Jan 20, 2010

Representation, Concept, and Reflection

When I was young, I was puzzled by the material vs. mind dichotomy. If everything is material, then isn’t mind also material as well? Now, we know better and better about the human as a complex adaptive system, just like pretty much any “thing” in the universe. Then isn’t mind just like the signals in my computer’s ICs? Thought is pretty much just a process in which electrons are moving in neural networks, resulting in memory, which are changes and temporal patterns in synapse, myelin and other chemicals. Even though it is about a billion times more complicated, in essence, human mind (thought and memory) are still comparable or I would say, conceptually equivalent to those signals and patterns passing through simpler systems such as computer, mice, virus (both biological and man-made), and even in earth (as a complex system), in a nation, a company, a cup of water, so on and so forth.
What makes thought a little different to me is that, even in its reduced forms, its own pattern actually mimics, or reflects, or represents the other patterns in the universe. We call such reflection or representation between 2 patterns a “concept”, which is the basic building block of thought and the foundation of human (or computer) language. That’s why in Chomsky’s linguistic study, he found out that certain human language elements are innate to all human being, also known as his universal grammar. If we consider the utility or essence of language, it is nothing but representative facility in human nervous system that is composed of patterns of synapses. Given the commonality among human DNA, which establishes the initial set-up script of human life (or installation software for a system), such universal grammar in language seems pretty inevitable. It would be absurd that 2 systems with 99.9% equivalent Operating Systems to not share some common basic representation facility of patterns essential to the survival of any of these evolved systems.
What also makes thought (some people call it mind, or consciousness) a little unique is that it can not only represent temporal existence, such as anything in the universe, but also timeless existence, such as natural laws. For example, the concept of 1+1=2, or e=mc2 does not seem to change overtime. Such existence being reflected in mind or derivative of mental activities does give mind a shade of mystery or divinity, even though such amazement itself can be reduced to one of the many evolved human feelings that help the human specie to survive and propagate as a temporal existence (“being” might be a better word for that.).
Now if anyone asks me about the meaning of life or consciousness, I would say “Problem solved”. However, the more difficult problem for us though, is “How do we live a little bit longer, a little happier, give out a little more love, or may we dare to say, continue forever in that path?”

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