S = k. log W


A general epistemology of cognition and consciousness V.13.4             

 Why do we not understand consciousness?

 Astronomers can look thirteen billion years into the past and find evidence that supports theories about how the universe evolved. Physicists make precise predictions about quantum electrodynamics and general relativity that have been repeatedly confirmed by experiment. In the last fifty years advances in electrophysiology, molecular biology and computational neuroscience have produced new predictive theories about how our brains respond to stimuli. But we do not understand the nature of everyday experience.

 Some neuroscientists and philosophers predict that we will never be able to explain how our mind is integrated with our brain or why we subjectively experience sensations. But everything we do know including our intimate and intense experiences with each other, our precise ways of navigating and manipulating the environment, our understanding of evolution, physics, chemistry, biology and our own physiology, we only know because we are conscious.

 Then why is there no consensus on a definition of consciousness? Currently there are about seven billion reporting experts on subjective experience in the world. The fact that even those who study the mind and brain cannot agree upon a basic description of our collective cognitive existence testifies to the enigmatic solitude of consciousness. On a fundamental level we are mysteries to ourselves and each other.

 Neuroscientists will continue to make more precise predictions about cognition and consciousness with the reductive analysis of neural systems and the contextual analysis of the brain embedded in the body and the environment. When I read neuroscience literature I ask a few basic questions. Is there a common framework that ties this evidence and theory with other theories of cognition? How can this evidence be understood in the larger contexts of social processes, species evolution and the physics of micro-states and macro-states? Can we find common frameworks in those contexts?

 When we study cognition and consciousness do we make implicit assumptions about our minds in our relationship to our body, other bodies, other minds and the environment? Is our body the means by which we mediate the relationship between our mind and the world. Or is our mind the means by which we mediate the relationship between our body and the world?

 Consciousness does not exist independent of a totalized context of species and biomes evolving in nature. The functions of cognition in the largest sense may be determined by its contexts in the largest sense. We may begin to understand the functions of consciousness to the degree that we understand it in context with nature and the social processes that enable it.

 In order to hypothesize cognitive functions from its contexts I will use systems theory and non-equilibrium thermodynamics as a means of synthesizing contexts. I will describe one possible interpretation of cognitive functions in an attempt to synthesize recent theoretical approaches in physics and neuroscience within systems theory.

 The purpose of a general epistemology of cognition is to outline a theoretical foundation for a standard model of cognition that would be compatible with the standard model of particle physics. My hypothesis of one possible set of functions of cognition is based in part on Quantum Bayesianism (Qbism), a foundational interpretation of the standard model of particle physics. Qbism is a hypothesis to solve the measurement problem of quantum physics by proposing that the probabilities derived from experimental inference are subjective artifacts of human perception and action in constant interaction with the environment but are not objective properties of the environment. Basing both standard models of particle physics and cognition on a relational interpretation of derived probabilities may help to advance theories for both cognition and physics.

Contexts of cognition

 What are the totalized contexts of cognition, how do quantum fields, thermodynamics and classical mechanics interact to produce the genetic, metabolic and physiological processes that facilitate cognition? How are those processes integrated in the evolutionary, developmental and social contexts of cognition?

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

 The existence of a species is dependent upon its successful coevolution with other species in a biome of relatively consistent environmental conditions. The existence of an individual organism depends upon the previous successful conception, development, adaptation, reproduction and the eventual death of all of its ancestors and its survival depends upon a cooperative family or community within a biome of coevolving species. The consciousness of an individual originates within that community and it is sustained within the community's culture. Our conscious cognition of those fundamental social conditions is a subset of our adaptation to an evolving species.

 The scientific process of 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. Theories have to make testable predictions that can be replicated in order to continually refine and advance our knowledge of patterns of regularities in the environment. The physical and temporal variables within experiments are necessarily limited by the physical and temporal exigencies of human perceptual phenomenology and correlated extrapolations from technologies that extend our perception.

 If theories are applied as laws of nature beyond that frame of variables that assumes the results of experiments could be replicated in any temporal context and across all scales of space. We may act with these assumptions but that conflicts with any interpretation of spacetime in Einstein's general theory of relativity. The precise and replicated predictions of quantum electrodynamics and general relativity cannot be reconciled with each other to account for gravity. The results of evidence based scientific process within that Newtonian framework is therefore limited to producing a gradually increasing probability of accuracy in defining only subset processes. The regularities of micro-states and subsystems cannot be extrapolated to laws of the universe.(Smolin)

 But hypotheses can also be developed using systems theory and the non-equilibrium thermodynamics of a closed system model of the universe. The statistical thermodynamics of that model can be applied to all macro-states over time and therefor can be used to form hypotheses of a dynamic whole system with open subsystems that can be tested within larger subsystem processes.

 Biomes, species and organisms are defined in systems theory as open systems within a closed system universe, a framework that integrates thermodynamics, information theory and evolutionary theory. The fundamental evolutionary process is the constant non-equilibrium change from low entropy to a relatively higher entropy state because the second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of a closed system can only increase over time. 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. In terms of information theory entropy is the relational artifact (information of possible external states) of biological open systems persisting as counter-evolutionary adaptations to an expanding universe.

 The non-equilibrium evolution to a generally higher entropy state includes areas of relatively constant temperature and pressure where available free energy drives autocatalytic chemical processes to form cycles of complex molecular bonds. The bonds of these molecules become irreversible only if free energy and basic elements are available to produce a dissipative thermodynamic system.(England) Autocatalytic cycles that can use available elements and free energy most efficiently and outcompete other processes are naturally selected to persist. The irreversible molecular bonds produced by these dissipative cycles may be the basis of perception, memory, genetic replication and the biological reduction of entropy.

 The most efficient dissipative cycles evolved to replicate themselves and formed prokaryotic organisms. Evolving prokaryotes used free energy to symbiotically incorporate other prokaryotes or archaea within themselves to form eukaryotic cells. Eukaryotes form cooperative relationships with other eukaryotes and prokaryotes and some groups of cells create boundaries and enclose themselves to form multicelled organisms. This symbiosis of prokaryotes and eukaryotes forms evolving open systems that use free energy to lower entropy as complex eukaryotic organisms with emergent levels of genetically reproducing species.

