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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at [email protected].
Four levels of the Informational Storehouse
in the Self-Organizing Dynamical System of the Kosmos
Could these common patterns of informational organization indicate a “universality of information organization”?
In his recent (2018) book, The Demon in the Machine, Paul Davies proposes the need for an alternative set of laws that could help explain the incredible complexity we see at the level of the molecular organization of life.
“Because most molecular systems are inherently chaotic, inconspicuous, minute changes are able to accumulate and result in very profound effects. [Thus] there is plenty of room at the bottom for novel physics to operate in a manner hitherto undetected and, indeed, that would be very hard to detect at the level of individual molecules anyway. But the cumulative impact on the information flow within an entire system, deriving from the combined effect of many tiny, disseminated influences, might come to dominate and yet appear inexplicable because the underlying causal mechanism has been overlooked... What I am proposing here is [the possibility for the existence of] universality in informational organization, in the expectation that common information patterns will be found in a large class of certain complex systems—patterns that capture, at least in part, something of the features of living organisms... My hunch is that they would not be so specific as to foreshadow biology as such, but they might favour a broader class of complex information-managing systems of which life as we know it would be a striking representative.”
How molecular information is organized within and between the cells of an organism is the holy grail of biological science. It constitutes the hidden architecture of living systems that goes beyond the genetic code and the mechanics of protein formation. It constitutes the very processes of life itself such that when we die all it really is is the disruption and halting of these informational patterns-in-process. One might say that these informational patterns and processes, whatever they are, contain the great Mystery of life itself, as they include but go beyond known physiological processes, deep into the molecular organization within and between cells, and are as yet unknown to science.
Settling for ritual communion rather than the holy grail, what we can and do know about the organization of information within life (the genome) is its role as a template or storehouse of information in the dynamical system of life. We also know, from what I will propose here, how this role of information within life is similar to the other parts of a more universal dynamical system that is found not only within life, but within the system from which life emerges (the physical system of the universe), as well as within other systems that have emerged from life (the central nervous system or brain, and the social system of animals and humans). Lets begin with the social system.
Culture (LL) is a storehouse of information that is mediated by individuals (UL) into habitual thoughts and behaviors (UR) that fit into a larger environment of social institutions (LR) that select certain thoughts and behaviors as successful or not. Here culture both shapes and is shaped by the thoughts and behaviors of individuals who are often under the direct pressure of institutions to think and act in ways that fit into a relatively set configuration of prior social relations that are fairly resistant to change. The values and beliefs of a culture therefore initially shape the institutions and relations of society, but then over time those values and beliefs are often imposed and forced upon members of the culture with little wiggle room for alteration or modification, which soon results in the decline and death of that culture along with the social system it created and supported.
The brain is also a storehouse of information that is mediated by perceptions into responses that fit into a larger environment of stimuli that select certain responses as appropriate and adaptive or not. Here the brain both shapes and is shaped by the perceptions, and the outcomes of the responses to those perceptions, in a learning process within the environment of stimuli. The environment of stimuli largely determine what is learned, for example, good books and teachers vs video games and television, and hence determine the informational patterns and shape of the brain itself, which is why it is always so important to have an appropriate learning environment, especially for children.
The genome is also a storehouse of information that is mediated by RNA into physical traits built out of proteins that fit into a larger environment of ecological relations that select certain traits as survivable or not. Here the genome both shapes and is shaped by RNA, and by the physical shapes of proteins which build the traits that get selected by the environment. As traits become part of the environment they become part of the environment that will then select other traits compatible with it. Thus traits from genomes will become selectors of the traits of other genomes, which is essentially molecular selection at the macro species level, a clash of informational storehouses and their molecular cultures (informational patterns) of workhorses, soldiers, and mediators.
The Subquantum Field
The subquantum field (implicate order, space-time plenum, or dark matter) is also, presumably, a storehouse of information (or memory trace) that is mediated by virtual particles into matter (as ripples on the surface of an ocean) that fit into a larger reality of physical interactions that select certain forms of matter (of varying degrees of complexity) as stable or not. Here the subquantum field both shapes and is shaped by the virtual particle interactions with matter in a larger environment of interactions between matter at various levels of complexity. Because particles of matter are also waves and not mere billiard balls, their interactions leave interference patterns as hidden traces in the oceanic subquantum field. As the interactions between matter become more complex so does the subquantum field of patterns that mediate them, such that the manifest universe of matter co-evolves with an unmanifest universe of subquantum field patterns.
Could these common patterns of informational organization within the self-organizing dynamical systems of culture, the brain, the genome, and the physical universe itself indicate a “universality of information organization”, which Paul Davies suggests is part of a broad class of complex information-managing systems that underlies the hidden architecture of life? These common patterns in the role played by an informational storehouse in evolving systems suggests a dynamical feedback between outer-manifest and inner-unmanifest realities at different levels, with memory and its mediation into the external world as a crucial aspect of how complex systems evolve.
If there is one thing the Kosmos seems to do well, and does it universally as an imminent part of its existence, it is to build upon itself from moment to moment, using its past states to shape its present and its present states to shape its future, in an unrelenting inertial movement towards ever more complex self-organizing self-transcendence in this brief moment of its ascending existence before it ultimately dissolves into thermodynamic heat death. But until that final end comes, its purpose and message seems to be, “Awake, Remember, Love, Enjoy, and Thrive!”.
 Paul Davies, The Demon in the Machine: How hidden webs of information are solving the mystery of life, Penguin, 2018. From the Epilogue.