CONSCIOUSNESS

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CONSCIOUSNESS

Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious.

—JERRY FODOR, 19921

THE HIERARCHY OF SENTIENCE

The central claim of this analysis is that sentience is a typical emergent attribute of any teleodynamic system. But the distinct emergent higher-order form of sentience that is found in animals with brains is a form of sentience built upon sentience. So, although there is a hierarchic dependency of higher-order forms of sentience on lower-order forms of sentience, there is no possibility of reducing these higher-order forms (e.g., human consciousness) to lower-order forms (e.g., neuronal sentience, or the vegetative sentience of brainless organisms and free-living cells). This irreducibility arises for the same reason that teleodynamic processes in any form are irreducible to the thermodynamic processes that they depend on. Nevertheless, human consciousness could not exist without these lower levels of sentience serving as a foundation. To the extent that sentience is a function of teleodynamics, it is necessarily level-specific. If teleodynamic processes can emerge at levels above the molecular processes as exemplified in autogenic systems, such as simple single-cell organisms, multicelled plants and animals, and nervous systems (and possibly even at higher levels), then at each level at which teleogenic closure occurs, there will be a form of sentience characteristic to that level.

In the course of evolution, a many-tiered hierarchy of ever more convoluted forms of feeling has emerged, each dependent upon but separate from the form of feeling below. So, despite the material continuity that constitutes a multicelled animal with a brain, at each level that the capacity for sentience emerges, it will be discontinuous from the sentience at lower and evolutionarily previous levels. We should therefore carefully distinguish molecular, cellular, organismal, and mental forms of sentience, even when discussing brain function. Indeed, all these forms of sentience should be operative in parallel in the functioning of complex nervous systems.

A neuron is a single cell, and simpler in many ways than almost any other single-cell eukaryotic organisms, such as an amoeba. But despite its dependence on being situated within a body and within a brain, and having its metabolism constantly tweaked by signals impinging on it from hundreds of other neurons, in terms of the broad definition of sentience I have described above, neurons are sentient agents. That doesn’t mean that this is the same, or even fractionally a part of the emergent sentience of mental processes. The discontinuity created by the dynamical supervenience of mental (whole brain–level) teleodynamics on neuronal (cellular-level) teleodynamics makes these entirely separate realms.

Thus the sentient experience you have while reading these words is notthe sum of the sentient responsiveness of the tens of billions of individual neurons involved. The two levels are phenomenally discontinuous, which is to say that a neuron’s sentience comprises no fraction of your sentience. This higher-order sentience, which constitutes the mental subjective experience of struggling with these ideas, is constituted by the teleodynamic features emerging from the flux of intercellular signals that neurons give rise to. Neurons contribute to this phenomenon of mental experience by virtue of the way their vegetative sentience (implicit in their individual teleodynamic organization) contributes non-mechanistic interaction characteristics to this higher-order neural network–level teleodynamics. The teleodynamics that constitutes this characteristic form of cellular-level adaptive responsiveness, contributed by each of the billions of neurons involved, is therefore separate and distinct from that of the brain. But since brain-level teleodynamics supervenes on this lower level of sentient activity, it inevitably exhibits distinctive higher-order emergent properties. In this respect, this second-order teleodynamics is analogous to the way that the teleodynamics of interacting organisms within an ecosystem can contribute to higher-order population dynamics, including equilibrating (homeodynamic) and self-organizing (morphodynamic) population effects. Indeed, as we will explore further below, the tendency for population-level morphodynamic processes to emerge in the recursive flow of signals within a vast extended network of interconnected neurons is critical to the generation of mental experience. But the fact that these component interacting units—neurons—themselves are adaptive teleodynamic individuals means that even as these higher-order population dynamics are forming, these components are adapting with respect to them, to fit them or even resist their formation. This tangled hierarchy of causality is responsible for the special higher-order sentient properties (e.g., subjective experience) that brains are capable of producing, which their components (neurons) are not.

In other words, sentience is constituted by the dynamical organization, not the stuff (signals, chemistry) or even the neuronal cellular-level sentience that constitutes the substrate of that dynamics. The teleodynamic processes occurring within each neuron are necessary for the generation of mental experience only insofar as they contribute to the development of a higher-order teleodynamics of global signal processing. The various nested levels of sentience—from molecular to neuronal to mental—are thus mutually inaccessible to one another, and can exhibit quite different properties. Sentience has an autonomous locus at a specific level of dynamics because it is constituted by the self-creative, self-bounding nature of teleogenic individuation. The dynamical reflexivity and 

constraint closure that characterizes a teleodynamic system, whether constituting intraneuronal processes or the global-signaling dynamics developing within an entire brain, creates an internal/external self/other distinction that is determined by this dynamical closure. Its locus is ultimately something not materially present—a self-creating system of constraints with the capacity to do work to maintain its dynamical continuity—and yet it provides a precise dynamical boundedness.

The sentience at each level is implicit in the capacity to do self-preservative work, as this constitutes the system’s sensitivity to non-self influences via an intrinsic tendency to generate a self-sustaining contragrade dynamics. This tendency to generate self-preserving work with respect to such influences is a spontaneous defining characteristic of such reciprocity of constraint creation. Closure and autonomy are thus the very essence of sentience. But they are also the reason that higher-order sentient teleogenic systems can be constituted of lower-order teleogenic systems, level upon level, and yet produce level-specific emergent forms of sentience that are both irreducible and unable to be entirely merged into larger conglomerates.2 It is teleogenic closure that produces sentience but also isolates it, creating the fundamental distinction between self and other, whether at a neuronal level or a mental level.

So, while the lower level of cellular sentience cannot be dispensed with, it is a realm apart from mental experience. There is the world of the neuron and the world of mind, and they are distinct sentient realms. Neuronal sentience provides the ground for the interactions that generate higher-order homeodynamic, morphodynamic, and teleodynamic processes of neural activity. If neurons were not teleodynamically responsive to the activities of other neurons (and thereby also to the extrinsic stimuli affecting sensory cells), there would be no possibility for these higher-order dynamical levels of interaction to emerge, and thus no higher-level sentience; no subjective experience. But with this transition from the realm of individual neuronal signal dynamics to the dynamics 

that emerges in a brain due to the recursive effects that billions of neuronal signals exert on one another, there is a fundamental emergent discontinuity. Mental sentience is something distinct from neuronal sentience, and yet this nested dependency means that mental sentience is constituted by the dynamics of other sentient interactions. It is a second-order sentience emergent from a base of neuronal sentience, and additionally inherits the constraints of whole organism teleodynamics (and its vegetative sentience). So subjective sentience is fundamentally more complex and convoluted in its teleodynamic organization. It therefore exemplifies emergent teleodynamic properties that are unprecedented at the lower level.

EMOTION AND ENERGY

An emergent dynamic account of the relationship between neurological function and mental experience differs from all other approaches by virtue of its necessary requirement for specifying a homeodynamic and morphodynamic basis for its teleodynamic (intentional) character. This means that every mental process will inevitably reflect the contributions of these necessary lower-level dynamics. In other words, certain ubiquitous aspects of mental experience should inevitably exhibit organizational features that derive from, and assume certain dynamical properties characteristic of, thermodynamic and morphodynamic processes. To state this more concretely: experience should have clear equilibrium-tending, dissipative, and self-organizing characteristics, besides those that are intentional. These are inseparable dynamical features that literally constitute experience. What do these dynamical features correspond to in our phenomenal experience?

Broadly speaking, this dynamical infrastructure is “emotion” in the most general sense of that word. It is what constitutes the “what it feels like” of subjective experience. Emotion—in the broad sense that I am using it here—is not merely confined to such highly excited states as fear, rage, sexual arousal, love, craving, and so forth. It is present in every experience, even if often highly attenuated, because it is the expression of the necessary dynamic infrastructure of all mental activity. It is the tension that separates self from non-self; the way things are and the way they could be; the very embodiment of the intrinsic incompleteness of subjective experience that constitutes its perpetual becoming. It is a tension that inevitably arises as the incessant shifting course of mental teleodynamics encounters the resistance of the body to respond, and the insistence of bodily needs and drives to derail thought, as well as the resistance of the world to conform to expectation. As a result, it is the mark that distinguishes subjective self from other, and is at the same time the spontaneous tendency to minimize this disequilibrium and difference. In simple terms, it is the mental tension that is created because of the presence of a kind of inertia and momentum associated with the process of generating and modifying mental representations. The term e-motion is in this respect curiously appropriate to the “dynamical feel” of mental experience.

This almost Newtonian nature of emotion is reflected in the way that the metaphors of folk psychology have described this aspect of human subjectivity over the course of history in many different societies. Thus English speakers are “moved” to tears, “driven” to behave in ways we regret, “swept up” by the mood of the crowd, angered to the point that we feel ready to “explode,” “under pressure” to perform, “blocked” by our inability to remember, and so forth. And we often let our “pent-up” frustrations “leak out” into our casual conversations, despite our best efforts to “contain” them. Both the motive and resistive aspects of experience are thus commonly expressed in energetic terms.

In the Yogic traditions of India and Tibet, the term kundalini refers to a source of living and spiritual motive force. It is figuratively “coiled” in the base of the spine, like a serpent poised to strike or a spring compressed and ready to expand. In this process, it animates body and spirit. The subjective experience of bodily states has also often been attributed to physical or ephemeral forms of fluid dynamics. In ancient Chinese 

medicine, this fluid is chi; in the Ayurvedic medicine of India, there were three fluids, the doshas; and in Greek, Roman, and later Islamic medicine, there were four humors (blood, phlegm, light and dark bile) responsible for one’s state of mental and physical health. In all of these traditions, the balance, pressures, and free movement of these fluids were critical to the animation of the body, and their proper balance was presumed to be important to good health and “good humor.” The humor theory of Hippocrates, for example, led to a variety of medical practices designed to rebalance the humors that were disturbed by disease or disruptive mental experience. Thus bloodletting was deemed an important way to adjust relative levels of these humors to treat disease.

This fluid dynamical conception of mental and physical animation was naturally reinforced by the ubiquitous correlation of a pounding heart (a pump) with intense emotion, stress, and intense exertion. Both René Descartes and Erasmus Darwin (to mention only two among many) argued that the nervous system likewise animates the body by virtue of differentially pumping fluid into various muscles and organs through microscopic tubes (presumably the nerves). When, in the 1780s, Luigi Galvani discovered that a severed frog leg could be induced to twitch in response to contact by electricity, he considered this energy to be an “animal electricity.” And the vitalist notion of a special ineffable fluid of life, or élan vital, persisted even into the twentieth century.

This way of conceiving of the emotions did not disappear with the replacement of vitalism and with the rise of anatomical and physiological knowledge in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was famously reincarnated in Freudian psychology as the theory of libido. Though Freud was careful not to identify it with an actual fluid of the body, or even a yet-to-be-discovered material substrate, libido was described in terms that implied that it was something like the nervous energy associated with sexuality. Thus a repressed memory might block the “flow” of libido and cause its flow to be displaced, accumulated, and released to animate inappropriate behaviors. Freud’s usage of this hydrodynamic metaphor became interpreted more concretely in the Freudian-inspired theories of Wilhelm Reich, who argued that there was literally a special form of energy, which he called “orgone” energy, that constituted the libido. Although such notions have long been abandoned and discredited with the rise of the neurosciences, there is still a sense in which the pharmacological treatments for mental illness are sometimes conceived of on the analogy of a balance of fluids: that is, neurotransmitter “levels.” Thus different forms of mental illness are sometimes described in terms of the relative levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, or serotonin that can be manipulated by drugs that alter their production or interfere with their effects.

This folk psychology of emotion was challenged in the 1960s and 1970s by a group of prominent theorists, responsible for ushering in the information age. Among them was Gregory Bateson, who argued that the use of these energetic analogies and metaphors in psychology made a critical error in treating information processes as energetic processes. He argued that the appropriate way to conceive of mental processes was in informational and cybernetic terms.3 Brains are not pumps, and although axons are indeed tubular, and molecules such as neurotransmitters are actively conveyed along their length, they do not contribute to a hydrodynamic process. Nervous signals are propagated ionic potentials, mediated by molecular signals linking cells across tiny synaptic gaps. On the model of a cybernetic control system, he argued that the differences conveyed by neurological signals are organized so that they regulate the release of “collateral energy,” generated by metabolism. It is this independently available energy that is responsible for animating the body. Nervous control of this was thus more accurately modeled cybernetically. This collateral metabolic energy is analogous to the energy generated in a furnace, whose level of energy release is regulated by the much weaker changes in energy of the electrical signals propagated around the control circuit of a thermostat. According to Bateson, the mental world is not 

constituted by energy and matter, but rather by information. And as was also pioneered by the architects of the cybernetic theory whom Bateson drew his insights from, such as Wiener and Ashby, and biologists such as Warren McCulloch and Mayr, information was conceived of in purely logical terms: in other words, Shannon information. Implicit in this view—which gave rise to the computational perspective in the decades that followed—the folk wisdom expressed in energetic metaphors was deemed to be misleading.

By more precisely articulating the ways that thermodynamic, morphodynamic, and teleodynamic processes emerge from, and depend on, one another, however, we have seen that it is this overly simple energy/information dichotomy that is misleading. Information cannot so easily be disentangled from its basis in the capacity to reflect the effects of work (and thus the exchange of energy), and neither can it be simply reduced to it. Energy and information are asymmetrically and hierarchically interdependent dynamical concepts, which are linked by virtue of an intervening level of morphodynamic processes. And by virtue of this dynamical ascent, the capacity to be about something not present also emerges; not as mere signal difference, but as something extrinsic and absent yet potentially relevant to the existence of the teleodynamic (interpretive) processes thereby produced.

