The intent of this article is to justify the hypothesis that Attention belongs to a mathematically based realm of existence that is on a par with the Material Realms. One reason for this position: the mathematical laws of the Realm of Attention provide the rationale for many features of living behavior that are unaccounted for by the laws of Matter.
Those that believe that the Universe consists of a single Material Realm typically understand the overwhelming diversity through the building block metaphor. Atoms, the undisputed building blocks of Matter, are added together to create molecules, which in turn are combined to create Cells, the undisputed building blocks of Life. Just as a building has emergent features that the individual blocks do not have, molecules have emergent features that individual atoms do not have. By extension, the unique characteristics that make living systems so special are simply emergent features of the body’s organic molecules. Emergence implies that there are no added ingredients.
But are building blocks accompanied by the notion of emergence really the best metaphor for understanding the complexity? We suggest not. According to our theory, Attention is an ingredient that is exclusive to the living systems. To encompass this extra component, we introduce a new metaphor for understanding the totality – interacting realms of existence.
Why debate which metaphor is the best fit? There is a nearly universal consensus among cognitive scientists that humans understand their world through abstractions. These abstractions are almost entirely based upon conceptual metaphors. We utilize metaphors as maps of reality. A map’s usefulness is based upon how well it reflects the territory.
The question becomes: Which metaphor, i.e. ‘building block’ or ‘interacting realms’, provides the best map of the territory, in this case all phenomena, material and living? To pose an answer to this question, we will compare and contrast the two metaphors. We will see that the building block metaphor is entirely appropriate for certain subsets of existence, while the interacting realms metaphor is more appropriate for the meta-level of existence. Exploring and refining the use of these metaphors enables a more all-encompassing and less limiting view of existence.
Our common sense tells us that we regularly make mental choices that exert an effect upon our physical reality. For instance, most of us believe that our mind directs our hand to grasp the apple and bring it to our mouth. Yum! The Living Algorithm provides a mathematical framework for this common sense attitude that pervades our day-to-day existence.
If the underlying assumptions of our model are true in any way, then Life and Matter have an entirely different relationship with Information. Life has a monitor-adjust relationship that entails Choice and Meaning-making. The decision-making process has several essential components: Intention, Attention and Feeling. In contrast, Matter has an action-reaction relationship with Information that does not include Choice or Meaning, and by extension any of the essential components.
The prevalent Materialist Paradigm holds that the Universe consists of a single Material Realm. All phenomena including Life are simply emergent features of the synergy between Matter and Energy. Due to the qualitative differences regarding Information, it is hard, under these circumstances, to view Life as merely an emergent feature of Matter.
How then do we conceptualize the relationship between these fundamental features of existence? If Life is not an emergent feature of our physical universe, then what is it? Is it possible that the cosmos has a component that is not encompassed by Einstein’s e = mc2, i.e. the synergy of matter and energy? Could that component be associated with Information, more specifically Life’s special ability to impart Meaning to Information? And how does Life interact with Information but through Attention? It seems that this Attention synergy that includes Information and Meaning is unique to living systems.
To encompass Attention as an essential component of existence along with Matter and Energy, it is necessary to expand beyond a monistic view of existence. Rather than a single Material Realm, we suggest that it is more useful to conceptualize the Universe as consisting of three interacting realms of existence: the Molecular Realm, the Subatomic Realm and the Realm of Attention.
According to our common sense analysis, Life and Matter have an entirely different relationship with Information. Living systems have a monitor-adjust relationship with internal and external environmental data. After monitoring incoming data, Life requires a small increment of time to adjust – to make a choice. In contrast, exclusively material systems (Matter) have an action-reaction relationship with Information. Matter reacts mechanistically to external actions – no possibility of choice.
How do we make sense of this crucial difference between Life and Matter?
The exclusively Material Perspective holds that Life is simply an emergent feature of Matter, or more specifically Cells are an emergent feature of Atoms. In this context, emergence means that there are no extra ingredients. Many employ the building block metaphor to conceptualize emergence. One block is piled upon another to create a structure that has emergent features, e.g. interior space, that the single block does not have. Nothing is added.
Under this metaphor, subatomic entities, e.g. muons and gluons, are piled upon each other to inevitably create larger subatomic entities, e.g. electrons, photons, neutrons and protons. In turn, these subatomic building blocks are heaped together to create atoms. Atoms are then joined together in larger groups creating molecules, the foundation of our atomic world. Groups of atoms and molecules are then joined together in intriguingly complicated ways to generate cells – the undisputed building blocks of Life. In such a way, everything in our entire Universe from atom-based particles to cells is constructed from subatomic ‘particles’.
