The Dynamics of Thought, Reality, and Consciousness

Edited by Ben Goertzel, Mark Germine, and Allan Combs


This volume is a collection of articles which all share a common concern with time, process, and consciousness. The chapters represent a variety of different perspectives and the authors span the disciplines of psychology, mathematics, physics, and psychiatry. As a whole the collection presents a coherent view of mind as a complex, evolving, self-organizing system.

In recent years there has been increasing work on the quantitative dynamics of both mental processes and the brain. Investigative researchers are using tools from mathematical dynamical systems theory to analyze experimental data and to formulate theoretical and computational models. This work is interesting and important, but because of the limitations of the experimental method in psychology and psychiatry, it often tends to dance around the edges of the truly essential questions. The articles in this volume take a more direct and abstract stance: instead of attempting to account for detailed data, they use ideas from dynamical systems theory, process philosophy, and related areas of science to explore questions pertaining to the fundamental nature of mind. They take on broad, ambitious topics such as the underlying logic of thought, the nature of states of consciousness, the interdependence of mind and physical reality, the basis of archetypal forms, the possibility of extrasensory perception, and the process nature of higher order neural action.

These deep questions are obviously not resolved in a final way, but significant light is shed on them. Concrete connections are established between such "hard science" concepts as attractors, quantum dynamics, hypercomplex algebras, fractals and symmetric differences, on the one hand, and "soft," experiential concepts such as consciousness, subjective reality, and the dialectical nature of thought on the other. The mind, and to a significant degree the brain, emerges as a system of processes mutually creating each other through complex interactions and interdependence, giving rise as a whole to dynamical attractor structures that underlie states of consciousness and entire experiential landscapes.

And so, the topics considered are diverse, as are the backgrounds and perspectives of the authors, but the unifying theme remains strong throughout. The chapters collected here are part of a newly emerging understanding of mind, one that is both holistic and scientific in nature, and that seamlessly integrates the latest developments in mathematics, physics and brain science with the nature of subjective experience..

The Dynamics of Consciousness

The first three chapters in the book deal with consciousness, presenting a view of consciousness that incorporates dynamical systems theory and phenomenology into a synthetic view of experience in terms of systems of intercreating processes.

Consciousness was was long the bane of academic psychologists, but is now inordinately popular in the mainstream research psychology community. Along with the popularity of consciousness at a topic of study, however, has come a certain conformity of thought. Cognitivist and neuroscience oriented views of consciousness are welcome, but the broader view of consciousness, incorporating experiential evidence and even evidence from transpersonal states, is generally ignored. The papers in this section suffer from no such timidity: they attempt to understand the fascinating and incomparably essential phenomenon of consciousness in a very fundamental way. They outline a perspective on consciousness which is based, simultaneously, in modern mathematics and in phenomenology, raw experience. While the ultimate questions of consciousness are not resolved here -- and indeed, are probably in some measure unresolvable -- significant progress is made.

The first chapter, by Allan Combs, offers one view of how the many constituents of the human mind combine to weave the fabric of everyday conscious experience. In the spirit of William James these constituents, such as sensory perception, intuition, discursive thought, emotion, and memory, are seen as processes that interact and combine in a continuously evolving fabric. The human mind is viewed as a complex but surprisingly stable dynamic event, constantly engaged in the act of self-creation. This is a very simple perspective, at odds with many of the overly complex and unintuitive constructions found in the recent research literature. It draws concepts from dynamical systems theory, such as "strange attractors," but at the same time it harmonizes naturally with the nature of conscious experience.

The following chapter, by Ben Goertzel, presents a sophisticated extension of this view, in a mathematical model of consciousness that draws both on the psychology and phenomenology of consciousness, and on his previous work on the formal makeup of mind itself. Two algebraic structures, the quaternions and octonions, are identified as corresponding to two different states of consciousness: ordinary, reactive consciousness; and a higher, reflexive state. The mathematics of self-creating systems, interpreted via abstract algebra, is seen to lead to conclusions similar to those found in the psychology of spiritual experience.