It is indeed the case that mental experience cannot be identified with the ebb and flow of some vital fluid, nor can it be identified directly with the buildup and release of energy. But as we’ve now also discovered by critically deconstructing the computer analogy, it cannot be identified with the signal patterns conveyed from neuron to neuron, either. These signals are generated and analyzed with respect to the teleodynamics of neuronal cell maintenance. They are interpreted with respect to cellular-level sentience. Each neuron is bombarded with signals that constitute itsUmwelt. They perturb its metabolic state and force it to adapt in order to reestablish its stable teleodynamic “resting” activity. But, as was noted in the previous chapter, the structure of these neuronal signals does not constitute mental information, any more than the collisions between gas molecules constitute the attractor logic of the second law of thermodynamics.

17.1.%20Computation%20vs%20cognition%20g.tif

FIGURE 17.1: The formal differences between computation and cognition (as described by this emergent dynamics approach) are shown in terms of the correspondences between the various physical components and dynamics of these processes (dependencies indicated by arrows). The multiple arrow links depicting cognitive relationships symbolize stochastically driven morphodynamic relationships rather than one-to-one correspondences between structures or states. This intervening form generation dynamic is what most distinguishes the

two processes. It enables cognition to autonomously ground its referential and teleological organization, whereas computational processes must have these relationships “assigned” extrinsically, and are thus parasitic on extrinsic teleodynamics (e.g., in the form of programmers and interpreters). Computational “information” is therefore only Shannon information.

As we will explore more fully below, mental information is constituted at a higher population dynamic level of signal regularity. As opposed to neuronal information (which can superficially be analyzed in computational terms), mental information is embodied by distributed dynamical attractors. These higher-order, more global dynamical regularities are constituted by the incessantly recirculating and restimulating neural signals within vast networks of interconnected neurons. The attractors form as these recirculating signals damp some and amplify other intrinsic constraints implicit in the current network geometry. Looking for mental information in individual neuronal firing patterns is looking at the wrong level of scale and at the wrong kind of physical manifestation. As in other statistical dynamical regularities, there are a vast number of microstates (i.e., network activity patterns) that can constitute the same global attractor, and a vast number of trajectories of microstate-to-microstate changes that will tend to converge to a common attractor. But it is the final quasi-regular network-level dynamic, like a melody played by a million-instrument orchestra, that is the medium of mental information. Although the contribution of each neuronal response is important, it is more with respect to how this contributes a local micro bias to the larger dynamic. To repeat again, it is no more a determinate of mental content than the collision between two atoms in a gas determines the tendency of the gas to develop toward equilibrium (though the fact that neurons are teleodynamic components rather than simply mechanical components makes this analogy far too simple).

This shift in level makes it less clear that we can simply dismiss these folk psychology force-motion analogies. If the medium of mental representation is not mere signal difference, but instead is the large-scale global attractor dynamic produced by an extended interconnected population of neurons, then there may also be global-level homeodynamic properties to be taken into account as well. As we have seen in earlier chapters, these global dynamical regularities will exhibit many features that are also characteristic of force-motion dynamics.

THE THERMODYNAMICS OF THOUGH

So what would it mean to understand mental representations in terms of global homeodynamic and morphodynamic attractors exhibited by vast ensembles of signals circulating within vast neuronal networks? Like their non-biological counterparts, these higher-order statistical dynamical effects should have very distinctive properties and requirements.

Consider, for example, morphodynamic attractor formation. It is a consequence of limitations on the rate of constraint dissipation within a system that is being incessantly destabilized. Because of this constant perturbation, higher-order dynamical regularities form as less efficient uncorrelated trajectories of micro constraint dissipation are displaced by more efficient globally correlated trajectories. In neurological terms, incessant destabilization is provided by some surplus of uncorrelated neuronal activity being generated within and circulating throughout a highly reentrant network. Above some threshold level of spontaneous signal generation, local constraints on the distribution of this activity will compound faster than they can dissipate. Thus, pushed above this threshold of incessant intrinsic agitation, the signals circulating within a localized network will inevitably regularize with respect to one another as constraints on signal distribution within the network tend to redistribute. This will produce dynamical attractors which reflect the distribution of biases in the connectional geometry of that network, and thus will be a means for probing and expressing such otherwise diffusely distributed biases.

But unlike the regularities exhibited by individual neural signals, or the organized volleys of signals conducted along a bundle of axons, or even the signal patterns converging from hundreds of inputs on a single neuron, morphodynamic regularities of activity patterns within a large neural network will take time to form. This is because, analogous to the simple mechanical dynamical effects of material morphodynamics, these regularities are produced by the incremental compounding of constraints as they are recirculated continuously within the network. This recirculation is driven by constant perturbation. Consequently, without persistent above-threshold excitation of a significant fraction of the population of the neurons comprising a neural network, higher-order morphodynamic regularities of activity dynamics would not tend to form.

What might this mean for mental representation, assuming that mental content is embodied as population-level dynamical attractors? First, it predicts that the generation of any mental content, whether emerging from memory or induced by sensory input, should take time to develop. Second, it should require something like a persistent metabolic boost, to provide a sufficient period of incessant perturbation to build up local signal imbalances and drive the formation of larger-scale attractor regularities. This suggests that there should consequently be something akin to inertia associated with a change of mental content and shift in attention. But this further suggests that self-initiated shifts in cognitive activity will require something analogous to work in order to generate, and that stimuli from within or without that are capable of interrupting ongoing cognitive activities are also doing work that is contragrade to current mental processes. Third, because of the time it takes for the non-linear recursive circulation of these signals to self-organize large-scale network dynamics, mental content should also not emerge all or none into awareness, but should rather differentiate slowly from vague to highly detailed structures. And the level of differentiation achieved should be correlated both with sustained high levels of activation and with the length of time this persists. Generating more precise mental content takes both more “effort” and a more sustained “focus” of attention.

Because the basis of this process is incessant spontaneous neuronal activity, a constant supply of resources—oxygen and glucose—is its most basic requirement. Without sufficient metabolic resources, neuronal activity levels will be insufficient to generate highly regular morphodynamic attractors, though with too much perturbation (as in simpler thermodynamic dissipative systems), chaotic dynamics may result. This suggests that we should expect some interesting trade-offs.

Larger-scale morphodynamic processes should be more capable of morphodynamic work (affecting other morphodynamic processes developing elsewhere in the brain) but will also be highly demanding of sustained metabolic support to develop to a high degree of differentiation. But metabolic resources are limited, and neurons themselves are incapable of sustaining high levels of activity for long periods without periodically falling into refractory states. For this reason, we should expect that mental focus should also tend to spontaneously shift, as certain morphodynamic attractors degrade and dedifferentiate with reduced homeodynamic support, and others begin to emerge in their stead. Moreover, a morphodynamic neural activity pattern that is distributed over a wide network involving diverse brain systems will be highly susceptible to the relative distribution of metabolic resources. This means that the differential distribution of metabolic support in the brain will itself play a major role in determining what morphodynamic processes are likely to develop when and where. So metabolic support itself may independently play a critical role in the generation, differentiation, modification, and degradation of mental representations. And the more differentiated the mental content and more present to mind, so to speak, the more elevated the regional network metabolism and the more organized the attractors of network activity.

How might this thermodynamics of thought be expressed? Consider first the fact that morphodynamic attractors will only tend to form when these resources are continually available and neurons are active above some 

resting threshold. Morphodynamic attractor formation is an orthograde tendency at that level, but it requires lower-order homeodynamic (and thus thermodynamic) work to drive it. If neural activity levels are normally fluctuating around this threshold, however, some degree of local morphodynamic attractor activity will tend to develop spontaneously. This means that minimally differentiated mental representations should constantly arise and fade from awareness as though from no specific antecedent or source of stimulation. If the morphodynamics is only incipient, and not able to develop to a fully differentiated and robust attractor stage, it will only produce what amounts to an undifferentiated embryo of thought or mental imagery. This appears to be the state of unfocused cognition at rest—as in daydreaming—suggesting that indeed the awake, unfocused brain hovers around this threshold. Only if metabolic support or spontaneous neuronal activity falls consistently below this threshold will there be no mental experience—as may be the case for the deepest levels of sleep. Normally, then, network-level neural dynamics in the alert state is not so much at the edge of chaos as at the threshold of morphodynamics.

But entering a state of mind focused on certain mnemonically generated content or sensory-motor contingencies means that some morphodynamic processes must be driven to differentiate to the point that a robust attractor forms. Since this requires persistent high metabolic support to maintain the dissipative throughput of signal activity, it poses a sort of chicken-and-egg relationship between regional brain metabolism and the development of mental experience. Well-differentiated mental content requires persistent widespread, elevated metabolic activation, and it takes elevated spontaneous neuronal activity to differentiate complex mental states. Which comes first? Of course, as the metaphor suggests, each can be precursor or consequence, depending on the context.

If the level of morphodynamic development in a given region is in part a function of the ebb and flow of metabolic resources allocated to that region, adjusting local metabolism up or down extrinsically should also increase or decrease the differentiation and robustness of the corresponding mental representation. This possibility depends on the extent to which individual neuronal activity levels can be modulated by metabolic support. If neurons can be shifted up and down in their spontaneous activity level simply by virtue of the increased or decreased availability of oxygen and glucose, then merely shifting levels of these resources locally could have an influence on regional morphodynamic differentiation.

At this point it is only conjecture for me to imagine that this occurs, since I am not aware of evidence to support such a mechanism; but the availability of such a thermodynamically responsive neuronal teleodynamics would seem to be consistent with other aspects of emergent dynamical theory. So, for the sake of pursuing the implications of the theory as far as possible into this discussion of the neural-mental relationship, I will assume that it is a reasonable possibility. Should it prove to be the case, either directly or indirectly, that the extrinsic availability of local metabolic resources can both drive and impede levels of neuronal activity, it would offer further support for this approach. How might this work?

If an extrinsic increase in metabolic support will tend to increase the level of spontaneous neuronal activity, it will also tend to increase the probability of local attractor formation. This means that if there is a means to globally regulate the distribution of the brain’s metabolic resources—that is, by up- and down-regulating rates of regional cerebral blood flow—this could also be a means of initiating and developing, or impeding and degrading, certain local morphodynamic tendencies. Simply adjusting regional metabolism could thus be a way to regulate attention and initiate operations involving specific sensory, motor, or mnemonic content. Conversely, this means that neurons subjected to high levels of excitatory stimulation may be driven beyond their metabolic capacity to react consistently. Even highly organized extrinsic input (e.g., from sensory systems or the morphodynamically organized outputs from other regions 

of the brain) may be insufficient to constrain attractor differentiation if there is insufficient metabolic support. But if there are also local means for neurons and glia to “solicit” an increase in metabolic support if depleted, then extrinsically driving neural activity levels beyond what is supported by the metabolic equilibrium of that region might also be a way to recruit metabolic support for morphodynamic differentiation.

Both effects will have inertial-like features. Thus in some cases it will be possible to “force” differentiation of thought through metabolic means directly, or morphodynamic work from an extrinsically metabolically active region; and in other cases it may be quite difficult, even with effort, to develop sufficiently differentiated thoughts or responses. The effect, in both cases, is that there will inevitably be what amounts to a kind of “tension” between cognition and its metabolic support.

A relevant attribute of this tension is that neuronal activity rates take place on a millisecond time scale while the hydrodynamic and diffusion changes that must support this activity take place on a multisecond time scale. Interestingly, because of the time it takes for morphodynamic activity to differentiate to a regular attractor stage, mental processes likely take place at rates that are commensurate with metabolic time scales; and in the case of highly complex and highly robust morphodynamic attractors, this may take longer—perhaps many seconds to reach a stage of full differentiation. These different temporal domains also contribute to the structure of experience.

The differential between the time that neuron to neuronal excitation can take place and the time it takes to mount a metabolic compensation for this change in activity means that there will be something analogous to metabolic inertia involved. This delay will slightly impede the ability of heightened but short-lived morphodynamic activity in one region to spread its influence into connected regions, which are not already primed with increased metabolism. This sort of dynamical recruitment will consequently require stable and robust attractor formation and maintenance, and thus stably heightened metabolic support.

What controls local metabolic support? There appear to be both extrinsic and intrinsic mechanisms able to up-regulate and down-regulate cerebral blood flow to local regions. Intrinsic mechanisms are becoming better understood because of the importance of in vivo imaging techniques that are based on hydrodynamic changes, such as fMRI. If, as I have argued, extrinsically regulated local increases and decreases of metabolic support can themselves induce significant changes in neuronal activity levels, with associated alterations of signal dropout and random spontaneous activity, then such a regulatory mechanism could play a significant role in directing attention, differentiating mnemonic content, activating or inhibiting behaviors, and shifting modality specific processing. How might this be effected?

Extrinsic control of regional cerebral blood flow is less well understood than intrinsic effects, and my knowledge of these mechanisms is minimal, so what I will describe here is again highly speculative. But some such mechanism is strongly implicated when considering mind-brain relationships dynamically. The answer, I believe, is something like this. Certain stimuli (or intrinsically generated representations) that have significant normative relevance (perhaps because they are associated with powerful innate drives or with highly arousing past experiences) are predisposed to easily induce characteristic patterns of activity in forebrain limbic structures (such as the amygdala, nucleus accumbens, hypothalamus). These limbic activity patterns distinguish conditions for which a significant shift of attention and mental effort is likely required, for example, because of danger or bodily need. These limbic structures in turn project to midbrain and brainstem structures that control regional differences in cerebral blood flow and regional levels of neuronal plasticity. These in turn project axons throughout the forebrain and serve to modulate regional levels of neuronal activity by adjusting blood flow and intrinsic neuronal variables, which make them more or less plastic to input patterns.

In this way, highly survival-relevant stimuli or powerful drives can be 

drivers of mental experience to the extent that they promote selected differentiation of local morphodynamic attractors. So, for example, life-threatening or reproductively important stimuli can regulate the differentiation of specific analytic, mnemonic, and behavioral capacities, and shut down other ongoing mental activities by simply modulating metabolic resource distribution. Because this is an extrinsic influence with respect to the formal constraints that are amplified to generate the resulting morphodynamic processes, and not the result of direct interactions between regionally distinct networks, there can be a relatively powerful inertial component in such transitions, especially if they need to be rapid, and the subsequent attractor process needs to be highly differentiated and robust (as is likely in life-threatening situations).

