Monday, November 9, 2009

Life as an entity

Reading "Ant Fugue" in GEB made me think of a way to defend my talking about "life" as a conscious, intelligent entity that I interact with, as I did in my previous entries (e.g. here and here).

Holism is the idea that the whole is more than a sum of its parts. The relations and interactions between the parts can give the whole characteristics not found in any of the parts. This is why an ant colony can be seen as an entity, with perhaps intelligent behaviour, while each individual ant is not very intelligent. In the dialogue "Ant Fugue" in GEB, the characters talk about their conversations with an ant colony -- one that is intelligent and seemingly conscious. This "intelligence" and "consciousness" come not from any particular ant, but the interactions between the ants. Hopfstadter describes how the concentration of the cast distribution can contain information, which when grouped into higher and higher levels can lead to intelligent behaviour. The ants themselves are not very important - they are constantly being replaced, without really affecting the colony. Incidentally, this is very much like how our brains supposedly work. We are conscious, but this consciousness doesn't come from an individual neuron -- it's more likely to come from the way the neurons interact. As before, normal neuron deaths and replacements do not affect us.

You can begin to see where this is going - "life" is like the ant colony, and every object in my vicinity (perhaps also everything in my past and future) is like an individual ant. These objects, taken together and allowed to interact, display a kind of behaviour that seems intelligent. The actual objects in my vicinity will change, but that doesn't destroy the integrity of the entity. By living my life and in doing so making certain decisions, I am in effect communicating with this being. It seems to be helping me, teaching me, and prompting me with interesting experiences. Maybe it really is intelligent and conscious. Maybe I'll know one day.

End of Entry