I. The fundamental currency in all physical and cultural transactions is certainty based on either evidence or belief.

II. The demand for certainty, within any moment, is always greater than the supply of evidence.


A general epistemology of cognition and consciousness
V.7.7  11/25/15

Why do we not fully understand our mind and consciousness? Why do we not know how our mind is integrated with our physical brain? Why do we find it hard to explain how we subjectively experience sensations? Why can’t we prove that we have free will despite the intuition that we have it? Why is there no consensus on a definition of consciousness. Do we have intrinsic biases that prevent us from understanding the totalized fundamental processes that constitute a mind evolving in nature?

Our body, brain and mind are the evolutionary results of natural selection, the adaptations of our species to evolving environmental conditions. Those fundamental conditions set the parameters of our physiological and cognitive adaptations. Our conscious cognition of fundamental conditions is a subset of our adaptation to an evolving environment.

An organism is dependent upon its species for conception and development. The existence of a species is dependent upon the successful conception, development, adaptation and reproduction of at least some of its organisms and the eventual death of all. The existence of an individual organism thus depends upon the previous successful conception, development, adaptation and reproduction of all of its ancestors and the eventual death of all. Our conscious cognition of that fundamental social condition is a subset of our adaptation to an evolving social environment.

The scientific process - proposing a hypothesis, testing predictions, evaluating results and reformulating theories - has produced a set of fine regularities that help us define specific and fundamental conditions. However the scientific process limits physical and temporal variables in order for theories to be testable and for experiments to be replicable. Limiting physical and temporal scales implicitly assumes that the laws of nature are fixed and they do not evolve or change. The cosmological implication of that assumption denies the existence of time. The results of evidence based scientific process is therefore limited to producing a gradually increasing probability of accuracy in defining subset processes within static fundamental conditions. So scientific inquiries are also evaluated with the statistical mechanics and whole system models of systems theory. These models can be used to form hypotheses of dynamic whole systems which can be tested within subset processes.

Species and their organisms are defined in systems theory as open systems within a closed system universe, a framework that integrates Newtonian thermodynamics, information theory and evolutionary theory. Biological open systems paradoxically conform to the Second Law of Thermodynamics by using free energy (energy in the environment available to perform thermodynamic work) to decrease entropy within their boundary and increase entropy outside their boundary. The fundamental condition of the non-equilibrium evolution of free energy to a generally higher entropy state includes areas of relatively constant temperature and pressure where chemical processes can use free energy to lower entropy and instantiate order in biological compounds. Evolving biological compounds use free energy to lower entropy and instantiate order in emergent levels of genetically reproducing species.

Species and organisms are both maintained over time with the internal property of homeostasis, the tendency of bodies to regulate variables and decrease internal entropy so that internal states maintain relative constancy. Organisms maintain homeostasis by updating internal states with sensory information, a process that can be modeled by Bayesian statistical inference. A prior probability distribution determined by past experience and conditioning is factored with a likelihood function determined by current sensory evidence to produce a posterior probability distribution or an updated working hypothesis of the world.

Premise 1: Time is real, the Second Law of Thermodynamics implies an irreversible arrow of time so the laws of nature are not fixed, they evolve.

Premise 2: Homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of low entropy organisms which are maintained over time within an environment of increasing entropy by Bayesian inferential process.

Premise 3: Consciousness is an organism's cognitive expression of its species adaptation to increasing entropy and the instantiation of order into emergent levels of complexity.

Fundamental and cognitive bias

Homeostasis is the foundation of emotion, the physiological response to immediate or potential disruption of homeostasis. Physiological emotion is unconscious but it is expressed as instinct subconsciously and as feeling consciously. When an organism is ill or feels threatened by something in the environment emotion in the conscious form of feeling signals the initiation of a survival response. Emotion in that sense grounds all cognitive processes in biologic value, prioritizes cognitive attention, motivates action and gives memories a dynamic valence.

The fundamental emotional bias of homeostasis is the demand for certainty; the on-going re-establishment and re-balancing of internal constancy and the sense of individual agency that can maintain that internal stability. Anxiety is the demand for certainty exceeding the supply.

The natural cognitive bias of sensory inferential process, the means by which organisms maintain homeostasis, is the constant search and detection of unpredicted or novel process in the environment. Boredom is the demand for novelty exceeding the supply.

The emotional preference for constancy conditions the prior beliefs of Bayesian inference with a regularity bias. The cognitive bias of seeking novel process insures that organisms at least factor that emotional bias with a likelihood function and relevant evidence from sensory and motor inferential process in order to produce updated beliefs about the environment.

