Emergence & Cognition – Archived

What is emergence?

Emergence or emergent complexity describes how relatively simple interactions among parts at one level of scale can generate a qualitatively more complex whole at a greater level of scale. Common examples involve how the interactions of subatomic particles give rise to atoms, how the interactions of atoms give rise to molecules, and how the interactions of molecules give rise to various forms of matter. Emergence often produces order where we would otherwise expect to find chaos. In this framework, emergent complexity is defined in terms of patterns of interaction, levels of scale, and systems of emergence.

Patterns of Interactions

Patterns refer to the high level organization of the various types of interactions. The most basic patterns of interaction involve individual units, units in relationship to other units, and the collective formed by all of the units and their relationships. Patterns are essentially about parts, wholes, and the dynamics among them.

Although patterns can be simplified into these three primary elements, we have to be careful not to oversimplify them. There are entire taxonomies of various meronymic or part-whole relationships that demonstrate how the same whole can be decomposed into different types of parts. Relative to a whole pie, parts might refer to its individual slices; its crust, filling, and topping; or even the ingredients used when making it. In each of these cases, we can take away one part and the remainder will still be there. However, from an emergent systems perspective, we are referring to parts whose interactions cause the whole to come into being. For example, we could say that different types of molecules are parts of the pie. However, it is not possible to separate certain molecules from the rest without completely transforming the nature of the whole.

Levels of Scale

There is the idea that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, but emergence literally takes this idea to another level. With this framework, we are interested in levels that represent shifts in the scale of our perspective. Like the ability to zoom in or out with a microscope or a telescope, the concept of levels facilitates the discovery of different orders of magnitude for perceiving the world.

In an emergent system, the individual units at one level emerge from the interacting units at the previous level. What we’re getting at here is the difference between affect and effect.  Because an emergent whole is an effect of its parts, it exists at an inherently greater level of scale. Each level represents a distinct situational context which subsequently affords and constrains certain types of interaction. In this context, we begin to comprehend the relationships of qualitatively different worlds within worlds, each with their own unique physical or conceptual laws for defining the properties and behaviors of the phenomena therein.

Systems of Emergence

The concept of systems of emergence refers to an understanding of how what is relatively complex at one level at the same time is relatively simple at another level. And transversing these levels, each unit is simultaneously a whole emerging from the interactions of less complex parts and an interacting part from which a more complex whole emerges. Every observable phenomenon is both a part and whole, and is constantly involved in endless interactions which may be invisible to us because they are either at too small or big a scale for us to physically see or perhaps even mentally comprehend.

pls

 


 

What is cognition?

From an emergent systems perspective, cognition refers to the processes by which we act, feel, and think in the world. It is essentially a question of how we process information at three cognitive levels of scale: information about the physical world (Perception), information about relationships in the world (Association), and information about the relationships among relationships (Conceptualization). This definition integrates key elements of embodied, situational, and symbolic approaches to cognition.

To use any analogy, we are playing with the idea of cognition as a function of the body, heart, mind, and possibly even spirit. I use these terms playfully and as a creative frame of reference for further exploration of the primary themes of cognition as an emergent system for processing information.

Cognition as a function of the body

It is through the body that we are able to sense everything that is around and within us, from the warmth of the sun to the movements of our muscles. Perception, as a kind of body cognition, involves the processing by which we generate cognitive representations of information in the physical world. For example, looking at an apple produces our perception of the apple we see; this is how we know what the apple looks like.

Cognition as a function of the heart

If the first level is sensing, then the second level is feeling, a property typically attributed to the heart. The cardiovascular system also connects and supplies nutrients to every living cell in our bodies. Association, as a kind of heart cognition, involves the processing by which we generate cognitive representations of relationships among our perceptions. For example, based on our prior experience, the visual perception of an apple activates a network of other perceptions associated with apples; this is how we know what the apple probably feels, smells, and tastes like, as well as in what ways and contexts we are likely to encounter the apple.

Cognition as a function of the mind

Thinking follows feeling. Like the cardiovascular system, the nervous system connects to and communicates with cells throughout the body. Conception, as a kind of mind cognition, involves the processing by which we generate cognitive representations of relationships among our associations. For example, the visual perception of the apple activates the network of perceptions associated with apples, which includes the networks of any other perceptions that we have learned to simultaneously activate or process as an equivalent of the first; this is how we know that the apple is called “apple.”

As a higher function of the mind, conscious thinking involves the processing by which we generate cognitive representations of our own cognitive processes. As we continuously process information from the world, we are always creating Perceptions, Associations, and Conceptions. When we are consciously aware of any of these cognitive representations as words, we internally hear the words in our minds, which produces an auditory perception of the words, which we then associate with other perceptions and conceptualize in the context of a network of perceptions; this is how we know what we are thinking.

Cognition as a function of spirit

Should we continue along this road, we might speculate about a state of being or awareness beyond thinking. This element of cognitive processing, as a kind of spirit cognition, could simply involve the processing of information without the cognitive representation of it, or at the least without language-based cognitive representation of it. We will not try to describe this process in detail here, but it would relate to the question of how we know without knowing that we know.

 


 

What are emergent cognitive processes?

How are we able to smell a certain scent, hear a certain sound, feel a certain shape, taste a certain flavor, and then perceive a cognitive representation of an apple?

How are we able to learn to associate the cognitive representation of a physical apple with the cognitive representation of the sound “apple”?

How are we able to hear a series of sounds or look at a series of markings signifying “This is an apple”, and then conceptualize a cognitive representation of shared meaning?

What are the differences among knowing what a physical object is, knowing what other physical objects or conditions indirectly relate to it, knowing the word that directly relates to it, and knowing how the word relates to other words, objects, and conditions?