Rapidly shutting down an ongoing dynamic in one area and just as rapidly generating another requires considerable work, both thermodynamic (metabolic) and morphodynamic. But consider the analogy to simple physical morphodynamic processes like whirlpools and Bénard convection cells. These cannot be generated in an instant nor can they be dissipated in an instant, once stable. The same must be true of the mental experiences in such cases of highly aroused shifts of attention. Prior dynamics will resist dissolution and may require structural interference with their attractor patterns (morphodynamic work imposed from other brain regions) to shut them down rapidly. They will in this sense resist an imposed change. This tension between dynamical influences at these two levels—the homeodynamics of metabolic processes and the morphodynamics of network dynamics—is inevitable in any forced change of morphodynamic activity.

It is my hypothesis, then, that this resistance and work created by these dependencies between levels of dynamics of brain processes constitutes the experience of emotion. In most moment-to-moment waking activities, shifts between large-scale attractor states are likely to be minimally forced, and so will engender minimal and relatively undifferentiated emotions. But there should be a gradation of both differentiation and intensity. The orthograde nature of morphodynamic differentiation does not in itself require morphodynamic work, and so there is not necessarily extrinsic “mental effort” required for thoughts to evoke one another or to spontaneously “rise” from unconsciousness. This emergent dynamic account thus effectively distinguishes the conscious from unconscious generation of thoughts and attentional foci in terms of work. The more work at more levels, the more sentient experience. And where work is most intense, we are most present and actively sentient. Self and other, including the otherness created by the inertia of our own neural dynamics, are thus brought into stark relief by the contragrade “tensions” that arise because we are constituted dynamically.

There is, of course, still something central missing from this account. If the contents of mental experiences are instantiated by the attractor dynamics of the vast flows of signals coursing through a neural network, where in this process are these interpreted? What dynamical features of brain processes are these morphodynamic features juxtaposed with in order that they are information about something for something toward some end? The superficial answer is the same as that given for what constitutes the locus of self in general: a teleodynamic process. But as we have already come to realize, the sort of teleodynamics that arises from brain process is at least a second-order form of teleodynamics when compared to that which constitutes life. This convoluted and hierarchically tangled form of teleodynamics includes some distinct emergent differences.

WHENCE SUFFERING?

The last chapter began by questioning whether there might be intrinsic moral implications to corrupting or shutting down a computation in process. I agree with William James’ conclusion that only if this involves sentience do moral and ethical considerations come into play, but that if sentience is present, then indeed such values must be considered. This is 

because sentience inevitably has a valence. Things feel good and bad, they aren’t merely good for or bad for the organism. Because of this, the world of sentience is a world of should and shouldn’t, kindness and abuse, love and hate, joy and suffering. Is this really necessary? Could there be mental sentience without its being framed between wonderful and horrible?

As we have now seen, computation is ultimately just a descriptive gloss applied to a simple linear mechanistic process. So the intrinsic intentional status of the computation, apart from this mechanism, is entirely epiphenomenal. This beautifully exemplifies the patency of the nominalist critique of generals. Computation is in the mind of the beholder, not in the physical process. There is nothing additionally produced when a computation is completed, other than the physical rearrangement of matter and energy in the device that is performing this operation. A computer operation is therefore no more sentient than is the operation of an automobile engine. But, as we saw in the Self chapter, a teleodynamic process does in fact transform generals into particulars; and the constraints that constitute and are in turn constituted by such a process do have ententional status, independent of the physical particulars that embody them. This self-creation of constraints is what constitutes the dynamical locus of sentience, not merely some physical change of state.

In light of the hierarchic conception of sentience developed above, however, I think that this general assessment now needs to be further refined. There are emergent sentient properties produced by the teleodynamics of brains that are not produced by simpler, lower-order forms of sentience. Crucially, these are special normative properties made possible because the sentience generated by brain processes is, in effect, a second-order sentience: a sentience of sentience. And with this comes a sentience of the normative features of sentience. In colloquial terms, this sentience of normativity is the experience of pleasure and pain, joy and suffering. And it is with respect to these higher-order sentient properties that we enter into the ethical realm.

To understand how this higher-order tangle has created a sentience of the normative relationships that create this sentience itself, and ultimately identify the self-dynamic that is the locus of subjective experience, we need to once more revisit how the logic of teleodynamics, at whatever level, creates an individuated locus of self-creation and a dynamic of self-differentiation from the world.

In chapter 9, teleodynamics was defined as a dynamical organization that exists because of the consequences of its continuance, and therefore can be described as being self-generating over time. But now consider what it would mean for a teleodynamic process to include within itself a representation of its own dynamical final causal tendencies. The component dynamics of a teleodynamic process have ententional properties precisely because they are critical to the creation of the whole dynamic, which in turn is critical to the continued creation of these component dynamics. Were the reciprocal synergy of the whole dynamic to break down, these component dynamics would also eventually disappear. The whole produces the parts and the parts produce the whole. But then a teleogenic process in which one critical dynamical component is a representational process that interprets its own teleodynamic tendency extends this convoluted causal circularity one level further.

For animals with brains, the organism and its distinctive teleodynamic characteristics will likely fail to persist (both in terms of resisting death and reproducing) if its higher-order teleodynamics of self-prediction fails in some respect. Failure is likely if the projected self-environment consequence of some action is significantly in error. For example, an animal whose innate predator-escape strategy fails to prevent capture will be unlikely to pass on this tendency to future generations. Such a tendency implicitly includes a projected virtual relationship between its teleodynamic basis and a projected self/other condition. Generation of a projected future self-in-context thus can become a critical source of constraints organizing the whole system. But generating these virtual selves requires both a means to model the causality of the environment and also a means for modeling the causality of the teleodynamic processes 

that generate these models and act with respect to them. This is a higher-order teleodynamical relationship because one critical dynamical component of the whole is its own projected future existence in context. This implicitly includes a normative assessment of this possible condition with respect to current teleodynamic tendencies, including the possibility of catastrophic failure.

The vegetative teleodynamics of single-celled organisms and organisms not including brains must be organized to produce contragrade reactions to any conditions that tend to disrupt teleodynamic integrity. The various component structures, mechanisms, and morphodynamic processes that constitute this integrity must therefore be organized to collectively compensate for any component process that is impeded or otherwise compromised from without. There does not need to be any component that assesses the general state of overall integrity. But in an animal with a brain that was evolved to project alternative future selves-in-context, such an assessment becomes a relevant factor. A separate dynamical component of its teleodynamic organization must continually generate a model of both its overall vegetative integrity and the degree to which this is (or might be) compromised with respect to other contingent factors. A dynamical subprocess evolved to analyze whatever might impact persistence of the whole organism, and determine an appropriate organism level response, must play a primary role in structuring its overall teleodynamic organization.

In the previous section, we identified the experience of emotion with the tension and work associated with employing metabolic means to modify neural morphodynamics. It was noted that particularly in cases of life-and-death contexts, morphodynamic change must be instituted rapidly and extensively, and this requires extensive work at both the homeodynamic (metabolic) and morphodynamic (mental) levels. The extent of this work and the intensity of the tension created by the resistance of dynamical processes to rapid change is, I submit, experienced as the intensity of emotion. But such special needs for reliable rapid dynamical reorganization arise because the teleodynamics of organism persistence is easily disturbed and inevitably subject to catastrophic breakdown. Life and health are fragile. So the generation of certain defensive responses by organisms, whether immune response or predator-escape behaviors, must be able to usurp less critical ongoing activities whenever the relevant circumstances arise.

Teleodynamic processes have characteristic dynamical tendencies, and when these are impeded or interfered with, the entire integrated individual is at risk. But catastrophic breakdown is not just possible, it is essentially inevitable for any teleodynamically organized individual system, whether autogen or human being. The ephemeral nature of teleodynamics guarantees that it faces an incessant war against intrinsic and extrinsic influences that would tend to disrupt it—and the more disruptive of its self-similarity maintenance, the greater the work that must be performed to resist this influence.

Influences that are so disruptive that they will ultimately destroy the teleodynamic integrity of a single cell, or even a plant, will in the process induce the production of the most intense and elaborate contragrade processes possible within the repertoire of that organism’s systems. But because there is no separate dynamical embodiment of the integrity of the whole, no locus of individuated-self representation, these dynamical extremes do not constitute suffering. There is a self, but there is no one home reflecting back on this process at the same time as enduring it. This is not the case for most animals.

The capacity to suffer requires the higher-order teleodynamic loop that brain processes make possible. It requires a self that creates within itself a teleodynamic reproduction of itself. This emergent dynamical homunculus is constituted by a central, teleodynamically organized, global pattern of network activity. By definition, this must be constituted by reciprocally synergistic morphodynamic processes. The component morphodynamic processes are, as we have discussed above, generated by the self-organizing tendencies of the vast numbers of signals circulating around

and incessantly being introduced into the neural networks of the various brain systems. However, not all morphodynamic attractors produced in a brain contribute to this teleodynamic core, though there is a continual assimilation of newly generated morphodynamic processes into the synergy that constitutes this ultimate locus of mental self-continuity and self/non-self distinction.

A simple individual autogenic system embodies the constraints of this necessary synergy implicitly in the complementarities and symmetries of the constraints determining and generating the various morphodynamic processes that constitute it. This is also true for an animal body, though more complex and hierarchically organized. But it is not true of the teleodynamics of brains. Brains have evolved to regulate whole organism relationships with the world. Their teleodynamics is therefore necessarily parasitic on the teleodynamics of the body that they serve. Thus, for example, hypothalamic, midbrain, and brainstem circuits in vertebrate bodies play a critical role in regulating such global body functions as heart rate, digestion, metabolic rate, and the monitoring and maintenance of the levels of a wide variety of bloodborne chemical signals, such as hormones.

The local processes that maintain these systems are highly robust, and in many cases are quite nearly cybernetically organized processes.4 In this sense, they are least like higher-order morphodynamic neural processes, and thus their functioning does not directly enter mental experience. Nevertheless, the status of these functions is redundantly monitored by other forebrain brain systems, and these deep brain regulatory systems provide the forebrain systems with signals reflecting their operation. The result is that vegetative functions of the organism are multiply represented at various levels of remove from their direct regulation. The nearly mechanistically regular constraints of their operation are thus inherited by higher-order brain processes.

So what constitutes the core teleodynamic locus of brain function? The answer is that it too is multiply hierarchically generated at different levels of functional differentiation. Even at the level of brainstem circuits, there is almost certainly a synergistic dynamic linking the separate regulatory systems for vegetative functions; but it is only as we ascend into forebrain systems that these processes become integrated with the variety of sensory and motor systems that constitute regulation of whole organism function. The constraints constituting the synergy and stability of core vegetative systems provide a global organizing influence that more differentiated levels of the process must also maintain. At the level of brain function where sensory and motor functions must be integrated with these core functions, the differentiation of morphodynamic processes that involve these additional body systems is inevitably constrained to respect these essential core regularities. In this way, the many simultaneously developing morphodynamic processes produced within the various forebrain subsystems specialized for one or the other modality of function begin their differentiation processes already teleodynamically integrated with one another. The self-locus that is constituted by this synergy of component morphodynamic processes is thus also a dynamic that is subject to varying degrees of differentiation. It can be relatively amorphous and comprised of poorly differentiated morphodynamic processes, or highly differentiated and involve a large constellation of nested and interdependent morphodynamic processes. Subjective self is as differentiated and unified as the component morphodynamic processes developing in various subregions of the brain are differentiated and mutually reinforcing. And this level of self-differentiation is constantly shifting.

The teleodynamic synergy of this brain process is ultimately inherited from these more fundamental vegetative teleodynamic relationships, which contribute core constraints influencing the differentiation of this self-locus. These core constraints provide what might be considered the envelope of variation within which diverse morphodynamic processes are differentiated in response to sensory information and the many internally generated influences. Since the locus of this self-perspective is 

dynamically determined with respect to the “boundaries” of morphodynamic reciprocities, and these are changing and differentiating constantly, there can be no unambiguous anatomical correlate of this homunculus within the brain. Nevertheless, the teleodynamic loop of causality that integrates sensory and motor processes with the projected self-in-possible-context must at least involve the brain systems these processes depend upon, such as the thalamic, cerebral cortical, and basal ganglionic structures of the mammalian (and human) forebrain. But even this may be variable. Comparatively undifferentiated self-dynamics may only involve perilimbic cortical areas and their linked forebrain nuclei, whereas a self-dynamics involved in complex predictive behavior may involve significant fractions of the entire cerebral cortex and the forebrain nuclei these regions are coupled with.

So why is there a “what it feels like” associated with this neural teleodynamics? And why does this “being here” have an intrinsic good and bad feel about it? The answer is that this self-similarity-maintaining dynamic provides a constant invariant reference with respect to which all other dynamical regularities and disturbances are organized. Like the teleodynamics of autogenic self, it is what organizes all local dynamics around an invariant telos: the self-creating constraints that make the work of this self-creation possible. In a brain, this teleodynamic core set of constraints serves as both a center of dynamical inertia that other neural activates cannot displace and a locus of dynamical self-sufficiency that is a constant platform from which distributed neural dynamics must begin their differentiation. But the teleodynamic integrity of this core neurological self is a direct reflection of the vegetative teleodynamics that is critical to its own persistence. To the extent that the vegetative teleodynamics is compromised, so too will neurological self be compromised. But vegetative teleodynamic integrity and neurological teleodynamical integrity are only linked; they are not identical.

As the possibility of anesthesia makes obvious, the mental representation of bodily damage can be decoupled from the experiential self. Under these circumstances, thankfully, sensory information from the body is not registered centrally and cannot thereby alter neural teleodynamics. Mental processes can therefore continue, oblivious to even significant physiological damage. So pain is not “out there” in the world. It is how neural teleodynamics reorganizes in response to its sensory assessment of vegetative damage. Its effect is to interrupt less critical neural dynamics and activate specific processes to stop this sensory signal. To do this, it must block the differentiation of most morphodynamic processes that are inessential to this end, and rapidly recruit significant metabolic and neural resources to generate action to avoid continuation of this stimulus. So, whereas any non-spontaneous shift of neural dynamics requires metabolic work to accomplish, the reaction to pain is preset to maximize this mobilization.