 Species and their organisms are maintained over time in a condition of relative homeostasis due to dissipative molecular processes that balance internal consistency and reduce entropy. Those metabolic and neurologic processes maintain homeostasis by adjusting internal states to external conditions with sensory information and that can be modeled by Bayesian statistical inference. A prior probability distribution of information about the environment determined by genetic and epigenetic 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.(Friston)

Fundamental and cognitive bias

 Homeostasis is the physiological basis of emotion, the natural biological response to immediate or potential disruption of internal consistency. Every physiological variable in the body has a normative set point, e.g. the normal body temperature of humans is 98.6 F. When one or more physiological variables are deviated away from their normative values by intrinsic or extrinsic processes then related physiological variables within that subsystem alter their normative set points to compensate and maintain homeostasis. Related systems in the body then alter their normative set points to compensate and maintain homeostasis.

 The whole body effect of that interactive and dynamic process is emotion. Physiological emotional process is unconscious but it is subjectively experienced as instinct subconsciously and as feeling consciously. When an organism is ill or threatened by something in the environment subconscious or conscious emotion signals the initiation of a survival response and the restoration and maintenance of homeostasis. Anxiety is the demand for certainty exceeding the supply. Emotion in that sense necessarily grounds all cognitive processes in biologic value, prioritizes cognitive attention, motivates action and gives memories a dynamic valence.(Damasio)

 We tend to think of emotion as an epiphenomenal process in the sense that our brain and body somehow construct emotion. We construct categories and interpretations of emotions from our memories and our cultural conditioning but the homeodynamic source of emotion is our core physiological integrity and health. Macro-state homeodynamic process enables top-down causation and is a refutation of bottom up determinism because it uses cybernetic feedback mechanisms to achieve a process goal of maintaining relative macro-state equilibrium. (Ellis) The macro-state homeodynamic process determines changes within its micro-states therefor emotion has emergent causal power.

 If homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of organic open systems then emotion constructs our body, our cognition and our consciousness. The fundamental emotional bias of homeostasis is the constant subconscious feeling of the need to establish and re-balance internal consistency as well as a sense of agency that can maintain that internal stability. This emotional bias shapes the nature of our perceptions, memories, motivations and actions so our conception of reality is structured by this homeodynamic drive to survive.

 But the intrinsic emotional bias for certainty has to be counterbalanced by a natural cognitive bias in an organism's sensory processes to perceive variant events that are relevant to the organisms wellbeing. Motor and sensory processes have a cognitive novelty bias that prioritizes variant events or the absence of predicted invariance by evaluating percepts with the embodied syntax of procedural motor memories of past events. Those variant percepts are then evaluated by a homeodynamic syntax to determine if they are vital to the organism's status.

 The primary emotional demand for constancy conditions the prior beliefs of Bayesian inferential process with a bias for regularity. The cognitive bias for detecting novel and vital events insures that organisms at least factor that emotional bias with relevant evidence of likelihoods from the environment in order to produce updated adaptive beliefs about the environment. But the cognitive bias is secondary to and in service of the fundamental survival requirement of homeostasis. All novel or unpredicted percepts are evaluated by a homeodynamic syntax to determine which factors in the environment need to be attended to in order to maintain homeostasis.

 This Bayesian inferential relationship of biased prior beliefs with our experience of novel or random events is repeated within the history of human culture and it evolved into the scientific method. We emerged from prehistory, as from the womb, with the predilection to believe that the world revolves around us and with a desire for the world to be orderly. We unconsciously test that world in our waking state and when it does not conform to our biased predictions then we become conscious of change and we either alter our theories of the world or we act to change the world to conform to our beliefs. The scientific method established the testing of hypotheses as a conscious and social act. That rapidly increased the spread of adaptive beliefs and technologies but the fundamental bias for certainty remains.

 Our cultural conception of reality is based on the testable macro-state mechanics of Newtonian physics. With that foundation we assume that locality and causality are universal across scales of space to reinforce our belief that space and matter are predictable and fundamental. The molecular realities of quantum superposition and entanglement are not perceptible to us because of the temporal and physical scale of molecular change. Our cognitive bias for the detection of novel events originates within molecular perceptual processes that only register quantum decoherence so our experience of reality is described by classical mechanics. That is inevitable because as organic macro-states we can only perceive or in fact embody order with the statistical regularities of our relative size.
"The laws of physics and physical chemistry are inaccurate within a probable relative error of the order of 1/ √ n, where n is the number of molecules that co-operate to bring about that law –to produce its validity within such regions of space or time (or both) that matter, for some considerations or for some particular experiment. You see from this again that an organism must have a comparatively gross structure in order to enjoy the benefit of fairly accurate laws, both for its internal life and for its interplay with the external world. For otherwise the number of co-operating particles would be too small, the ‘law’ too inaccurate. The particularly exigent demand is the square root. For though a million is a reasonably large number, an accuracy of just 1 in 1,000 is not overwhelmingly good, if a thing claims the dignity of being a ‘Law of Nature’." What is Life? Erwin Schrödinger
 If the regularities of matter and space that we perceive are only emergent manifestations of quantum processes then time must be fundamental to the emergence of Newtonian mechanics from quantum fields. Therefore time and uncertainty are fundamental for thermodynamic macrostates that depend on the organic reduction of entropy to survive in an environment of increasing entropy.

 We try to understand our consciousness based on beliefs that are conditioned by the maintenance of homeostasis and our emotional demand for certainty. We act on the assumption that we exist in an environment where the laws of nature are constant and those laws define predictable processes. Religious and scientific endeavors express our collective and individual demand for certainty by constantly striving to find and elucidate timeless laws and truths. We implicitly reaffirm those truths for each other when we interact because those assumptions are embedded within our language and technology. When we do act we impose our demand for certainty upon the world and we create regularity to suit our emotional bias. But artistic endeavors, the cognitive bias for novelty and our ravenous appetite for new information are evidence that we have evolved within an environment of increasing entropy where irregular and random processes exist in combination with regular and predictable processes.

 The fundamental emotional bias for certainty also leads us to believe that we are physiologically and cognitively autonomous because a sense of complete agency protects us from being overwhelmed by uncertainty. We do have degrees of freedom to act within non-equilibrium thermodynamics by manipulating the regularities of Newtonian mechanics with probabilistic predictive inference. The feeling of agency comes from the sense that we can react effectively to inner states and change our environment, acting in emotion. When we create change that enhances our belief that we have complete autonomy. But we are also constrained by the biological imperative to conform to species homeostasis as our consciousness originates and is sustained within a symbiotic web of social cooperation, language and culture.

