Published on by Catherine Toulsaly


While science aims to understand which fundamentals of reality take part in the circle of concepts, philosophy addresses the indeterminacy of the boundary between agency, sentience, and consciousness at the core of the interactions between humans and their surroundings. In a 2020 article on sentience, agency, and ontological difference, Anthropologist Francesca Merlan writes that sentience is the capacity to feel, to experience, and to perceive subjectively, what then makes it different from consciousness? Moreover, if agency implies the ability to make choices in response to new and unforeseen circumstances, what then makes it different from free will?  


For an octopus, its arms are partly self - they can be directed and used to manipulate things. But from the central brain’s perspective, they are partly non-self too, partly agents of their own.

Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2016, p.103

Travelling Snake Dreaming in the Sandhills with Dancing, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

Travelling Snake Dreaming in the Sandhills with Dancing, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri


To me, agency is, with entropy, one of the most difficult concepts to grasp. There is that which acts and that which is acted upon. The invisible flow of magnetic fields appears never to act, yet it acts upon everything in the Universe, influencing the paths of charged particles around us, the Earth, the solar system, and the galaxies.  The many kinds of agency encompass a range of possibilities within the Universe’s causal design. Borrowing the concept from the field of anthropology, agency entails more broadly the setting of physical associations, more or less durable connections, and crossroads where not only choices are made but “provisional repositories” are formed.


In the end, the debate over agency, sentience, and consciousness comes down to how individual organisms could have intrinsic goals, act on their own behalf, and choose their own course of action without some form of consciousness. A theory of agency would challenge the basis for panpsychism since it intends to explain the behavior of things such as a particle, a cell, or an insect. Researchers have been studying whether insects have sentience or simply agency. While some may point to the functional similarities between the insect brain and vertebrate midbrain, Johannes Hans van Hateren, for his part, argues that primordial forms of agency and goal-directedness have little to do with consciousness. On the one hand, it may be that our tendency to analyze, differentiate, and arrange things in a hierarchy forbids us to accept that consciousness is universal.  On the other hand, when Hateren observes in insects a lack of shared agency and social bonding, he rightly recognizes, I believe, consciousness as a relational concept.


Agency is also said to be the ability to control one’s own actions. How then do those control mechanisms work? The sense of agency, write the authors of a 2020 article on measures of agency, involves a kind of sensorimotor identification in which predictions of sensory consequences of a movement are confirmed by sensory feedback. Agents are able to discriminate their own movements in the absence of conscious awareness. Bodily sense and external sense of agency are defined as follows:


According to a bodily conception, the sense of agency is related to the performance of specific bodily movements, whereas according to an external conception, the sense of agency is associated with the planned environmental consequences of one’s action.

Thor Grünbaum, Mark Schram Christensen

Wild Orange Dreaming, Kaapa Tjampitjinpa

Wild Orange Dreaming, Kaapa Tjampitjinpa

we feel ourselves reduced to nothing, feel ourselves as individuals, as living bodies, a transient appearance of the will, like drops in the ocean, fading away, melting away into nothing… that we are, in some sense, one with the world, and thus not brought down, but rather elevated, by its immensity.

Arthur Schopenhauer


We, humans, do not submit to being alone in the Universe. We wish to save our vital or passional subjectivity by attributing life, personality, spirit, to the whole Universe. If consciousness is only the product of my imagination, should I agree that the Universe is simply a mechanical structure without a soul? Within spacetime, energy and gravity have coalesced to give form to the sentient Universe. Under the spell of gravity, the magnetic field around my heart and mind is woven into the fabric of spacetime. As I reflect on Merlan’s paper, I would take it one step further and argue that even the exchange between the Universe and human consciousness revolves around aspects such as the continuity between life and death, the fundamental ambiguity of human and nonhuman difference; and communicative relationships between humans and other entities such as when we are genuinely moved by birds, their movements and their songs. There is no solitude, only invisible chains of human and nonhuman kindred spirits.


Under the lid of the cosmic prison evolves the Earth around the Sun, populated by billions of beings and their inner selves, cloaked in disguise, with their face masked even in solitude.

Dreams of the Earth and Sky

Old Man's Love Story, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

Old Man's Love Story, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri


Is the Universe sentient, or is all sentience attributable to “spirits”? What if stars could listen, planets could smell, and the entire Universe was populated by sentient beings?  The air I breathe is a sentient medium of transmission. Poetry attributes souls and infers sentience to the roaring wind, the flowing river, the leaves turning red, and a plant named Heal-all. It may be that stars and galaxies express their volition when electromagnetic fields are unwinding in space. Could the same components that sunk into Earth’s interior in the process of core formation and play a role in generating the Earth’s magnetic field have created my own body’s electromagnetic field and established a kind of spatial relation with entities around me? Although we learn nothing about what an electron is independently of what it does, writes Philip Goff, we are starting to grasp the full extent to which spatiotemporal relationships matter. If we are prepared to accept Universalism as when subjects always combine to make a further subject, it follows that for any group of material objects, the members of that group, being spatially related, determine a conscious subject.