The perspective offered in these first two chapters is a broad and deep one, but it is not comprehensive. Consciousness presents itself in two aspects, only one of which -- the structural aspect -- is addressed in these chapters. The other aspect of consciousness is its experienced transparency. It is this latter, subjective, dimension of consciousness, which Goertzel calls awareness, that lies at the root of both its fascination and its mystery. The idea that consciousness could simply emerge from the material substance of the nervous system seems beyond belief. Yet what else is one to believe? What we are edging toward here, of course, is the mind-body problem, or something very akin to it. Schopenhauer referred to it as the "world-knot," because it lends itself to no satisfactory solution and yet, it would seem, cannot be escaped. Philosophers in the East and West, as well as contemporary neuroscientists, have offered many solutions while no consensus is in sight. In the second chapter of this section Goertzel ventures bravely into these waters following several tenuous but engaging leads that suggest the location of the solution to this enigma to be associated with, of all things, randomness. The reader will have to make his or her own judgement, but it is a fascinating story.

The Dynamics of Mind and Brain

The next few papers deal with more empirical, less phenomenological aspects of the dynamics of the mind/brain. First, Jason Brown's two papers summarize and give a novel perspective on the author's outstanding theoretical work of the past decade.

Brown, while doing clinical work at the New York City Medical Center, has developed an impressive process neuropsychology of the brain, one that yields an understanding of clinical symptoms that is radically holistic compared with conventional clinical neurology, with its emphasis on physical locality and modularity of function. His approach recaptures much of what was lost at the turn of the century, when clinicians such as John Hughlings Jackson as well as many of the French and other European neurologists emphasized the alterations of the neurological patients= subjective life as part of the overall clinical picture. Since then, a shift toward the specification of objective symptoms and away from any consideration of the inner life of the patient has been the dominant standard in clinical neurology. Brown's work also recalls Kurt Goldstein's influential theorizing in the 1930s and 1940s, now all but forgotten, that stressed the Gestalt aspects of brain function in the genesis of the symptoms of brain dysfunctions. Beyond the above, Brown has extended his thinking to include the psychology and phenomenology of experience; and his ideas in this regard may in fact turn out to be among his most important contributions to our understanding of what we are as human beings.

Next, Garry Flint's chapter takes a specific and somewhat controversial clinical procedure, EMDR, and shows that it makes perfect sense if understood from a dynamical process view of the brain. What seems mysterious and bizarre from a conventional medical perspective, turns out to be a very natural consequence of chaos and complexity in the mind/brain. This is but one among many examples of complexity science leading us away from reductionistic medicine and biology, and towards a more holistic view of the body and mind.

Finally, Hoffmann's chapter deals with a different kinds of dynamics of mind: dialectical dynamics. The idea that mind proceeds by dialectics is an old one, going back to the Greeks and elaborated by scores of Hegelian and Marxist theorists, yet never before has the dialectical approach to mind been successfully connected with formal logic, brain function, or cognitive and perceptual psychology. Hoffmann relates dialectics with logic and set theory with admirable simplicity, using the symmetric difference operation; and then, using this new formulation of dialectical psychology, he explores the importance of dialectics for perception, cognition and learning. One expects that this paper will form the beginning of an interesting new approach to mathematical psychology.

The Physical Foundations of Mind

Next, leaving mainstream psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience aside -- but staying with the theme of the dynamics of mental process -- the focus of the book moves to the relations between mind and the physical world. Here we are entering into the domain of Mind in the most general sense -- Mind as Universe; Universe as Mind. This is exciting and important material, which gets at age-old philosophical questions, using cutting-edge scientific tools.