The building block metaphor is probably the most common way of understanding the Materialist Perspective. Not merely a perspective, this mental construct is actually a prevalent paradigm for understanding reality. Under this paradigm, Life’s seemingly strange and mysterious features are simply emergent properties of their building blocks – atoms and molecules.
Subatomics combine to generate Atoms, which in turn combine to create Cells. There is a material explanation for all phenomena. Body acts upon Mind, but not vice versa – Body > Mind.
Subatomics -> Atoms -> Cells?
But is the building block metaphor really the best way to understand the mutually exclusive differences between Life and Matter, e.g. regarding their relationship to Information? How does emergence explain Life’s special features, for instance Attention? We suggest that it is more fruitful to understand the Universe in terms of three interacting realms of existence.
The remainder of this article is devoted to justifying this fresh metaphor for reality. To this end, we will compare and contrast the two metaphors – building blocks and interacting realms. We will see that the building block metaphor is entirely appropriate for certain subsets of existence, while the interacting realms metaphor is more appropriate for the meta-level of existence. Exploring and refining the use of these metaphors enables a more all-encompassing and less limiting view of existence.
Why devote an entire article to exploring two competing metaphors for reality? Why not just focus upon reality and skip the metaphor? What relevance do cognitive models have to hard-core numbers and facts? How can perceptions possibly change reality?
Cognitive science has discovered that humans develop conceptual frames or metaphors to understand their world. It seems that our human capability for abstraction is based upon these conceptual metaphors. We understand our world through these abstractions. Then due to an innate cognitive process deemed conflation, we attribute a sense of reality to these metaphors. In the scientific realm, this reality becomes a paradigm – the filter through which a majority of scientists perceive and organize the world.
We hang facts and experiences in these metaphorical frames. If the facts don’t fit into the frame, they tend to bounce off or are rejected out of hand. In other words, we don’t assimilate any information that doesn’t fit into these conceptual structures. We only remember the facts that fit into the cognitive frames that we have constructed to make sense of our world.
In his bestselling book, don't think of an elephant, noted cognitive scientist Dr. George Lakoff states:
"One of the fundamental findings of cognitive science is that people think in terms of frames and metaphors – conceptual structures … . The frames are in the synapses of our brains, physically present in the form of neural circuitry. When the facts don't fit the frames, the frames are kept and the facts are ignored." (Lakoff, p.73)
It seems that our abstractions have both an ideational and actual physical reality. We understand our world through these neural structures and tend to reject facts that don’t fit in. Due to the supremacy of metaphorical frame over facts, we must first deconstruct the current building block metaphor before introducing a new one.
To achieve this end, we must answer a few questions. What are the essential features, i.e. the internal logic of the building block metaphor? Which features of reality match the logic behind the building block metaphor? Which features of reality do not have this same inferential logic and why?
In such a fashion, we will expose the inadequacies of the building block metaphor to characterize certain meta-features of reality. Hopefully this will open a hole, or even just a tiny crack, in the current conceptual frame. With a crack in the façade, there is a possibility that someone might at least entertain the notion that we need a fresh metaphor to encompass a larger reality. It is only at this point that we can actually introduce a new metaphor – the logic of interacting realms. Then at last we can show that its internal logic is a far better fit for existence.
First a little about metaphors. Metaphors are the maps through which we understand reality. The map is useful when its structure, i.e. its internal logic, fits the structure of reality. For instance, if the map of Los Angeles is accurate, we can use it to find our way around the town. Conversely, if it is inaccurate, we could easily become lost.
It is important to always remember that the map is not the territory. It is impossible for any map to have every feature of the city of Los Angeles. Maps are only rough approximations. For instance an old map might have all the main streets, but could be missing some new routes. Even the most current map will not list every building.
To evaluate the efficacy of a metaphor, we must ask some questions. How good is the logical match between the metaphor and reality? How much utility does out metaphorical map have? Does it have any explanatory power? Employing these criteria, the following discussion will attempt to evaluate how well our 2 metaphors fit different features of reality.
Due to the power of our cognitive frames, we must start our discussion with the prevalent building block metaphor. First what is the metaphor? Single building blocks are piled upon each other to create a structure.
This metaphor has 4 salient features.
Building Block Logic
1) The entire structure consists solely of the same building block.