The Moon hung naked in a firmament  Of azure without cloud, and at my feet Rested a silent sea of hoary mist. A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved All over this still ocean; and beyond, Far, far beyond, the solid vapours stretched, In headlands, tongues, and promontory shapes, Into the main Atlantic, that appeared To dwindle, and give up his majesty, Usurped upon far as the sight could reach. Not so the ethereal vault; encroachment none  Was there, nor loss; only the inferior stars Had disappeared, or shed a fainter light In the clear presence of the full-orbed Moon, Who, from her sovereign elevation, gazed Upon the billowy ocean, as it lay All meek and silent, save that through a rift-- Not distant from the shore whereon we stood, A fixed, abysmal, gloomy, breathing-place-- Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams Innumerable, roaring with one voice! Heard over earth and sea, and, in that hour, For so it seemed, felt by the starry heavens. When into air had partially dissolved That vision, given to spirits of the night And three chance human wanderers, in calm thought Reflected, it appeared to me the type Of a majestic intellect, its acts And its possessions, what it has and craves, What in itself it is, and would become. There I beheld the emblem of a mind That feeds upon infinity, that broods Over the dark abyss, intent to hear Its voices issuing forth to silent light In one continuous stream; a mind sustained By recognitions of transcendent power, In sense conducting to ideal form, In soul of more than mortal privilege. One function, above all, of such a mind Had Nature shadowed there, by putting forth, 'Mid circumstances awful and sublime, That mutual domination which she loves To exert upon the face of outward things,




As I stumble upon Ascent of Snowdon from The Prelude by William Wordsworth, I remember climbing Mount Tai and Mount Emei and wonder whether the experience of the sublime defines the highest degree of symbiosis with the Universe, the same feeling that overwhelms us when we stare with amazement at space images. The inhomogeneity of space alluded to in my previous post brings us to an even more unsettling prospect that we may be residing inside a void. It is not enough to imagine ourselves on a floating planet; we may ponder with even more fright on the possibility that Laniakae is lost in a void, the so-called Keenan–Barger–Cowie Void. At the same time, such a scenario may put into question our current understanding of the standard cosmological model.  


Not only should we realize that what exists outside the correlation to our subjective experience is nothing but indeterminacy, but the very nature of that correlation between mind and matter, between Consciousness and the Universe is also unknown. Sentience may be a shared quality of autopoietic entities and aggregates that have the ability to sense and adapt to one’s environment. Is it that shared quality inside me that answers to the call of the white-throated sparrow? It may be that every speck of metaphysical dust interacts with us because, indeed, we feel more than we know.


Wild Potato Dreaming, Bill Stockman Tjapaltjarri

Wild Potato Dreaming, Bill Stockman Tjapaltjarri

people will differ in their guessed inferences: some might stop sentience at the lobster limit, others might stop at the beetle border – but why stop at all? If one demands a stop, the determining criterion must be established.

Peter Sjöstedt-H


Do all organisms have a minimum of subjective experience? Consciousness involves the emotion of time. From feelings to rational abstraction, it has evolved. Sentient beings are bodily forms of sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness. Earth is a body above which lies a thinking layer.  If sentience came before consciousness - as long as we differentiate one from the other – it has resulted from the fusion of passive and active dispositions, feeling and acting as entities respond to stimuli. Cosmic consciousness and the human consciousness rooted in the chatter between body, heart, and mind are consubstantial. 


Papunya: A place made after the Story, Geoffrey Bardon, The Megunyaeh Press

Children's Honey Bag Dreaming, Harry Tjangala

Children's Honey Bag Dreaming, Harry Tjangala

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The edge of knowing

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

The edge of knowing

When the shadow with fatal law menaced me
A certain old dream, sick desire of my spine,
Beneath funereal ceilings afflicted by dying
Folded its indubitable wing there within me.

Luxury, O ebony hall, where to tempt a king
Famous garlands are writhing in death,
You are only pride, shadows’ lying breath
For the eyes of a recluse dazed by believing.

Yes, I know that Earth in the depths of this night,
Casts a strange mystery with vast brilliant light
Beneath hideous centuries that darken it the less.

Space, like itself, whether denied or expanded
Revolves in this boredom, vile flames as witness
That a festive star’s genius has been enkindled.

Sonnet: ‘Quand l’ombre menaça…’, Stéphane Mallarmé


Some concepts are magnets. Aesthesis, explains Alexander Wilson, is the “process by which seemingly necessary truths emerge from the compossibility of contingent events”. It is cognition’s interface with the unintelligible. Is there a reality beyond ourselves? For the sole purpose of this post, I will determine reality to be what we think we know. The transcendental correlationist, adds Wilson, “is forced to say that what exists outside the correlation is nothing but indeterminacy.” Our blurred vision, when faced with the absence of reality, fails to distinguish not just what is unknown but what is unimaginable. Aesthesis is the “genesis of the conditions of intelligibility, from which all of knowledge derives”. It is a translation process that entails a gradual transition from indistinct to distinct “corresponding to the progressive integration of otherwise free-floating elements that must be organized for the intelligibility to hold,” a conversion of the unthought into thought.


If thought is consciousness, thought can only be happening within a philosophy of ‘presence.’ Can we ever grasp what is on the other side of it in the non-phenomenal realm of non-being? Sixty-three posts later, I still run the risk of falling into the trap of reductionism. Indeterminism is on my mind. Each post has added a brick to the house of evolving possibilities, a window to its exterior walls. It is a knot I have tied on a rope I am holding on to as I climb my way up through thick clouds. If all models are necessarily partial representations of reality, then no matter how hard we try, no model of the Universe will ever completely reflect reality. There cannot be either a theory of everything.


