Everyday entropy – Bohr, body and mind

sand-pendulum
Harmonic oscillation

“in consequence of this state of affairs, even words like “to be” and “to know” lose their unambiguous meaning.”

– Niels Bohr, Atomic Theory

It is possible to resolve the ambiguity between being and knowing by reference to the quantisation of information (quantum particle states and radiation) as opposed to the uncertainty of momentum and position of entropy.  If you accept that information or “knowing” exists not in physical form but only in transmission between physical things, and that entropy or “being” exists physically, but is fundamentally unknowable, then the ambiguity of subject and object disappears, but you are left with another problem.  Subject and object are in a constant state of blending, one into the other, like the water droplets in a cloud: forming, falling and evaporating into the column of air rising through the droplets.  The cloud is made of both rising air and falling water, each moving in opposite directions through a visible mass that appears almost static.  The problem with our intuitive understanding of subject and object is that we want them to be consistent over time, but the reality is that subject and object are in harmonic oscillation with one another.  The subject is only a subject in the moment when it receives information from an object, which corresponds to Bohr’s moment of measurement.  Thereafter, it reverts to being an object, and while we assume that people are constantly subjects holding objective ideas, the truth is that neither the mind nor its ideas are ever static.

The brain is a physical mass with information passing back and forth between subjects and objects.  Unlike a computer, which converts energy from an outside source into information by passing a significant electromagnetic potential through a series of gates in a conducting pathway, the mind converts energy into information through the entropy of molecules, so that the energy source, the gates and the conducting pathway are indistinguishable.   In a computer, the memory, decision and transmission circuits are grossly dissociated from one another, whereas in a living nervous system they are indistinguishable  (“brain-network structure and function form a kind of symbiosis, with cognition depending both on the precise way in which the connectome is wired and on the dynamic patterns of neuronal activity that unfold within the network” – Alexander Fornito in Scientific American).  The physical entropy of the brain passes through in the same way that the entropy of muscle tissue passes through.  The mind, like the cloud, is both the physical brain and its resonant information, and there is no way to tease them apart.  In time the ideas transform the brain while the brain transforms the ideas, like the oscillator and its oscillation.  In the entropy of information, you are only a subject for a moment, but in time there are enough moments to build up a fairly objective view of a reality that looks pretty stable.  But of course it isn’t.  Information is momentary and entropy is constantly changing, so that nothing can be static in a subjective or objective state.

Curiously, this may explain why sleep is indispensable despite hundreds of millions of years of evolution.  Maintaining consciousness over a long period of time will lead to psychological degradation due to physiological changes that occur in the neural pathways that are responsible for passing an idea of self back and forth and keeping that idea available for other processes.  After a long time, that idea of self will begin to corrupt, obsessed or solipsistic in a way that is divorced from objective perception.  While it is clear that sleep has physiological benefits, the potential for a catastrophic breakdown in the subject object oscillation in the mind may also make sleep psychologically essential.  This may also explain why you can be physically knocked unconscious.  Self awareness depends on a continuous oscillation of impulses between the parts of the brain responsible for consciousness, so a disruption in the physical pathway makes it impossible to establish a place from which to perceive.

ns-4

“In a new study in the August issue of Nature, scientists at the NYU Langone Medical Center discovered how the brain filters useful information. The team, led by Dr. Richard Tsien, zeroed in on oxytocin neurons in the hippocampus of rats.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain used to form new memories. An earlier study found that the chemical oxytocin acts on the hippocampus. Oxytocin functions as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter in the body, playing a vital role in childbirth and emotional bonding. In autistic people, who sometimes struggle with empathy, scientists have found that oxytocin levels are lower than usual.

In order to form memories, the hippocampus relies on brain cells called pyramidal neurons and interneurons. These interneurons act as a filter, so that small distractions in the environment don’t send a strong enough signal for a memory to form. When a powerful signal from a real stimulus comes through, it’s enough to overcome the inhibitory interneurons and make the pyramidal neurons fire. This allows important stimuli to active the hippocampus, but ignores irrelevant details.

Tsien’s team found that when oxytocin levels are high, interneurons are not able to transmit as strong a signal. The balance of power between interneurons and pyramidal neurons allows the brain to carefully fine-tune which information it retains and which it doesn’t. Unfortunately, such a delicate system is easily disrupted.”

Psychological Entropy

“Another way to explain the glitch associated with making ‘unqualified positive assertions’ would be to say that we cannot make reality relevant to our categories by asking questions which require positive answers without incurring entropy, because the more we are able to learn about whatever it is we are looking at, the less able we are to know about how relevant what we are looking at is to reality as a whole. As mathematician John Bennett says, the more we find out about the particular case, the less we know about the universal set from which it arose. In other words, we can say that the more knowledge we obtain within a particular field, the less perspective we have, and so the less conscious we are of the essential relativity of that knowledge. It is as if I get very adept at playing a specific computer game, so adept, in fact, that I quite lose sight of the fact that I don’t need to play it at all. I don’t see that ‘doing’ tautologically generates its own rationale so that the skill learned is quite useless outside the context of the game. In simple terms, focussing on the “How?” drives out all awareness of the “Why?” – I become very busy, but I quite lose sight of why I have to be so busy in the first place. This is in fact the ‘hidden gain’ of neurosis, because if I am neurotic then that means that I don’t want to know why I am so busy.”

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