In many respects, pain is a special form of minimal perception, which helps to exemplify the relationship between what might be described as the analytic and emotional aspects of sentience. Perception is not merely the registration of extrinsically imposed changes of neural signals. It involves the generation of local morphodynamic processes that remain integrated into the larger teleodynamic integrity and yet are at the same time modulated by these extrinsically imposed constraints. Any slight dissonance that results initiates neural work to further differentiate the core teleodynamic organization to minimize this deviation. This drives progressive differentiation of the relevant morphodynamic processes in directions that at the same time are adapted to these imposed constraints and minimally dissonant with global teleodynamics. So perception is, in effect, the differentiation of self to better fit extrinsically imposed regularities. This can be looked upon as a sort of principle of work minimization that is always assessed with respect to this core teleodynamics.

In contrast to other sensory experiences, pain requires minimal morphodynamic differentiation to be assessed: only what’s necessary to localize it in the body and determine what kind of pain (with only a very 

few modalities to sample). Unlike other percepts, however, there is no differentiation of morphodynamic perceptual processes that is able to increase pain’s integration with core teleodynamics. Instead, pain blocks the differentiation of other modes of sensory analysis and rapidly deploys resources to possible motor responses to stop this sensation (such as the rapid withdrawal of one’s finger from contact with a hot stove). This simple non-assimilable stimulus continues to drive the differentiation of actual and potential motor responses until the painful stimulus ceases. Of course, once damage is done, the pain stimulus will often continue despite actions to limit it. In these cases, a continual “demand” for recruitment of a motor response, and a correlated mobilization of metabolism to achieve it, will persist despite the ineffectiveness of any action. One consequence is that further damage may be averted. Another is that the continual maintenance of this heightened need to act to end the pain is experienced as suffering. Pain that can’t be relieved is thus continually perturbing the core teleodynamics; contorting self-dynamics to necessarily include this extrinsic influence and the representation of a goal state that remains unachieved; and constantly mobilizing and focusing metabolic resources for processes that fail to achieve adaptation.

The capacity to suffer is therefore an inseparable aspect of the deep coupling between the neurally represented and viscerally instantiated teleodynamics of the body. Specifically, it is a consequence of the evolution of means for mobility and rapid behavior able to alter extrinsic conditions. Organisms that have not evolved a capacity to act in this way have no need for pain, and no need to represent their whole bodily relationship to extrinsic conditions. Their teleodynamic integrity is maintained by distributed processes without the need for an independent instantiation as experience. Pain is the extreme epitome of the general phenomenology we call emotion because of the way it radically utilizes the mobilization of metabolic resources to powerfully constrain signal differentiation processes, and thereby extrinsically drive and inhibit specific spontaneous morphodynamic tendencies. More than anything else, it exemplifies the essence of neurological sentience.

BEING HERE

In the last chapter, we began to explore the distinctive higher-order form of teleodynamics that emerges from a teleodynamic process that must include itself as a component: a teleodynamic circularity in which the very locus of teleodynamic closure becomes virtual. This is a tangle in the dynamical hierarchy that is superficially analogous to the part/whole tangle that defines teleodynamics more generally. In a simple autogenic system, each part (itself a morphodynamic product) is involved in an ultimately closed set of reciprocal interaction relationships with each other to create the whole, but it takes the whole reciprocally synergistic complex to generate each part. In logic, this would amount to a logical-type violation (in which a class can also be a member of itself). By including the capacity to model itself in relation to extrinsic features of the world, a neurally generated teleodynamic system similarly introduces a higher-order tangle to this dynamical hierarchy.

In this chapter, we discovered a further tangle in the hierarchy of neural teleodynamics. Because neurons are themselves teleodynamic and thus sensitive to and adaptive to the changes in their local signal-processingUmwelt, the higher-order dynamics of the networks they inhabit can also be a source for changes in their internal teleodynamic tendencies. Thus neurons “learn” by changing their relative responsivity to the patterns of activity that they are subject to. In the process, the biases in the network that are responsible for the various morphodynamic attractors that tend to form will also change. This can happen at various timescales. As neurons temporarily modify their immediate responsivity over the course of seconds or minutes, the relative lability of certain morphodynamic attractor options can change.

Finally, with the exploration of perception, and specifically the perception of pain, we have brought together these various threads, 

integrating all with the concept of emotion. Emotion in this generic sense is not some special feature of brain function that is opposed to cognition. It is the necessary expression of the complicated hierarchic dependence of morphodynamics on homeodynamics (specifically, the thermodynamics of metabolism), and the way that the second-order teleodynamics that integrates brain function is organized to use this dependence to regulate the self/other interface that its dynamical closure (and that of the body) creates.

Although each is discontinuous from the other by virtue of dynamical closure, neuronal-level sentience is nevertheless causally entangled with brain-level sentience, which is entangled in a virtual-self-level of sentience. And human symbolic abilities add a further, yet-higher-order variant on this logical type-violating entanglement. This latter involves the incorporation of an abstract representation of self into the teleodynamic loop of sentience. Thus we humans can even suffer from existential despair. No wonder the analysis of human consciousness tends to easily lead into a labyrinth of self-referential confusions.

There remains an immense task ahead to correlate these dynamical processes with specific brain structures and neural processes. But despite remaining quite vague about such details, I believe that the general principles outlined in these pages can offer some useful pointers, leading neuroscientists to pay attention to features of brain function that they might otherwise have overlooked as irrelevant. And they may bring attention to neural dynamics that have so far gone unnoticed and suggest ways to develop new tools for analyzing mental processes considered outside the purview of cognitive neuroscience. So, while I don’t believe that neuroscience will be pursued differently as a result, or that this will lead to any revolutionary new discoveries about neurons, their signaling dynamics, or the overall anatomy of brains, it may prompt many researchers to rethink the assumptions they bring to these studies.

While we have only just begun to sketch the outlines of an emergent dynamics account of this one most enigmatic phenomenon—human consciousness—the results point us in very different directions than previously considered. With the autogenic creation of self as our model, we have broken the spell of dualism by focusing attention on the contributions of both what is present and what is absent. Surprisingly, this even points the way to a non-mystical account of the apparent non-materiality of consciousness. The apparent riddle of its non-materiality turns out not to be a riddle after all, but an accurate reflection of the fact that the locus of subjective sentience is not, in fact, a material substrate. The riddle was not the result of any problem with the concept of consciousness, but of our failure to understand the causal relevance of constraint. With the realization that specific absent tendencies—dynamical constraints—are critically relevant to the causal fabric of the world, and are the crucial mediators of non-spontaneous change, we are able to stop searching for consciousness “in” the brain or “made of” neural signals.

I believe that human subjectivity has turned out not to be the ultimate “hard problem” of science. Or rather, it turns out to have been hard for unexpected reasons. It was not hard because we lacked sufficiently complex research instruments, nor because the details of the process were so many and so intricately entangled with one another that our analytic tools could not cope, nor because our brains were inadequate to the task for evolutionary reasons, nor even because the problem is inaccessible using the scientific method. It was hard because it was counterintuitive, and because we have stubbornly insisted on looking for it where it could not be, in the stuff of the world. When viewed through the perspective of the special circular logic of constraint generation that we have called teleodynamics, this problem simply dissolves. The complex and convoluted dynamical processes that are the defining features of self, at any given level, are not embodied in molecules, or neurons, or even neural signals, but in the teleodynamics of processes generated in the vast networks of brains. The molecular interactions, propagating neuronal signals, and incessant energy metabolism that provide the substrate for this higher-order dynamical process are necessary substrates; but it is because 

of what these do not actualize, because of how their interactions are constrained, that there is agency, sentience, and valuation implicit in their patterns of interaction. We are what we are not: continually, intrinsically, necessarily incomplete in our very nature. Our sense of self, our experience of being the originative locus of agency, our interior subjective isolation, and the sense of emerging out of nothing and being our own prime mover—all these core characteristics of conscious experience—are accurate reflections of the fact that self is literally sui generis, emerging each moment from what is not there.

There can be no simple and direct neural embodiment of subjective experience in this sense. This is not because subjectivity is somehow otherworldly or non-physical, but rather because neural activity patterns convey both the interpretation and the contents of experiences in the negative, so to speak; a bit like the way that the space in a mold represents a potential statue. The subjectivity is not located in what is there, but emerges quite precisely from what is not there. Sentience is negatively “embodied” in the constraints emerging from teleodynamic processes, irrespective of their physical embodiment, and therefore does not directly correlate with any of the material substrates constituting those processes. Intrinsically emergent constraints are neither material nor dynamical—they are something missing—and yet as we have seen, they are not mere descriptive attributions of material processes, either. The intentional properties that we attribute to conscious experience are generated by the emergence of these constraints—constraints that emerge from constraints, absences that arise from, and create, new absences. You are in this quite literal sense something coming out of nothing, and thus newly embodied at each instant.

But this negative existence, so to speak, of the conscious self doesn’t mean that consciousness is in any way ineffable or non-empirical. Indeed, if the account given here is in any way correct, it suggests that consciousness may even be precisely quantifiable and comparable, for example, between states of awareness, between species, and even possibly in non-organic processes, as in social processes or in some future sentient artifact. This is because teleodynamic processes, which provide the locus for sentience in any of its forms, are precisely analyzable processes, with definite measurable properties, in whatever substrates they arise. Because a teleodynamic process is dynamically closed by virtue of its thoroughly reciprocal organization, it is clearly individuated from its surroundings, even if these are merely other neural dynamics. Because of this individuation, it should be possible to gain a quantitative assessment of the thermodynamic and morphodynamic work generated moment by moment in maintaining its integrity. It should also be possible at any one moment to determine what physical and energetic substrates constitute its current locus of embodiment.

These should not be surprising conjectures. As it is, we already use many crudely related intuitive rules of thumb to make such assessments when it comes to assessing a patient’s state of anesthesia or level of awareness after brain damage, and even when comparing different animals. We generally assume that a metabolically active brain is essential, and that as metabolism and neuronal activity decrease below some threshold, so does consciousness. We assume that animals with very small brains (such as gnats) can have only the dimmest if any conscious experience, while large-brained mammals are quite capable of intense subjective experiences and likely suffer as much as would a person if injured. So some measure of dynamical work and substrate complexity already seems to provide us with an intuition about the relative degree of consciousness we are dealing with.

The present analysis not only supports these intuitions but provides further complexity and subtlety as well. It suggests that we can distinguish between the kind of brain dynamics that is associated with consciousness and what kind is not. Indeed, this is implicit in the critique of computational theories. Computations and cybernetic processes are insentient because they are not teleodynamic in their organization. In fact, we intuitively also take this into account when we introspect about our 

own state of conscious awareness. For example, when acquiring a new skill—such as learning to play a piece of music on an instrument like the piano—the early stages are very demanding of constant attention to sensory and motor details. It takes effort and work of all kinds. But as learning progresses and you become skilled at this performance, these various details become less and less present to awareness. And by the time it is performed like an expert, you are able to almost “do it in your sleep,” as the saying goes. Highly skilled behaviors are performed with a minimum of conscious awareness. It is as though they are being performed by an algorithmic process. Indeed, in vivo imaging studies demonstrate that as we become more and more skilled at almost any cognitive task, the differential level of metabolism and the extent of neural tissue involved decreases, until for highly automatic skills there is almost no metabolic differential. Computationlike processes can involve precise connections and specific signals. They need not depend on the statistics of mass-level homeodynamic and morphodynamic processes. So, if automated functions are those that have become more computationlike, we should expect that they will have a rather diminutive metabolic signature. Indeed, it makes sense that one of the functions of learning would be to minimize the neural resources that must be dedicated to a given task. Consciousness is in this respect in the business of eliminating itself by producing the equivalent of virtual neural computers.

Serendipitously, then, fMRI, PET, and other techniques for visualizing and measuring regional differentials and changes in neural metabolism may provide a useful preliminary tool for tracing the changing levels and loci of brain processes correlated with consciousness. If the three-level emergent dynamic accounts of the differentiation of mental content and emotion are on the right track, then the dynamical changes in this signature of changing brain metabolism are providing important clues about these mental states. Indeed, this intuition is provisionally assumed when studying brain function with in vivo imagery.

So, even though this is a theory which defends the thesis that intentional relationships and sentient experiences are not material phenomena in the usual sense of that concept, it nonetheless provides us with a thoroughly empirical set of predictions and testable hypotheses about these enigmatic relationships.

CONCLUSION OF THE BEGINNING

Although much of my professional training has been in the neurosciences, in this book I have almost entirely avoided any attempt to translate the emergent dynamic approach to mental experience and agency into detailed neurobiological terms. This is not because I think it cannot be done. In fact, I’ve hinted that my purpose is in part to lay the groundwork for doing exactly that. I believe that an extended effort to articulate an emergent dynamical account of brain function is necessary to overcome the Cartesian no-man’s-land separating the study of the brain from the study of the mind. But the conceptual problems that remain to be overcome are immense.

I have at most sketched the outlines here of an approach that might overcome them. Despite the number of pages that I felt were required to even frame the problem correctly, I don’t claim to have accomplished much more than to have described a hitherto unexplored alternative framing of these enigmatic problems. I believe, however, that once this figure/background logic of analysis becomes assimilated into one’s thinking about biological, psychological, and semiotics problems, the path toward solutions in each of these domains will become evident. These paths have not been followed previously simply because they were not even visible within current paradigms. Such alternatives didn’t exist in the flat materialistic perspective that has dominated thinking for much of the last few centuries. It is my hope that this glimpse of another scientifically rigorous, but not simplistically materialistic, way to view these issues will inspire others to explore some of the many domains now made visible.

I believe that despite its counterintuitive negative framing, this 

17

CONSCIOUSNESS

Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious.