In the puzzling relationship between Consciousness and the Universe, how to shed light on those indistinct pieces? Aesthesis “corresponds to the concrescence of differences.” It creates in my mind the image of a step-by-step guide into the ontology of a middle way, a meeting ground between non-being and being, a plunge into the abyss where existence and non-existence intersect, a passage where mirror-image opposites encounter. The ontology of the middle way is part of a threefold integrated reality in which Consciousness on one side of a boundary struggles to gain information on the other side each time that a narrow window has opened from one level to the next.

It is consolatory in not being categorical about ultimate realities while focusing on them as desirable. In other words, consolationism domesticates in the existential sphere the mathematical concept of probability.

Consolationism: A Postmodern Exposition, Ada Agada


In cognition’s interface with the unintelligible, the act of measurement is the point of interconnection between Consciousness and the unknown. The mind, when confronted with a lack of reality, relies on compensatory means to fill the holes. Probabilities are operational concepts, pieces of information necessary for a conceptual origination to happen, similar to other operational concepts such as time and energy that create reality out of the absence of reality. The fractal nature of knowledge reveals itself within a philosophy of ‘presence.’ A point of origin is the conceptual origination of a ‘stand-alone’ reality. A broken line represents a conceptual transition.


The edge of knowing

Aesthesis can now productively be construed as an integrated weave of constraints between acts of codetermination, measurement, observation, or entanglement, various encounters between aspects of the real in the construction of a web of compossiblities. Indeed, it has become clear that aesthesis is somehow inseparable from this division between the possible and the compossible, the contingent catastrophe that quasi-causes the divergence of our world from the ones it retroactively originates in.

Aesthesis and Perceptronium, Alexander Wilson, p.207


Cosmology is a ‘historical’ science that allows for the observation of rare events such as the merging of black holes. A missing component whose effects are observed on the rate at which the Universe expands was named “dark energy” by cosmologist Michael Turner.  Can it be explained by the presence of phantom fields, a theory of modified gravity, or the effect of quark confinement on the self-gravitational energy of quantum fluctuations? The inhomogeneity of space has hampered our ability to know, leading us to privilege what we perceive as reality: light and matter. A 2020 study has added results from void-galaxy cross-correlation to avoid bias in measurements and allow for the best measurement of dark energy.


Metaphysical nomological pluralism, writes Nancy Cartwright, is the doctrine that nature is governed in different domains by different systems of laws not necessarily related to each other in any systematic or uniform way. If this view applied to the whole Universe, no law, no organizational level could ever be predominant, and freedom precedes reality. On the edge of knowing, aesthesis is “neither intelligence, nor reason, nor agency, though it inevitably conditions their provisional axiomatizations.” A conversion of the unthought into thought leads to the invention of new concepts and a new vocabulary.


It is not self-organization itself, but rather something in self-organization that bootstraps variation in a seeking out of new potential intercessions and supersessions. Though aesthesis may terminate in territories and judgements, it does so only once the gap it instantiates is closed in its wake.

Aesthesis and Perceptronium, Alexander Wilson, p.105


Upon each emergent level of complexity, the curtains open, revealing yet another stage. Each level “depends on the reticulation of the parts,” writes Alexander Wilson, “which are synergistically bootstrapped into properties on the level of the exteriorized whole.” From Cartwright’s pluralism, we are led to Quentin Meillassoux’s hyperchaos, defined as “the effective ability for every determined entity, whether it is an event, a thing, or a law, to appear and disappear with no reason for its being and non-being,” And so doing, reality becomes discrete.


In multi-scale networks of interactions, any parts of a network at any level may affect every other part simultaneously. The Principle of Biological Relativity means that there is no privileged level of causality. Forms of causality contribute upward and downward in asymmetric ways. Although the higher levels may reflect the situational and functional logic of the whole system, the behavior of each part is influenced by its arrangement within the system. No directionality of causation can be assumed, providing the basis for using a more neutral term like a-mergence instead of e-mergence.  A 2019 paper on biological relativity concludes that the various levels communicate both randomness and order between each other. Bio-resonance, as described by Andrea Buiatti and Daniel Longo, is the interference between levels of organization. It corresponds to the interaction of different levels of organization, each possessing its own form of determination.


Aesthesis is thus the process of producing this togetherness in the disparate; it is the counterpart of discretization. It may be generalized as the first moment in the mechanism of emergence. It is the intercession that links together the preindividual aspects of parallel individuations, preparing their eventual supersession (the emergent phenomenon). It is a productive neutralization that prepares the terrain for the subsequent emergent resolution. The parts need to come together, to integrate, in order for the whole to lift off from them and retroactively constrain them. Like a kind of gravity that pulls the disparate together toward coalescence, aesthesis behaves as a transductive countertendency to discretization.

