4. Attention x Matter = Life


Section Headings

Problems with Chemical Model indicates Need for Novel Solution

Vitalism’s Stigma & a Life Force?

Attention (Life Force) required to Unify & provide Temporal Sense

Holistic Attention x Atomistic Matter = Life

Attention unifies, prioritizes & coordinates action for Holistic Organism

Attention’s Image Overlay Process provides Sense of Time

Attention’s Aura unites Multi-cellular & Disembodied organisms

Don edit entire chapter 3-29-23, 5-12-23: 14 pgs

Problems with Chemical Model indicates Need for Novel Solution

Many, if not most, scientists are committed to the notions that Life is a purely chemical process and that the first living system ‘evolved’ from Matter. Under this model, Life is merely an emergent property of the ‘evolving’ chemical complexity of Matter. It is certainly possible, even though highly improbable, that a single self-replicating, evolving bacterium could ‘evolve’ from a random sequence of exclusively material events.

Challenging this model, previous chapters posed some difficult (we suggest insurmountable) questions associated with particular problem areas: How could a cell’s mutually interdependent systems have ‘evolved’ independently of each other, when they need each other’s talents to function properly and survive as a unit? How could the relatively static content of inanimate molecules evolve into a self-sustaining entity with dynamic content? If we are only composed of reactive molecules whose interactions are only chemical in nature, how could we ‘evolve’ to interact with environmental information with the intent of surviving as an organism composed of a revolving door of molecules?

It is evident that the current chemical model for Life’s origins has some huge gaps that seem to be getting bigger. Something seems to be missing. Could it be that the current material paradigm is incomplete? Perhaps it is time to entertain a new model. Is it possible that Life in addition to being composed of Matter, also has an immaterial component associated with our capacity for Attention - our interactive relationship with information?

Criticizing a model, pointing out its holes, is much easier than inventing a novel solution to an old problem. To that end, this chapter illustrates how our model of Attention is able to fill in some gaps - solve some problems.

But the Reader must have a flexible mind – a virtue that seems to be lacking in the scientific community. This rigid mindset is contrary to the rationalist tradition, which welcomes novel solutions if only to criticize them. Why this stubborn resistance to a new model?

Vitalism’s Stigma & a Life Force?

Life’s Creation presents a major challenge (we suggest insurmountable) for both the Chemical Model of Life and by extension the Materialist Paradigm (or should we say Dogma). Desperately holding onto these superstitions, the scientific community stubbornly persists in a dead-end course and refuses to entertain (and criticize) new non-material possibilities. Another reason for this intellectual blindness is psychological.

A major scientific quandary: Where did the very first bacterium from which all other life forms evolved come from? What animates it? What force allows it to live?

Yet, scientists can not mention the words ‘life force’ for fear of social censure. Instead they rely upon mental gymnastics to avoid proposing these dreaded words. Rather they look to the same old forces, primarily chemical, in their vain attempt to explain how life first arose. Rather than acknowledging how special Life is, they instead try to put this round peg in their well-studied square holes of inanimate Matter.

Why haven’t scientists been able to entertain other models? Why can’t they suppose a life force and see where the model leads? Why can’t they even mention the words except in a disparaging way. One word: ‘vitalism’.

Vitalism is a theory that was popular in the 1800s. The model accounted for the age-old belief in spontaneous generation, i.e. Life springs spontaneously from Matter. A common example is green grass and weeds sprouting from brown dry ground after the first rains. Vitalists held that Life was simply Matter that was somehow infused with a vital fluid (a mysterious life force).

Vitalism became discredited due to advances in science. Experiments by Louis Pasteur et al combined with evolutionary evidence ala Charles Darwin illustrated conclusively that Life comes from Life, that Life consists of the usual molecules (nothing special) and that living processes are chemical in nature.

Yet despite their best efforts, vitalism has not gone away. While dispelling many misconceptions, these scientific discoveries were not able to account for the creation of the first Life form (a single celled bacterium) from which the rest evolved. Nor were their material models able to account for the holism of cells and all living creatures. Nor did their chemical models provide any explanatory power for our interactive relationship with information.

