The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Holarchies

The Hungarian writer Arthur Koestler brought together a wealth of biological, physical, anthropological and philosophical notions to construct a unified theory of open hierarchical systems that goes beyond the reductionist method favored by Science since Descartes. 

Language has to do with a hierarchical process of spelling out implicit ideas in explicit terms by means of rules and feedback. Organisms and societies also exhibit the same hierarchical structure. In these hierarchies, each intermediary entity ("holon") functions as a self-contained whole relative to its subordinates and as one of the dependent parts of its superordinates. Each holon tends to persist and assert its pattern of activity. 

Koestler thought that, wherever there is life, it must be hierarchically organized.  He argued that life exhibits an integrative property (that manifests itself as symbiosis) that enables the gradual construction of complex hierarchies out of simple holons.  In nature there are no separated, indivisible, self-contained units.  An "individual" is an oxymoron.  An organism, instead, is a hierarchy of self-regulating holons (a "holarchy") that work in conjunction with their environment. Holons at the higher levels of the hierarchy enjoy progressively more degrees of freedom and holons at the lower levels of the hierarchy have  progressively less degrees of freedom.  Moving up the hierarchy, we encounter more and more complex, flexible and creative patterns of activity. Moving down the hierarchy behavior becomes more and more mechanized. 

Hierarchical processes of the same nature can be found in the development of the embryo, in the evolution of species and in consciousness itself. The latter should be analyzed not in the context of the mind/body dichotomy but in the context of a multi-leveled hierarchy and of degrees of consciousness. 

They all share common themes: a tendency towards integration (a force that is inherent in the concept of hierarchic order, even if it seems to challenge the second law of Thermodynamics as it increases order), an openness at the top of the hierarchy (towards higher and higher levels of complexity) and the possibility of infinite regression. 

 


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