The basic concepts
The basic concepts
The first part of this book is concerned with basic concepts. But, these are not the kind of concepts you are likely to be familiar with. They are the concepts necessary for the cognitive models that enable human life, emotions and the working of the human brain to be understood in the light of current neurological research.
Over the course of the twentieth century we seemed to have been getting closer and closer to understanding what life is about. It began with Darwin's theory of Evolution, which Mendel had improved upon with the concept of genes. In the 1950's Watson and Crick discovered DNA and the chemical language of life. In the 1960's Jacques Monod provided us with the mechanisms of molecular biology. In the 1970's O. E. Wilson explained the relationship between genes and emotions. In the 1980's John Holland gave us genetic algorithms that showed us how the evolutionary strategy takes effect.
Despite these major advances in knowledge, the nature of human life was still pretty much of a mystery. Practically nothing was known about how the human brain functioned. The elements and structures giving rise to mind, consciousness and emotions were vague and highly controversial.
Psychologists had little option other than to treat the human brain as a black box, basing their hypotheses upon empirical results obtained from innumerable laboratory experiments. Without a sound theoretical basis, opinions conflicted, interpretations were subjective and psychology splintered up into hundreds of different niche areas of specialty.
By the 1990's, technological advances had enabled scientists to probe more deeply into the way biological systems work. Electron microscopes and magnetic spin resonance machines were allowing them to look closely at the microscopic workings of the cell. Gene mapping allowed them to see how organisms are put together. Scientists learned how to manipulate and alter genes. Radio active elements were employed to see how they organize and control every cell in the body. Sensitive instruments were designed to measure electrical and chemical signals in the brain. Experiments showed how emotions are generated by sensory inputs to specific neural structures.
But, it wasn't until the twentieth century was coming to a close - when computer technology enabled us to understand the nature of dynamic complex systems - was it possible for Life and Emotions to be brought within a single conceptual framework where they might be fully understood.
Understanding something too complicated to understand
When we talk about life, we are really talking about unimaginably complex structures. Not only physical complexity, but also the organizational complexity that determines how components of a complex system interact with each other. We are talking about how the brain works, about emotions and the interactions of people with each other in a highly complex society.
There is no way to adequately describe how the billions of different components of life interact with each other. It is way beyond human imagination. So, up until the end of the twentieth century, life had always been treated as an unexplainable totality.
However, the last two decades of the twentieth century saw a monumental breakthrough in the understanding of dynamic complexity - which is the name given to interacting systems that are far too complicated to be able to use logic or reasoning to be able work out what is going on. The insights came out of the computer modeling of non-linear mathematical equations.
It should be emphasized here that these mathematical equations do not describe any part of actual life. They simply provide a conceptual framework with which to understand more accurately how life has evolved and how the human brain is able to exhibit intelligence and emotions.
This conceptualization allows us to understand how the simple chemical constituents of DNA are able to create the intricate order and organization that produces a human being. It provides an explanation as to how the billions of neurons in our brain can regulate and coordinate the muscles in our bodies. Most important of all, this conceptual framework has allowed us to understand how the brain enables us to experience consciousness, think, make decisions and feel emotions.
The explanation of this conceptual framework will use concepts you may not be familiar with. The concepts are not difficult in themselves, but require a type of thinking normally used only by scientists and philosophers. It involves being able to visualize a space with infinite dimensions, a world that is determined by chance and probability - systems where organization emerges spontaneously out of chaos.
Try to forget all the mental models that you might have acquired in studying system control, computer technology, business and social organization. They will handicap you in trying to understand the way in which biological systems work. It is best to start with a fresh mind, building upon the concepts explained in the first part of this book - rather than building upon previously learned concepts.
The most difficult conceptual hurdle to cross is acquiring the ability to go beyond conventional thinking to be able to understand what causes thinking. To do this, we have to change the way we understand reality. We have to make a distinction between absolute and perceived reality.