Aesthesis and Perceptronium, Alexander Wilson, p.114


History contributes to the form current and future dynamics of life systems manifest their intrinsic unpredictability. Unpredictability can also emerge from the simplest rule-based algorithm. I have mentioned the possibility, in the future, of free will in artificial intelligence. Already, there appears to be no way to predict what specific actions an AI might take to achieve its objectives, even if we know what those objectives are. Unpredictability, claims a 2019 paper on Unpredictability of AI, is an intuitively familiar concept. We can usually predict the outcome of standard physical processes without knowing the specific behavior of particular atoms, just like we can typically predict the overall behavior of the intelligent system without knowing specific intermediate steps. It is similar to the way emotions in primary and secondary layers are sometimes thought of as ‘unconscious’. We don’t have “clear introspective conscious access to their functioning,”  write Stephen Asma and Rami Gabriel in an Aeon article last year, since primary and secondary emotions “lack access consciousness.”


Along the Potomac on the Virginia side, the crescent moon is still high. Blue sky merges on the horizon. Ripples and circles rise and fall unpredictably on the water surface. They reflect sun rays piercing through the silvery mist, reminding me of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of fluid dynamics. Transfers of energy through waves and resonance occur from one event to the next. If time stops at the death of my physical body, will my soul be released in some form of energy the way red supergiants release upon their death vast amounts of energy heating interstellar dust and gas? Time and energy are a complementary pair within the flow of things. On the edge of knowing, poetry relies on feelings. The emotion of time is ubiquitous. It is the energy passed on when gluons bind quarks together and during the transfer of electrons from one molecule to the next. The Universe reveals itself by expressing itself and knows itself through every bit of feeling.


…those feelings, sculpted in the encounter between neuroplasticity and ecological setting, provide the true semantic contours of mind.

United by feelings, Stephen Asma and Rami Gabriel

The edge of knowing

The black rock enraged that the north wind rolls it on
Will not halt itself, even under pious hands, still
Testing its resemblance to human ill,
As if to bless some fatal cast of bronze.

Here nearly always if the ring-dove coos
This immaterial grief with many a fold of cloud
Crushes the ripe star of tomorrows, whose crowd
Will be silvered by its scintillations. Who

Following the solitary leap
External once of our vagabond – seeks
Verlaine? He’s hidden in the grass, Verlaine

Only to catch, naïvely, not drying with his breath
And without his lip drinking there, at peace again,
A shallow stream that’s slandered, and named Death.

Tomb (Of Verlaine), Stéphane Mallarmé


Based on the knowledge of the present, could we predict the future outlook of the US presidency? Today live among us the future presidents of generations to come. If, potentially, any child born this year could be one of them, in reality, the choice is neither predictable nor random. Unpredictability and determinism occur in combination with each other. We are only left with the potential to shape the present that will determine the leaders of tomorrow.


A-Mergence of Biological Systems, The Routledge Handbook of Emergence, Noble R., Noble D. (2019)



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A State of Matter

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

I have ancient eyes
Musing chapters of history
And longings once

Embraced while
Reminiscing more noble
Epochs and questions

Yet to be answered as I
Stalk the shadows of inner
Places teasing rationality

I am the remnant
Paradigm of past futures
And the future past

The Remnant, Rob Taylor, Noesis: A Poetic Journey into the Spirituality of Social Discord



Lee Smolin might agree with Alexander Wilson, the author of the book entitled Aesthesis and Perceptronium on the entanglement of sensation, cognition, and matter, that “realism implies a rigor of thought that accepts both its finitude and its incompletion and embraces the indistinction that swarms around the intelligible.” The word perceptronium is borrowed from Max Tegmark’s 2014 paper entitled Consciousness as a state of matter. Tegmark lists six states of matter. In addition to gas, liquid, and solid, the fourth is memory that allows for the retention of “a large repertoire of long-lived states or attractors”. The fifth is computronium or programmable matter, “the most general substance that can process information as a computer”. And the sixth is perceptronium, “the most general substance that feels subjectively self-aware”, that is the state of consciousness. Wilson and Tegmark fall under Smolin’s category of realists. Tegmark explores how to distinguish conscious matter from other physical systems. To that end, he defines four basic principles: information, integration, independence, and dynamics. The latter refers to time dependence. Independence means that something within dominates rather than something on the outside. There is a paradox, writes Max Tegmark, called the Quantum Zeno Paradox, in that if we decompose the Universe into maximally independent objects, then all change grinds to a halt.


We understand how memory plays a role in the way consciousness operates. As Giuseppe Longo and Maël Montévil wrote, it essentially refers to a “conscious reconstruction” of something that was experienced. What is even more fascinating is how memory is an essential aspect of the life of matter. While timelessness creates in my mind the image of an infinite state “brought to a halt”, memory arises from the spatiotemporal locality. Non-locality and the absence of memory appear to be what differentiates time from timelessness. Is there intentionality on the part of matter in the way it displays memory?  In a 2018 paper on memory formation in matter, memory is defined as follows:


Memory connotes the ability to encode, access, and erase signatures of past history in the state of a system. Once the system has completely relaxed to thermal equilibrium, it is no longer able to recall aspects of its evolution. The memory of initial conditions or previous training protocols will be lost. Thus many forms of memory are intrinsically tied to far-from-equilibrium behavior and to transient response to a perturbation.



Memory and time are intertwined because the concept of memory implies a time of retention, whether it be short or long. The experience of one second on Earth is somewhere in the Universe the memory of a million years. There is a countless number of ways that matter displays memories. The paper quoted above lists, among others, the memory of largest input and the memory of duration. Our behavior and that of matter may also show the memory that only knows one direction, a time running forwards. There are also the ‘return-point” memory and the memory from cyclic driving, both evocative of loops of temporalities, biological and cosmological cyclicities. 