 It is in our fundamental nature to act on the beliefs that the laws of nature are fixed and predictable and that we are fully autonomous beings. These two beliefs contradict each other because if the laws of nature are constant then the future is entirely determined by the past and we have no freedom to act autonomously. But nature is not entirely predictable while we do have a limited capacity to act autonomously. Our cognitive contradictions reflect the adaptive advantage of limiting our overall conscious awareness of uncertainty in order to deliberately plan actions beyond instinctive reactions. We cannot consciously perceive the nature of our mind much less the totalized fundamental processes of nature because our homeodynamic bias structures consciousness to facilitate the focused goal-directed actions required to impose regularities on our environment to insure that we have the free energy in nutrients for cellular respiration in the future. Consciousness must ignore all of the uncertainties outside of that narrow focus in order for the organism to act in the environment, reproduce and maintain species homeostasis.

 The ability to create effective predictions for planned actions is enabled by the capacity to cognitively manipulate models of learned regularities with an embodied syntax of procedural motor memory. That subjectively seems to create a boundless imagination that we use to impose order in the environment. But in order to constantly maintain homeostasis our homeodynamic bias simultaneously requires a broader unconscious cognition of our body in relation to the certainties and uncertainties in the environment which remains opaque to us. Consciousness is a powerful and crucial subset of our total cognition and it is limited by a necessary division of cognitive labor and the adaptive advantages of extended temporal planning of actions. Our theories and beliefs about ourselves and our environment are constructed by the imperative to resist disorder and constrained by the simultaneous advantage of acting as if the world was ordered.

 We act consciously and unconsciously on the false belief that the laws of nature are fixed and predictable but we act to make that belief true. When the world around us is not predictable we collectively act to make it predictable by instantiating and embodying our tested and replicated adaptive predictions into our shared physical environment as technology. Technology is the product of active scientific inference and the physical embodiment of social cognition. Technology is culture, the reduction of entropy within the species, the relational artifacts that enable us to persist in an expanding universe. We use technology to temporarily transform our chaotic environment into a more predictable and comfortable cultural configuration space.

 Human consciousness is built upon this powerful subconscious Newtonian hack of non-equilibrium thermodynamics that gives us collective agency with technology but without complete comprehension because it entails and embodies a false belief. The conundrums of the mind/body problem, the hard problem of consciousness, the nature of free will and the measurement problem of quantum physics are the cognitive costs in that delusion of technological consciousness and civilization. The growing environmental costs of civilization should make us question the unconscious premises of our conscious decisions.

 If we can infer all of the properties and effects of homeodynamic bias then we can begin to factor that in the formation of hypotheses about consciousness, cognition, ourselves and our environment to more accurately reflect fundamental processes and our full relation with nature.

A theory of knowledge

Premise 1: The second law of thermodynamics implies an irreversible arrow of time and change. Time is relational and local but real and fundamental for all organic open systems within a closed system universe. The laws of nature are not fixed, they evolve. (Smolin)

Hypothesis: Organic open systems depend on a biological reduction of entropy and the maintenance of homeostasis to survive in an expanding universe of increasing entropy. If time is fundamental and the laws of nature are not fixed then mediating uncertainty is the necessary cognitive challenge of maintaining homeostasis and survival. The probabilities of uncertainty are both the problem organic open systems must solve and the means to solve that problem.

Premise 2: Organic open systems use probabilistic cognitive processes that can be modeled by Bayesian inference to maintain homeostasis within non-equilibrium thermodynamics. A prior probability distribution determined by genetic and epigenetic 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. (Friston)

Premise 3: The distributed homeostatic bias and survival requirement of organic open systems is the necessity for constant Bayesian re-balancing of internal constancy and the active agency to maintain that internal stability. Emotion is the unified physiological and cognitive expression of that homeodynamic process. (Damasio)

Hypothesis: Homeostasis is the distributed organizing principle of organic open systems in the non-equilibrium thermodynamics of a closed system universe. The macro-state homeodynamic process maintains relative macro-state equilibrium and determines changes within it's micro-states. Therefor emotion, as the expression of homeodynamic process, has emergent causal power and it structures our species, our body, our cognition and our consciousness.

Hypothesis: Homeostatic bias structures consciousness to facilitate action in the environment. In order to obtain free energy and maintain homeostasis organisms act on the false beliefs that space and matter are fundamental and the laws of nature are fixed. Humans use those false beliefs to limit our awareness of uncertainties and to model and plan actions to instantiate those beliefs within our immediate environment and make them temporarily real as technology. We can impose order on a disordered environment but we cannot consciously perceive the totalized fundamental processes of nature.

 Fixed implicit memory is the expression of genetically replicated irreversible molecular processes. Dynamic implicit memory is the expression of epigenetic neuronal processes that represent learned patterns of processes in the environment. Working memory is the expression of neuronal processes produced by the immediate perceptual inference of irregularity.

 Waking primary consciousness is awareness of homeodynamically vital unpredicted percepts within working memory (likelihoods) inferentially factored with dynamic implicit memory (priors). The adaptive products of that hierarchical Bayesian synthesis are subjective experience and optimized predictions of the immediate future. The accumulated prediction errors of waking consciousness are inferentially consolidated during sleep which reduces entropy in the organism and represents updated patterns and models of the environment in dynamic implicit memory.

 The consolidation in dynamic implicit memory of regularized symbolic absential objects and an embodied procedural syntax for tool use are the necessary precursors for language and an extended human social consciousness. Humans use language to manipulate symbolic objects and model planned actions on extended temporal scales beyond the instinctual reactions of primary consciousness. Language mediates social homeostasis and offloads adaptive regularities of semantic objects and embodied tool use syntax into the social environment. Culture is the social process of instantiating those adaptive regularities into the physical environment as technology which reduces entropy within the species.

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 random processes. In order to maintain homeostasis waking vertebrates must solve two fundamentally different problems simultaneously: maintain the integrity of the body internally and act in the environment to obtain the free energy in nutrients required by cellular respiration and the reduction of entropy.

 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 unpredicted processes is conscious and adaptation to predicted processes is unconscious then biological organisms have interoceptive cognition, interoceptive consciousness, exteroceptive cognition and exteroceptive consciousness. Social cognition and social consciousness are subsets of exteroceptive cognition. Humans have all those types of cognition along with an extended social consciousness.