Despite these inadequacies and probably because of their early triumphs, the scientific community continues to believe that vitalism has been proven wrong. Due to this dogmatic stigma, no self-respecting scientist can even entertain the notion of a special life force. Even whispering the dreaded word ‘vitalism’ in a positive way, risks being shunned and ostracized by their colleagues. No more funding; no more conferences, no more prestige. The social forces are overwhelming. Indeed rather than entertain, investigate and critique this alternative model, the scientific community anxiously attempts to dispel the ancient notion of vitalism. Or at least hopes that it will go away if they ignore it.

Yet vitalism with its life force has only been pruned of dead wood. Rather than killing the theory, the scientific critique has refined it. This refinement has rendered vitalism (or its child) stronger – more anti-fragile. As Outsiders with nothing to lose, we can argue and advocate for a life force without risking anything. This is the nature of Scientific Revolution (Thomas Kuhn). However, we must be compassionate as mental rigidity is an indication of fear.

If there is a life force, what are its attributes? What does it do? ‘Infusing Matter with Life’ is rather vague – almost tautological – part of the definition. This life force certainly does not drive the cell’s mitochondria to produce energy via glycolysis and cellular respiration. These are purely chemical processes. Nor does it motivate the IMPs that act as the cell’s sensory-motor network. Chemical again. DNA? Not at all. Genes? Nope. Metabolic pathways? No again. All chemical.

If it doesn’t drive the cell’s basic functions, what does this mysterious life force do? What function does it serve? Unifies, organizes, and coordinates the entire organism behind common goals – homeostasis and reproduction.

This holistic role cannot be performed by the individual parts. Matter’s atomistic systems are too self-absorbed to think about the big picture. Besides molecules and electrons don’t possess the requisite sense of time that is necessary to even become a holistic system, such as the cell.

What force performs this unifying, organizing function for the holistic cell? Obviously not inanimate molecules, as they are ruled by entropic forces, which result in chaos. How does this temporal sense arise? Our model associates this mysterious life force with Attention, our unique ability to monitor and adjust to a dynamic environment. Attention’s method of digesting sensory information also confers a sense of time. Let us now develop these topics in more depth.

Attention (Life Force) required to Unify & provide Temporal Sense

Prior chapters highlighted problems associated with the Chemical Model of Life’s Origins and Existence. These problems fall into two general, but separate, categories. 1) How does inanimate Matter self-organize (evolve) into Life’s mutually interdependent systems? 2) How does the Material Model account for Life’s interactive relationship with information, i.e. Attention?

The first problem surrounds the question of how the first living systems emerged –the origin of Life. As a ‘plausible’ solution, the next article in this series offers an intriguing and somewhat fanciful model. It then develops the implications of this Divine Coincidence model.

The second problem surrounds the question of how to account for a relatively indisputable and omni-present feature of all living systems - Attention. In their experimentation and theories, both origins researchers and the entire bio-scientific community seem to have neglected this key component of Life.

If the Material Model is unable to account for Attention, is there another model that can? This paper offers our Model of Attention as an immaterial alternative to the standard materialist approach. This model proposes some plausible solutions to many problems associated with our interactive relationship with information - an omni-present feature of all living systems.

Before moving on, let us dispel any notion that we are reviving the theory of vitalism from prior centuries. We are not suggesting that living systems have some special elementary particles, as vitalists maintained. Indeed, biochemists have firmly established that most of the essential biomolecules are composed of just 5 common elements – Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen and Phosphate. Nor are we suggesting, like vitalists, that our biomolecules have a special ‘vital force’ that animates them. Experiments have shown that even the most complicated biomolecules obey the mathematical laws of chemistry without the need for any special life force.

These two triumphs over the theory of vitalism have convinced many, if not most, bio-scientists that Life is a purely chemical process. Intoxicated with their many successes, they ignore contrary evidence that is right under their nose. Rather than admit ignorance, they deny or ignore these so-called anomalies. Shame!

