These days, there is general consensus that the connection between body and mind is real and significant. Yet we are still looking for ways to understand what that connection is and how it works. An emergent systems perspective can help us reimagine the very nature of the body, the mind, and the connections between them.
Like matter (or the body), cognition (or the mind) is a function of emergent systems of multi-scale interactions. In an emergent system, interactions at one level of scale cause/effect interactions at another level of scale. The emergence of matter is relatively well-understood in science: The dynamic interactions among atoms give rise to molecules, the dynamic interactions among molecules give rise to cells, and the dynamic interactions among cells give rise to organisms. We can describe the emergence of physical (body), emotional (heart), mental (mind), and metaphysical (spirit) levels of awareness in a similar way. These levels of awareness represent the activity of perceptual, associative, conceptual, and interpretative levels of emergent cognition.
Physical Awareness & the ‘Atomic’ Level of Cognitive Emergence
We become aware of physical things in the world… We do not directly perceive the physical world as it is. For example, we experience fire as filtered through our senses. The mind integrates various forms of sensory information (the fire’s light, heat, sounds, and smells) to create a representation of the fire. This level of cognition produces our awareness of fire and other sources of sensory information… Through our senses, we experience the world.
Emotional Awareness & the ‘Molecular’ Level of Cognitive Emergence
We become aware of relationships among physical things in the world… As we experience the physical world, we subconsciously begin to identify correlations. Over time and depending on the contexts in which we experience fire, our sensory representation of fire becomes associated with other representations of illumination, warmth, crackling, smoke, matches, wood, candles, etc. These associations are similar to a semantic network, except that they involve sensory representations instead of words. This level of cognition produces our awareness of relational information, or how representations of sensory information are related to / associated with each other… Through our bodies, we intuitively map patterns in our past, present, and possible experiences of the world.
We become aware of special relationships between specific things in the world… At this level, we also learn names for things. The mind integrates the sensory representation of fire with the sensory representation of the sound “fire.” In this way, the mind’s representation of fire is directly related to “fire.” Subsequently each time we experience fire, we also imagine “fire”. At the same time, we are developing associations among “fire” and other names for things, which provides the basis for a semantic network… Through our bodies, we intuitively differentiate between sensory and semantic experiences of the world.
Mental Awareness & the ‘Cellular’ Level of Cognitive Emergence
We become aware of words as things and relationships in the world… Eventually, each time we experience “fire,” we also imagine fire, and the two essentially become the same thing. The mind integrates the associations of fire and “fire” to create a holistic representation of the concept of fire. This level of cognition produces our awareness of a word as a single conceptual representation of both sensory and semantic associative networks of information… Through words, we construct multi-dimensional maps among our experiences of the world.
Metaphysical Awareness & the ‘Organic’ Level of Cognitive Emergence
We become aware of relationships among words… Language enables complex communication about the world without direct reference to the world. We can describe what fire is even in absence of anything that resembles or is indicative of a fire. The mind integrates words to shape and share stories or narrative interpretations. This level of cognition produces our awareness of complex systems of conceptual information… Through language, we create a sense of meaning from our experiences in the world.
PLAYING WITH IDEAS
Organisms as Cells as Molecules as Atoms
Metaphysical as Mental as Emotional as Physical
Interpretation as Conception as Association as Perception