This section begins with "Soma-Significance," an article by physicist/philosopher David Bohm -- the last article written by this important theorist before his death. Commentary on Bohm's ideas here are provided in a prelude by Mark Germine and a follow-up article by Thomas Germine. This is an extremely important segment of the book: we believe that David Bohm's work, as a scientist and science-inspired philosopher, is truly outstanding and is yet to be fully appreciated.

The illusions that Bohm questioned, and continues to question more than ever in the posthumously-published paper presented here, are the illusions of permanence and predictability. At the same time he questions these illusions, which are not fundamental to human values, he reclaims the value of meaning from the graveyard of science. His scientific support and affirmation of the idea that every thing and every event has meaning in its own right, is extremely important, for in this time when science is considered the touchstone of truth we are being left without meaning, the alternative to which can only be individual and collective despair. For the individual life to have meaning, meaning must be united with matter. Bohm intuitively grasped this fact, as well as the fact that life does have meaning, and transformed these intuitions into a scientific, rational system, in much the same way Einstein did with his intuitions of space, time, matter, and energy.

Bohm's ideas shake the foundations of human thought to its very core, more deeply than the Copernican/Galilean revolution that shattered our illusion of a geocentric universe and took hundreds of years to be accepted. They shake the foundations of blind materialism, or what Whitehead called the fallacy of "misplaced concreteness." Like the epicycles of Ptolemy, we have perpetuated the illusion of a concrete mind using complex systems of thought. We have created biological and psychological "houses of cards," and as each system falls we busy ourselves building the next, never questioning the underlying false assumption of a concrete mind.

Following Bohm, and Thomas Germine's commentary thereon, we have Mark Germine and Ben Goertzel presenting complementary views on the nature of time. The topic at issue is the very directionality of time -- an issue that cuts to the core of the topic of "Mind and Time." Germine uses thermodynamic and psychological concepts to give a conceptual argument as to why time must move forward; Goertzel presents a picture of psychological and physical time as bidirectional or multidirectional, and views unidirectional, linear time as a high-level, emergent pattern, coming out of a lower-level non-unidirectional time domain.

Finally, in "Mind as Pregeometry," Goertzel attempts to take a positive step further in the direction of Bohm's unification of mind and the physical world. The notion of "pregeometry" was introduced by John Wheeler to refer to a primary aphysical realm from which the physical world emerges. Here is it suggested that, in fact, mind is this pregeometry -- that, in Bohmian terms, human minds are the implicate order from which the explicate order of physical reality is produced. Some specific ideas about how to formalize the notion of mind as pregeometry are developed, using the author's previous mathematical models of mind in terms of dynamical systems and abstract algebras.


It is only when the human mind actively brings forth from within itself the full powers of a disciplined imagination and saturates its empirical observation with archetypal insight that the deeper reality of the world emerges.

Richard Tarnas

The next two chapters deal with a theme -- archetypal form -- that has all but disappeared from scientific discourse for over a century. Indeed, it was never actually central to the mainstream of Western science. Nevertheless, it has been an important leitmotif in the history of intellectual inquiry, and in the days of Goethe actually threatened for a moment to surface as a prominent principle. The idea that the getting of wisdom, including scientific wisdom, requires a tempering of objective observation with imaginal reflection and a contemplative seeking for archetypal patterns was vital to Goethe's understanding, and also is found in the writings of Schiller, Schelling, Heel, Coleridge, and Emerson. It continued in the works of Steiner and Carl Jung. Today it is making a surprise comeback in the discovery of broadly applicable dynamical process patterns in nature, for example, in patterns of plant and animal morphogenesis, but also in the contemporary re-examination of traditional issues in psychology, mathematics, and philosophy. The chapter by Charles Card is a significant contribution to the re-examination of the importance of the notion of archetypes, and the following chapter by Robin Robertson examines one of the most fundamental notions in human thought, number, as an archetypal pattern.

