The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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


"Synergetics", as developed by the German physicist Hermann Haken, is a theory of pattern formation in complex systems. It tries to explain structures that develop spontaneously in nature.

Synergetics studies cooperative processes of the parts of a system far from equilibrium that lead to an ordered structure and behavior for the system.

Haken's favorite example was the laser: how do the atoms of the laser agree to produce a single coherent wave flow? The answer is that the laser is a self-organizing system far from equilibrium (what Prigogine would call a dissipative structure).

A "synergetic" process in a physical system is one in which, when energy is pumped into the system, some macroscopic structure emerges from the disorderly behavior of the large number of microscopic particles that make up the physical system. As energy is pumped into the system, initially nothing seems to happen, other than additional excitation of the particles, but then the system reaches a threshold beyond which structure suddenly emerges. The laser is such a synergetic process: a beam of coherent light is created out of the chaotic movement of particles. What happens is that energy pushes the system of particles beyond a threshold, and suddenly the particles start behaving harmoniously..

Synergetics revolves around a number of technical concepts: compression of the degrees of freedom of a complex system into dynamic patterns that can be expressed as a collective variable; behavioral attractors of changing stabilities; and the appearance of new forms as non-equilibrium phase transitions.

Systems at instability points (at the "threshold") are driven by a "slaving principle": long-lasting quantities (the macroscopic pattern) can enslave short-lasting quantities (the chaotic particles), and they can force order on them (thereby becoming "order parameters"). 

The system exhibits both a stable "mode", which is the chaotic motion of its particles, and an unstable "mode", which is the macroscopic structure and behavior of the whole system. Close to instability, stable modes are "enslaved" by unstable modes and can be ignored. Instead of having to deal with millions of chaotic particles, one can focus on the macroscopic quantities. De facto,  the degrees of freedom of the system are reduced.

The dynamic equations for such a system reflect the interplay between stochastic forces ("chance") and deterministic forces ("necessity").

Synergetics applies to systems driven far from equilibrium, where the classic concepts of Thermodynamics are no longer adequate. It expresses the fact that order can arise from chaos and can be maintained by flows of energy/matter. 


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