—JERRY FODOR, 19921

THE HIERARCHY OF SENTIENCE

The central claim of this analysis is that sentience is a typical emergent attribute of any teleodynamic system. But the distinct emergent higher-order form of sentience that is found in animals with brains is a form of sentience built upon sentience. So, although there is a hierarchic dependency of higher-order forms of sentience on lower-order forms of sentience, there is no possibility of reducing these higher-order forms (e.g., human consciousness) to lower-order forms (e.g., neuronal sentience, or the vegetative sentience of brainless organisms and free-living cells). This irreducibility arises for the same reason that teleodynamic processes in any form are irreducible to the thermodynamic processes that they depend on. Nevertheless, human consciousness could not exist without these lower levels of sentience serving as a foundation. To the extent that sentience is a function of teleodynamics, it is necessarily level-specific. If teleodynamic processes can emerge at levels above the molecular processes as exemplified in autogenic systems, such as simple single-cell organisms, multicelled plants and animals, and nervous systems (and possibly even at higher levels), then at each level at which teleogenic closure occurs, there will be a form of sentience characteristic to that level.

In the course of evolution, a many-tiered hierarchy of ever more convoluted forms of feeling has emerged, each dependent upon but separate from the form of feeling below. So, despite the material continuity that constitutes a multicelled animal with a brain, at each level that the capacity for sentience emerges, it will be discontinuous from the sentience at lower and evolutionarily previous levels. We should therefore carefully distinguish molecular, cellular, organismal, and mental forms of sentience, even when discussing brain function. Indeed, all these forms of sentience should be operative in parallel in the functioning of complex nervous systems.

A neuron is a single cell, and simpler in many ways than almost any other single-cell eukaryotic organisms, such as an amoeba. But despite its dependence on being situated within a body and within a brain, and having its metabolism constantly tweaked by signals impinging on it from hundreds of other neurons, in terms of the broad definition of sentience I have described above, neurons are sentient agents. That doesn’t mean that this is the same, or even fractionally a part of the emergent sentience of mental processes. The discontinuity created by the dynamical supervenience of mental (whole brain–level) teleodynamics on neuronal (cellular-level) teleodynamics makes these entirely separate realms.

Thus the sentient experience you have while reading these words is notthe sum of the sentient responsiveness of the tens of billions of individual neurons involved. The two levels are phenomenally discontinuous, which is to say that a neuron’s sentience comprises no fraction of your sentience. This higher-order sentience, which constitutes the mental subjective experience of struggling with these ideas, is constituted by the teleodynamic features emerging from the flux of intercellular signals that neurons give rise to. Neurons contribute to this phenomenon of mental experience by virtue of the way their vegetative sentience (implicit in their individual teleodynamic organization) contributes non-mechanistic interaction characteristics to this higher-order neural network–level teleodynamics. The teleodynamics that constitutes this characteristic form of cellular-level adaptive responsiveness, contributed by each of the billions of neurons involved, is therefore separate and distinct from that of the brain. But since brain-level teleodynamics supervenes on this lower level of sentient activity, it inevitably exhibits distinctive higher-order emergent properties. In this respect, this second-order teleodynamics is analogous to the way that the teleodynamics of interacting organisms within an ecosystem can contribute to higher-order population dynamics, including equilibrating (homeodynamic) and self-organizing (morphodynamic) population effects. Indeed, as we will explore further below, the tendency for population-level morphodynamic processes to emerge in the recursive flow of signals within a vast extended network of interconnected neurons is critical to the generation of mental experience. But the fact that these component interacting units—neurons—themselves are adaptive teleodynamic individuals means that even as these higher-order population dynamics are forming, these components are adapting with respect to them, to fit them or even resist their formation. This tangled hierarchy of causality is responsible for the special higher-order sentient properties (e.g., subjective experience) that brains are capable of producing, which their components (neurons) are not.

In other words, sentience is constituted by the dynamical organization, not the stuff (signals, chemistry) or even the neuronal cellular-level sentience that constitutes the substrate of that dynamics. The teleodynamic processes occurring within each neuron are necessary for the generation of mental experience only insofar as they contribute to the development of a higher-order teleodynamics of global signal processing. The various nested levels of sentience—from molecular to neuronal to mental—are thus mutually inaccessible to one another, and can exhibit quite different properties. Sentience has an autonomous locus at a specific level of dynamics because it is constituted by the self-creative, self-bounding nature of teleogenic individuation. The dynamical reflexivity and constraint closure that characterizes a teleodynamic system, whether constituting intraneuronal processes or the global-signaling dynamics developing within an entire brain, creates an internal/external self/other distinction that is determined by this dynamical closure. Its locus is ultimately something not materially present—a self-creating system of constraints with the capacity to do work to maintain its dynamical continuity—and yet it provides a precise dynamical boundedness.

The sentience at each level is implicit in the capacity to do self-preservative work, as this constitutes the system’s sensitivity to non-self influences via an intrinsic tendency to generate a self-sustaining contragrade dynamics. This tendency to generate self-preserving work with respect to such influences is a spontaneous defining characteristic of such reciprocity of constraint creation. Closure and autonomy are thus the very essence of sentience. But they are also the reason that higher-order sentient teleogenic systems can be constituted of lower-order teleogenic systems, level upon level, and yet produce level-specific emergent forms of sentience that are both irreducible and unable to be entirely merged into larger conglomerates.2 It is teleogenic closure that produces sentience but also isolates it, creating the fundamental distinction between self and other, whether at a neuronal level or a mental level.

So, while the lower level of cellular sentience cannot be dispensed with, it is a realm apart from mental experience. There is the world of the neuron and the world of mind, and they are distinct sentient realms. Neuronal sentience provides the ground for the interactions that generate higher-order homeodynamic, morphodynamic, and teleodynamic processes of neural activity. If neurons were not teleodynamically responsive to the activities of other neurons (and thereby also to the extrinsic stimuli affecting sensory cells), there would be no possibility for these higher-order dynamical levels of interaction to emerge, and thus no higher-level sentience; no subjective experience. But with this transition from the realm of individual neuronal signal dynamics to the dynamics that emerges in a brain due to the recursive effects that billions of neuronal signals exert on one another, there is a fundamental emergent discontinuity. Mental sentience is something distinct from neuronal sentience, and yet this nested dependency means that mental sentience is constituted by the dynamics of other sentient interactions. It is a second-order sentience emergent from a base of neuronal sentience, and additionally inherits the constraints of whole organism teleodynamics (and its vegetative sentience). So subjective sentience is fundamentally more complex and convoluted in its teleodynamic organization. It therefore exemplifies emergent teleodynamic properties that are unprecedented at the lower level.

EMOTION AND ENERGY

An emergent dynamic account of the relationship between neurological function and mental experience differs from all other approaches by virtue of its necessary requirement for specifying a homeodynamic and morphodynamic basis for its teleodynamic (intentional) character. This means that every mental process will inevitably reflect the contributions of these necessary lower-level dynamics. In other words, certain ubiquitous aspects of mental experience should inevitably exhibit organizational features that derive from, and assume certain dynamical properties characteristic of, thermodynamic and morphodynamic processes. To state this more concretely: experience should have clear equilibrium-tending, dissipative, and self-organizing characteristics, besides those that are intentional. These are inseparable dynamical features that literally constitute experience. What do these dynamical features correspond to in our phenomenal experience?

Broadly speaking, this dynamical infrastructure is “emotion” in the most general sense of that word. It is what constitutes the “what it feels like” of subjective experience. Emotion—in the broad sense that I am using it here—is not merely confined to such highly excited states as fear, rage, sexual arousal, love, craving, and so forth. It is present in every experience, even if often highly attenuated, because it is the expression of the necessary dynamic infrastructure of all mental activity. It is the tension that separates self from non-self; the way things are and the way they could be; the very embodiment of the intrinsic incompleteness of subjective experience that constitutes its perpetual becoming. It is a tension that inevitably arises as the incessant shifting course of mental teleodynamics encounters the resistance of the body to respond, and the insistence of bodily needs and drives to derail thought, as well as the resistance of the world to conform to expectation. As a result, it is the mark that distinguishes subjective self from other, and is at the same time the spontaneous tendency to minimize this disequilibrium and difference. In simple terms, it is the mental tension that is created because of the presence of a kind of inertia and momentum associated with the process of generating and modifying mental representations. The term e-motion is in this respect curiously appropriate to the “dynamical feel” of mental experience.

This almost Newtonian nature of emotion is reflected in the way that the metaphors of folk psychology have described this aspect of human subjectivity over the course of history in many different societies. Thus English speakers are “moved” to tears, “driven” to behave in ways we regret, “swept up” by the mood of the crowd, angered to the point that we feel ready to “explode,” “under pressure” to perform, “blocked” by our inability to remember, and so forth. And we often let our “pent-up” frustrations “leak out” into our casual conversations, despite our best efforts to “contain” them. Both the motive and resistive aspects of experience are thus commonly expressed in energetic terms.

In the Yogic traditions of India and Tibet, the term kundalini refers to a source of living and spiritual motive force. It is figuratively “coiled” in the base of the spine, like a serpent poised to strike or a spring compressed and ready to expand. In this process, it animates body and spirit. The subjective experience of bodily states has also often been attributed to physical or ephemeral forms of fluid dynamics. In ancient Chinese medicine, this fluid is chi; in the Ayurvedic medicine of India, there were three fluids, the doshas; and in Greek, Roman, and later Islamic medicine, there were four humors (blood, phlegm, light and dark bile) responsible for one’s state of mental and physical health. In all of these traditions, the balance, pressures, and free movement of these fluids were critical to the animation of the body, and their proper balance was presumed to be important to good health and “good humor.” The humor theory of Hippocrates, for example, led to a variety of medical practices designed to rebalance the humors that were disturbed by disease or disruptive mental experience. Thus bloodletting was deemed an important way to adjust relative levels of these humors to treat disease.

This fluid dynamical conception of mental and physical animation was naturally reinforced by the ubiquitous correlation of a pounding heart (a pump) with intense emotion, stress, and intense exertion. Both René Descartes and Erasmus Darwin (to mention only two among many) argued that the nervous system likewise animates the body by virtue of differentially pumping fluid into various muscles and organs through microscopic tubes (presumably the nerves). When, in the 1780s, Luigi Galvani discovered that a severed frog leg could be induced to twitch in response to contact by electricity, he considered this energy to be an “animal electricity.” And the vitalist notion of a special ineffable fluid of life, or élan vital, persisted even into the twentieth century.

This way of conceiving of the emotions did not disappear with the replacement of vitalism and with the rise of anatomical and physiological knowledge in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was famously reincarnated in Freudian psychology as the theory of libido. Though Freud was careful not to identify it with an actual fluid of the body, or even a yet-to-be-discovered material substrate, libido was described in terms that implied that it was something like the nervous energy associated with sexuality. Thus a repressed memory might block the “flow” of libido and cause its flow to be displaced, accumulated, and released to animate inappropriate behaviors. Freud’s usage of this hydrodynamic metaphor became interpreted more concretely in the Freudian-inspired theories of Wilhelm Reich, who argued that there was literally a special form of energy, which he called “orgone” energy, that constituted the libido. Although such notions have long been abandoned and discredited with the rise of the neurosciences, there is still a sense in which the pharmacological treatments for mental illness are sometimes conceived of on the analogy of a balance of fluids: that is, neurotransmitter “levels.” Thus different forms of mental illness are sometimes described in terms of the relative levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, or serotonin that can be manipulated by drugs that alter their production or interfere with their effects.

This folk psychology of emotion was challenged in the 1960s and 1970s by a group of prominent theorists, responsible for ushering in the information age. Among them was Gregory Bateson, who argued that the use of these energetic analogies and metaphors in psychology made a critical error in treating information processes as energetic processes. He argued that the appropriate way to conceive of mental processes was in informational and cybernetic terms.3 Brains are not pumps, and although axons are indeed tubular, and molecules such as neurotransmitters are actively conveyed along their length, they do not contribute to a hydrodynamic process. Nervous signals are propagated ionic potentials, mediated by molecular signals linking cells across tiny synaptic gaps. On the model of a cybernetic control system, he argued that the differences conveyed by neurological signals are organized so that they regulate the release of “collateral energy,” generated by metabolism. It is this independently available energy that is responsible for animating the body. Nervous control of this was thus more accurately modeled cybernetically. This collateral metabolic energy is analogous to the energy generated in a furnace, whose level of energy release is regulated by the much weaker changes in energy of the electrical signals propagated around the control circuit of a thermostat. According to Bateson, the mental world is not constituted by energy and matter, but rather by information. And as was also pioneered by the architects of the cybernetic theory whom Bateson drew his insights from, such as Wiener and Ashby, and biologists such as Warren McCulloch and Mayr, information was conceived of in purely logical terms: in other words, Shannon information. Implicit in this view—which gave rise to the computational perspective in the decades that followed—the folk wisdom expressed in energetic metaphors was deemed to be misleading.

By more precisely articulating the ways that thermodynamic, morphodynamic, and teleodynamic processes emerge from, and depend on, one another, however, we have seen that it is this overly simple energy/information dichotomy that is misleading. Information cannot so easily be disentangled from its basis in the capacity to reflect the effects of work (and thus the exchange of energy), and neither can it be simply reduced to it. Energy and information are asymmetrically and hierarchically interdependent dynamical concepts, which are linked by virtue of an intervening level of morphodynamic processes. And by virtue of this dynamical ascent, the capacity to be about something not present also emerges; not as mere signal difference, but as something extrinsic and absent yet potentially relevant to the existence of the teleodynamic (interpretive) processes thereby produced.

It is indeed the case that mental experience cannot be identified with the ebb and flow of some vital fluid, nor can it be identified directly with the buildup and release of energy. But as we’ve now also discovered by critically deconstructing the computer analogy, it cannot be identified with the signal patterns conveyed from neuron to neuron, either. These signals are generated and analyzed with respect to the teleodynamics of neuronal cell maintenance. They are interpreted with respect to cellular-level sentience. Each neuron is bombarded with signals that constitute itsUmwelt. They perturb its metabolic state and force it to adapt in order to reestablish its stable teleodynamic “resting” activity. But, as was noted in the previous chapter, the structure of these neuronal signals does not constitute mental information, any more than the collisions between gas molecules constitute the attractor logic of the second law of thermodynamics.