2) The entire structure obeys the same rules as the individual blocks.
3) The structure has emergent features that the single building block does not have.
4) There is some type of common glue or mortar that binds the entire structure together.
The Egyptian pyramids provide an excellent example of the building block metaphor. It consists entirely of stone blocks. The pyramid obeys the same laws as the stone blocks. It has emergent properties, e.g. height and internal space, that the individual blocks do not have. Gravity is the mortar that binds the pyramid together.
The building block metaphor is a great way of understanding the world we inhabit – the atomic world. It consists entirely of atoms. Atoms combine to make molecules, which combine to create everything else in our universe. There are universal laws that apply to every atom and every molecule. These molecule and combinations of molecules have emergent features that individual atoms do not have. Well-defined laws determine how atoms combine to create molecules. The metaphorical fit is so good that nearly everyone agrees that Atoms are the building blocks of Matter.
There is also a general consensus that Cells are the Building Blocks of Life. Every form of Life consists of Cells or collections of Cells. There is no such thing as non-cellular life. Each cell and collection of cells obeys the same laws. According to a prominent cognitive scientist, cells provide the blueprint for even the most complex multi-cellular organism. Organisms have emergent properties that individual cells do not have. Connective tissue is the glue that both binds individual cells and groups of cells together.
Virtually everyone agrees that Atoms are the building blocks of Matter and that Cells are the building blocks of Life. If Cells only have a Material component, then it would seem that Atoms are the building blocks of Cells. Under this perspective, the special aspects of Cells are merely emergent features of Atoms and Molecules. Life is a subset of Matter.
This is the Materialist Paradigm. There is only Matter. This paradigm employs building blocks as a foundational metaphor for understanding reality.
What if Cells have a non-material component that is exclusive to Life? Is it possible that Atoms are only the building blocks of Life’s material component? But what else could there possibly be besides Matter? Could this other component be Life’s Attention synergy that imparts Meaning to Information?
We mentioned that Atoms are the undisputed building blocks of Matter. How about Atoms? How are atoms constructed?
Atoms were initially likened to a mini-solar system. They have a nucleus consisting of tiny neutrons and protons and even tinier electrons circle around this nucleus. In other words, atoms consist of unimaginably small subatomic particles. Under this perception, subatomics are the real building blocks of existence.
Yet, scientists were quick to distance themselves from the solar system metaphor due to experimental results combined with theoretical findings. They found that the subatomic world is entirely different from the atomic world.
On the most basic level, subatomic particles don’t behave like any particle in the atomic realm. For instance, electrons and photons move in and out of existence. Photons simultaneously move in all directions, including forward and backward in time. Due to their non-particle like behavior, it is more accurate to view subatomics as some kind of mysterious entity.
The difference between the atomic and subatomic realms extends to the essential nature of space and time. The Molecular realm is continuous, while the Subatomic realm is quantized. Further Molecular mathematics is definitive, while Subatomic mathematics is probabilistic.
The extreme differences between the Subatomic and Molecular Realms indicate that they do not have a building block relationship. According to building block logic, the structure obeys the same laws and is of the same substance as the building blocks. Subatomics entities and atomic particles obey different laws, are of an entirely different substance, and even occupy a different type of space and time.
If not the building block metaphor, what type of metaphor better conceptualizes their relationship? Due to the innate differences in their essential nature, we suggest that Molecules and Subatomics belong to 2 separate realms of existence. The interaction of these 2 realms seems to determine the behavior and properties of Matter. Following is a simple equation that represents this relationship.
Material Behavior = Subatomics x Molecules
As mentioned, there are many differences between the Subatomic and Molecular realms of existence. For instance, the Molecular Realm consists of visible particles, while the Subatomic Realm consists of mysterious entities that can’t be seen in action. Their existence is only surmised by their effects, e.g. sound in an experimental setting. Space and time are continuous in the Molecular Realm and quantized in the Subatomic Realm.
How do we know these 'scientific facts' are true? For instance, why are we fairly certain that space and time in our material world are continuous?
The short reason is mathematics. Scientists have uncovered equations that fit empirical data. In fact they fit so well that engineers have been able to create a stable technological wonderland via these equations. The stability of technology, for instance our smart phones, erases any possible doubt regarding the ‘truth’ of the mathematics.
These mathematical equations are based upon many distinct hypotheses. The equations of atomic matter are based upon the hypothesis that space and time are continuous, while the equations of subatomic entities are based upon the hypothesis that space and time are quantized.
