The Nature of Information and the Metaphysics of Science.
There's a storm brewing, and it's a whopper. It has taken form as a scientific debate and, like any major storm, when it fully develops it has the potential to change the landscape. This storm has already been named "Information," and it stands to reveal intricate processes of science and consciousness. As a result, the outcome of the debate carries wide-ranging ramifications from how we view life to how we conduct medical care. The information age has grown from being related to storage and utilization capacities of computers to information being considered the bedrock of reality. (1) It can be a process, state, or disposition. (2) However, the essence of the debate centers on whether information exists without having meaning and is exclusively physical, or rather is information everything? (3,4 ) That information can exist without meaning is not the central issue, that it needs to be physical is.
There are staunch advocates on both ends of the spectrum, each hurling lightning bolts at the other in trying to claim the throne of Zeus. A search Google or YouTube proves the point. It turns out, though, that one side may have the higher ground. In exploring this, we're not going to run through the competing forces of personalities. Instead, as this goes straight to the heart ofthe philosophy of science, let's lookat some of the ins and outs of information to gain a sense of the nature of it.
My interest in this debate first took root when I heard scientists and engineers talk about carrier waves and the embedded information. These people made a case that the carrier wave was simply along for the ride, or rather it is what gave information a ride, and that in and of itself it is discounted. This didn't sit well in my imagination.
Summoning memories of my days in military communications, I knew that carrier waves are loaded with information. The frequency of a carrier determines what type of gear is needed to send and receive transmissions. Each type of carrier and its corresponding equipment operate within a particular bandwidth with specific characteristics. Amplitude modulated (AM) signals, for example, can travel further with less power than frequency, or phase, modulated (FM) signals, while FM grants better fidelity. So there's information on top of information. This started the investigation.
I also knew that there are a host of environmental influences such as Schumann Resonances, circadian rhythms, and biomagnetism that inform and influence the body. (5) Plus, other types of biological information are transmitted through a lock-and-key mechanism where the physical structure of a molecule docks with a receptor, just like a space pod connects with the space station, which can only be done by matching physical conformations of molecules with receptors. (6) When connected, a cascade of processes pertaining to signal transduction kicks in. In turn, there are biological energy receptors where an energetic signal places events in motion. (7) All of these examples are physical and ultimately can exist without meaning as they just are. After all, meaning is a representation of pure form, not the actual thing itself. Very Zen-like.
But something else occurs when it is revealed how these signaling processes affect the body; specifically, meaning is generated in the form of modeling--modulated, if you will--the physiological activity induced by the signals. However informative the modeling may be, in and of itself it is not considered to be information, as interpretation affects how something in a pure state is viewed.
There are also representational forms of information such as languages and road signs that, according to the physicalists, don't technically count as being information, a point we'll return to shortly. The existence of something without a cognitive value, without an overlay of interpretation, is unstained and unfettered. The argument that perception devoid of meaning is the basis of objective measurement has merit since there is a universal starting point. One must then consider, however, whether information can actually be devoid of meaning or whether meaning itself is another form of information. In answering this, we must consider that modeling is also representational --including the conceptualization that information is solely physical. Herein lays the sticking point with the physicalist point of view.
Consciousness and Cognition
To help shed light on the information debate, it turns out that another scientific argument, one focused on consciousness and cognition, provides useful reference as we again find ourselves in a physical basis of reality versus an expanded view. After all, how cognition is viewed generates the lens that brings information into focus, and on the flip side, how information is viewed affects the lens of cognition.
In general, consciousness is thought to relate to being aware of one's body, the environment, and oneself in relation to the environment. Elements of consciousness include sensation and conception. (8) Sensation is basic perception devoid of meaning which correlates with information not having meaning. Conception is when basic information is cognitively modulated or modeled--given meaning--in order to gain utility of sensation. A basic perception, for example, might be simply seeing the shape of a door whereas conception rests on assigning purpose for the door. And therefore, cognition pertains to various forms of awareness and the utilization of that awareness such as with perception, memory, thinking, and learning. (9)
It turns out that a central dynamic in the information debate is also evident here. On one side are materialists who view consciousness as an emergent property relegated to the brain and cognition as being solely mental, generated by neural activity. (10) Mind is equated with cognition. The opposing side takes the posture that cognition stems from many environmental influences and serves to process information from a consciousness in which all things, including information beyond the physical, already exist and are connected. This is a pantheistic view. (11) Both of these lenses filter the perception and use of information.