These are questions about the cognitive processing of information. None are new questions, but we can try to understand them in new ways. According to the Princeton WordNetWeb, cognition is “the psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning.” But what we want is to understand the relationships among the processes of perceiving a sensation, learning a physical or mental behavior, and applying reason which generate this result.

In many descriptions of cognition, the relationships among perception, learning and reasoning are mechanistic in nature: parts fit together to form wholes; processes involve ordered steps; perception is separate from reasoning. By applying PLS, we have an emergent systems framework for studying cause and effect relationships among perception, learning, reasoning and, ultimately, cognition: parts interact to generate wholes; processes involve dynamic changes over time; perception is integral to reasoning. From this perspective, reasoning is a function of learning, and learning is a function of perception.

Similar to PLS, the Cognitive Patterns Levels and Systems (CPLS) framework uses patterns, levels, and systems to describe cognitive information processing as an emergent system.

Patterns of Processing

In the PLS framework, patterns describe parts, relationships, and wholes as the primary elements involved in any interaction. Applied to CPLS, patterns describe the processes of differentiating units of information, connecting differentiated units of information, and integrating the units of information and their connections.

Levels of Processing

In describing the dimension of scale, CPLS refers to processing information at the different levels or orders of magnitude. The first level involves processing patterns from our exteroceptive (external to the body) and interoceptive (internal to the body) sensory experiences of the world. The second level involves processing patterns from our situational experiences of when, where, how, and why things happen in the world. The third level involves processing patterns from our experiences of symbolic relationships among other patterns derived from the world.

Systems of Processing

Each level constitutes a unique cognitive system which processes and produces a distinct type of information. Perception is the processing of information from the immediate, physical world to produce perceptions as cognitive representations of sensory information; Association is the processing of perceptions to produce associations as cognitive representations of situational information; Conception is the processing of associations to produce conceptions as cognitive representations of symbolic information.

CPLS framework

 


 

What is conceptualization (Concrete)?

What does information processing look like within this framework? To get a better idea, here are a few examples described in terms of systems (Perceptual, Associative, Conceptual) and patterns (Differentiation, Connection, Integration). These examples take us through the activation of representations of a cat as a perceived thing, “cat” as a label associated with a thing, and cat as an interpreted symbol.

Processing an experience of a cat

The first example involves subconscious processing of a real cat by someone who is familiar with cats but perhaps does not have a name for them. This process involves differentiating directly available sensory information of the cat as a subject, connecting it with available sensory information related to the subject, and integrating the activated information into a perceptual representation of the subject; then unifying the immediate perception, connecting it with other perceptions, and integrating the activated information into an associative representation of [cat] or cat-ness.

Perceptual

  • Differentiating: Sensory information of a subject (a cat) is differentiated from other information in the environment
  • Connecting: The sensory information of the subject (a cat) is peripherally connected with and activates related sensory information available through immediate or previous experience with the subject
  • Integrating: The network of activated information is integrated as a perceptual representation of the subject (a cat)

Associative

  • Differentiating: The perception of the subject (a cat) is differentiated as a unit of information
  • Connecting: The perception of the subject (a cat) is peripherally connected with and activates related perceptions available through immediate or previous experience with cats
  • Integrating: The network of activated information is integrated into an associative representation of the subject [cat]

Processing the sound “cat”

The next example involves subconscious processing of the sound “cat” by someone who understands this as an indexical reference for [cat] (i.e., words as labels/indexes) but has not fully acquired functional language (i.e., words as parts of a symbol system). In this case, the perception of the sound “cat” is integrally connected with the perception of [cat], such that one directly activates the other. Both perceptions are also connected with and peripherally activate additional information to which they have become related via immediate and previous experience. The activated perceptions and their peripheral networks of connections are then integrated into an associative representation of [“cat”] = [cat].

Perceptual

  • Differentiating: Sensory information of the subject (the sound of “cat”) is differentiated from other information in the environment
  • Connecting: The sensory information of the subject (the sound of “cat”) is peripherally connected with and activates related sensory information available through immediate and previous experience with the subject
  • Integrating: The network of activated information is integrated as a perceptual representation of the subject (the sound of “cat”)

Associative

  • Differentiating: The perception of the subject (the sound of “cat”) is differentiated as a unit of information
  • Connecting: The perception of the subject (the sound of “cat”) is peripherally connected with and activates related perceptions available through immediate and previous experience of the subject, most directly with perceptions of cats which in turn activate an associative representation of [cat]
  • Integrating: The network of activated information is integrated as an associative representation of [“cat”] as a indexical reference / label for [cat]

Processing the word “cat”

Building on the previous examples, processing “cat” as a word involves subconscious processing of the perceptions and associations related to [“cat”] and [cat]. For someone who has acquired language (i.e., words as parts of a symbol system), the association is differentiated as a functional unit at the conceptual level. The association of [“cat”], [cat], and the relational networks of both are processed into a conceptual representation of cat.

Perceptual

  • Differentiating: Sensory information of the subject is differentiated from other information in the environment
  • Connecting: The sensory information of the subject is peripherally connected with and activates related sensory information available through immediate and previous experience with the subject
  • Integrating: The network of activated information is integrated as a perceptual representation of the subject

Associative

  • Differentiating: The perception of the subject is differentiated as a unit of information
  • Connecting: The perception of the subject is peripherally connected with and activates related information available through immediate and previous experience with the subject
  • Integrating: The network of activated information is integrated as an associative representation of [“cat”] as a indexical reference / label for [cat]

Conceptual

  • Differentiating: The association ([“cat”]=[cat]) is differentiated as a unit of information
  • Connecting: The association ([“cat”]=[cat]) is peripherally connected with and activates related information available through immediate and previous experience with the association ([“cat”]=[cat])
  • Integrating: The network of activated information is integrated as a conceptual representation of the meaning of cat
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s