After scientists have tested these hypotheses countless times, the hypotheses become theories. After cross-validation in a variety of diverse circumstances these theories are taken as scientific fact.
These scientific facts determine our conception of reality. As an example, one reason that nearly everyone believes in gravity is because many of our technological marvels are based upon the mathematics of gravity. For instance, scientists have placed men on the moon with equations that are based upon the gravity hypothesis. Because the gravity hypothesis is based upon the hypothesis that space and time are continuous, we also take this to be true. Electromagnetism is another common understanding that is mathematically based.
Sometimes an accumulation of scientific facts surrounds the synergy between mathematical formulas and empirical data. This Math-Fact Matrix provides even greater validation to the network of surrounding theories and concepts.
However, one Math-Fact Matrix indicates that space and time are continuous in the Molecular Realm; another reveals that space and time are quantized in the Subatomic Realm. How do we reconcile these mutually exclusive views of space and time?
Is one of these space-time conceptions more real than the others? Is this version the ‘real’ reality and the others imposters – mere virtual realities? Is the space-time continuum really an emergent feature of a virtual infinity of subatomic entities that inhabit a quantized space and time? What explanatory power does this position have?
Scientists have generally taken the stance that the Subatomic and Molecular Realms are complementary. One set of truths holds in the Subatomic Realm and another set of truths holds in the Molecular Realm. Instead of a singular reality, there are two complementary realities. One holds for the interior of the Atom while the other holds for the exterior of the Atom. Although paradoxically contradictory, neither reality is more true than the other.
We can only perceive the effects of the Subatomic Realm in the Molecular Realm, the realm of existence that we live in – the one that is our reality. The mysterious Subatomic Realm only becomes real for us when it intersects with the Molecular Realm. Rather than a building block relationship, the Material Realm, our reality, is better thought of as an interaction between the Molecular and Subatomic Realms. Two disparate realities with different laws join to become our reality. What about the Realm of Attention?
As mentioned, building block logic applies perfectly to the relationships between Atoms and Matter and between Cells and Life. The building blocks and the structure are of the same substance and obey the same laws. However, this same logic falls short when it comes to the relationship between the Subatomic and Molecular Realms. Subatomics are not of the same substance and do not obey the same laws as Atoms. While perfect for Atoms and Cells, the building block metaphor is clearly an inadequate way of understanding the relationship between Subatomic entities and Atoms.
What is the replacement for the traditional building block metaphor? We suggest that it is more instructive to view Subatomics and Molecules as belonging to distinct, yet interacting realms of existence. How does this new metaphor fulfill the shortcomings of the building block metaphor?
Let’s start with the word ‘realm’? What are the salient features of this word? More appropriately, what type of logic is associated with a realm?
This word typically refers to some kind of political territory, perhaps a kingdom, country, or even empire. However a realm does not have to be political. It can also reference an idea or concept, for instance the realm of fantasy or even a realm of existence.
Let’s consider a political realm. Each type of political realm, whether kingdom or empire, has some type of laws that order the realm. The laws or rules are usually consistent within the boundaries of the realm. However, one political realm can have a different set of laws than another. Despite these differences, the two realms can still interact.
Political Realm Logic that applies to Realms of Existence
1) Realms have laws.
2) Laws consistent within realm.
3) Laws can differ from realm to realm.
4) Realms can interact.
This same ‘realm’ logic applies to our two material realms of existence. The laws of the Molecular and Subatomic Realms are consistent within the realm. Further the laws of each realm are distinctly different from each other. Yet the realms of existence still interact.
We suggest that ‘realm logic’ also applies to the Realm of Attention. This realm, which is unique to living systems has, as we shall see, its own set of mathematical laws, which are internally consistent. While these laws are different from the other realms, the realms still interact with each other.
Building block logic falls short in this situation as it only encompasses one set of rules, not multiple sets. The laws that govern the building blocks also govern the structure. Put another way, the structure’s laws do not violate or contradict the building blocks’ laws.
How about an example? Water is a molecule that consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Water has some emergent properties that distinguish it from its building blocks – the three atoms. However, the laws that govern water are additive, not contradictory. For instance, there is no variation in the force of gravity.
In contrast, the laws governing the 2 Material Realms can be entirely different, even contradictory at times. One is quantized, the other continuous. Unable to account for differing laws, the Building Block metaphor breaks down. The Interacting Realms metaphor provides a far better map of the territory – this unusual relationship between the Molecular and Subatomic Realms. How about Attention?