A. Interoceptive cognition is the expression of the organism’s processing of predicted percepts in the body. It is the parallel processing of expected visceral processes interpreted by a homeodynamic syntax within implicit memory. Interoceptive cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by interoceptive consciousness proprioceptively.

B. Interoceptive consciousness is adaptation to unpredicted percepts in the body. It is awareness of homeodynamically vital visceral percepts, inferential factoring of the percepts in the Bayesian networks between working memory and dynamic implicit memory, prediction, action and learning from reaction. Interoceptive consciousness is active when a physiological imbalance determines that a change in cognitive attention and action is required in order to maintain homeostasis.

C. Exteroceptive cognition is the expression of an organism’s processing of predicted percepts in the environment. It is the parallel processing of sensory and motor reactions interpreted by an embodied syntax of learned procedural memories within implicit memory. Exteroceptive cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by exteroceptive consciousness proprioceptively.

D. Exteroceptive consciousness is the adaptation to uncertainty and increasing entropy in the environment. It is awareness of unexpected homeodynamically evaluated percepts, inferential factoring of the percepts in the Bayesian memory networks, prediction, action and learning from reaction. Exteroceptive consciousness is active when a homeodynamic evaluation of percepts determines that a change in cognitive attention and action is required in order to maintain homeostasis.

C. Social cognition is the individual expression of the processing of predictable interpersonal percepts. It is parallel processing of learned social responses interpreted by a social syntax of procedural memories within implicit memory. Social cognition is unconscious although it is experienced by social consciousness proprioceptively.

D. Social consciousness is individual adaptation to the species adaptations to increasing entropy. It is the cognition of socially modified adaptive behavior that requires communication or cooperation between individuals at any level. It is awareness of unpredicted homeodynamically vital social percepts, inferential factoring of the percepts in Bayesian memory networks, prediction, action and learning from reaction. It is driven by the emotional response to immediate or potential social disruption of homeostasis or a hormonally induced homeodynamic imbalance in the organism 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 and action is required in order to maintain social homeostasis.

Ontogeny of cognition

 The precursors of working memory and implicit memory develop in utero in the inferential relationship that is the origin of both sleep and cognition. The fetal working memory factors unpredicted interoceptive percepts with fixed implicit memory, the molecular bonds of genetic information that guide natal development. This creates a homeodynamic syntax in dynamic implicit memory of learned homeodynamic and autonomic processes.

 As the organism grows and is exposed to exteroceptive percepts the accumulated prediction errors of sensory and motor inferential process in working memory are used in slow wave and REM sleep networks to inferentially consolidate representations into an embodied syntax of adaptive procedural memories within dynamic implicit memory. In organisms with extended consciousness this is subjectively experienced as dreaming; a self disoriented in place and time (because there is no external sensory input) within a virtual reality of re-consolidating memories.

 Primary consciousness is initiated upon waking by synchronizing exteroceptive sensory and motor processes with the Bayesian networks between working memory and dynamic implicit memory. That facilitates the simultaneous adaptation to predicted percepts with the embodied syntax of unconscious procedural memory and to homeodynamically vital unpredicted percepts in working memory factored with dynamic intrinsic memory. The constant testing of biased prior beliefs with vital unpredicted percepts forms a coherent subjective self process that is both the world as the organism experiences it and the predictions that they act on. Immediate feedback from actions effectively enables real time learning and adaptation within working memory. In organisms with extended consciousness 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.

Evolution of human extended consciousness

 The co-evolution of tool-use and social cooperation in the three million year epoch preceding the emergence of modern homo sapiens out of Africa between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago created a set of genetic and epigenetic adaptations that are the precursors of human extended consciousness. Those adaptations are; 1) the subconscious (proprioceptive and mimetic) social sharing of an extended embodied syntax (procedural motor memory) that includes tool-making and tool use (e.g. right hand/subject, action/verb, left hand/object), 2) the dropping of the larynx to enable vocalizations of primitive symbolic sounds and 3) a proto-language that enabled shared cognition of absential objects. 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 the 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 primed by fetal cognition of maternal speech to predict patterns of vocalizations. These patterns are given value by the child's projection of intentionality and reproduced by mimesis. When left alone the child rapidly learns that their survival is dependant upon something that can potentially be absent and their vocalization can result in maternal attention. Motor development thus becomes dedicated in part to the manipulation of vocalization and the child begins to form cognitive absential objects.

 The sleeping child gradually consolidates regularized representations of absential objects and the regularities of embodied syntax for tool (toy) use into dynamic implicit memory. As those two parallel but separate abilities develop the waking infant begins to use tool use syntax within the inferential networks of memory to construct abstract ideas and scenarios with cognitive objects. Playing and learning with objects in the environment is mirrored internally by using tool use syntax to play with cognitive objects. That is the process that the child uses to create a model of a selfobject acting within a virtual reality of memory that is based on the external model of the parent, the primal absential object.

 The child gradually internalizes the parental model until it is incorporated into the child’s homeostatic state and it then symbolically represents the child’s subjective sense of identity and agency. The perception of self and the perception of time are mutually interdependent artifacts of this virtual subjective 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 a narrative self. The expanded sense of self and time enables the child to begin to model and plan actions and that increases the adaptive use of learned responses.

 The use of embodied syntax to manipulate cognitive objects opens up a vast playground of imagination beyond the creation of a symbolic subjective self. Because the subjective self was originally constructed from an absential object the child intuits subjectivity in other significant interpersonal objects. Then the child can imagine itself as an object within interpersonal environments and constructs a personality within that relational social context. The child also learns to form complex recursive associations and categories of symbolic objects that become semantic objects which they can also manipulate with embodied syntax.

 Neoteny is required for extended social consciousness because developmental plasticity enables embodied tool use syntax to be directly integrated with motor procedural memory for speech. That becomes the subconscious shared social substrate for language acquisition. As the child develops a vocabulary of symbolic objects the integration of embodied syntax in language also serves as an internal substrate for the construction of abstract ideas and a narrative self within an internal virtual reality of memory. The natal developmental synthesis of social and cognitive applications of embodied tool use syntax with symbolic objects becomes the autocatalytic engine of dynamic human consciousness, language, culture and technology.