Counterpoints to begin prying away physicalist thinking are plainly evident in modern science. Findings of neuroplasticity changed the way we look at brain and ushered in new models. So did multiverse and alternative realities theories. While these still pertain to a physical world, it is just a matter of applying these changes in thinking to consciousness, cognition, information, and even an underpinning of science that reality is physical. In other words, what was once considered to be static or concrete becomes fluid and dynamic.
A result of expanding perception beyond the material is the consideration that neural correlates do not equal causation. (12) That is to say, it is an awkward jump to rigidly hold that cognition is generated by physical processes alone simply because there is brain activity associated with it. With a sweeping hand, some say that we need to separate the findings of scientific inquiry from a worldview formed by extrapolating those findings. By equating materialistic findings with worldview, a powerful learning tool known as the scientific method broaches what is considered to be scientism. Advocates of pantheistic philosophy would add that we can't ignore extreme, or transphysical, phenomena when using a scientific lens.
A pantheistic view allows a spectrum of phenomena and corresponding information to exist. For those open to this prospect, the hypothesis that consciousness is neurological remains an assumption--especially considering that psychophysiological data of extreme phenomena contrasts with a production or generation model of the brain-mind relationship. (11) For instance, transphysical phenomena such as out-of-body experience (OBE), near-death experience (NDE), and mystical experience (ME) are considered to provide sources of out-of-this-physical-world types of information.
Each of these phenomena relates to innate abilities to apprehend and decode layers of information. Each is non-physical but carries weight, perhaps more so in some instances than physical experience. And there's a growing body of evidence that each influences cognition and physiology just as biological signaling mechanisms affect the body. The following examples not only support the validity of the phenomena but also demonstrate that non-physical information is as real as its physical counterpart. In and of itself, experience is informative. (13)
Key elements of OBE include exteriorization of consciousness, the capacity for locomotion, a distinct form, and emotional content. Exteriorization pertains to a projection and focus of consciousness beyond the physical body. Locomotion takes on a range of abilities from crawling along a ceiling to teleportation-like travel within and among different dimensions. One's form during an OBE may vary. Due to habit, it is often humanoid or for those with a shamanic bent may take the form of an animal. The form may also change depending on duration of an OBE or frequency of OBEs. This form carries emotional sensing as opposed to remote viewing which may be a drier, mental perception.
An OBE can shift one's relation to the world. In one study, researchers found that 95 percent of cultures worldwide report OBEs, with an incidence ranging from 10 percent of population to virtually all depending on cultural conditioning or values. Eighty-nine percent of those interviewed wanted another OBE while 78 percent found lasting benefit, with only 2 percent regarding the experience as mentally harmful. Twenty percent of Western university students reported having had an OBE without having taken drugs while fever, accident, drugs were on the lower scale of correlations. Indicating the normalcy of OBEs, pervasive relaxation was the single principle element associated with having an OBE. (14)
OBEs are often discounted by scientists as illusory by relating them to temporal lobe seizures or otherwise abnormal neural activity. One researcher claimed to produce OBEs by cortical stimulation but the reported experiences didn't resemble OBEs. (15) Therefore, a concern of transphysical proponents is that data are forced to comply with existing models.
In addition, neuroimaging finds impaired integration of body location associated with temporal and parietal cortex. (16) Yet wouldn't one expect unusual neural activity to be associated with extreme or unusual phenomena? As for abnormal neural activity associated with an OBE, wouldn't one expect different neural patterns resulting from out-of-the-ordinary experience? Wouldn't a different localization of awareness produce different readings pertaining to body location? And since there will be specific neural activity that occurs by walking down a street, by the same rules shouldn't this common behavior be considered illusory?