We are not suggesting that Life has any special molecules that sets it apart from Matter; or that there is a special fluid or force that animates our biomolecules. However, we are proposing that some kind of organizing force is necessary for Life’s holistic operations – functions that entail the entire organism. Even Dr. Hazen, the noted origins researcher, reluctantly states that he and his colleagues feel that something is missing – a mysterious organizing force. Attention is the term we employ to refer to this life force that unifies, prioritizes and coordinates.

According to our model, Attention also confers our temporal sense. Not the objective time of Physics, but rather a sense of time. A temporal sense is a necessary, yet neglected, capability of every living system, including the bio-scientists who have conveniently forgotten about it. While the well-studied chemical systems operate independently of a sense of time, all Life Forms require a temporal sense to attend to their environment. Interpreting sensory input requires at least a rudimentary knowledge of what went before. The exclusively material systems of Physics and Chemistry do not have this ability.

Where does our sense of time come from? Not from Matter. Could our temporal sense instead be an indispensable quality of Attention, Life’s immaterial component?

This cursory discussion is merely introductory. Each of these topics is dealt with in more detail in the coming pages.

Holistic Attention x Atomistic Matter = Life

Mutual Interdependence indicates Holistic System

The complete mutual interdependence of the cell’s components indicates that it is a holistic system. In holistic systems, the relationship to the whole determines the nature of the parts. The metabolic pathways, the DNA, and the cytoskeleton only have meaning in relationship to the cell. Otherwise, they are just a collection of molecules without a purpose.

Matter = Atomistic System

In contrast, inanimate Matter belongs to an atomistic system. In atomistic systems, the nature of the parts determines the nature of the whole. Reductionism is appropriate. Holistic vs. Atomistic systems; yet another difference between living and material systems.

Attention transforms Matter into Life

What transforms Matter’s atomistic systems into Life’s holistic system. Simply speaking Attention, Life’s interactive relationship with information. Attention applied to Matter equals Life.

Attention x Matter = Life

Attention x Matter = Life

Operation not reversible: Matter boundaries, Attention meaning

Note that this operation is not reversable. While Matter establishes boundaries (limits), Attention provides the Universe with Meaning (purpose). Because of these differences, both are necessary to the life of a cell and every other creature.

Attention synergy required to identify Holistic System

Our interactive relationship with information (Attention synergy) enables us to both identify and determine the difference between the two types of systems. Without this ability, the Universe of matter and energy is undifferentiated. It takes a living system to recognize a holistic system, e.g. a cell, a tree or a cat.

Attention Synergy requires sense of time to identify & assign value

In order to operate, i.e. identify objects/processes and their relationships, the Attention synergy, our interactive relation with information, requires a sense of time. Without this understanding of past, present, future, i.e. the passage of time, there are no systems, no objects, no chemistry, no biology, no origins of life discussion. There is only the nameless, formless Flux - the endless, unperceived reactions between Matter and Energy.

Attention differentiates Life from Matter

Life’s capacity for Attention with its temporal sense is required to differentiate one thing from another and assign relative value. Attention is also the quality that differentiates from Life from Matter.

Life has Material Component

Life definitely has a Material Component, a physical body composed of molecules that obey the laws of Chemistry. This is the feature of living systems that bio-chemists are studying so arduously. This intense investigation has led to amazing discoveries about the many systems that comprise living systems, e.g. a cell’s metabolic pathways. This obsession with the Material Component has seeming blinded the scientific community to Life’s intentional relationship with Information, i.e. the component associated with Attention.

IMPs, a feature of Life’s Matter, are mechanistic

Why the term Attention? Recall that our sensory-motor system derives from the proteins, the IMPs embedded in the cellular membrane. The receptor proteins sense, automatically (reflexive) react. This reaction triggers another automatic reaction from effector proteins, which triggers motion. Under this well understood model (a feature of Life’s Material component), the sensing and subsequent action is relatively simultaneous, i.e. not consecutive. Like the gears in a clock, the IMPs are mechanistic.