The adaptive advantage of consciousness

 An environment with the fundamental property of increasing entropy presents particular challenges, particular opportunities, and particular constraints for organisms. The challenges are the unpredictable and debilitating effects of increasing entropy. The opportunities are the possible actions enabled by effective predictive inference within non-equilibrium thermodynamics. The constraint is the biological imperative for individuals to conform to social homeostasis and the species level adaptations to increasing entropy. Consciousness is an adaptation to increasing entropy that uses the opportunities of action to mediate the challenges of unpredictability within the constraints of species homeostasis.

 Consciousness is awareness of homeodynamically vital unpredicted percepts factored with memory within an integrated self process. Awareness disengaged from memory does not integrate the self processes with the body or environment, the synthesis of awareness with memory is required for consciousness.

 Animal primary consciousness is awareness of vital unpredicted percepts factored with implicit memories of predicted experience. Primary consciousness serves to promote and maintain homeostasis within the individual and the species by channeling unpredicted percepts with possible threats to homeostasis into the Bayesian networks of memory to be factored with learned responses from prior experiences. That forms predictions of optimal actions. Predictions are enacted and feedback from actions is cycled through evaluation to learn from feedback. All of those processes require the transmission of information over time. Primary consciousness mediates uncertainty by using an internal virtual reality of learned adaptive memories to improve responses to unpredicted threats and to act in the environment.

 Human social consciousness is animal consciousness integrated and extended into a narrative self process created with socially constructed language. Extended consciousness improves the individual's adaptation by channeling an individual’s awareness of unpredicted percepts into a 100,000 year old shared virtual linguistic reality of semantic objects and constantly updating adaptive memories. This enables the ability to model and plan actions on extended temporal scales. Shared cultural narratives of trusted predictions become instantiated and embodied in the manufacture and use of tools so parallel processing of predicted percepts for the individual is offloaded within technology. This frees up the individual’s cognitive resources to be in a constant cooperative and corrective cycle with their culture and that enables the chain of reciprocal learning that improves individual adaptation and reduces entropy within the species.

 Extended consciousness is subjectively experienced as the maintenance of an ordered present that recursively attempts to create a reality of an ordered future with a narrative of optimized predictions. If an organism of a species is homeodynamically motivated to maintain internal order and it has the ability to create relatively accurate predictions within non-equilibrium thermodynamics and it is integrated in a social body that cooperates to instantiate adaptive predictions in technology then that organism and species will temporarily impose order on a disordered environment. That has been the radically adaptive strategy that has allowed Homo sapiens to thrive and reduce entropy within the species.

Problems and Implications

 The view that emerges from this theory of cognition is deflationary regarding consciousness but inflationary for emotion. It is a deflationary view of consciousness because it assigns our conscious cognition a specific role of enabling instinctual reactions and planned actions informed by memory within the limitations imposed by a cognitive division of labor. Consciousness is a Newtonian mechanism for navigating a non-equilibrium quantum world without comprehension but with agency to build upon molecular entropy reducing mechanisms. It narrows our awareness of the environment to a manageable configuration space with defined variables and then we project ourselves into the future with extended predictions refined by algorithms learned from past actions.

 This theory is an inflationary view of emotion because it gives an emergent causal power to the homeodynamic mechanisms of biological open systems. Emotion is the totalized physiological expression of homeodynamic process and the reduction of entropy in the individual. Every percept and thought is homeodynamically evaluated relative to our physiological integrity and the result of that evaluation is experienced viscerally in subjective consciousness. Experience is subtly infused with this subjective quality of emotion by necessity because it is the means by which consciousness is biased to maintain our physiological integrity. Without that subjectivity our mind would be a poor guide for our actions and health.

 But paradoxically consciousness is also subjectively distanced from our emotions in the process of using our memories to improve our predictions and actions. Consciousness separates mind from the embodied source of emotions as we form a cognitive model of the body interacting with the environment based on past experience. The model is then compared to the results of actions to continually update the model and improve future predictions. The model (our conscious experience) has to be differentiated from the results of the action (sensory and emotive evidence of the body) to continually learn about our relationship with a dynamic environment and successfully interact with it. The mind is not simply of the body or of the world, it is the relational process of a biological open system persisting in an expanding universe.

 Both the hard problem of consciousness and the mind/body problem are the product of that adaptive differentiation of a relational mind and emotive body. Our ability to model non-equilibrium processes into cognitive objects in a mental configuration space allows us to benefit from our individual and cultural memories. The cost of that benefit is a subjective distance of emotion from our conscious experience despite emotion's emergent causal power.

 But the distance of feeling from our conscious experience also gives us a chance to not react impulsively and thus be responsible for our actions with negative will. In that sense "free will" consists of two components. The first is the emergent potential to act in emotion and cause change in our environment with agency. The second component is the ability to model possible actions and consider consequences of alternative actions instead of reacting on impulse. If both components are engaged then we have a constrained and negative will and we are responsible for our actions.

 Emotion is the global motivating force driving an organism’s internal dynamics and external actions. If we accept that view that would appear to make emotion a deterministic factor in a limited future. However, the environment that we project ourselves into is not a limited Newtonian configuration space, it is a dynamic non-equilibrium chaotic process with infinite possible configurations. Our emotional motivations are only limited by the range of options that we have learned from past experience and the ability to model many possible actions. The limitations of learned responses then becomes the constraint that paradoxically liberates consciousness from the tyranny of infinite choices.

 If we are finally able to agree on a description of consciousness our minds will still remain mysterious to each other. We communicate with language structured by the common mechanical syntax of bodies moving through space. We also communicate with subconscious emotional cues from the homeodynamic syntax of our physiological state. In face to face interactions we have access to a level of each other's emotional state ("body language") that we cannot directly access ourselves.

 But the subjective nature of experience is a private ship drifting in a proprioceptive current of social forces whose only constancy is our point of view. Our consciousness necessarily limits our awareness of each other in order to act effectively so when we presume to know someone we cease to be aware of their complexity and fluid nature.

 That persistent fact rises above all knowledge about ourselves and the world. What we do not know is infinitely greater than what we know and no matter how much we learn that ratio does not fundamentally change. What determines our fate is not what we know but what we do not know.


 The Newtonian paradigm has given humans collective agency to survive and thrive within our environment but at the cost of an entirely rational enchantment and wonder in the mysteries that surround us. Alienation is a rational reaction within the walls of social configuration spaces that exploit cultural biases but it is irrational beyond those walls.