Similar dynamics occur with NDEs. For example, they are discounted by relating them to temporal lobe abnormalities such as seizures, yet there is little correlation of temporal lobe seizures to NDE accounts. NDEs are also debunked by relating them to the effects of a dying brain. However, NDEs do not necessarily occur near death. (12) Universally there is a shift from normal waking consciousness to extrasomatic refocus of attention. (11) And not only hasn't this been mapped, it is automatically rendered illusory by overly focusing on what is meant by living in a world deemed to be exclusively physical.
There is a variety of NDE characteristics. Sometimes a person has an OBE. There is often a tunnel leading to white light. Many times, one has encounters with the deceased and it is normal to receive some type of revelation. (12) Not all elements need to be apparent for an NDE, just awareness of the overall configuration. I had one at eight years of age where, when almost drowning, a cloaked shape with a faceless, deep darkness under the cowl glided toward me--an archetypical form of death. I had another by traveling through a tunnel to white light. The ensuing revelation was that an infinite number of physical Earths exist, each different than the others--a concept later to be put forward in scientific thinking.
Within the NDE constellation, a person's expectation formed by cultural and educational conditioning plays a role in the forming experience. (12) As a result, a devout Christian stands to connect with Jesus whereas a practicing Buddhist may have an experience of meeting Buddha. Overall, the odds are that having an NDE will recast how one views life and death, influencing cognitive qualities of perception, memory, thinking, and learning.
Related to NDE is reincarnational-like survival. Investigators at The Universityof Virginia's Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) are carrying forward the work of Professor Ian Stevenson who ushered in a discipline of examining health conditions relating to reincarnation. In what may be a transdimensional effect, he documented birth defects correlating with manner of death in a previous life. He was rigorous in the use of medical records and screening personal reports against subjects having a common means of knowledge. (17) Focusing on children, DOPS researcher Jim Tucker has also published on this phenomenon. (18) ln addition, Brian Weiss, Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, has successfully employed past-life therapy to address a range of health conditions. (19)
Mystical experience, simply put, is direct participation with a transphysical, extended environment. It provides a person a deepened connection with reality and can be life changing. The physical world may be seen as limiting. (11) Among its features are transiency or short-lived experience, ineffable or difficulty rendering events into mental constructs, gnosis or direct somatic awareness outside of mental considerations, objectivity or clarity, and a sense of oneness or awareness that all things are connected. (20,21)
Based on talks with Edgar Mitchell, the sixth astronaut to walk on the moon, a ME differs from an epiphany. Both can be profound, but a mystical experience is grander in scope, feeling, experience, and the robustness of resulting awareness. There is often an intense sense of being connected with all life, for instance. It can be emotionally consuming with little mental reference. Mitchell said that his deep-space epiphany, where his realization of the interconnectedness of life which led to his founding The Institute for Noetic Sciences, was less intense that a full-blown ME. (22)
An ME stimulates and affects multiple areas of the brain. In one study, physiological changes during meditation correlated with five frequent elements of ME: intensity, unity, transformation, clarity, and surrender. Researchers also found increased blood flow to the frontal lobe (planning), parietal lobe (sense of self), and limbic system (emotions). (23)
As with OBE and NDE, investigators attempting to discredit ME associate it with temporal lobe epilepsy, yet there has been no credible evidence to support the connections. There is, however, abundant research showing that, on average, people having mystical experiences are well-adjusted, healthy, educated, and creative. Therefore, some investigators consider this to be just another instance of conflating ordinary phenomena with the extreme. (12)
Common features among OBE, NDE, and ME are characteristic of pantheism, a centuries-old perspective of an interconnected, conscious reality. Cognition, in this model, is more expansive than mental activity alone as it forms from a variety of influences. Likewise, "mind" is all-pervasive, not to be boxed in as being exclusively mental activity. In short, pantheism represents integrated information. (11) It is a philosophy that supports the validity, the realness, of extreme phenomena.