17.1.%20Computation%20vs%20cognition%20g.tif

FIGURE 17.1: The formal differences between computation and cognition (as described by this emergent dynamics approach) are shown in terms of the correspondences between the various physical components and dynamics of these processes (dependencies indicated by arrows). The multiple arrow links depicting cognitive relationships symbolize stochastically driven morphodynamic relationships rather than one-to-one correspondences between structures or states. This intervening form generation dynamic is what most distinguishes the two processes. It enables cognition to autonomously ground its referential and teleological organization, whereas computational processes must have these relationships “assigned” extrinsically, and are thus parasitic on extrinsic teleodynamics (e.g., in the form of programmers and interpreters). Computational “information” is therefore only Shannon information.

As we will explore more fully below, mental information is constituted at a higher population dynamic level of signal regularity. As opposed to neuronal information (which can superficially be analyzed in computational terms), mental information is embodied by distributed dynamical attractors. These higher-order, more global dynamical regularities are constituted by the incessantly recirculating and restimulating neural signals within vast networks of interconnected neurons. The attractors form as these recirculating signals damp some and amplify other intrinsic constraints implicit in the current network geometry. Looking for mental information in individual neuronal firing patterns is looking at the wrong level of scale and at the wrong kind of physical manifestation. As in other statistical dynamical regularities, there are a vast number of microstates (i.e., network activity patterns) that can constitute the same global attractor, and a vast number of trajectories of microstate-to-microstate changes that will tend to converge to a common attractor. But it is the final quasi-regular network-level dynamic, like a melody played by a million-instrument orchestra, that is the medium of mental information. Although the contribution of each neuronal response is important, it is more with respect to how this contributes a local micro bias to the larger dynamic. To repeat again, it is no more a determinate of mental content than the collision between two atoms in a gas determines the tendency of the gas to develop toward equilibrium (though the fact that neurons are teleodynamic components rather than simply mechanical components makes this analogy far too simple).

This shift in level makes it less clear that we can simply dismiss these folk psychology force-motion analogies. If the medium of mental representation is not mere signal difference, but instead is the large-scale global attractor dynamic produced by an extended interconnected population of neurons, then there may also be global-level homeodynamic properties to be taken into account as well. As we have seen in earlier chapters, these global dynamical regularities will exhibit many features that are also characteristic of force-motion dynamics.

THE THERMODYNAMICS OF THOUGH

So what would it mean to understand mental representations in terms of global homeodynamic and morphodynamic attractors exhibited by vast ensembles of signals circulating within vast neuronal networks? Like their non-biological counterparts, these higher-order statistical dynamical effects should have very distinctive properties and requirements.

Consider, for example, morphodynamic attractor formation. It is a consequence of limitations on the rate of constraint dissipation within a system that is being incessantly destabilized. Because of this constant perturbation, higher-order dynamical regularities form as less efficient uncorrelated trajectories of micro constraint dissipation are displaced by more efficient globally correlated trajectories. In neurological terms, incessant destabilization is provided by some surplus of uncorrelated neuronal activity being generated within and circulating throughout a highly reentrant network. Above some threshold level of spontaneous signal generation, local constraints on the distribution of this activity will compound faster than they can dissipate. Thus, pushed above this threshold of incessant intrinsic agitation, the signals circulating within a localized network will inevitably regularize with respect to one another as constraints on signal distribution within the network tend to redistribute. This will produce dynamical attractors which reflect the distribution of biases in the connectional geometry of that network, and thus will be a means for probing and expressing such otherwise diffusely distributed biases.

But unlike the regularities exhibited by individual neural signals, or the organized volleys of signals conducted along a bundle of axons, or even the signal patterns converging from hundreds of inputs on a single neuron, morphodynamic regularities of activity patterns within a large neural network will take time to form. This is because, analogous to the simple mechanical dynamical effects of material morphodynamics, these regularities are produced by the incremental compounding of constraints as they are recirculated continuously within the network. This recirculation is driven by constant perturbation. Consequently, without persistent above-threshold excitation of a significant fraction of the population of the neurons comprising a neural network, higher-order morphodynamic regularities of activity dynamics would not tend to form.

What might this mean for mental representation, assuming that mental content is embodied as population-level dynamical attractors? First, it predicts that the generation of any mental content, whether emerging from memory or induced by sensory input, should take time to develop. Second, it should require something like a persistent metabolic boost, to provide a sufficient period of incessant perturbation to build up local signal imbalances and drive the formation of larger-scale attractor regularities. This suggests that there should consequently be something akin to inertia associated with a change of mental content and shift in attention. But this further suggests that self-initiated shifts in cognitive activity will require something analogous to work in order to generate, and that stimuli from within or without that are capable of interrupting ongoing cognitive activities are also doing work that is contragrade to current mental processes. Third, because of the time it takes for the non-linear recursive circulation of these signals to self-organize large-scale network dynamics, mental content should also not emerge all or none into awareness, but should rather differentiate slowly from vague to highly detailed structures. And the level of differentiation achieved should be correlated both with sustained high levels of activation and with the length of time this persists. Generating more precise mental content takes both more “effort” and a more sustained “focus” of attention.

Because the basis of this process is incessant spontaneous neuronal activity, a constant supply of resources—oxygen and glucose—is its most basic requirement. Without sufficient metabolic resources, neuronal activity levels will be insufficient to generate highly regular morphodynamic attractors, though with too much perturbation (as in simpler thermodynamic dissipative systems), chaotic dynamics may result. This suggests that we should expect some interesting trade-offs.

Larger-scale morphodynamic processes should be more capable of morphodynamic work (affecting other morphodynamic processes developing elsewhere in the brain) but will also be highly demanding of sustained metabolic support to develop to a high degree of differentiation. But metabolic resources are limited, and neurons themselves are incapable of sustaining high levels of activity for long periods without periodically falling into refractory states. For this reason, we should expect that mental focus should also tend to spontaneously shift, as certain morphodynamic attractors degrade and dedifferentiate with reduced homeodynamic support, and others begin to emerge in their stead. Moreover, a morphodynamic neural activity pattern that is distributed over a wide network involving diverse brain systems will be highly susceptible to the relative distribution of metabolic resources. This means that the differential distribution of metabolic support in the brain will itself play a major role in determining what morphodynamic processes are likely to develop when and where. So metabolic support itself may independently play a critical role in the generation, differentiation, modification, and degradation of mental representations. And the more differentiated the mental content and more present to mind, so to speak, the more elevated the regional network metabolism and the more organized the attractors of network activity.

How might this thermodynamics of thought be expressed? Consider first the fact that morphodynamic attractors will only tend to form when these resources are continually available and neurons are active above some resting threshold. Morphodynamic attractor formation is an orthograde tendency at that level, but it requires lower-order homeodynamic (and thus thermodynamic) work to drive it. If neural activity levels are normally fluctuating around this threshold, however, some degree of local morphodynamic attractor activity will tend to develop spontaneously. This means that minimally differentiated mental representations should constantly arise and fade from awareness as though from no specific antecedent or source of stimulation. If the morphodynamics is only incipient, and not able to develop to a fully differentiated and robust attractor stage, it will only produce what amounts to an undifferentiated embryo of thought or mental imagery. This appears to be the state of unfocused cognition at rest—as in daydreaming—suggesting that indeed the awake, unfocused brain hovers around this threshold. Only if metabolic support or spontaneous neuronal activity falls consistently below this threshold will there be no mental experience—as may be the case for the deepest levels of sleep. Normally, then, network-level neural dynamics in the alert state is not so much at the edge of chaos as at the threshold of morphodynamics.

But entering a state of mind focused on certain mnemonically generated content or sensory-motor contingencies means that some morphodynamic processes must be driven to differentiate to the point that a robust attractor forms. Since this requires persistent high metabolic support to maintain the dissipative throughput of signal activity, it poses a sort of chicken-and-egg relationship between regional brain metabolism and the development of mental experience. Well-differentiated mental content requires persistent widespread, elevated metabolic activation, and it takes elevated spontaneous neuronal activity to differentiate complex mental states. Which comes first? Of course, as the metaphor suggests, each can be precursor or consequence, depending on the context.

If the level of morphodynamic development in a given region is in part a function of the ebb and flow of metabolic resources allocated to that region, adjusting local metabolism up or down extrinsically should also increase or decrease the differentiation and robustness of the corresponding mental representation. This possibility depends on the extent to which individual neuronal activity levels can be modulated by metabolic support. If neurons can be shifted up and down in their spontaneous activity level simply by virtue of the increased or decreased availability of oxygen and glucose, then merely shifting levels of these resources locally could have an influence on regional morphodynamic differentiation.

At this point it is only conjecture for me to imagine that this occurs, since I am not aware of evidence to support such a mechanism; but the availability of such a thermodynamically responsive neuronal teleodynamics would seem to be consistent with other aspects of emergent dynamical theory. So, for the sake of pursuing the implications of the theory as far as possible into this discussion of the neural-mental relationship, I will assume that it is a reasonable possibility. Should it prove to be the case, either directly or indirectly, that the extrinsic availability of local metabolic resources can both drive and impede levels of neuronal activity, it would offer further support for this approach. How might this work?

If an extrinsic increase in metabolic support will tend to increase the level of spontaneous neuronal activity, it will also tend to increase the probability of local attractor formation. This means that if there is a means to globally regulate the distribution of the brain’s metabolic resources—that is, by up- and down-regulating rates of regional cerebral blood flow—this could also be a means of initiating and developing, or impeding and degrading, certain local morphodynamic tendencies. Simply adjusting regional metabolism could thus be a way to regulate attention and initiate operations involving specific sensory, motor, or mnemonic content. Conversely, this means that neurons subjected to high levels of excitatory stimulation may be driven beyond their metabolic capacity to react consistently. Even highly organized extrinsic input (e.g., from sensory systems or the morphodynamically organized outputs from other regions of the brain) may be insufficient to constrain attractor differentiation if there is insufficient metabolic support. But if there are also local means for neurons and glia to “solicit” an increase in metabolic support if depleted, then extrinsically driving neural activity levels beyond what is supported by the metabolic equilibrium of that region might also be a way to recruit metabolic support for morphodynamic differentiation.

Both effects will have inertial-like features. Thus in some cases it will be possible to “force” differentiation of thought through metabolic means directly, or morphodynamic work from an extrinsically metabolically active region; and in other cases it may be quite difficult, even with effort, to develop sufficiently differentiated thoughts or responses. The effect, in both cases, is that there will inevitably be what amounts to a kind of “tension” between cognition and its metabolic support.

A relevant attribute of this tension is that neuronal activity rates take place on a millisecond time scale while the hydrodynamic and diffusion changes that must support this activity take place on a multisecond time scale. Interestingly, because of the time it takes for morphodynamic activity to differentiate to a regular attractor stage, mental processes likely take place at rates that are commensurate with metabolic time scales; and in the case of highly complex and highly robust morphodynamic attractors, this may take longer—perhaps many seconds to reach a stage of full differentiation. These different temporal domains also contribute to the structure of experience.

The differential between the time that neuron to neuronal excitation can take place and the time it takes to mount a metabolic compensation for this change in activity means that there will be something analogous to metabolic inertia involved. This delay will slightly impede the ability of heightened but short-lived morphodynamic activity in one region to spread its influence into connected regions, which are not already primed with increased metabolism. This sort of dynamical recruitment will consequently require stable and robust attractor formation and maintenance, and thus stably heightened metabolic support.

What controls local metabolic support? There appear to be both extrinsic and intrinsic mechanisms able to up-regulate and down-regulate cerebral blood flow to local regions. Intrinsic mechanisms are becoming better understood because of the importance of in vivo imaging techniques that are based on hydrodynamic changes, such as fMRI. If, as I have argued, extrinsically regulated local increases and decreases of metabolic support can themselves induce significant changes in neuronal activity levels, with associated alterations of signal dropout and random spontaneous activity, then such a regulatory mechanism could play a significant role in directing attention, differentiating mnemonic content, activating or inhibiting behaviors, and shifting modality specific processing. How might this be effected?

Extrinsic control of regional cerebral blood flow is less well understood than intrinsic effects, and my knowledge of these mechanisms is minimal, so what I will describe here is again highly speculative. But some such mechanism is strongly implicated when considering mind-brain relationships dynamically. The answer, I believe, is something like this. Certain stimuli (or intrinsically generated representations) that have significant normative relevance (perhaps because they are associated with powerful innate drives or with highly arousing past experiences) are predisposed to easily induce characteristic patterns of activity in forebrain limbic structures (such as the amygdala, nucleus accumbens, hypothalamus). These limbic activity patterns distinguish conditions for which a significant shift of attention and mental effort is likely required, for example, because of danger or bodily need. These limbic structures in turn project to midbrain and brainstem structures that control regional differences in cerebral blood flow and regional levels of neuronal plasticity. These in turn project axons throughout the forebrain and serve to modulate regional levels of neuronal activity by adjusting blood flow and intrinsic neuronal variables, which make them more or less plastic to input patterns.

In this way, highly survival-relevant stimuli or powerful drives can be drivers of mental experience to the extent that they promote selected differentiation of local morphodynamic attractors. So, for example, life-threatening or reproductively important stimuli can regulate the differentiation of specific analytic, mnemonic, and behavioral capacities, and shut down other ongoing mental activities by simply modulating metabolic resource distribution. Because this is an extrinsic influence with respect to the formal constraints that are amplified to generate the resulting morphodynamic processes, and not the result of direct interactions between regionally distinct networks, there can be a relatively powerful inertial component in such transitions, especially if they need to be rapid, and the subsequent attractor process needs to be highly differentiated and robust (as is likely in life-threatening situations).

