Shadow Emergence

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There is perhaps another form of emergence which doesn't fit into the traditional categories of weak and strong emergence: "imaginary" or "shadow" emergence. It is comparable to strong emergence, and describes the appearance of a new completely new system. Yet only the image or shadow of the system appears, an image without source or shadow without object. Shadow emergence describes the appearance of a new system embedded in an old one, which is so strongly connected to the old system that it can not be isolated from it. It could also be named `false'-, `pseudo'- or `quasi'-emergence. The mind, self-consciousness and the "self" belong probably into this category.

How is it possible that a mental substance arise out of physical substance, how can neurons and interactions between neurons give rise to something completely different which "hovers" over the brain? This question has kept philosophers busy since the middle ages. The answer is: it is not possible in the way our brains are designed, and there is no such thing as a mental substance. There is only a shadow, something which we can describe with a kind of projection. Mental substances such as ghosts and spirits are projections from one world to another, imaginary items which exist only in our imagination. The "self" is a projection, an illusion, a belief, an imaginary concept.

We see the universe and ourselves through our own lens, and our brains learn from the beginning to treat everything we encounter as a person or human, including ourselves. Yet, as Steven Pinker has noticed, "the intuitive feeling that there's an executive `I' that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion." Although we have the feeling of peering out at the world from the control room behind our eyes, the self in the control room is only an illusion, a projection from the physical to the mental realm. 100 billion jabbering and flickering neurons create for each of us the illusion that one exist and is here. The imaginary idea of a "mental" self comes as close as possible to a real entity, without being real. It appears to be real and independent from the system where it emerged, but it is neither real nor independent from the system.

There is of course something which is responsible for our actions and our behavior. It is the whole brain with its myriads of neurons, synapses and connections. Steven Pinker puts it like this: "consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along." If we could seperate the hardware form the software in the brain (the many Exabytes of code and data which specify how many neurons exist and how they are connected), then one could argue that the software as a whole is the mind or the self - the whole software system including the maelstrom of events and the whirl of information produced by it - however distributed, dispersed, and diffuse it may be. Unfortunately, both are intrinsically and inseparably tied to each together, and there is no distinction between hardware and software in the brain. If we compare the situation to hardware and software, the brain is like a giant system where the hardware has evolved to emulate a whole new computer system, including hardware and software. The system recognizes itself and feels that it is more than just hardware. Yet the software cannot be isolated or transfered to another computer because it is hard-coded and hard-wired into the system, it is a fixed part of the hardware.

Shadow emergence is strong emergence without an explicit code or compiler, similar to hard-coded software. It is like a image, shadow or statue of a living thing, although the living thing itself is not there (and has never existed). It is the imitation or anticipation of strong emergence where one special instance of the new system is mirrored in the structure of the old system. A new system which is embedded and hard-coded in an old one, without specifying the code or compiler.

In Ray Bradbury's words we are "too soon from the cave, too far from the stars". Just as we cannot leave the earth to explore interplanetary space (contrary to machines and robots), we cannot leave our body, although we feel we are more than just a piece of meat. All we can do is making small hops in the near atmosphere, and small hops into virtual worlds as they could be. Although we would like to leave and surpass our body, we cannot. Although we don't exist, we feel we do. This tragic illusion would only be true if there were a distinction between hardware and software in the brain. Our selfs disappear with their bodies, and when the brain disintegrates, the mind vanishes, too. In the words of Steven Pinker, "when the physiological activity of the brain ceases, as far as anyone can tell the person's consciousness goes out of existence [...] Every moment of consciousness is a precious and fragile gift."

(the quotes from Steven Pinker are from his article The mystery of consciousness, Time Feb. 12 (2007))

--Jfromm 20:47, 23 July 2008 (GMT)


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