The emotional demand for constancy and the cognitive demand for novelty are contrary in nature but the cognitive bias serves the fundamental bias. The cognitive bias for novelty is the means by which the necessity for internal constancy in an environment of increasing entropy is maintained over time.

We try to understand our consciousness based on assumptions that are conditioned by our fundamental emotional preference for certainty and agency. We assume our minds evolve in an environment where the laws of nature are constant and those laws define predictable processes. The cognitive bias for novelty is the evidence that we in fact have evolved within an environment of increasing entropy where irregular and unpredictable processes exist in combination with regular and predictable processes.

The fundamental emotional bias for certainty and agency also leads us to assume that we are physiologically and cognitively autonomous. We are in fact dependent upon our species for our physical existence and our consciousness originates and is sustained within a social web of cooperation and language.

It is in our fundamental nature to think that the laws of nature are constant and predictable and that we are autonomous beings. We find it difficult to understand consciousness because it is a socially emergent adaptation to a complex, unpredictable and disordered reality that we cannot consciously experience in it's totality except in moments of insight or inspiration.

The adaptive advantage of consciousness

The moment to moment reality of potentially infinite possibilities and choices in an environment of increasing entropy presents a profound challenge to biological bodies. Cognition becomes the task of sorting a barrage of sensory information, identifying relevant threats and opportunities and responding appropriately within an uncertain and randomly changing environment.

Consciousness adapts to complexity, uncertainty and increasing entropy with an illusion of simplified choices, a serial narrative of self in an imagined predictable environment. Parallel processing of predicted conditions is unconscious so that conscious processes can adapt to unpredicted conditions by synthesizing physical and social predictions into a serial narrative of optimum choices. That narrative can impose order on future conditions if it is based on predictions that are relatively accurate. Consciousness is subjectively experienced as an illusion of an ordered present that creates a reality of an ordered future as long as it also mediates ongoing unpredicted processes.

Animal models

The cognitive task of all biological organisms is the maintenance of internal homeostasis within a physical environment of increasing entropy evolving in time that is a mixture of predicted, unpredicted and unpredictable processes. As elements of a species organisms also have the cognitive task of adaptation to social homeostasis and the facilitation of reproduction within a social environment evolving in time that is a mixture of predicted, unpredicted and unpredictable processes.

If adaptation to predicted process is unconscious and adaptation to unpredicted process is conscious then biological organisms have individual cognition, individual consciousness, social cognition and social consciousness. Humans have all those types of cognition along with an extended social consciousness.

Memory is the cognitive instantiation of order. Working memory is the short term conscious inference of regularity with a homeodynamic valence. Fixed intrinsic memory is the unconscious molecular and genetic instantiation of regularity with a homeodynamic valence. Dynamic intrinsic memory is the unconscious epigenetic instantiation of regularity with a thermodynamic valence.

The core self process is a default mode network, the constant internal inferential justification of intrinsic memory with working memory. In sleep working memory is detached from sensory input and dynamic intrinsic memory becomes fluid in the process of thermodynamic simplification and instantiation of learned regularities. In waking consciousness all of intrinsic memory is fixed and working memory is fluid and synchronized with sensory and motor inferential processes in homeodynamic adaptation to the environment.

A.  Individual cognition is the neurological expression of an individual organism's adaptation to predictable processes in the environment. It is the inference of perception and autonomic motor control acting with intrinsic memory for orientation in the physical environmental present. Individual cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by individual consciousness proprioceptively.

B.  Individual consciousness is the cognitive expression of an organism's adaptation to uncertainty and increasing entropy. It is the cognition of reactions to unexpected events in the physical environment; attention, inferential experimentation and learning within working memory. Individual consciousness is active when emotion determines that a change in cognitive attention is required in order to maintain physiological homeostasis.

C. Social cognition is the individual cognitive expression of adaptation to predictable social processes. It is a function of inference of social perception acting with intrinsic memory for orientation in the social environmental present. Social cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by social consciousness proprioceptively.

D. Social consciousness is the individual cognitive expression of a species adaptation to increasing entropy.  It is the cognition of socially modified adaptive behavior that requires communication or cooperation between individuals at any level. Social consciousness is the dynamic inference of social perception with working memory based on a social virtual reality. It is driven by the emotional response to immediate or potential social disruption of homeostasis or a hormonally induced homeodynamic imbalance naturally selected to provoke and reward instinctual procreative, parental and subsistence co-behavior. Social consciousness is active when emotion determines that a change in cognitive attention is required in order to maintain internal and social homeostasis.

Ontogeny of Cognition

The precursors of working memory and intrinsic memory develop in utero in a relationship that is the origin of sleep; a developing working memory is detached from sensory input and dynamic intrinsic memory is fluid in the process of thermodynamic simplification of developmental cognitive processes. Fixed intrinsic memory expresses the instantiated order of genetic information that guides natal development.

