A "Proof" for the Existence of God, Part 5: Consciousness and Interdependence

[Disclaimer: This series is not really going to deliver a proof for God's existence. This is why the word "proof" is in scare quotes. It is, rather, a suggestive line of argument. However, "A suggestive line of argument for God's Existence" isn't a very good blog title. So, the goal of the series is not to arrive at a Q.E.D. moment. It is, rather, to end with a "That's an interesting argument" moment.]

Back to my "proof" series.

If you've been following, I've lined up the following ideas:

1. Consciousness is not reducible to matter/energy. It is a brute fact and it adheres to matter/energy systems in an identity relationship. More specifically, it appear to adhere to systems involved in information processing.

2. Whatever consciousness does it does this: It moves rudimentary and complex physical/informational systems toward thermodynamic/informational stasis. That is, consciousness moves systems against the flow of entropy, protecting the system from dissolution. Concretely, when a conscious system (rudimentary or complex) begins to lose structural integrity due to internal or external forces (e.g., the environment is too cold, you are hungry, you are near a flame) consciousness prompts the system to relocate or take prophylactic action.

My observations on these two items is this: Why would consciousness do this? Wouldn't a "material world" just involve a lot of particles banging around for infinity?

In short, it seems to me at least, that something intrinsic to the universe "desires" structure to emerge. Or, more conservatively, a potential for structure seems embedded into the causal framework of the universe.

Specifically, like the law of gravity, there seems to be in the universe, a law of consciousness. Roughly it states that IF (and that is a big if) consciousness emerges in a rudimentary physical system, consciousness will preserve the information/structue associated with that system. That is, consciousness will allow the system to persist the attacks of entropy for a season. This feature of consciousness seems universal, regular, and replicable. Lawful.

All this is just a fancy way of saying you eat when you are hungry and get out of the sun when you are getting sunburned. It also is a fancy way of saying that amoebas move away from toxic environs and move toward food sources. This is, upon reflection, a very obvious observation. I just simply want to mark the wonder of it all: It doesn't have to be this way so why is it this way?

Moving on...

Once consciousness emerges it seems, on this planet at least, to produce greater and greater complexity. This complexity is not inevitable, mind you. But if conditions are right consciousness will produce increasing complexity. And, at each level of complexity, you have this big poke in the eye to the Law of Entropy. I mean, things as complex as us just shouldn't exist if there wasn't something, at each step of the way, moving against entropy, maintaining structure. That force is consciousness. Better known as pleasure and pain.

One of the ways consciousness performs this great feat is by harnessing the nonzero dynamic. "Nonzero" is a term taken from game theory. Zerosum interactions are inherently competitive. They have a Me Against You dynamic. Zerosum encounters involve the dynamic of cooperation and interdependence. They have a You Scratch My Back and I'll Scratch Yours flavor.

In his book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright argues that as physical/informational/conscious systems grow more complex they also grow increasingly interdependent. And that interdependence creates a nonzero-sum dynamic. The system must work together for the benefit of all.

Wright suggests that this cooperative, nonzero dynamic is what got life jump-started in the first place. Specifically, most biologists agree that the real "breakthrough" in the evolution of life was the formation of the eukaryotic cells. The earlier prokaryotic cells (which had no nucleus) were not sophisticated enough to evolve more complicated life forms. But eukaryotic cells, with their nucleus (and DNA inside), clearly can. All plants and animals are made up of these "multiple-part" cells. So how did these cells evolve? Scientists speculate that two prokaryotic cells fortuitously joined forces, harnessing the nonzero-sum dynamic for the benefit of each. We now know these two formerly simple cells as the "nucleus" and the "mitochondria." Note that some of the evidence that each were formerly independent simple cells is that both the nucleus and mitochondria each have their own, different DNA. Once these two simple cells "joined forces" life exploded on this planet. Interdependence fueling complexity. This also happened at the next stage of evolution with bands of eukaryotic cells joining together to create multicellular life forms. And on and on it happened: Interdependence fueling more interdependence fueling ever more complexity. And, at each stage, as we have observed, consciousness drives it forward. Or, at the very least, provides the entropic parking brake, refusing to allow the structure to slide back into oblivion. Consciousness preserves the structure at each step.

My point is simply this: Consciousness and complexity are intimately intertwined with interdependence. What consciousness appears to do is to maintain the structural scaffolding that evolution requires. Something must preserve the structure or evolution has to start from ground zero at each stage. And one of the ways consciousness creates this scaffolding is creating interdependence among structures. Complexity IS interdependence among structures. The interdependence within the eukaryotic cells allows for the interdependence within the multicellular organism (you are just a colony of cells) which allows for the interdependence between multicellular organisms. My son the other day recited for me the "Web (note the interdependence) of Life": sunlight, plants, consumers (herbivores and carnivores), and decomposers. Again, notice the interdependence of the web of life. And notice also how consciousness mediates all this interdependence.

So our list of (inter)relationships expands: Matter/energy, information, entropy, consciousness, complexity, and, now, interdependence.

One more post to go.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

2 thoughts on “A "Proof" for the Existence of God, Part 5: Consciousness and Interdependence”

  1. Dr. Beck,

    Now that I've started reading, I'm hooked. I find your argument interesting, especially as one who studies impairments in consciousness secondary to dementia or brain injury. Unfortunately, I'll need to read more before I am able to see if your ideas map onto neurological models of consciousness. I would like to give a preliminary response to one of your "rhetorical" questions namely: " Wouldn't a "material world" just involve a lot of particles banging around for infinity?" The answer seems to be an unequivocal NO. Making candy is a prime example. Sugar particles are tightly bound independent crystalline structures. When heat is added, structures are broken (via acids or water), agitation, and a scaffolding is provided, the highly entropic particles will clump together, and given enough agitation and heat will creat VERY uniform crystalline structures (not to mention a great praline or brittle). In this argument, doesn't disorder and lack of consciousness allow for a very orderly structure to be created? Is this too literal an interpretation of your argument? A great read and thought provoker as always!

  2. Jared,
    Regarding your candy/crystal example. Until the onset of of a rudimentary form of consciousness (e.g., amoeba) the formation of structure is going to be a "chance" event. My "parking brake" metaphor was used to suggest that once consciousness kicks in (whenever that is) it helps the system maintain its integrity and, thus, create and fuel greater complexity. I'm not sure where the threshold of consciousness is or what configuration matter/energy needs to be in in order for it to "adhere" as it were. My point is less explanatory than descriptive: When consciousness does emerge it preserves structure in a way non-conscious systems cannot.

Leave a Reply