In addition, there are ‘multiple transient memories’ when memories of multiple values are retained, “but only before the transient self-organization has finished.” After that, memory loss occurs. The “very process of reaching equilibrium erases the memory of previous training”. Multiple transient memories, I feel, play a role in scale transformations, in the fractality of the Universe and Consciousness. Other ways that matter experiences memory include shape memory, memory through path reversal such as echoes and associative memory.


Time remembers seasons. The Earth remembers its orbital path around the Sun. The weather remembers clouds. Plants open and close, remembering the time of day and year. Can consciousness exist outside memory? An electron, writes Natesh Ganesh in a paper on a non-equilibrium thermodynamic framework of consciousness, cannot be conscious since it is not capable of memory. However, in his paper on dissipative adaptation, Jeremy England refers to the memory of a collection of assembling particles that appears to have self-organized into a state that is ‘well adapted’ to the environmental conditions. He explains that the most durable and irreversible shifts in configuration occur when the system happens to be momentarily better at absorbing and dissipating work. With the passage of time, the ‘memory’ of these less erasable changes accumulates preferentially. As for the brain, the system stores experiences and learns from them so long as its memory updates itself with new events shedding light on previous ones. Consciousness, I feel, is a by-product of evolution that absorbs the lessons of time with the input of memory.



Which comes first? Images or ideas? They are part of a shared pool of memories. As I looked at Wheeler’s Universe, the first image that came to mind was that of the snake eating its tail. Coincidentally, the same picture was found four months later at the end of Kerri Welch’s book and was described by Alexander Wilson at the beginning of his book. It made me wonder whether the ancient symbol of ouroboros was at the root of Wheeler’s Universe in the first place. As I reflected on Kerri Welch’s book, I realized I had been too focused lately on the concept of time in disregard for a more balanced approach towards time and space. I thought I had to put the Humpty Dumpty of spacetime back together. Ironically, Alexander Wilson uses the same image from that popular nursery rhyme at the beginning of his book. To some of you, those two anecdotes may be insignificant. To me, they are drawn from the well of our collective memory.


Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, W. B. Yeats


As a poet, I can only repeat that images trigger stories and connections that open the gate to a more intuitive approach. A patchwork of concepts spells out in a series of images. Drawn to invisible flows rather than to physical entities, I respond to them by writing.  I can only convey the mental path that takes me to this post today. I know that it echoes others’ intuition and sensibility. Tim Palmer alluded to the possibility that ideas may mostly already exist, but in a completely separate setting. We ought to take those pre-existing images from their usual setting and transplant them into new territories. Words have memories too. They echo a past usage, a historical context.


Time drops in decay
Like a candle burnt out.
And the mountains and woods
Have their day, have their day;
But, kindly old rout
Of the fire-born moods,
You pass not away.

The Moods, W. B. Yeats


Why would consciousness be a state of matter? Whether it be the material body of a cell, a plant, a star, or a galaxy, matter bears the mark of memory in whatever way it may be. Cosmic consciousness may be a memory sometimes muffled and other times uttered of past, present, and future. Wheeler is quoted to have said that not until you start asking a question, do you get something. To that, Augustine could have added that if no one asks me, I know. If I wish to explain it, I cannot because that ‘something’ may not be what we expect, thereby inviting more questions. 




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Published on by Catherine Toulsaly




Even for a poet who sees connections between almost everything, connecting dots is a hard thing to do. I ought to step back, look with a broader perspective, and collect my thoughts. The short compilation of Dao De Jing 道德经 has always been a source of inspiration. There is a tradition of commentaries that allows for ‘degrees of freedom’ in the way original texts are interpreted. Philosophers and theorists are not different from writers of commentaries. Superdeterminism, Scale Relativity theory, and Agentive Cosmopsychism are among the most recent attempts to explain ‘everything’. The more theories are thought out, the more complex mathematically and linguistically they become, which gives the sense that differences matter more than similarities. Human knowledge is a series of fractals fed by our natural tendency to differentiate.




I cannot seem to get my mind off the simultaneity of time flows. I heard the familiar call of an old friend Sunday. The white-throated sparrow has returned. Witch hazels seem to go counterclockwise, flowering in the Fall instead of Spring. Over 335 million kilometers away, Osiris Rex got a sampling of Bennu’s soil. NASA is confident that the spacecraft has collected more than 60 grams of material. If optimization and functionalism are fundamental properties of the Universe, transitions are not between order and disorder or vice versa. They occur between diversely organized states.   Whether it be time or life, processes aim at an unforeseen outcome in the infinite future. What is then the place of humankind in the Universe? Being can provide a condition under which usefulness is found, might say the Dao De Jing today, but the empty space is the usefulness itself.