After the organism is born and is exposed to sensory information in the environment outside of the womb the accumulated prediction errors of motor inferential process in working memory are used by internal inferential process in slow wave and REM sleep to thermodynamically simplify the associations of intrinsic memory and instantiate new associations about the environment into dynamic intrinsic memory. This is subjectively experienced as dreaming; a core self disoriented in place and time (because there is no external sensory input) within a virtual reality of re-consolidating memories.

Consciousness is initiated upon waking by synchronizing external sensory and motor inferential process with a dynamic working memory anchored in a fixed intrinsic memory. That synthesis is subjectively experienced as a self acting within a virtual reality of memory but oriented to place and time with the serial ability remember past scenarios or to attend and act on sensory input.

That facilitates the potential to internally simulate actions before initiating them in the environment. Immediate feedback from actions in the environment effectively enables real time learning and adaptation.

So learning occurs at two levels; in conscious working memory from ongoing predictive inference with the environment and in unconscious intrinsic memory from thermodynamic simplification of learned associations in sleep. Transforming knowledge learned from predictive inference into unconscious intrinsic memory allows organisms to react to predicted and unpredicted processes simultaneously.

Evolution of human extended consciousness

The co-evolution of tool-use and social cooperation in the three million year epoch preceding the emergence of pre-modern hominids out of Africa around 100,000 BC created a set of adaptations that are the precursors of human extended consciousness. Those adaptations are; bilaterally asymmetric functionality of motor interaction required by tool making and use, the social sharing of an embodied tool making syntax (right hand/subject, action/verb, left hand/object), and the dropping of the larynx to enable complex vocalizations and symbolic speech structured by embodied syntax. These adaptations enabled hominids to survive the changing environments of the Ice Ages with the use of tools and complex social cooperation facilitated by the development of a proto-language. Those adaptations did not in themselves result in human consciousness, neoteny was required for the development of an extended social consciousness.

As brain size increased the limited pelvic opening required by bipedalism enforced premature birth and neotenous child rearing. The neotenous infant required constant protection and attention, only possible within a cooperative social system.

The neotenous infant’s sensory and motor interaction with the environment is focused on the parent and is utilized by the child to predict patterns of vocalizations. These patterns are given value by the child's projection of intentionality and then reproduced by mimesis. Motor and sensory development thus becomes dedicated in part to the manipulation and expression of embodied syntax and language becomes a primary tool for the development of agency.

The sleeping neotenous child gradually instantiates the regularities of embodied syntax into dynamic intrinsic memory. The waking infant then begins to use language in the internal inferential justification of working memory with intrinsic memory to construct a model of a self acting within a virtual reality of memory that is based on the external model of the parent (theory of mind).

This model of a self thus originates in the parent and the child gradually internalizes it until it is incorporated into the individual's homeostatic state and it then represents the child’s sense of identity and agency. The perception of self and the perception of time are mutually interdependent artifacts of this virtual self. The greater the contents of memory the greater the potential expanse of virtual time and thus the greater the sense of self. Infants have the proto-conscious element of internal inferential potential in utero but lack the memories of environmental engagement to construct time and self.

In the context of communication between individuals this internal virtual reality is both the source and product of species consciousness which instantiates order in emergent levels of cultural and technological complexity.

The hard problem
Chalmers: “It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.” … “The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive there is a whir of information processing, but there is also a subjective aspect.”
Subjective experience is the quality that is produced by the grounding of all conscious processes (sensory and motor synchronization with the core self and interaction between working and implicit memory) in a homeodynamic valence. Every conscious process necessarily is an expression of the emotional demand for internal constancy and a sense of agency. Sensory experience and memory have emotional and thus subjective value in relation to the degree that they directly or indirectly impact the internal stability of the organism. Subjectivity is the effect of proprioceptive and conscious emotional cognition and emotion is not simply an innocuous side-effect of physiological process. It is the fundamental expression of homeodynamic integrity and biological health. Consciousness must be subjectively grounded in emotion in that sense in order to promote the survival of the organism. If there is a hard problem it is finding the precise mechanism of how every cognitive process is grounded homeostatically.

Derived from the theories of Antonio Damasio, Daniel Dennett, Karl Friston, Michael Graziano, J Allen Hobson, Lee Smolin, Zoltan Torey and E O Wilson.


Globalisation is undermining the basic stability of nation states. The globalisation of labor markets hollows out the middle class in developed nations and spurs the rise in incomes among the poor in developing nations. But the corporate class that benefits the most from the economies of scale of globalisation has no allegiance to any nation state anymore, labor is disposable and subject to arbitrage. So there is no incentive to pay for the physical and institutional infrastructure that nation states provide, corporations can just hop to the next developing nation willing to bid down the price of labor.