The Body Knows
Reflected in neural and extracellular matrix systems in the body, there are conscious and unconscious forms of information. (24) The neural system gives rise to conscious awareness such as decision making, whereas the matrix system deals with unconscious processes and provides more analysis of athletic movement, martial arts, kinesiology, and therapeutic encounters. The matrix system relates to intuitive, somatic decision making, thereby challenging a definition that cognition is solely mental and generated by neural activity. (7)
This also relates to how information is carried throughout the body. Many living processes, for instance, occur too rapidly to be explained by nerve conduction. Instead, there are sensors that consist of ordered arrays of molecules found in tissues. As a result, organisms are poised to respond to whispers of environmental electromagnetic information. (7)
Studies at Heartmath Institute found that different perceptions of spacetime become evident in an all-connected scheme of consciousness. (25) This led to considerations that the ability to process information of distant events is a property of all biological organization, including the ability to scan for and perceive future events. (26)
These researchers also found that the heart processes and decodes intuitive information. In another study, they found that the heart and brain together receive, process, and decode intuitive information with intuition being system-wide, possibly including bodily systems in addition to the heart and brain. (25)
Cognition being generated neurally or as a whole-body processor of multiple influences has real-world implications. The resulting modeling of either viewpoint, and therefore the resulting behavior, impacts subjects such as memory and its location, native forms of intelligence, styles of learning, and therefore how to better educate and psychologically treat people. It also concerns physical health.
Information and Health
The placebo response has become an accepted psychophysiological influence. (11) As with transphysical experiences, expectation and conditioning are the two main drivers. (27) Demonstrating their physical effects, in pain studies they have been shown to stimulate different opioid pathways. (28)
Expectation and conditioning are learned behaviors and so carry meaning. (29) As a form of information, meaning acts like a physical force producing physical effects. Blue pills, for example, work better as tranquilizers than red pills, except for Italian men as blue is associated with their national soccer team and so they get revved up rather than relaxed. (30)
A medical clinician is a source of information influencing patient outcomes, and models of health inform the practitioner. (31) The information then imparted to a patient can produce a positive or a negative, nocebo response. Moreover, incorrect diagnoses might occur. A person reporting an OBE might be thought to have a temporal lobe abnormality when, in reality, the person might be the picture of health and normalcy. In general, the fullness of a patient's experiences and reporting needs to be allowed, freely expressed, and to be appreciated at face value in order to achieve a comprehensive, accurate evaluation. The current research and responses surrounding transphysical phenomena aptly illustrate this need.
In like manner, group norms--such as those held by contingents of like-minded scientists--can produce perceptual entrainment, or groupthink, which is fostered by expectation based on professional conditioning, then becomes a determinant of worldview and state of mind. As a result, valuable information pertaining to one's health may be overlooked by a clinician or may even be considered prejudicial, worthy of condemnation, and therefore negatively impact the patient. It would therefore behoove the professional to be acquainted with different views of reality and, perhaps more so, to allow for possibilities beyond consensus thinking.
All of the physical and transphysical influences listed above carry effects whether or not they are modeled. Schumann Resonances and circadian rhythms act within the body without having to be described and interpreted. Molecules continue to dock with cellular receptors even without the need for articulating their presence. Transphysical experiences impact the body and consciousness even if one doesn't know what they may represent. Meaning, as illustrated by placebo studies, can significantly influence physiology regardless of how conscious one might be of the process.
Furthermore, this dynamic stretches across all considerations of health. Homeodynamics, the body's innate regulation, is an orchestration of the entire body in concert with a multi-faceted environment. (5 ) Therefore, a more accurate modeling of homeodynamics would include neural and matrix systems, somatic intelligence, and a redefinition of cognition and information to include transphysical elements. Such articulation would then lead to other models, new therapies, and a more enhanced knowledge of health and healing.
I am physical; therefore I am... or am I?