The Physics and Psychology of Psi Phenomena

Finally, in the last two chapters, we move beyond conventional views of the mind in yet a different way, and consider the possible dynamics of "extrasensory" or psi phenomena. This is a controversial topic, and yet, we believe it is a topic worth of serious consideration, and possibly one whose time is about to come.

With the passage of modernity in science as well as in the intellectual culture at large, the fragmented world view that celebrated analysis and division is slowly giving way. What is replacing it is a broader, more holistic perspective, one that embraces the idea that many apparently separate systems are best understood as participating in larger contexts of activity. This shift in understanding has multiple facets. Nonlocal interaction between physical systems has become well known and accepted in quantum physics. And in a less fundamental, but no less important, sense, it is increasingly recognized that the human brain did not evolve in isolation as a kind of Darwinian atom, but in fact came into being in close interaction with other similar brains, so that thinking itself is to some significant degree a social rather than a strictly personal event. The study of psi phenomena extends this emerging holistic paradigm in yet another direction, focussing on the possibility that the individual brain and mind participate in a larger field of action than the traditional mechanistic view of science could allow.

It is easy to dismiss psi phenomena as science fiction or mysticism. However, the

possibility of such phenomena, in terms of the laws of quantum physics, is abundantly clear.

In the chapters of the previous section, we have seen how, according to modern physics, mind may indeed play an essential role in the creation of reality. Furthermore, the empirical data in favor of the existence of psi phenomena is quite strong, stronger than the evidence for many well-accepted phenomena in mainstream psychology. We believe that we, as mind scientists, have the responsibility to take psi phenomena seriously. Neither blind faith nor dogmatic disbelief is appropriate here, but rather a careful, intelligent appraisal of the empirical evidence and theoretical concepts involved. Ervin Laszlo's and Stanley Krippner's articles here present speculative and imaginative, yet conceptually rigorous explorations along these lines.

Laszlo's article explores the potential relationships between transpersonal psychology, quantum theory, and psi phenomena -- relationships that lie on the fringe of currently accepted physics, but in no way violate our empirical understanding of the physical or mental universes. Next, Krippner's article takes a more psychological view, attempting to place psi phenomena in a general perspective regarding the various capacities possessed by the human mind. No definitive conclusions are arrived at, and yet these ideas are important, for they are grasps toward an extended view of human nature, a view that may become commonplace one day in the future.

Conclusion: A New Direction for Mind Science

The papers collected here represent an intersection of the interests and backgrounds of the three editors -- in the articles that the editors themselves have contributed, and in the articles that they have recruited and selected. The first papers for the collection were gathered together by Mark Germine, who was excited by the paper "Soma-Significance," which David Bohm sent to him briefly before Bohm passed away. Germine, a psychiatrist with an interest in physics, was mainly interested in the interface between mental and physical reality, in the use of each of the two kinds of reality to shed light on the other. Then Allan Combs, a neuropsychologist, brought his knowledge of brain science and dynamical systems theory to the project, as well as his deep knowledge of non-Western theories of consciousness; all of these qualities are reflected in the papers collected here. Finally, Ben Goertzel, a mathematician with expertise in mathematical mind modelling as well as broad interests spanning fundamental physics, consciousness and dynamical systems, brought a more technical slant to the collection.

Clearly, a different group of editors would have brought together a different collection of chapters, and in that sense, the collection given here is highly idiosyncratic. However, we believe that the general direction of thinking reflected by these chapters is in no way idiosyncratic, and in fact is indicative of a drastic, general shift in our thinking about the mind. In the course of this century, psychological science has been through many phases -- clinical, behavioral , cognitive, etc. The next phase, we believe, will be one that is holistic and interdisciplinary in nature, emphasizing the complex, self-organizing nature of mental process, and the links between mind systems as traditionally conceived and other systems in the universe. Mind will be viewed as a collection of interdefining, interpenetrating forms, preserving itself through self-organization as it draws creative power from the ceaseless flow of time. Each chapter here presents its own small part of this emerging understanding.