…the future of humanism becomes a question of the future of the humanities, particularly in the contemporary university

Jay David Bolter


There may be three levels of consciousness in the opinion of Kerri Welch: the basic experience of ‘feelings’, the awareness of those bits of experience, and the self-awareness of one’s own consciousness, which includes the awareness of past, present, and future. Serendipity was at play when I was made self-aware of an interesting book series under the title of posthumanities, an emergent field of enquiry based on the convergence of posthumanism and post-anthropocentrism. As I was writing the post on the emergence of Consciousness, the first book that caught my eye was Alexander Wilson’s on the entanglement of sensation, cognition, and matter. In the larger goal of reinforcing our sense of usefulness, feelings of empathy, sensitivity, and intuition ought to be prioritized within the framework of posthumanism.


...traditional humanism is no longer adequate to understand the human’s entangled, complex relations with animals, the environment, and technology.




What the concept of ‘timelessness’ entails is that we are the ones who touch eternity.  In the words of Thomas Carlyle, we are in the center of Immensities, in the conflux of Eternities. Kerri Welch points out that the present is as much contained in the past as the past is contained in the present since “when we look out into space we are actually looking back in time”. But, correct me if I am wrong, it seems to me that the present is as much part of the past as it is part of the future for the observer who would look out into space from the other side of the Universe. Roger Penrose, who won the 2020’s Nobel Prize in physics, wrote a seminal paper in 1965, in which ‘closed trapped surface’ was introduced. He invented the notion that captures the possibility of getting away from a gravity field. Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, also co-winners, were rewarded for their contribution in the observations of stellar motions near the Galactic Centre that gave strong evidence for a central dark mass, suggesting that it is most probably a massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. What does the concept of ‘present time’ mean from the perspective of a black hole? Moreover, if one would zoom out of the Universe, one would only see the simultaneity of time flowing backwards and forwards, between past and future. Where would then be the Universe’s Now?


Just as time emerged from timelessness at the Big Bang, so is time born from timelessness again every time a particle/antiparticle pair is created, or a new life begins.

Kerri Welch, A fractal topology of time: Deepening into Timelessness, p.103



Timelessness never does, yet through timelessness everything is done. In the familiar image of a carriage and a horse, time is all at once the invisible carriage, the wheels, and the horse. There are material carriages in the Universe, too, like the glistening Milky Way led through the empty space by the horse named time. Whether they are in motion or exposed to oscillating energy waves, all objects may have wave properties because “they are composed of atoms that contain particles having wave properties,” writes Anna Ursyn. Although we do not understand the nature of thought waves and how they might propagate, insight, reason, memory, perception -- in other words, consciousness as a whole -- may all be “vibratory and have wave properties.” Waves and their associated frequencies are evidence of a universal language of sounds from which we may feel at times excluded.


Insight zooms out rather than in, bringing an idea into being rather than making a memory

Kerri Welch, A fractal topology of time: Deepening into Timelessness, p.83


The fact that posthumanism offers a new epistemology that is not anthropocentric and therefore not centered in Cartesian dualism appeals to me. Donna J. Haraway and other posthumanists are also concerned with blurring the boundary between human and nonhuman animals. The posthuman philosophy echoes, in my mind, what it would mean to transcend ourselves and evolve to a higher level of consciousness. Ibn Hassan coined the word ‘posthumanism’ in an article written in 1977 in which he explains the context of this new philosophy. In the modern era where telescopes, spacecraft, and other instruments significantly increase our insignificant extension in space,  “the figure of Vitruvian Man,” writes Ibn Hassan, “arms and legs defining the measure of things, has broken through its enclosing circle and square, and spread across the cosmos.” The cosmological extension of human consciousness   -- in other words, cosmic consciousness – is the force that pushes us towards posthumanism.


Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour

Anna Ursyn, Biologically-inspired Computing for the Arts

Inner Space (human capillary endothelial cells HMEC-1), Ivana Barravecchia, Debora Angeloni, Institute of Life Sciences, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy

Inner Space (human capillary endothelial cells HMEC-1), Ivana Barravecchia, Debora Angeloni, Institute of Life Sciences, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy

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Inner Infinity

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

From where do new ideas come? Do they pop out of the aether as some random ashes of inspiration with no obvious precedent? Or do these ideas mostly already exist, but in a completely separate setting. As such, does the creative spark really consists of taking some pre-existing idea from its usual setting and transplanting it into an unfamiliar setting where it may provide new insights into old unsolved problems?

Tim Palmer

Brown eyed-susans

Brown eyed-susans

 In the midst of over one hundred plant species, the last brown-eyed susans grow at the foot of the dying cherry tree near the pond. Time is all about our own perceptions. Although we can’t hold on to it, the past stays with us in the form of a conversation, a wrinkle, a memory that does not cease to exist as the next instant appears. Multiple flows into the flow of time are turbulent waters, sounds of strings. Time is an invisible luggage that gets heavier with memories and footprints. Perceptions and feelings merge in my head. Whether we are conscious of them, those “little perceptions” are traces of time.


The elusive quality of timelessness creates in my mind the image of a time void in which countless subjective experiences of time arise. If time is a process, is there an outcome? A process is a function that maps the state of a system at a given time to the state at a future time. We can think of the state in the past as a 'preparation' and the one in the future as the outcome of a 'measurement'. If there is an outcome, could we determine what it will be if we grasp all the nuts and bolts involved in the process? The gaps in our mind mirror the gaps in time between present and future, between what is unseen and what is visible.