Rapidly shutting down an ongoing dynamic in one area and just as rapidly generating another requires considerable work, both thermodynamic (metabolic) and morphodynamic. But consider the analogy to simple physical morphodynamic processes like whirlpools and Bénard convection cells. These cannot be generated in an instant nor can they be dissipated in an instant, once stable. The same must be true of the mental experiences in such cases of highly aroused shifts of attention. Prior dynamics will resist dissolution and may require structural interference with their attractor patterns (morphodynamic work imposed from other brain regions) to shut them down rapidly. They will in this sense resist an imposed change. This tension between dynamical influences at these two levels—the homeodynamics of metabolic processes and the morphodynamics of network dynamics—is inevitable in any forced change of morphodynamic activity.

It is my hypothesis, then, that this resistance and work created by these dependencies between levels of dynamics of brain processes constitutes the experience of emotion. In most moment-to-moment waking activities, shifts between large-scale attractor states are likely to be minimally forced, and so will engender minimal and relatively undifferentiated emotions. But there should be a gradation of both differentiation and intensity. The orthograde nature of morphodynamic differentiation does not in itself require morphodynamic work, and so there is not necessarily extrinsic “mental effort” required for thoughts to evoke one another or to spontaneously “rise” from unconsciousness. This emergent dynamic account thus effectively distinguishes the conscious from unconscious generation of thoughts and attentional foci in terms of work. The more work at more levels, the more sentient experience. And where work is most intense, we are most present and actively sentient. Self and other, including the otherness created by the inertia of our own neural dynamics, are thus brought into stark relief by the contragrade “tensions” that arise because we are constituted dynamically.

There is, of course, still something central missing from this account. If the contents of mental experiences are instantiated by the attractor dynamics of the vast flows of signals coursing through a neural network, where in this process are these interpreted? What dynamical features of brain processes are these morphodynamic features juxtaposed with in order that they are information about something for something toward some end? The superficial answer is the same as that given for what constitutes the locus of self in general: a teleodynamic process. But as we have already come to realize, the sort of teleodynamics that arises from brain process is at least a second-order form of teleodynamics when compared to that which constitutes life. This convoluted and hierarchically tangled form of teleodynamics includes some distinct emergent differences.

WHENCE SUFFERING?

The last chapter began by questioning whether there might be intrinsic moral implications to corrupting or shutting down a computation in process. I agree with William James’ conclusion that only if this involves sentience do moral and ethical considerations come into play, but that if sentience is present, then indeed such values must be considered. This is because sentience inevitably has a valence. Things feel good and bad, they aren’t merely good for or bad for the organism. Because of this, the world of sentience is a world of should and shouldn’t, kindness and abuse, love and hate, joy and suffering. Is this really necessary? Could there be mental sentience without its being framed between wonderful and horrible?

As we have now seen, computation is ultimately just a descriptive gloss applied to a simple linear mechanistic process. So the intrinsic intentional status of the computation, apart from this mechanism, is entirely epiphenomenal. This beautifully exemplifies the patency of the nominalist critique of generals. Computation is in the mind of the beholder, not in the physical process. There is nothing additionally produced when a computation is completed, other than the physical rearrangement of matter and energy in the device that is performing this operation. A computer operation is therefore no more sentient than is the operation of an automobile engine. But, as we saw in the Self chapter, a teleodynamic process does in fact transform generals into particulars; and the constraints that constitute and are in turn constituted by such a process do have ententional status, independent of the physical particulars that embody them. This self-creation of constraints is what constitutes the dynamical locus of sentience, not merely some physical change of state.

In light of the hierarchic conception of sentience developed above, however, I think that this general assessment now needs to be further refined. There are emergent sentient properties produced by the teleodynamics of brains that are not produced by simpler, lower-order forms of sentience. Crucially, these are special normative properties made possible because the sentience generated by brain processes is, in effect, a second-order sentience: a sentience of sentience. And with this comes a sentience of the normative features of sentience. In colloquial terms, this sentience of normativity is the experience of pleasure and pain, joy and suffering. And it is with respect to these higher-order sentient properties that we enter into the ethical realm.

To understand how this higher-order tangle has created a sentience of the normative relationships that create this sentience itself, and ultimately identify the self-dynamic that is the locus of subjective experience, we need to once more revisit how the logic of teleodynamics, at whatever level, creates an individuated locus of self-creation and a dynamic of self-differentiation from the world.

In chapter 9, teleodynamics was defined as a dynamical organization that exists because of the consequences of its continuance, and therefore can be described as being self-generating over time. But now consider what it would mean for a teleodynamic process to include within itself a representation of its own dynamical final causal tendencies. The component dynamics of a teleodynamic process have ententional properties precisely because they are critical to the creation of the whole dynamic, which in turn is critical to the continued creation of these component dynamics. Were the reciprocal synergy of the whole dynamic to break down, these component dynamics would also eventually disappear. The whole produces the parts and the parts produce the whole. But then a teleogenic process in which one critical dynamical component is a representational process that interprets its own teleodynamic tendency extends this convoluted causal circularity one level further.

For animals with brains, the organism and its distinctive teleodynamic characteristics will likely fail to persist (both in terms of resisting death and reproducing) if its higher-order teleodynamics of self-prediction fails in some respect. Failure is likely if the projected self-environment consequence of some action is significantly in error. For example, an animal whose innate predator-escape strategy fails to prevent capture will be unlikely to pass on this tendency to future generations. Such a tendency implicitly includes a projected virtual relationship between its teleodynamic basis and a projected self/other condition. Generation of a projected future self-in-context thus can become a critical source of constraints organizing the whole system. But generating these virtual selves requires both a means to model the causality of the environment and also a means for modeling the causality of the teleodynamic processes that generate these models and act with respect to them. This is a higher-order teleodynamical relationship because one critical dynamical component of the whole is its own projected future existence in context. This implicitly includes a normative assessment of this possible condition with respect to current teleodynamic tendencies, including the possibility of catastrophic failure.

The vegetative teleodynamics of single-celled organisms and organisms not including brains must be organized to produce contragrade reactions to any conditions that tend to disrupt teleodynamic integrity. The various component structures, mechanisms, and morphodynamic processes that constitute this integrity must therefore be organized to collectively compensate for any component process that is impeded or otherwise compromised from without. There does not need to be any component that assesses the general state of overall integrity. But in an animal with a brain that was evolved to project alternative future selves-in-context, such an assessment becomes a relevant factor. A separate dynamical component of its teleodynamic organization must continually generate a model of both its overall vegetative integrity and the degree to which this is (or might be) compromised with respect to other contingent factors. A dynamical subprocess evolved to analyze whatever might impact persistence of the whole organism, and determine an appropriate organism level response, must play a primary role in structuring its overall teleodynamic organization.

In the previous section, we identified the experience of emotion with the tension and work associated with employing metabolic means to modify neural morphodynamics. It was noted that particularly in cases of life-and-death contexts, morphodynamic change must be instituted rapidly and extensively, and this requires extensive work at both the homeodynamic (metabolic) and morphodynamic (mental) levels. The extent of this work and the intensity of the tension created by the resistance of dynamical processes to rapid change is, I submit, experienced as the intensity of emotion. But such special needs for reliable rapid dynamical reorganization arise because the teleodynamics of organism persistence is easily disturbed and inevitably subject to catastrophic breakdown. Life and health are fragile. So the generation of certain defensive responses by organisms, whether immune response or predator-escape behaviors, must be able to usurp less critical ongoing activities whenever the relevant circumstances arise.

Teleodynamic processes have characteristic dynamical tendencies, and when these are impeded or interfered with, the entire integrated individual is at risk. But catastrophic breakdown is not just possible, it is essentially inevitable for any teleodynamically organized individual system, whether autogen or human being. The ephemeral nature of teleodynamics guarantees that it faces an incessant war against intrinsic and extrinsic influences that would tend to disrupt it—and the more disruptive of its self-similarity maintenance, the greater the work that must be performed to resist this influence.

Influences that are so disruptive that they will ultimately destroy the teleodynamic integrity of a single cell, or even a plant, will in the process induce the production of the most intense and elaborate contragrade processes possible within the repertoire of that organism’s systems. But because there is no separate dynamical embodiment of the integrity of the whole, no locus of individuated-self representation, these dynamical extremes do not constitute suffering. There is a self, but there is no one home reflecting back on this process at the same time as enduring it. This is not the case for most animals.

The capacity to suffer requires the higher-order teleodynamic loop that brain processes make possible. It requires a self that creates within itself a teleodynamic reproduction of itself. This emergent dynamical homunculus is constituted by a central, teleodynamically organized, global pattern of network activity. By definition, this must be constituted by reciprocally synergistic morphodynamic processes. The component morphodynamic processes are, as we have discussed above, generated by the self-organizing tendencies of the vast numbers of signals circulating around and incessantly being introduced into the neural networks of the various brain systems. However, not all morphodynamic attractors produced in a brain contribute to this teleodynamic core, though there is a continual assimilation of newly generated morphodynamic processes into the synergy that constitutes this ultimate locus of mental self-continuity and self/non-self distinction.

A simple individual autogenic system embodies the constraints of this necessary synergy implicitly in the complementarities and symmetries of the constraints determining and generating the various morphodynamic processes that constitute it. This is also true for an animal body, though more complex and hierarchically organized. But it is not true of the teleodynamics of brains. Brains have evolved to regulate whole organism relationships with the world. Their teleodynamics is therefore necessarily parasitic on the teleodynamics of the body that they serve. Thus, for example, hypothalamic, midbrain, and brainstem circuits in vertebrate bodies play a critical role in regulating such global body functions as heart rate, digestion, metabolic rate, and the monitoring and maintenance of the levels of a wide variety of bloodborne chemical signals, such as hormones.

The local processes that maintain these systems are highly robust, and in many cases are quite nearly cybernetically organized processes.4 In this sense, they are least like higher-order morphodynamic neural processes, and thus their functioning does not directly enter mental experience. Nevertheless, the status of these functions is redundantly monitored by other forebrain brain systems, and these deep brain regulatory systems provide the forebrain systems with signals reflecting their operation. The result is that vegetative functions of the organism are multiply represented at various levels of remove from their direct regulation. The nearly mechanistically regular constraints of their operation are thus inherited by higher-order brain processes.

So what constitutes the core teleodynamic locus of brain function? The answer is that it too is multiply hierarchically generated at different levels of functional differentiation. Even at the level of brainstem circuits, there is almost certainly a synergistic dynamic linking the separate regulatory systems for vegetative functions; but it is only as we ascend into forebrain systems that these processes become integrated with the variety of sensory and motor systems that constitute regulation of whole organism function. The constraints constituting the synergy and stability of core vegetative systems provide a global organizing influence that more differentiated levels of the process must also maintain. At the level of brain function where sensory and motor functions must be integrated with these core functions, the differentiation of morphodynamic processes that involve these additional body systems is inevitably constrained to respect these essential core regularities. In this way, the many simultaneously developing morphodynamic processes produced within the various forebrain subsystems specialized for one or the other modality of function begin their differentiation processes already teleodynamically integrated with one another. The self-locus that is constituted by this synergy of component morphodynamic processes is thus also a dynamic that is subject to varying degrees of differentiation. It can be relatively amorphous and comprised of poorly differentiated morphodynamic processes, or highly differentiated and involve a large constellation of nested and interdependent morphodynamic processes. Subjective self is as differentiated and unified as the component morphodynamic processes developing in various subregions of the brain are differentiated and mutually reinforcing. And this level of self-differentiation is constantly shifting.

The teleodynamic synergy of this brain process is ultimately inherited from these more fundamental vegetative teleodynamic relationships, which contribute core constraints influencing the differentiation of this self-locus. These core constraints provide what might be considered the envelope of variation within which diverse morphodynamic processes are differentiated in response to sensory information and the many internally generated influences. Since the locus of this self-perspective is dynamically determined with respect to the “boundaries” of morphodynamic reciprocities, and these are changing and differentiating constantly, there can be no unambiguous anatomical correlate of this homunculus within the brain. Nevertheless, the teleodynamic loop of causality that integrates sensory and motor processes with the projected self-in-possible-context must at least involve the brain systems these processes depend upon, such as the thalamic, cerebral cortical, and basal ganglionic structures of the mammalian (and human) forebrain. But even this may be variable. Comparatively undifferentiated self-dynamics may only involve perilimbic cortical areas and their linked forebrain nuclei, whereas a self-dynamics involved in complex predictive behavior may involve significant fractions of the entire cerebral cortex and the forebrain nuclei these regions are coupled with.

So why is there a “what it feels like” associated with this neural teleodynamics? And why does this “being here” have an intrinsic good and bad feel about it? The answer is that this self-similarity-maintaining dynamic provides a constant invariant reference with respect to which all other dynamical regularities and disturbances are organized. Like the teleodynamics of autogenic self, it is what organizes all local dynamics around an invariant telos: the self-creating constraints that make the work of this self-creation possible. In a brain, this teleodynamic core set of constraints serves as both a center of dynamical inertia that other neural activates cannot displace and a locus of dynamical self-sufficiency that is a constant platform from which distributed neural dynamics must begin their differentiation. But the teleodynamic integrity of this core neurological self is a direct reflection of the vegetative teleodynamics that is critical to its own persistence. To the extent that the vegetative teleodynamics is compromised, so too will neurological self be compromised. But vegetative teleodynamic integrity and neurological teleodynamical integrity are only linked; they are not identical.

As the possibility of anesthesia makes obvious, the mental representation of bodily damage can be decoupled from the experiential self. Under these circumstances, thankfully, sensory information from the body is not registered centrally and cannot thereby alter neural teleodynamics. Mental processes can therefore continue, oblivious to even significant physiological damage. So pain is not “out there” in the world. It is how neural teleodynamics reorganizes in response to its sensory assessment of vegetative damage. Its effect is to interrupt less critical neural dynamics and activate specific processes to stop this sensory signal. To do this, it must block the differentiation of most morphodynamic processes that are inessential to this end, and rapidly recruit significant metabolic and neural resources to generate action to avoid continuation of this stimulus. So, whereas any non-spontaneous shift of neural dynamics requires metabolic work to accomplish, the reaction to pain is preset to maximize this mobilization.

