Donald E. Watson,
Senior Fellow, International Society for Philosophical Enquiry
[To be published in a special forum on Information, Energy and
Mind-Body Medicine in
Advances: The Journal of Mind-Body Health 13(4), Fall 1997.]
Since he was five years old, two questions have propelled Dr. Watson to search the foundations of science: "How can we be self-aware?" and "What does it mean to die?" After a lifetime of studying biology, medicine, neurophysiology, biophysics, physics, computer science, information theory, psychiatry, and parapsychology, he has answered his questions with the enformy theory.Life, mind, and health share a common root: They are expressions of organized systems. Sophisticated contemporary thought focuses on the roles of information and energy in living systems, yet applying these concepts to organization per se has limited value. Neither energy nor information can serve as the foundation of a general theory of systems such as that envisioned by Bertalanffy (1968). Indeed, to define life, describe health, and resolve the classical mind-body problem requires developing a new paradigm. Understanding why we need this new paradigm begins with examining the limitations of the energy and information concepts.
Energy is the fundamental, conserved capacity to perform work. It is an ubiquitous quantity associated with all material systems, yet energy itself is nonmaterial. As such, it cannot be directly observed or measured. To quantify energy entails measuring the physical properties of material systems, then calculating the quantity of energy--as expressed, for example, in heat, motion, wave length, or electromagnetism--from its theoretical relationships with these systems.
The ubiquity and nonmateriality of energy make it an attractive concept to apply to mental and biological systems. Hence, terms such as psychic energy, bioenergy, and subtle energies have been applied to biological systems. However, using the energy concept in this context is a scientific dead-end because it locks one's thinking into the prevailing paradigm--which is blind to organization.
Because energy can't create the organization characteristic of healthy living systems, Savva (1996) proposed that the health-restoring influence provided by healers is a transfer of information, not energy. But information, too, is limited in explaining the organization of systems. In contrast to energy, information is material, consisting of nonrandom states of material media. For example, information exists as patterns of sound waves, words printed on a page, states of flip-flops or magnetic domains in a computer, and configurations of neuronal interactions projected on the visual cortex by the visual apparatus.
Because information is material, proposing it as a fundamental
organizer is inherently self-contradictory. Consider, for example, the
"it from bit" hypothesis of Wheeler (1990):
Every it--every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself--derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely . . . from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits.The contradiction is this: Information pre-exists everything, yet the apparatus that elicits the answers necessarily pre-exists information.
Information has also been identified as nonmaterial following the discovery of Shannon (1949) that the distribution of characters in English text is isomorphic with entropy. Brillouin (1950) specified further that information can be regarded as the opposite of entropy, for which he coined the term negentropy. At first glance, information-as-negentropy is an appealing concept on which to build a theory of organization, but negentropy can't be a fundamental organizing principle because it's not fundamental, it's not conserved, and it can't organize anything.
Interpreting information as either material or nonmaterial obscures the meaning of both concepts. Chalmers (1995) tried to clarify this ambiguity by positing, "Information has two basic aspects, a physical aspect and a phenomenal aspect [which] might underlie and explain the emergence of experience from the physical." In this statement, the physical aspect corresponds to material information, and the phenomenal aspect corresponds to negentropy. It is shown below, however, that these are not two aspects of one concept; they are two distinct concepts.
Identifying the interactive operations of energy and information brings us closer to a comprehensive understanding of living systems, as illustrated by Schwartz and Russek (1997):
In a deep sense energy does the work of information. . . . Organized energy both expresses and actualizes information. Information is the "soul," so to speak, of a system; energy is the "spirit," so to speak, that moves the system and enables it to emerge and evolve [emphasis added].
Still, the operations that sustain the organization of energy remain elusive.
To explain how energy becomes organized, it is necessary to discover concepts that are radically distinct from those which support the prevailing paradigm. This perspective has led to positing a fundamental conserved organizing principle: enformy--the capacity to organize (Watson, 1993).1
Enformy opposes, not entropy, but the entropy law itself. Enformy is therefore conserved in the same sense that the entropy law is conserved: Both express constant tendencies, or propensities. By nullifying time's arrow, enformy expresses itself as the universal tendency toward increasing organization and complexity--for example, in curiosity, life per se, and the evolution of species. Moreover, enformy sustains the organization of all systems, whether material, nonmaterial, or abstract--e.g., living organisms, the self-aware entity, and the laws of physics (the mathematical structures and processes that describe the behaviors of physical systems).
The essential feature of organization is nonrandomness. That is, enformy organizes material systems by imposing nonrandomness on elements of matter. This expression of enformy is observed in experimental findings that are inexplicable under the prevailing paradigm, for example, derandomizing the events generated by electronic or radioactive random number generators and mechanical cascades (Jahn, et al, 1987).
For the enformy theory, nonrandomness is denoted enformation. Enformation corresponds to the second aspect of information conceptualized by Chalmers, but it can't be an aspect of information because it is fundamental to information. That is, information is nonrandom patterns in material media, and enformation is the nonrandomness inhered in these patterns.
The enformy posit is foundational to the theory of enformed gestalts (Watson, 1997). An enformed gestalt2 is any system that is organized by enformy. A key property of enformed gestalts is conformability: their capacity to conform to (i.e., to be configured by) enformation. Thus a gestalt's conformability defines its complexity, which is potential or realized. The complexity of a fertilized ovum, for instance, is nearly entirely potential, and it becomes realized as the morphogenesis of the organism proceeds.