Functionalism may be the underlying reason why spacetime emerges from the fundamental non-spatiotemporal structures of the quantum Universe. Particles in a quantum state are delocalized and entangled during superposition. What drives the dynamic localization that results in the collapse of the wave function, and why would it be consciousness anyway? The wave function per se is a universal instrument of knowledge, transcending between any two scales, particularly between quotidian world and cosmological scales of the theoretical physics. Let us say that we zoom out from the Earth, aren’t the simultaneity of physical flows and the temporal synchrony of macroscopic events similar from above to a bundle of superposition states?


...what exactly do we mean when we say spacetime `emerges' from some non-spatiotemporal reality? Before anything else, it should be emphasized that quantum gravity is very much a work in progress, and hence we cannot hope to command a conclusive understanding of the situation just yet. In that sense, the term `emergence' serves as placeholder for a relation the investigation of which is part of the very project of quantum gravity: it is, as it were, a working title for that relation.

Christian Wüthrich


In a chapter on the Cinematographical Mechanism of Thought and the Mechanistic Illusion, Henri Bergson wrote that "what is real is the continual change of form: form is only a snapshot view of a transition".  The mystery lies in-between, in how an interconnected web of microscopic quantum systems leads to the emergence of macroscopic quantum processes and how collective macroscopic quantum forces play a role in the emergence of biological structure. While we study the various growth patterns exhibited by nature, we become familiar with quantum effects. Those quantum processes may be observed in biological systems such as with the laboratory-based growth of plant-like structures from inorganic materials or in the case of quantum entanglement among chlorophyll molecules.  Researchers have been working on highly macroscopic quantum states, using for example the Long-Baseline Universal Matter-Wave Interferometer. The debate on whether quantum mechanics plays a role in biological organisms has led to the finding of long-lived quantum coherence in noisy environments, such as proteins.


Time is made of loops of temporalities hanging from a single flow. Those physical and biological cyclicities are fractals of time. Fractal geometry could help contextualize and visualize transition stages, emergence phenomena, and spatiotemporal scales that split the Universe into endless segments.  Fractals represent universe-wide patterns of multiscale integration. According to the scale relativity theory, the description of the world is legitimate as a fractal fluid of free particles. It may bring into light a unitary view of matter. It is a theory of self-organization describing scale-dependent physical phenomena, in which various scales are not absolute but only relative. It means that only ratios of scales do have a physical meaning, not a scale by itself.


One of the key objectives of the theory of scale relativity is to develop a new, first principles, geometric approach to understanding the foundations of quantum theory that may ultimately lead to a unified theory of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Although a completely unified approach remains an outstanding challenge, development of the theoretical framework has led to progress in addressing a number of important fundamental questions relating to standard quantum mechanics, in addition to a new (analogous) theoretical framework of macroscopic quantum systems that can lead to a better understanding of biological systems.

Charles Auffray, Denis Noble, Laurent Nottale & Philip Turner


Fractals are considered to be "a model of time" that could potentially relate consciousness and cosmology. They are defined by the range and level as well as the upper and lower limit of self-similarity. Whether they show infinite depth within a finite area or whether they are uncomputable fractal attractors in the infinite future,  they appear to be a fundamental feature of spacetime. 


Every puzzle solved leads to more unsolved mysteries. Our mind dives into open cracks and breaches and scrambles to climb back out. Those mental cracks and breaches are our inner infinity. If the Universe did design itself, were fractals intentionally factored into the preparation stage of the process or did it happen along the way as an outcome of the design itself? I would agree with Philip Goff that the universe, although physical, acts, and only acts, through a basic capacity to recognise and respond to reasons. Causality and fractal geometry appear to account for fine-tuning. I still feel though that fractal geometry does not exclude the concept of a Universe of “wholes as ‘built up’ from parts”. Having said that it also appears to respect continuity of action, one fundamental aspect of the theory of Superdeterministism.


If, during the Plank epoch, the early universe fine-tuned the laws to bring about life billions of years in the future, then it must have in some sense known, or been aware, of the future consequences of its actions.


 My mind enjoys counting games. In the exchange between two sets of quadruple elements, I wonder whether the six spatial and temporal scales in the Human Physiome Project -- atom, protein, cell,  tissue, organ and organ system & organism -- mirror the six spatiotemporal scales in the Universe that are star, star system, galaxy, cluster, supercluster, and filament. 


The thing is that in order to invent a theory of everything, we ought to go deeper and the further we travel in time and space, the deeper we need to go as if we were extending our arms hoping to catch something that still remains beyond our reach. A theory of everything may in a sense be in constant evolution.

Theory of everything


In some tucked away part of my memory, there is for now a closed chapter of Buddhist studies. What if the entire socio-cultural system, including fields of religion and philosophy, was designed like a series of fractals? Even cosmic consciousness would end up being a fractal infinitely enriched by individual consciousnesses. My autobiographical self recalls that the Buddha is "at least partly a function of and dependent on his being embodied in others". The word 'embodiment ', used to describe the numerous ways to communicate the Buddhist scriptures and the Buddha's countless manifestations, reflects the fractality of Buddhist teachings. Gene Reeves writes that in the Dharma Sutra, "reality and togetherness of being both one and many are affirmed". We all are in our own way the embodiment of a collective consciousness. 