In many respects, pain is a special form of minimal perception, which helps to exemplify the relationship between what might be described as the analytic and emotional aspects of sentience. Perception is not merely the registration of extrinsically imposed changes of neural signals. It involves the generation of local morphodynamic processes that remain integrated into the larger teleodynamic integrity and yet are at the same time modulated by these extrinsically imposed constraints. Any slight dissonance that results initiates neural work to further differentiate the core teleodynamic organization to minimize this deviation. This drives progressive differentiation of the relevant morphodynamic processes in directions that at the same time are adapted to these imposed constraints and minimally dissonant with global teleodynamics. So perception is, in effect, the differentiation of self to better fit extrinsically imposed regularities. This can be looked upon as a sort of principle of work minimization that is always assessed with respect to this core teleodynamics.

In contrast to other sensory experiences, pain requires minimal morphodynamic differentiation to be assessed: only what’s necessary to localize it in the body and determine what kind of pain (with only a very few modalities to sample). Unlike other percepts, however, there is no differentiation of morphodynamic perceptual processes that is able to increase pain’s integration with core teleodynamics. Instead, pain blocks the differentiation of other modes of sensory analysis and rapidly deploys resources to possible motor responses to stop this sensation (such as the rapid withdrawal of one’s finger from contact with a hot stove). This simple non-assimilable stimulus continues to drive the differentiation of actual and potential motor responses until the painful stimulus ceases. Of course, once damage is done, the pain stimulus will often continue despite actions to limit it. In these cases, a continual “demand” for recruitment of a motor response, and a correlated mobilization of metabolism to achieve it, will persist despite the ineffectiveness of any action. One consequence is that further damage may be averted. Another is that the continual maintenance of this heightened need to act to end the pain is experienced as suffering. Pain that can’t be relieved is thus continually perturbing the core teleodynamics; contorting self-dynamics to necessarily include this extrinsic influence and the representation of a goal state that remains unachieved; and constantly mobilizing and focusing metabolic resources for processes that fail to achieve adaptation.

The capacity to suffer is therefore an inseparable aspect of the deep coupling between the neurally represented and viscerally instantiated teleodynamics of the body. Specifically, it is a consequence of the evolution of means for mobility and rapid behavior able to alter extrinsic conditions. Organisms that have not evolved a capacity to act in this way have no need for pain, and no need to represent their whole bodily relationship to extrinsic conditions. Their teleodynamic integrity is maintained by distributed processes without the need for an independent instantiation as experience. Pain is the extreme epitome of the general phenomenology we call emotion because of the way it radically utilizes the mobilization of metabolic resources to powerfully constrain signal differentiation processes, and thereby extrinsically drive and inhibit specific spontaneous morphodynamic tendencies. More than anything else, it exemplifies the essence of neurological sentience.

BEING HERE

In the last chapter, we began to explore the distinctive higher-order form of teleodynamics that emerges from a teleodynamic process that must include itself as a component: a teleodynamic circularity in which the very locus of teleodynamic closure becomes virtual. This is a tangle in the dynamical hierarchy that is superficially analogous to the part/whole tangle that defines teleodynamics more generally. In a simple autogenic system, each part (itself a morphodynamic product) is involved in an ultimately closed set of reciprocal interaction relationships with each other to create the whole, but it takes the whole reciprocally synergistic complex to generate each part. In logic, this would amount to a logical-type violation (in which a class can also be a member of itself). By including the capacity to model itself in relation to extrinsic features of the world, a neurally generated teleodynamic system similarly introduces a higher-order tangle to this dynamical hierarchy.

In this chapter, we discovered a further tangle in the hierarchy of neural teleodynamics. Because neurons are themselves teleodynamic and thus sensitive to and adaptive to the changes in their local signal-processingUmwelt, the higher-order dynamics of the networks they inhabit can also be a source for changes in their internal teleodynamic tendencies. Thus neurons “learn” by changing their relative responsivity to the patterns of activity that they are subject to. In the process, the biases in the network that are responsible for the various morphodynamic attractors that tend to form will also change. This can happen at various timescales. As neurons temporarily modify their immediate responsivity over the course of seconds or minutes, the relative lability of certain morphodynamic attractor options can change.

Finally, with the exploration of perception, and specifically the perception of pain, we have brought together these various threads, integrating all with the concept of emotion. Emotion in this generic sense is not some special feature of brain function that is opposed to cognition. It is the necessary expression of the complicated hierarchic dependence of morphodynamics on homeodynamics (specifically, the thermodynamics of metabolism), and the way that the second-order teleodynamics that integrates brain function is organized to use this dependence to regulate the self/other interface that its dynamical closure (and that of the body) creates.

Although each is discontinuous from the other by virtue of dynamical closure, neuronal-level sentience is nevertheless causally entangled with brain-level sentience, which is entangled in a virtual-self-level of sentience. And human symbolic abilities add a further, yet-higher-order variant on this logical type-violating entanglement. This latter involves the incorporation of an abstract representation of self into the teleodynamic loop of sentience. Thus we humans can even suffer from existential despair. No wonder the analysis of human consciousness tends to easily lead into a labyrinth of self-referential confusions.

There remains an immense task ahead to correlate these dynamical processes with specific brain structures and neural processes. But despite remaining quite vague about such details, I believe that the general principles outlined in these pages can offer some useful pointers, leading neuroscientists to pay attention to features of brain function that they might otherwise have overlooked as irrelevant. And they may bring attention to neural dynamics that have so far gone unnoticed and suggest ways to develop new tools for analyzing mental processes considered outside the purview of cognitive neuroscience. So, while I don’t believe that neuroscience will be pursued differently as a result, or that this will lead to any revolutionary new discoveries about neurons, their signaling dynamics, or the overall anatomy of brains, it may prompt many researchers to rethink the assumptions they bring to these studies.

While we have only just begun to sketch the outlines of an emergent dynamics account of this one most enigmatic phenomenon—human consciousness—the results point us in very different directions than previously considered. With the autogenic creation of self as our model, we have broken the spell of dualism by focusing attention on the contributions of both what is present and what is absent. Surprisingly, this even points the way to a non-mystical account of the apparent non-materiality of consciousness. The apparent riddle of its non-materiality turns out not to be a riddle after all, but an accurate reflection of the fact that the locus of subjective sentience is not, in fact, a material substrate. The riddle was not the result of any problem with the concept of consciousness, but of our failure to understand the causal relevance of constraint. With the realization that specific absent tendencies—dynamical constraints—are critically relevant to the causal fabric of the world, and are the crucial mediators of non-spontaneous change, we are able to stop searching for consciousness “in” the brain or “made of” neural signals.

I believe that human subjectivity has turned out not to be the ultimate “hard problem” of science. Or rather, it turns out to have been hard for unexpected reasons. It was not hard because we lacked sufficiently complex research instruments, nor because the details of the process were so many and so intricately entangled with one another that our analytic tools could not cope, nor because our brains were inadequate to the task for evolutionary reasons, nor even because the problem is inaccessible using the scientific method. It was hard because it was counterintuitive, and because we have stubbornly insisted on looking for it where it could not be, in the stuff of the world. When viewed through the perspective of the special circular logic of constraint generation that we have called teleodynamics, this problem simply dissolves. The complex and convoluted dynamical processes that are the defining features of self, at any given level, are not embodied in molecules, or neurons, or even neural signals, but in the teleodynamics of processes generated in the vast networks of brains. The molecular interactions, propagating neuronal signals, and incessant energy metabolism that provide the substrate for this higher-order dynamical process are necessary substrates; but it is because of what these do not actualize, because of how their interactions are constrained, that there is agency, sentience, and valuation implicit in their patterns of interaction. We are what we are not: continually, intrinsically, necessarily incomplete in our very nature. Our sense of self, our experience of being the originative locus of agency, our interior subjective isolation, and the sense of emerging out of nothing and being our own prime mover—all these core characteristics of conscious experience—are accurate reflections of the fact that self is literally sui generis, emerging each moment from what is not there.

There can be no simple and direct neural embodiment of subjective experience in this sense. This is not because subjectivity is somehow otherworldly or non-physical, but rather because neural activity patterns convey both the interpretation and the contents of experiences in the negative, so to speak; a bit like the way that the space in a mold represents a potential statue. The subjectivity is not located in what is there, but emerges quite precisely from what is not there. Sentience is negatively “embodied” in the constraints emerging from teleodynamic processes, irrespective of their physical embodiment, and therefore does not directly correlate with any of the material substrates constituting those processes. Intrinsically emergent constraints are neither material nor dynamical—they are something missing—and yet as we have seen, they are not mere descriptive attributions of material processes, either. The intentional properties that we attribute to conscious experience are generated by the emergence of these constraints—constraints that emerge from constraints, absences that arise from, and create, new absences. You are in this quite literal sense something coming out of nothing, and thus newly embodied at each instant.

But this negative existence, so to speak, of the conscious self doesn’t mean that consciousness is in any way ineffable or non-empirical. Indeed, if the account given here is in any way correct, it suggests that consciousness may even be precisely quantifiable and comparable, for example, between states of awareness, between species, and even possibly in non-organic processes, as in social processes or in some future sentient artifact. This is because teleodynamic processes, which provide the locus for sentience in any of its forms, are precisely analyzable processes, with definite measurable properties, in whatever substrates they arise. Because a teleodynamic process is dynamically closed by virtue of its thoroughly reciprocal organization, it is clearly individuated from its surroundings, even if these are merely other neural dynamics. Because of this individuation, it should be possible to gain a quantitative assessment of the thermodynamic and morphodynamic work generated moment by moment in maintaining its integrity. It should also be possible at any one moment to determine what physical and energetic substrates constitute its current locus of embodiment.

These should not be surprising conjectures. As it is, we already use many crudely related intuitive rules of thumb to make such assessments when it comes to assessing a patient’s state of anesthesia or level of awareness after brain damage, and even when comparing different animals. We generally assume that a metabolically active brain is essential, and that as metabolism and neuronal activity decrease below some threshold, so does consciousness. We assume that animals with very small brains (such as gnats) can have only the dimmest if any conscious experience, while large-brained mammals are quite capable of intense subjective experiences and likely suffer as much as would a person if injured. So some measure of dynamical work and substrate complexity already seems to provide us with an intuition about the relative degree of consciousness we are dealing with.

The present analysis not only supports these intuitions but provides further complexity and subtlety as well. It suggests that we can distinguish between the kind of brain dynamics that is associated with consciousness and what kind is not. Indeed, this is implicit in the critique of computational theories. Computations and cybernetic processes are insentient because they are not teleodynamic in their organization. In fact, we intuitively also take this into account when we introspect about our own state of conscious awareness. For example, when acquiring a new skill—such as learning to play a piece of music on an instrument like the piano—the early stages are very demanding of constant attention to sensory and motor details. It takes effort and work of all kinds. But as learning progresses and you become skilled at this performance, these various details become less and less present to awareness. And by the time it is performed like an expert, you are able to almost “do it in your sleep,” as the saying goes. Highly skilled behaviors are performed with a minimum of conscious awareness. It is as though they are being performed by an algorithmic process. Indeed, in vivo imaging studies demonstrate that as we become more and more skilled at almost any cognitive task, the differential level of metabolism and the extent of neural tissue involved decreases, until for highly automatic skills there is almost no metabolic differential. Computationlike processes can involve precise connections and specific signals. They need not depend on the statistics of mass-level homeodynamic and morphodynamic processes. So, if automated functions are those that have become more computationlike, we should expect that they will have a rather diminutive metabolic signature. Indeed, it makes sense that one of the functions of learning would be to minimize the neural resources that must be dedicated to a given task. Consciousness is in this respect in the business of eliminating itself by producing the equivalent of virtual neural computers.

Serendipitously, then, fMRI, PET, and other techniques for visualizing and measuring regional differentials and changes in neural metabolism may provide a useful preliminary tool for tracing the changing levels and loci of brain processes correlated with consciousness. If the three-level emergent dynamic accounts of the differentiation of mental content and emotion are on the right track, then the dynamical changes in this signature of changing brain metabolism are providing important clues about these mental states. Indeed, this intuition is provisionally assumed when studying brain function with in vivo imagery.

So, even though this is a theory which defends the thesis that intentional relationships and sentient experiences are not material phenomena in the usual sense of that concept, it nonetheless provides us with a thoroughly empirical set of predictions and testable hypotheses about these enigmatic relationships.

CONCLUSION OF THE BEGINNING

Although much of my professional training has been in the neurosciences, in this book I have almost entirely avoided any attempt to translate the emergent dynamic approach to mental experience and agency into detailed neurobiological terms. This is not because I think it cannot be done. In fact, I’ve hinted that my purpose is in part to lay the groundwork for doing exactly that. I believe that an extended effort to articulate an emergent dynamical account of brain function is necessary to overcome the Cartesian no-man’s-land separating the study of the brain from the study of the mind. But the conceptual problems that remain to be overcome are immense.

I have at most sketched the outlines here of an approach that might overcome them. Despite the number of pages that I felt were required to even frame the problem correctly, I don’t claim to have accomplished much more than to have described a hitherto unexplored alternative framing of these enigmatic problems. I believe, however, that once this figure/background logic of analysis becomes assimilated into one’s thinking about biological, psychological, and semiotics problems, the path toward solutions in each of these domains will become evident. These paths have not been followed previously simply because they were not even visible within current paradigms. Such alternatives didn’t exist in the flat materialistic perspective that has dominated thinking for much of the last few centuries. It is my hope that this glimpse of another scientifically rigorous, but not simplistically materialistic, way to view these issues will inspire others to explore some of the many domains now made visible.

I believe that despite its counterintuitive negative framing, this figure/background reversal of the way we conceive of living and mental causality promises to reinstate subjective experience as a legitimate participant in the web of physical causes and effects, and to ultimately reintroduce intentional phenomena back into the natural sciences. It also suggests that the subtitle of this book is slightly misleading. Mind didn’t exactly emerge from matter, but from constraints on matter.

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