Like the circular pattern of a hurricane, the physicalist argument maintains an exclusive, self-fulfilling prophecy. The baseline of modern science centers on examining a physical world. A plethora of findings then form a worldview of reality being physical, and the physicalist definition of information naturally follows--and the definition reinforces the worldview. Deviations from the definition are deemed errant. Transphysicalists, on the other hand, are more like a weather front sweeping through a region as they apply steady pressure hoping to push aside another system. Both are forms of nature.
The essential problem of the physicalist argument, however, is actually pretty simple. Defining information as "physical" is giving it meaning, as that is the definition of definition. But this is contrary to the physicalist definition of information not having meaning. In other words, "physical" is given meaning by defining it but then it is reduced to having none in order to define information. Perceiving something without layering it with meaning is a step toward objectivity as it reflects an understanding of how conceptualization distorts pure sensation. Physicalists thereby offer the essence of objectivity by attempting to have a fixed, standard reference. But relegating information solely to the physical indicates the process has gone awry.
Moreover, the same Zen-like approach of perceiving something without instilling meaning can be applied to any phenomena. Each of the transphysical phenomena mentioned herein can exist as information without conceptualization. One can perceive only the raw, undistilled extreme experience and try not to interpret or make sense of it, thereby fulfilling a physicalist requirement concerning meaning. We therefore have a layer of objective reference. But these phenomena also exist beyond the definition of being physical, and this throws a weather-wrench into the mix.
In principle, this is no different than the carrier wave and transmitted information illustration. There is the basic experience itself and then the meaning or utility relating to it. In and of themselves, carrier waves are both material and meaningless. Likewise, roads signs exist without interpretation. They just are... until the instructions of what they represent have been communicated. In the same manner, transphysical phenomena occur and are perceived, and carry information whether or not one interprets the experiences. From here, it is a short leap to realize that the entirety of existence is information. At any given turn, basic level sensation is modulated or formed into conceptualization and, in so doing, establishes meaning which becomes another level of information.
The Metaphysics of Science
As put forward above, non-interpretation of basic perception can be applied to anything, and so to any form of information. Again, the problem is defining information as having to be physical. This reflects the baseline starting point--the point of initial conditions--that reality is solely physical, rather than material existence being a reference for a certain line of inquiry. As such, the information debate brings more clarity to the philosophy of science.
In a classical sense, philosophy is a means to acquire knowledge. As a branch of philosophy, metaphysics deals with underlying structures and processes concerning the nature of reality, and that's what we're dealing with here. Dismissing the transphysical in order to maintain a "physical-only" reality does not add to awareness and knowledge. It is prejudicial groupthink, if not scientifically unjustified.
While the physical is a valuable focus of research, it also represents learning to the exclusion of other awareness and knowledge. It stands to reason that people who develop their world, including livelihood, based on mental constructs ascribe cognition and consciousness as being materially based. This, however, becomes a matter of professional projection; and, scientifically speaking, in order to investigate something scientifically it must first be allowed to exist.
Information, cognition, and consciousness are intertwined, each affecting the others. From developing research models to understanding life, confining any of them produces significant effects. The debates about information as well as cognition reflect a much larger dispute concerning a philosophy of materialism, and whether this view overly emphasizes the physical thereby stultifying research rather than stimulating open-ended inquiry.
As a counterpoint, pantheistic philosophy supports transphysical experiences just as the philosophy of science supports and details physical phenomena. At the same time, pantheism can hold science but not vice versa. Should not physicalists then give way? Doing so would not obviate scientific findings of the physical world but would render the physical as a reference point of life rather than the only condition of it. Expanding the reference would only enhance the capacity of scientific research, provide new avenues of inquiry, expand the scope of meaning of reality, and offer substantial perspectives on homeodynamics, health, and healing.
Expectation and conditioning create models that filter perception and determine behavior. This applies to any endeavor, including those of physicalists and pantheists. This process provides for education to accelerate learning until the conditioning becomes locked in stone and thereby shunts awareness. A more complete picture of life is that the physical world is only part of discoverable order, and that a multi-dimensional environment enriches our lives. By reviewing the nature of information, the emergent fact is that both sides of the debate could allow a warm steady breeze to usher in new worldviews, technologies, and ways to approach life. Both camps have something to offer. Realness, after all, is in the eye of the beholder and so, of one kind or another, everything is information. It then becomes a matter of what you do with it.