 If we are to survive the fouling of our nest we must first be re-enchanted in each other and the world. That does not mean abandoning the technical advances of the Newtonian paradigm or limiting our search for knowledge. On the contrary, learning how Newtonian methods break apart whole systems without awareness of synthesis shows us the limitations of those methods and will open up new paradigms of knowledge and adaptations to nature. The scientific method enables us to manipulate nature at the cost of alienation from nature. A post-Newtonian and post-cartesian paradigm must reintegrate us with nature.

Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. University of Chicago Press.

Damasio, A. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Damasio, A. (2010). Self Comes To Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. William Heinemann.

England, J. L. "Dissipative Adaptation in Driven Self-assembly." Nature Nanotechnology, 10, 920 (2015)

Ellis, G. F. R. (2016). How Can Physics Underlie The Mind? Top-down Causation in the Human Context. Springer.

Friston, K. (2010). The Free-Energy Principle: a Unified Brain Theory? Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11(2), 127-138.

Friston, K., Hobson, J. (2012). Waking and Dreaming Consciousness: Neurobiological and Functional Considerations. Progress In Neurobiology. 98(1), 82-98.

Friston, K., Pezzulo, G., Rigoli, F. (2015). Active Inference, Homeostatic Regulation and Adaptive Behavioural Control. Progress In Neurobiology. 134, 17-35.

Fuchs, C., Mermin, N., Schack, R., (2014). An Introduction to Qbism with an Application to the Locality of Quantum Mechanics. American Journal of Physics, 82(8), 749-754.

Prigogine, I., Stengers, I. (1996). The End Of Certainty. The Free Press.

Schrödinger, E. (1944). What Is Life. Cambridge University Press.

Schulz, K. (2010). Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. Ecco.

Smolin, L. (2006). The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science and What Comes Next. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Smolin, L. (2014). Time Reborn: from the Crisis of Physics to the Future of the Universe. Penguin Books.

Wiener, N. (1950). The Human Use of Human Beings. Houghton Mifflin.

Also influenced by the theories of Terrence Deacon, Daniel Dennett, Gerald Edelman, Stuart Kauffman, Lynn Margulis, Iain McGilchrist, Nicholas Schiff, Michael Tomasello, Zoltan Torey and E. O. Wilson.


Paternity, Patriarchy and Terror V.1.5

When did humans become conscious of causality in terms of reproduction? I think it is fair to assume that women were aware that intercourse sometimes resulted in pregnancy before men were. But what happened when men began to understand the implications of planting a seed in the ground and reaping the resulting harvest.

Agriculture in general implies a prediction that planting a seed causes a plant to grow. That was a radically adaptive social activity and it appeared in several locations independently between 15,000 and 10,000 BC. Whether that knowledge was derived from human understanding about sex or if we inferred sexual causality from agriculture is an open question.

Women must have been more aware of the causal relationship of sex and reproduction long before men were because they embody the result, men do not. That fact is significant in evolutionary and historical contexts but it is also probably a fundamental factor in forming gender roles and behavior. Are we now experiencing an evolution of those roles?

How much of male behavior is consciously or subconsciously driven by the uncertainties of paternity? All men are the sons of men who have mated successfully whether it was due to trust, love, custom, lust, fidelity, coercion, deception, fear, force or rape. But all women have the reproductive veto of abortion whether it is legal or not. Women are certain of reproductive success, men are not. The fact that patriarchy persists is evidence of a differential effect of two different but interdependent reproductive strategies that has up to now favored male dominance.

Religion and warfare are the means of insecure men to try to control conception yet the final say is still out of their hands whether they outlaw abortion or not. Insecure men seek terror and war as the last option to dominate women and control conception. The oldest profession was the result of men seeking to buy women. War is the oldest story of feckless men seeking to indirectly intimidate women they could not buy. Men go to war to try to enforce a rule of fear while "peaceful" men preach from the pulpit to enforce rules of a paternalistic sexual "morality".

War between cultures has always meant men killing men and raping women. The elite men of both sides of the conflict benefited because they had a parallel interest; the attempted subjugation of women in their own culture to fear by terror. Has this not been true ever since men realized that they indeed had a role in their own reproductive success but they had no sure means of controlling it?

Are we now seeing the end of that reign? Can men imagine and co-create a civilization without patriarchy? To what extent will powerful men now go to retain their patriarchal privilege? None of this is inevitable or the result of biological determinism. We have the human capacity to reflect on the consequences of our actions and imagine alternative actions. We are responsible.



The Education of an Autodidact V.3.3


 Someone recently asked me who the hell I thought I was. I couldn’t give them an answer right away so I thought about it. I am a sort of autodidact, sometimes an iconoclast and a natural philosopher.

 No one is a complete autodidact unless one is feral, we are all creatures of our families and culture and the times of our childhood, formed by the sea of bodies, events and words that surround us. We discount this implicit pedagogy because its effects become unconscious and mysterious. This is mythology, Jung’s collective unconscious, Bakhtin’s dialogism and Daniel Everett’s dark matter of culture.

 In my case I am a creature of the mid 20th century white midwestern American middle class. My parents were both raised with the provincial advantages of semi-prominent families in small Nebraska prairie towns. They were born in the shadow of the First World War and formed by the Depression and the Second World War. After the war my father met my mother at the University of Nebraska, they graduated, married and moved to Omaha. I was born in 1951 in the Cold War, the third of four sons. Shortly after I was born we moved to Ralston, a small town outside of the city.

 But if an autodidact is someone who is self taught and not the product of a formal pedagogy then almost everybody was an autodidact in most regions of the world before the 17th century. Public education only became compulsory throughout the US in the 19th century. I began attending kindergarten in 1956 and eventually graduated from college but that was not the source of my education.

 I was born two years after my older brother and eight years before my younger brother so for my third and fourth year I had my mother to myself. My earliest memories are of bliss, she devoted herself to my entertainment. She played Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Beethoven on the record player and she read to me, her finger tracing the words, her voice in my head. I only remember reading as breathing worlds of imagination.

 And then she stopped. In the middle of my fourth year on one day that began like all the rest she told me that she couldn’t play with me any more, I was on my own. Many years later I learned that she periodically endured depression throughout her life. I don’t assume that was the only explanation for her sudden withdrawal, she was an adult with an adult’s usual patience for the enthusiasms of a child. I had benefitted from the fact that she had limited her impatience long enough to teach me to read.

 My father had a temper. When he came home from work he would sometimes beat us for being the children that we were. We heard him yell and beat our mother in the night.