Attention (sensing) = ability to express, suppress, shape & control

In similar fashion, sensing/observing initiates our interaction with information. The only difference between us and the IMPs is that we can regulate and control which reactions are expressed, and which are suppressed. The same holds true for the simplest life forms, e.g. bacteria. In such a way, i.e. regulating, shaping, and controlling, we and all life forms transform a reactive relationship with environmental info into an interactive one. Because the process starts with sensing (an awareness of environment), the Attention synergy seems to be an appropriate name for Life’s interactive relationship with information (IRI).

Attention unifies, prioritizes & coordinates action for Holistic Organism

In our equation for Life, Attention and Matter are separate factors. In other words, Attention is not Matter. In our model, Attention is Life’s immaterial component.

Why complicate the Universe with an immaterial component? Don’t the cell’s IMPs respond automatically and appropriately to every conceivable situation? Isn’t this stimulus-response mechanism enough for survival? What is the justification for Attention?

A distinct feature of attending is organizing. Attention is necessary to identify self from other, assign value, and coordinate action. Each of these types of organization is associated, not with the parts, but rather with the whole, the entire organism. Let us explain what we mean in more detail.

1) Unifying Molecules. An organizing force is required to bind inanimate molecules into a cohesive, holistic living system, where the meaning of the parts is determined by their service to the whole. The IMPs operate independently, performing their job automatically, without any sense of the whole. The same holds true for every biomolecule in the cell. Something is needed to give each part a greater meaning.

Why can I say in a joking way that the inanimate molecules inside and including the cellular membrane are completely devoted to the Cell’s survival and replication and that the ones on the outside just really don’t care?

Of course, virtually no one believes that individual molecules of any kind, inside or outside, are ‘devoted’ to anything. But it does seem that some organizing force is necessary to get them together behind a common goal. Lacking Attention, inanimate Matter reacts, but does not interact, with information. Matter doesn’t care, because it can’t care. Caring requires a sense of time that is supplied by Attention.

2) Prioritizing Needs of Systems. Some kind of force is necessary to prioritize which system’s needs are most important to the whole. Indeed, the needs of individual systems must be sublimated to the greater good of the Cell, first surviving and then reproducing. Something is needed to balance competing appetites, i.e. feelings. This balancing of conflicting urges is necessary for the wellbeing of the organism. Both Body and Mind are regularly engaged in this balancing process.

It is certainly possible for any of the cellular systems to operate independently of the whole. Yet, cooperation is required for survival. For instance, the cell’s reproduction system can easily come into conflict with the immune system. The immune system is devoted to fighting off infection, while the reproductive system is devoted to replication. The systems can’t make these decisions. With limited resources, an independent arbiter devoted to the holistic living system is required to decide between competing demands. 

Perhaps most, if not all, biological ‘decisions’ are automatic. However those decisions that are based upon Attention-based experience are frequently deliberate. Even bacteria seem to learn from experience. It is at this point that Attention comes into the picture.

3) Coordinating Activities. In addition to unifying molecules and prioritizing systems, Attention must also engage in the process of coordinating deliberate actions. Something besides automatic algorithms must coordinate the inanimate molecules of the entire cell behind a specific, urgent, time-based task – movement towards sustenance and away from a toxic environment. In order to produce desired results via coordinated action, the reflexive action of IMPs is insufficient. In a dynamic environment that demands urgent and specific movement, coordinated activity is necessary. Something is needed to coordinate unified action, e.g. the info from the IMPs and the cytoskeleton. That something is Attention, i.e. our intentional relationship with information.

Life requires Attention to unify its parts, to prioritize needs, and to coordinate the movement of the entire organism. Matter can’t play these roles.

Attention’s Image Overlay Process provides Sense of Time

Why can’t Inanimate Matter perform these functions? Matter lacks a sense of time.

Yet a holistic system such as Life’s mutually interdependent systems requires a sense of time to even exist. How can a unitary entity, such as a cell, persist through time without a temporal sense? To exist, a system with its processes must both to be perceived and persist. Else we are back at the formless Flux, the meaningless cycles of matter and energy.