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(2.) Stanford University on-line library: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/information/SHisDevMeaTerlnf, accessed 11/15/17.
(3.) Kelly K. Why the Basis of the Universe Isn't Matter or Energy-It's Data. Wired. February 28, 2011.
(4.) Oxford University Physicist Vlatko Vedral, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfQ2r0zvyoA, accessed 11/02/17.
(5.) Smith K. The Temporal Architecture of Life: A Survey of Environmental Dynamics in Human Health. EdgeScience. June 2016:14-20.
(6.) Gleick J. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. New York: Pantheon Books; 2011:292.
(7.) Oschman JL. Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis, Second Edition. Edinburgh, Scot. Churchill Livingston, 2016.
(8.) Zelazo PD, Moscovitch, M, Thompson, E, eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2007.
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(10.) Kandel ER, Schwartz JH, Jessell TM, eds. Principles of Neural Science, Fourth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2000.
(11.) Kelly EF, Crabtree A, Marshal P, eds. Beyond Physicalism: Toward a Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield; 2015:31.
(12.) Kelly EF, et al. Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 2007:117.
(13.) Tonini G. Integrated information theory of consciousness: an updated account. Archives Italiennes de Biologic 2012;150:290-326.
(14.) Gabbard GO, Twemlow S. With the Eyes of the Mind: An Empirical Analysis of Out-of-Body States. New York: Praeger;1984:27-39.
(15.) Penfield W. The Role of the Temporal Cortex in Certain Psychical Phenomena, The Journal of Mental Science. July 1955; 101(424):451-465; and Penfield W, Perot P. The Brain's Record of Auditory and Visual Experience. Brain. 1963; 86:595-696.
(16.) Blanke O, et al. Out of body experience and autoscopy of neurological origin. Brain. 127, 2004:243-258.
(17.) Stevenson I. Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect, Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997.
(18.) Tucker JB. Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives, New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2013.
(19.) Weiss BL. Many Lives, Many Masters, New York: Touchstone, 2012.
(20.) James W. Varieties of Religious Experience, New York: Macmillan, 1961 (original publication 1902).
(21.) Stace WT. Mysticism and Philosophy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987 (original publication 1960).
(22.) Author communication with Edgar Mitchell during 2006-07.
(23.) Dimitropoulos S. Trying to Lose My Religion. Discover. September 2017:26-27.
(24.) Oschman JL, Pressman MD. An Anatomical, Biochemical, Biophysical and Quantum Basis for the Unconscious Mind. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies. 2014:33(l):77-96.
(25.) McCraty R, et al. Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 2. A System-Wide Process? The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2004: 10(2):325-336.
(26.) McCraty R, et al. Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1. The Surprising Role of the Heart. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2004; 10(1):133-143.
(27.) Colloca L, Benedetti F. Placebos and painkillers: is mind as real as matter? Nature Reviews Neuroscience. July 2005;6:545-552.
(28.) Price DD, et al. A Comprehensive Review of the Placebo Effect: Recent Advances and Current Thought. Annual Review of Psychology. January 2008:565-590.
(29.) Walach H. Placebo and placebo effects--a concise review. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, June 2003: 8(2):178-187.
(30.) Silberman S. Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why. Wired Magazine. August 24, 2009.
(31.) Smith K. The Mind of Placebo: In Search of the Perfect Medicine. EdgeScience. January-March 2011;6:9-13.
by Kenneth Smith
Kenneth Smith serves as the communications director of Beech Tree Labs, Inc. (www.beechtreelabs.com), a discovery and early-stage development biopharmaceutical company, and as the executive director of Beech Tree's sister company, The Institute for Therapeutic Discovery (www.tiftd.org), a non-profit organization focused on bridging biochemistry and biophysics. He is the author of Shamanism for the Age of Science.
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|Date:||May 1, 2018|
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