Organization occurs when enformy conforms elements of a gestalt to enformation. Therefore, an enformed gestalt is the sum of its parts plus one indispensable component: a nonmaterial, four-dimensional map that specifies the relationships among those parts in space and time. Enformy conforms elements of matter to this map, and this conformation produces material systems that are organized in spacetime--e.g., a living human being.
As a domain of influence, the nonmaterial, four-dimensional map constitutes an enformation field. Enformation fields are continuous in four-space, but discontinuous in three-space. This discontinuity explains the nonlocality and atemporality characteristic of psychic healing (Dossey, 1996).
The enformation field for an individual human gestalt is termed an egon3. An egon is a nonmaterial entity that conforms to its own internal states and its own existence, and can use symbols to self-report the products of these conformations to humans in the first person. In other words, an egon is a person--a self-aware entity that can describe its thoughts, emotions, and self-awareness to humans. Although the majority of egons are human, certain other entities can also describe the conceptual products of their self-conformation and state-conformation to humans, for example, the gorilla, Koko (Patterson and Cohn, 1994).
Enformation fields are not unique to humans, or even to living gestalts. The field for any particular enformed gestalt is denoted an ipseon4--an entity whose internal states and existence must be described in the third person. Thus egons are a subset of ipseons. Recognizing this distinction is necessary for scientific studies because egons can self-report what other ipseons cannot. The ipseons of photons, for example, distinguish themselves from their environments and recognize their own polarization states, but can't symbolically self-report them to humans.
The enformy posit and the theory of enformed gestalts apply to life, mind, and health in these ways: (1) Life per se is a direct expression of enformy--the tendency to realize the potential complexity of material systems; (2) health is expressed as the degree of coherence of enformed gestalts; and (3) mind is a subset of the enformation that comprises an egon.
In addressing the concept of mind, we encounter the mind-body problem. Modern notions of this problem are founded on the premises Descartes applied in the 17th century: (1) Mind is a spiritual entity; (2) body is a material entity; and (3) spirit and matter can't interact. Because the mind-body problem depends on these premises, philosophers have tried to solve the problem primarily with semantic methods. Today, it is fashionable to arbitrarily equate mind and body. Contemporary believers in this "psycho-physical identity theory" use the term dualist pejoratively, and Ryle even used mockery to attack the dualistic premises with his phrase, "ghost in the machine" (1949).
Instead of approaching the mind-body problem with sophistry, it is more instructive to examine the Cartesian premises in the light of scientific realism. First, consider the premise that spirit and matter can't interact. In the 17th century, scientists held the belief that combustible materials consist of matter and phlogiston--a fiery substance that is released with burning. The majority of scientists abandoned this belief by 1800, yet energy was still considered a material substance until 1847, when Helmholtz discovered its conservation. Now it is well known that energy is nonmaterial--spirit. Moreover, it has been demonstrated exhaustively that energy-spirit and matter interact profoundly. So there is indeed a metaphoric "ghost in the machine"--not only in the human machine, but in all material systems.
Next, consider the first two Cartesian premises--that mind and body are distinct entities. Under the theory of enformed gestalts, the person does not consist of dual entities, but necessarily perceives itself dualistically. Thus mind-body dualism is an artifact of dualistic perception (Watson, 1993). This notion is developed in seven statements:
In short, the theory of enformed gestalts provides a realistic alternative to regarding the person as a combination of a mind and a body. Mind and body are not discrete, interacting entities, but concomitant, mutually-exclusive perceptions of the same entity.
The chief application of the enformy theory to mind-body medicine is this: A person is an egon to which enformy conforms elements of matter and energy to produce a living, healthy organism. Because the egon and its associated material gestalt (body) are concomitants, they conform symmetrically to one another. Hence, healing methods can apply to either the material or nonmaterial gestalts. It is the task of clinicians and scientists to discover which types of unhealthy conditions respond best to which type of intervention.
Whereas Western medical traditions focus on applying material remedies
to the material gestalt, Eastern traditions have long focused on egons--for
example, in external Qi Gong (Yount, et al, 1997). This evokes the question,
"How can one egon provide a healing influence to another?" The answer is found
in the cohering behaviors of egons in spacetime, as depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The horizontal plane represents three-space at any particular point in time, and the vertical axis represents time, which is reversible in spacetime. The two egons represented are confined to three-space by their associated material gestalts, and a coherent, four-dimensional ipseon includes subsets of both of them. Because the egons are disjoint, they cannot directly communicate enformation, but because subsets of them are coherent through the four-dimensional ipseon, each can conform to the enformation that is shared in spacetime. This aspect of the theory of enformed gestalts provides a model of a broad range of superficially disparate phenomena, including quantum coherence, precognition, clairvoyance, telepathy, psychokinesis, psychometry, "water memory," synchronicity phenomena, the homing behavior of pigeons, and psychic healing. The last occurs when healers provide enformation to healees through coherent ipseons in spacetime. Enformy conforms the healee's material gestalt to this "organizing" enformation, which allows the reorganization characteristic of healing. The symmetry of this process also creates the risk of the healer obtaining "disorganizing" enformation from the healee.In sum, the enformy posit and the theory of enformed gestalts are conceptual models of many phenomena that are invisible to the prevailing paradigm. Thus confining one's perceptions of reality to that paradigm causes theory-blindness: the inability to see anything that does not meet the paradigm's theoretical expectations. Fortunately, as with many psychological disabilities, theory-blindness can be cured by exposing it to a new light--in this case, the light of a new paradigm. Because of its parsimony, the theory of enformed gestalts promises to be the foundation of this paradigm.
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