Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Piano Tuner's Daughter





I try hard to avoid it. I prefer stability and a predictable routine and I derive a great deal of happiness from the small measure of those things I have managed to craft into my life.

But that is not how growth happens. Not how life happens.

All the shit I fear is how life asserts itself. Left to my own devices, I would strangle the mad green growth, snip off the buds for fear of the thorns.

Luckily, I don't have that much control over things.


I get the flowers and the thorns alike.

As you do.


I was thinking the other day about emergence, this quality of seemingly intelligent activity, of higher level order, that emerges spontaneously sometimes from amassing huge quantities of lower level, mindless, automatic processes or individual pieces; how you can see amazing complexity in the behavior of an ant colony in food seeking, nest building, farming, warring, defending against attack, etc, even though no single individual ant has the foggiest fucking idea of what is going on.  He's just doing his own thing, following his very limited script, just like everyone else. No one has a master plan for the colony, but the colony itself coalesces out of the collective mindless actions of those little stupid ants. And how this same quality of emergence is how evolutionary processes proceed, how the stars and planets formed, how we came to become conscious beings, how our brains work; in short, it seems to be the engine of the world.

It is not a top-down hierarchy, but a bottom-up organic process.

At first when I contemplated this concept it made me realize that there was no room for God in the system, no room for a "creator"- not on a bible-study God level or a more sophisticated new-agey "spiritual being" level: the world and all the wonders in it, ourselves included, just kind of rose up in increasing levels of complexity out of a massive, timeless morass of chaos and nothingness, bootstrapping from one level of complexity to the next, like waves forming in a blender....something like that.

The main point being, there isn't a conductor. There's not a single entity with a blueprint for the Universe, directing and correcting, watching over, protecting, judging, etc.

It's just the grinding of the big calliope.

There isn't even a gap-toothed, methed-out carny running the thing.

We're on our own.


But then I thought a little more about it. I thought about how humans arose naturally out of the muck and mire after a few million years of rolling the genetic and environmental dice, and how, out of these entirely mindless and natural processes, our own consciousness arose as well. We may not be very good at it, but we can think and feel and act and reflect on all that we do, why we do it, etc.

We have consciousness. And it does not reside in any single neuron in our brains. It is not located in a part of us, but it exists as a byproduct of all of those hundreds of millions of neurons firing together.

Which got me thinking further.

If I suppose that I am conscious, and I am just a single entity, made up of billions upon billions of atoms, cells, various physical systems, etc, then wouldn't it be possible for the same kind of consciousness to arise out of almost any sufficiently complex system?

Maybe a beach will never become conscious, even though it's got billions and billions of sand grains. Maybe the vast majority of systems will never attain it because their rules are not sufficient to generate some emergent property.

But some systems must.


So, maybe the universe, the ultimate system of systems, has attained consciousness.

Or maybe it is going to somewhere down the line.

Maybe we are the seed of it.


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Maybe not.

Maybe it's the other way around.





Blogger Radish King said...

Oh bugger you made me think. You with your brilliant art and thought and now the piano tuner's daughter aching straight out (after my step father my best father tuned a piano he always wanted to play it he said like the midwife wanting to rock the baby right after it's born.) You slewed me sideways. Maybe I should write something intelligent but all I can think now is emergence glistening and new in its new skin.

8:59 AM  
Blogger St. deVille said...

ohhhhh i LIKE this idea!

10:46 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


You say the sweetest things. Like "slewed me sideways", fer instance.

You are my hero and I am, as always, in your debt.



11:19 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

St. deVille-


I think it has a certain beauty, and makes a lot more sense than the other way round, I really do.

Glad to see you here, always.



11:20 AM  
Blogger susan t. landry said...

dear tearful,
when i look at your collages i wonder if this is what mike disfarmer *felt* when he took his portraits.
i wanted to let you know that i have moved, should you care to wander by. i've ordered some comfortable seating.
new blog:

3:04 PM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

I love this so much that I can't begin to tell you. Maybe those Zen guys are right- everything is sentient. Why the hell not? If I am, a rock could surely be and an oak tree? Well of course.
Even the Spanish Moss that hangs from those trees' great heavy branches. All of it with an intelligence, even the tiny bugs that live within it all. Maybe especially them. Why not?

11:01 AM  

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