In contrast to Matter, a sense of time is a prerequisite for Attention. It is impossible to perceive without a sense of past, present and future. Attending is a process that occurs not in an instant – not in a reflexive twitch of the IMPs, but rather over a sequence of moments – one overlaid upon the other.

On Life’s most fundamental level, i.e. cellular, this data stream of moments is based upon images provided by IMPs. Due to this connection, ‘image overlay process’ is the name we have given to Attention’s perceptual process. Based in a temporal sequence, this overlay process provides the sense of time required by living systems to survive.

Under our model, Attention, as our Intentional Relationship with Information (IRI), analyzes these sensory data streams to make decisions that facilitate Life’s survival and replication. Lacking Attention, hence a temporal sense, inanimate Matter is unable to act in this holistic manner with information to bind, prioritize, or coordinate the lifeless molecules into a cohesive unit. Through data stream analysis, Attention assesses content, trajectories and relationships that are relevant to the whole system.

Life, or more specifically, the Attention synergy requires a process to interpret the meaning of these Data Streams. How does Attention perform this magic? According to our model, Data Stream Dynamics is the mathematical realization of Attention’s Image Overlay Process. Just as with the mathematics of material systems, the mathematics of DSD reveals the inner workings of Attention.

IMPs provide Attention with data streams of 1s and 0s, or their biological equivalent. The content of the data streams is derived from environmental information, both internal and external. A one or the equivalent is registered every time there is a match between signal and the receptor protein. Vice versa, a zero is registered when the images, i.e. protein and environmental signal, don’t match.

Mathematics is another reason that Attention is not a function of Matter. Matter and Attention are subject to different mathematical systems and actually operate in different dimensions of time. Matter is subject to the laws of Physics, i.e. material dynamics. In contrast, Attention-related behavior is subject to rules of Data Stream Dynamics. Life exists at the intersection of these realms, Matter and Attention. Hence, living systems are subject to both sets of mathematical laws.

Summarizing: Living systems require a sense of time to survive and replicate. This temporal sense is provided by Attention’s Image Overlay Process.

Attention’s Aura unites Multi-cellular & Disembodied organisms

In this discussion of the gaping holes in the Chemical Model of Life, we have only spoken about problems associated with a single cell, e.g. holism and a sense of time. We haven’t even touched upon the miracle of multi-cellular organisms. How are cells able to self-organize into tissues, organs, systems and ultimately organisms?

What kind of explanation does the Chemical Model of Life have for the self-evident ability of cells to congregate as tissues et al and then into the collection of 70 billion cells that is us? What explanatory power does the Chemical Model have for cultural evolution, i.e. the tendency of human culture to evolve?

They offer feeble attempts to explain the propensity of disembodied collections of multi-cellular organisms, e.g. cities, states and countries, to act in concert. For instance, Dawkins in his famous book, The Selfish Gene, suggests that genes have an affinity for each other. This genetic affinity supposedly drives flocks, packs, and countries into group behavior. These convoluted efforts at explaining away the collective behavior of living systems is certainly a major violation of Occam’s razor – simplest is best.

Offering a simple and direct explanation for this phenomena, our Attention model fills this gap. Unfortunately, it violates the Materialist Dogma. This is a huge problem for Insiders, as their jobs and career are dependent upon toeing the line. But I am an Outsider.

In brief, Attention is the name we give to the life force that binds the cell together as a unit. According to our model, it emanates from the cell membrane both outward and inward. We call this emanation – Attention’s Aura1. This Aura joins with other Auras to create a multi-cellular organisms. The Auras of multi-cellular organisms in turn join together to form disembodied organisms, such as flocks, tribes and countries. In this sense, the collective Attention (Aura) of a country has as much reality as the collective Attention of a cell.

Both are immaterial, in that they exist in Experiential Realm of Attention. This Realm of Existence that is unique to living systems exists in its own temporal dimension, which is why it is not material and why Materialists haven’t found any evidence for it in their realm. Life exists at the intersection of the Material and Experiential Realms.


1 This topic is developed and dealt with in more detail in my article ‘The Physiological Substrate of Auras’ (Notebook 51:1).


Home    Articles    Previous    Next    Comments