 And so she took me to our small town public library and my education began. By the time I went to Kindergarten in the my fifth year I was reading books intended for much older children. What captured my attention on my first day of school was the transcendent laughter of a girl named Susan. I studied her and walked with her to her home every day after school for the next three years trying to make her laugh again.

 Then I would go home and read. I read books from the library and anything else I could find in the house, cereal boxes, the cartoons in the newspaper and The New Yorker, the captions of the pictures in Life and The National Geographic, the novels on my father’s bedside table. I read the World Book Encyclopedia on the toilet.

 When I was 8 years old I discovered the novels of Jack London. The first book of his that I read was White Fang. The first paragraph;
“Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness — a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.”
 White Fang is the tale of a wolfdog born in the wild but captured and domesticated as a sled dog by the gold miners of the Yukon. Then I read The Call of the Wild which reversed that narrative. A dog in Northern California is stolen and taken to the Yukon to be sold as a sled dog. He is beaten and abused by several owners and eventually escapes and joins a pack of wolves. London effectively domesticated me and then set me free.

 I went back to the library to see what else he had written. The card catalogue directed me to Before Adam shelved in non-fiction under anthropology. But it is a novel, a story of a man’s childhood dreams as recalled by the adult. His dreams were of a Pleistocene era boy growing up in primal turbulence, a kind of hallucinated recapitulation of human evolution.
“PICTURES! Pictures! Pictures! Often, before I learned, did I wonder whence came the multitudes of pictures that thronged my dreams; for they were pictures the like of which I had never seen in real wake- a-day life. They tormented my childhood, making of my dreams a procession of nightmares and a little later convincing me that I was different from my kind, a creature unnatural and accursed.”
 This was deeply strange to me, my dreams were not like this but it was consistent with the wilderness that London had cultivated in me. Could my dreams be speaking in tongues of the deep past?

 After reading the first chapter I went back to the library to see what I could learn about dreams and human origins. I don’t remember what I read, I have a vague recollection of trying to read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams but that is probably a product of my imagination. I remember trying to understand the idea of evolution. I vividly remember the conclusion of my childish research. Nobody knew. Nobody really knew what our dreams are about. Nobody really knew where we came from.

 I stopped reading and I walked into the woods behind our house. Everything was a mystery and I was raptured. I had been living in imaginary worlds but the world inside and outside was now infinitely more interesting. I followed a tiny creek down through town and into the country. I have never finished Before Adam.

 In the weeks that followed I made one childish decision; that I would never specialise in any way. I did not want to be a scientist or a philosopher or a priest or a poet, I wanted to understand how science, philosophy, religion and poetry related to each other and more importantly how it all related to the whole of life. I did not want to lose the rapture of living in the world.


 Western civilization was only 150 years deep in eastern Nebraska when I was growing up but it had left its mark on the land. Industrialized agriculture tilled the soil from creek to creek. Then suburbia paved it and channeled the creeks. When I was a child Omaha was a distant horizon of church steeples but by the time I graduated from high school Omaha had bulldozed past Ralston making it just another exit on the Interstate. Only blizzards and tornados could briefly interrupt the march of civility.

 In the summer we would gather on an acre of concrete surrounded by chain link fence called the swimming pool. We wore surfer shirts, speedos and flip flops and listened to The Beach Boys croon about surfing a distant sea. Offutt Air Force Base and the Strategic Air Command was in a neighboring suburb so B-52s pregnant with atomic bombs constantly roared across our sky in their landing pattern. We read Mad Magazine cover to cover. Young President Kennedy was assassinated and the war in Vietnam haunted our future. A counterculture was forming.

 I remember three words of those times that my parents used at the dinner table to discuss matters that were above our pay grade; cholesterol, Fiorinal and Buffett.

 Research in the 50s and 60s regarding cholesterol pointed to the presence of saturated fats in the diet as a factor that could lead to heart disease. This was my father critiquing my mother’s role as the family cook. Fiorinal was a combination of aspirin, caffeine and the barbiturate butalbital that was then prescribed for tension headaches. This was my mother’s remedy.

 I don’t know when my father met Warren Buffett but their paths often crossed and my father was influenced by him. Both graduated from the University of Nebraska in the late forties with degrees in Business Administration. Both were young stockbrokers in Omaha in the fifties when Buffett asked my father if his clients would be interested in a night course in value investing that Buffett was teaching at the University of Omaha. (My father declined.). Both worked at Kiewit Plaza on Farnham Street in the sixties, Buffett at his investment partnership Berkshire Hathaway and my father as the regional Vice President of G. H. Walker and Company investment firm.

 By the time I was in high school my father had bought a summer home in Aspen Colorado and a single engine Mooney to fly there. I spent my adolescent summers in Aspen working as a dishwasher, construction worker and fence builder as it was transforming from a bohemian backwater of Hunter S. Thompson into an enclave for the wealthy. I was not impressed. I hiked the backcountry to get away from my father on the weekends.

 In high school I wrote term papers about the engineer George Goethals who built the Panama Canal, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who turned out to be a tyrant like my father, and the San Francisco philosopher/longshoreman Eric Hoffer. My junior year science project was building a thermostat out of a bimetallic strip, a fan and a light bulb. My interest was not in the technology but in the idea of thermoregulation, a system of regulation by feedback.

 But those activities were separate from my own education that began with exploring the woods. I would not read anything on my own for a period of a month or so as I tested my beliefs, playing with my older brothers and their friends and exploring new routes for delivering newspapers after school. I often took long walks alone in unexplored areas of the town and countryside until the aching in my legs was the love of earth. Then a period of research and reading would follow, promiscuously following my curiosity for weeks or months at a time until I had to test new ideas again. This developed into a rhythm of undisciplined research and active engagement that I followed for the rest of my life.

 When it came time to choose a path after high school I wanted to delay college in order to establish independence from my father but after graduation I entered the draft lottery to go to war in Vietnam. By 1970 the war had been revealed to be a colonial fiasco, I did not want to be a part of it. My number was 167, high enough to be somewhat safe from enlistment but not certain. I applied for a student deferment.

 I became interested in an small experimental college that had formed in 1969 within the University of Nebraska called Centennial College. I applied and was accepted probably in part because my parents were friends of the English professor who was the founder and Director of this “interdisciplinary living/learning community”.