Global supply chains turn nations into specialized units in the chain so whole sectors of a nations economy are decimated in the interest of global efficiency but the result is that nations become less self-sufficient and more dependent on globally supplied commodities and services.

So nation states have less control over their economies, are less able to generate dependable revenues and less able to provide basic services to their citizens.  

But the externalities of doing business - pollution, infrastructure, social disruption and resource depletion - are only externalities within the economies of nation states subject to global arbitrage. In a globalized economy there are no externalities, only delayed costs. And now we are all beginning to pay for those costs.

Workers in a globalized economy are expendable. People who work for a living are being devalued, whether they have a job or not and whether they live in a developed country or not. And the governments who represent those people have been bought off by the 1% and refuse to see the problem. That is what Occupy is about.


Evidence-based certainty uses rationality to gradually prove or disprove theories based on empirical evidence. Belief-based certainty works in the other direction, the desired certainty is already known and rationality is abused to build on carefully selected evidence to “prove” that belief.

Belief-based certainty will always have a higher value socially and politically in the short term because it satisfies the immediate need for certainty. If a belief is repeated within a media echo chamber and supports the desire for absolute certainty then it becomes a political certainty for those that need it.

Evidence-based inquiry is a process that only produces a gradually increasing probability of certainty in the long term. Facts will lose the news cycle but quietly win the cultural war.

Markets mediate the uncertainty of survival and governments mediate the uncertainty of markets. The uncertainties of competition in the market motivates individuals to create efficiencies and innovations in order to enjoy the greater certainties of wealth. Government regulates the market to insure competition where it works to create opportunities and replaces the market where it restricts opportunities and exploits inequalities.

So the uncertainty of competition is both the bull that drives the economy and the bear that everyone seeks shelter from. Government has to both enable and disable the uncertainty of competition for the greater good.

Those on the left seek shelter from uncertainty in public sector employment, labor unions and government programs that provide a safety net where markets fail as in education and health care. Those on the right seek shelter from uncertainty in government contracts, government regulations that protect businesses from competition and public funding of the externalities of business which includes the costs of infrastructure, pollution and periodic market failures of the financial system.

Neither side wants to pay for the other side’s protection racket. Both sides have to be kept in check and both are prone to their own particular kind of corruption.

But when multinational corporations cooperate to pit one country against another to create a regulation free global business environment then those corporations have the upper hand and that only creates certainties for a tiny minority at the top and cascading waves of uncertainty and disruption for everybody else.


Politics can be mapped with just two variables - wealth and tolerance of uncertainty. When an individual accumulates a certain amount of wealth their orientation shifts from seeking change to benefit themselves to seeking security to protect what they have accumulated. That point varies from person to person depending on their individual tolerance for uncertainty, the more tolerance for uncertainty a person has the less they seek security from their fellow citizens.


If God is what we do not know then prayer is curiosity, love is faith and sin is acting as if we know what God is.


Analysis deals with a set of knowns and ignores everything outside of the set. But when we consider context first, including what we do not know about a situation, we are confronted with the assumptions that we use to deal with the unknown; religion, superstition, folklore, conventional wisdom and the prevailing cultural norms. So when we consider context before analysis it becomes clear that the underlying currency of our cultural transactions is certainty based on either evidence or belief.

Those are two interconnected sets of certainties, our physical limitations within our environment and a cultural set of shared symbols and values. Our language and shared beliefs help us mediate the uncertainties of our physical existence. Those beliefs are embedded in a personal narrative.

If you were to closely observed someone throughout one day you would find that they acted in ways that reflected a broad range of beliefs. Survival requires adaptability, sometimes we need to be absolutists (to respond to challenges that threaten our welbeing) and sometimes we need to be relativists (to understand the challenges in order to learn from them). However if you asked that person to explain their actions throughout the day you would probably find that they defined their behavior in a narrow singular sense. We like to have a narrative that we can wrap all of the uncertainties of the world—and perhaps more importantly, the uncertainties of ourselves—into a compelling story.

The emotional context of our experience may determine the narrative of how we mediate the unknown. If we feel our past was chaotic then we seek absolute explanations of problems and solutions. If we feel our past was restricted we resist singular deterministic explanations. We all use absolute and relative judgements but explain those judgements in partisan terms to maintain our consistency.

Our narratives do determine many of our decisions but they do not limit our choices. The danger lies when our narrative overrules our intuition, when absolutists impose their judgements upon everyone else and relativists refuse to judge themselves.


If God is what we do not know then we are as God to the experience of others and others are as God to our experience.