explicitly that laws of the universe prevent man and all other entities arising from God's nature from ultimately piercing the veil that conceals God from the universe. But we have an example of a little closer at hand in biological systems, which encode everything that they "know" on a molecular level in the crystalline structure known as DNA. This extends much further than the DNA itself; culture passes macro structures deriving from this on from one set of organisms to another, and we know that culture is not just manifest in human societies, but also some animal societies, where children learn from their parents. So there is an inherent tendency to overcome entropy built in, not only to the crystalline structure and molecular behavior of biological life, but also within the emergent nature of its conscious manifestation.
The struggle against entropy is, in other words, inherent, that is to say, a naturally arising phenomenon which actively instigates its own survival and implements the use of agency, a property which cannot possibly be predicted by any set of entropical laws, in order to achieve its goals.
This idea of agency is, in fact, closely related to Ibn Arabi's citation of man as a Vicegerent of God. this means that man is God's personal representative; and the action against entropy, the manifestation of consciousness and its ordering of entropic systems into counter-entropic structures, is one fundamental evidence for man's task as such a personal representative.
I'm sure some readers feel a bit overwhelmed by these questions, which actually deserve much more detailed treatment in order to understand them properly, but all of them are connected together into a single system. Studying these ideas can help one to appreciate the nature of the structure one inhabits.