A Complexity Basis for Phenomenology: How information states at criticality offer a new approach to understanding experience of self, being and time

Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 119:288–302 (2015)
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In the late 19th century Husserl studied our internal sense of time passing, maintaining that its deep connections into experience represent prima facie evidence for it as the basis for all investigations in the sciences: Phenomenology was born. Merleau-Ponty focused on perception pointing out that any theory of experience must in accord with established aspects of biology i.e. embodied. Recent analyses suggest that theories of experience require non-reductive, integrative information, together with a specific property connecting them to experience. Here we elucidate a new class of information states with just such properties found at the loci of control of complex biological systems, including nervous systems. Complexity biology concerns states satisfying self-organized criticality. Such states are located at critical instabilities, commonly observed in biological systems, and thought to maximize information diversity and processing, and hence to optimize regulation. Major results for biology follow: why organisms have unusually low entropies; and why they are not merely mechanical. Criticality states form singular self-observing systems, which reduce wave packets by processes of perfect self-observation associated with feedback gain g=1. Analysis of their information properties leads to identification of a new kind of information state with high levels of internal coherence, and feedback loops integrated into their structure. The major idea presented here is that the integrated feedback loops are responsible for our ‘sense of self’, and also the feeling of continuity in our sense of time passing. Long-range internal correlations guarantee a unique kind of non-reductive, integrative information structure enabling such states to naturally support phenomenal experience. Being founded in complexity biology, they are ‘embodied’; they also fulfill the statement that ‘The self is a process’, a singular process. High internal correlations and RenéThom-style catastrophes support non-digital forms of information, gestalt cognition, and information transfer via quantum teleportation. Criticality in complexity biology can ‘embody’ cognitive states supporting gestalts, and phenomenology’s senses of ‘self,’ time passing, existence and being.


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