 On the second day of my college life in the fall of 1970 I was approached by the Resident Assistant of my floor who warned me that I would eventually be encountering many forms of psychoactive substances. He wanted me to know that I could come to him with any concerns of purity, potency or side effects of particular drugs. This was imparted to me in the spirit of a scholar of experience. He recommended psilocybin as an introductory drug and said he could supply a trusted dose and a controlled environment if I chose to try it. I did.

 My childish determination not to specialize in any way might have been a passing phase had I not grown up within the counterculture and anti-war movement of the late sixties and early seventies which was characterized by the compulsory questioning of authority of any form whether it be legal, psychological or academic. That charged environment and a year of research and exploration into altered states of mind reinforced and reaffirmed that decision not to specialize. And in turn that determination, as undisciplined in nature as it was, gave me a mission and a loose structure that helped me survive what the counterculture eventually devolved into; a non-stop de(con)structive party with no ambition beyond pleasure.

 My father and the expanding economies of the Cold War had provided me with enormous unmerited privilege and opportunity at the cost of alienation, cynicism and a dimming of the excitement of discovery. The counterculture of that time allowed me the opportunity to gain perspective on that privilege while reigniting a rapture of living in the world.


 My freshman year of college was my most productive period of formal education and it was the least structured. The curriculum of Centennial College was a collection of interdisciplinary seminars and projects loosely managed by four full time faculty scholars and visiting fellows. Seminars usually lasted for two or three weeks but I participated in one ongoing seminar that somehow lasted through the year led by a young mathematics professor and the visiting fellow Theodore Jorgensen, a physicist who had worked on the Manhattan Project.

 In the first week of the seminar someone proposed that we study the reports of the Macy conferences, a series of interdisciplinary meetings of scholars in New York in the forties and fifties. Participants in those conferences included Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, Warren McCulloch, Walter Pitts, Claude Shannon, John Von Neumann, Heinz Von Foerster and Norbert Weiner. We soon narrowed our focus to the study of cybernetics and systems theory which is what the conferences had became famous for. This was my introduction to an interdisciplinary methodology and practice that I would study on my own for decades to come. My project for the seminar was an attempt to apply formulations of cybernetics and entropy to psychology and sociology.

 My independent reading focused on Asian studies starting with Zen Buddhism and the writings of Alan Watts, through Transcendental Meditation, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Taoist philosophy of Lao Tzu. At first this was motivated by a desire to gain a perspective from outside of the Western canon but it also became motivated by a search for internal peace and balance. The unrequited and immature infatuations of my childhood had endured and intensified in adolescence and I experienced that as unending pain. Zen practice, meditation and marijuana became my remedies.

 That first year of college was also the fulcrum of my late adolescent moral development with its characteristic experimental swings between absolutism and relativism. These ideas were hashed out in long late night conversations with the grad student, night custodian and the conscience of Centennial College, Ron Kurtenbach, who later received a Phd. in English and became the voice of socialism in Nebraska politics. Over the course of the year I discovered that for me work could become my primary means of exploring morality. This was enforced by the fact that at the end of the academic year I was expelled from Centennial College (but not from the University) for stashing marijuana in a commuter room.

 My father wanted me to spend the summer in Aspen but I refused and rented a room in a cooperative house and got a job on the grounds crew at the University. Work became the means of obtaining independence, self reliance and self respect. But even in the form of menial minimum wage jobs work gradually became much more than that. It became a measure of worth and merit. It expressed the duty of service to others and to something larger than myself and it enforced the humility of Zen practice. It was the structure that enabled social engagement, camaraderie, friendship and relationships. And it became the laboratory for the conscious and subconscious testing of my interdisciplinary theories.

 No one job could fulfill all of those requirements so over a period of four years I had over twenty jobs, quitting when I got bored and finding new ones, usually two or three at a time while also taking classes. Construction work, gas station attendant, pizza delivery, selling concessions in the stands at Nebraska football games, cashier at the student union, hotel desk clerk, custodian at the University theater (where I watched plays develop from casting to opening night), kennelman at the Human Society, pickup driver for the Salvation Army, home care worker. Work as spiritual service became an essential habit that structured the rest of my life.

 My friends in Centennial College thought I had bottomed out, they could not imagine why I chose to work when my father could finance my way into an academic career. I could not imagine how they could limit their future to the obscure jargon of narrow graduate programs.

 In my sophomore year I took entry level survey courses in as many different departments as I could manage from hard science to social science and the arts. I also took an entry level class in journalism and was hired as a reporter for the student paper, The Daily Nebraskan. I had been reading newspapers since I was a child and the style of writing was second nature to me. I was on the counterculture beat, covering anti-war demonstrations and the social issues on campus and had many bylines on the front page. But for me this was another level of work, one that I aspired to but it was not fulfilled by the limitations of journalism even as I experimented with the tropes of New Journalism exemplified by the works of Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer. I was seeking broader experience to express a broader perspective.

 By the end of my sophomore year I was supporting myself but my father was still paying for my tuition. I quit the University to become completely independent from him and enrolled in the local community college to gain practical skills. I was the first student in the Environmental Technology Program and graduated in three semesters with rudimentary experience in statistical, laboratory and research methodologies. I moved to Iowa City with the idea of studying writing in the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop. I got job as a clerk in the Health Science Library and as an orderly working with developmentally disabled children in the residential school at the University Hospitals. After a year of classes in fiction and nonfiction writing as well as courses in biology, philosophy and anthropology I was accepted into the undergraduate fiction workshop. I found the workshop process engaging but writing fiction did not give me a form to explore all of my ideas.

 I was one year away from graduation but only if I applied myself to one discipline. That prospect profoundly depressed me, it was the exact opposite direction I wanted to go to gain experience in the wider world.

 I had learned that I was a writer. But I was a writer that was uninterested in using an established idiom like journalism or fiction or in earning a living as a writer. Writing to me was not the means to an end, it was the act of creation, an expression of the cutting edge of evolution. I only wanted to write a few good things and I had not yet found my idiom. I wanted to live and work in spiritual service to the world and write when something needed to be said. I bought a car and headed for California.



Globalization is undermining the basic stability of nation states. The globalization 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 globalization 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. Then 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 external costs of doing business - pollution, infrastructure, social disruption and resource depletion - are only external to the quarterly balance sheets of global corporations. Those costs get passed on to 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. 

About Me

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Natural philosopher interested in whole systems, systems theory and epistemology. A.A. Environmental Technology, B.A. General Studies, undergraduate Writers Workshop, University of Iowa. EMT, Wildland Firefighter, California Department of Forestry. Communications Specialist, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.