Trumpet creeper

Trumpet creeper


Kerri Welch, A Fractal Topology of Time: Deepening into Timelessness

Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz, New Essays Concerning Human Understanding

Gene Reeves, The Stories of the Lotus Sutra & The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic


Trumpet creeper

Trumpet creeper

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Published on by Catherine Toulsaly



Each new work is destined, in the mind of its author, to correct the preceding one, to complete a thought -- which will not be completed. He does his work over and over again, wherever his sensation or thought was rendered imperfectly in the preceding work. When man interrogates and exerts himself, he does not really change. He only rids his nature of what is foreign to it, and deepens that portion that is his own. Those who burn their work before it is known, because it no longer satisfies them, are credited with great courage. I ask myself whether there is not still greater courage in admitting that one has not always been what one has become, in becoming what one is not yet, and in permitting to remain alive the material and irrefutable witnesses of the variations of one’s mind.

Ellie Faure, History of Art


Leaves have started to fall off the elm tree. Autumn is settling in. Yellow and red colors are slowly taking over the green canopy and understory of the native garden. Being is only briefly real for becoming isn’t an illusion, but forever real. Time is a process. It’s like catching the wind and trying to contain it in a bird’s cage. Kerri Welch suggests that time is a subset of temporal symmetry, which in turn is a subset of timelessness, a “fundamental aspect of the Universe” . “Timelessness and temporal symmetry,” she writes, “ are distinct from time in that they do not obey the unidirectional causality of time”. They are “distinct from one another in that temporal symmetry requires that the transition between points in time proceed linearly through connected moments in time, whereas timelessness suggests a simultaneity and unification of temporal moments”. 

In another of the stories in Calvino’s Cosmicomics, the protagonist, whose name is Qfwfq, spends a long time as lowly mollusc condemned to a moment-by-moment existence, a prisoner of the eternal present. Days and nights crash over him ‘like waves, all interchangeable, identical or marked by totally fortuitous differences’. In an attempt to separate his present from all other presents, Qfwfq starts to build a shell, hoping to lay down markers in spiral accretions as if he were making his own clock. He tries to create an extremely long, unbroken shell-time, but an infinite spiral proves impossible: the shell grows and grows and at a certain point stops -- and that’s it, finished. Thousands of other molluscs try too but the effort is wasted: time refuses to last, the shells are friable, destined to crumble into pieces. Theirs are only illusions of time that last as long as the length of a tiny shell spiral, splinters of time that were detached and different from each other. Eventually, Qfwfq realizes, someone else has to try to ensure that everything that was left or buried [becomes] a sign of something else… (Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary)


Obedient plant

Obedient plant


Timelessness hosts the passage of time. Some may describe it as the eternal present or Nowness, a continuum of present moments at which “time touches eternity”, as C.S. Lewis said. It is the unknowable eternal Now that encompasses all the fragmented, monadological nows. It alludes to Julian Barbour’s “nows that make up all the points” on the Universe’s path where we all stand.  In opposition to timelessness in which past, present, and future aren’t closed compartments, those ephemeral nows underscore the subjective aspect of time. I felt as if I had caught a glimpse of the “moving present” with the three circles of dance, and that my body could instinctively position itself in relation to it. Our understanding occurs on three levels: the mind, the heart, and the body. When we say that we have learned to spatialize time, it means that our body -- that which moves through space -- senses its place within the passage of time.


...‘thinking with imagery’ and even ‘thinking with the body’ must have preceded language by hundreds of thousands of years

Stephen T Asma


The experience of the Now is the only way for us to know that we’re alive. Paradoxically, the present is an illusion that is gone as soon as it passes. It appears as a line of demarcation on the edge of which we are ready to plunge into the unknowns of the future. Time moves nonstop from one instant to the next, and the future is already here insofar as the present has passed. In a post about process, I pointed out that the present is a vanishing entity that we are helplessly chasing. As soon as we stand in the now, it has already gone in the past. What is now anyway? I asked. A brief second? A day? A year? We are uncertain of its limit and scope, for we are in a state of becoming. In reality, every second that passes is already part of the past and the next is part of the future. We might as well say that time does not exist because the present time is indeed an illusion. 


What I see is four temporal dimensions: that which is, that which has passed, that which will be, and that which is always in the state of becoming. The first three are subjective. The latter is timelessness. The eternal Nowness is what we are removed from at the time of death.  It is indeed true that the Universe talks to us in so many ways, and every time we find a new way of listening, we find something else, as Ellie Zwebel is quoted to have said. Those many ways could overshadow the objective reality of physics. Time is a complex and multi-layered web of geometry intertwined with that of space. Precisely because we understand the Universe through our body,  we have learned to spatialize time and can’t separate it from space. The internal eternity of spacetime is reminiscent of Blaise Pascal’s two spatial infinities to which time-domain astrophysicists could relate.


Let man then contemplate the whole of nature in her full and grand majesty, and turn his vision from the low objects which surround him. Let him gaze on that brilliant light, set like an eternal lamp to illumine the universe; let the earth appear to him a point in comparison with the vast circle described by the sun; and let him wonder at the fact that this vast circle is itself but a very fine point in comparison with that described by the stars in their revolution round the firmament. But if our view be arrested there, let our imagination pass beyond; it will sooner exhaust the power of conception than nature that of supplying material for conception. The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God, that imagination loses itself in that thought.

Returning to himself, let man consider what he is in comparison with all existence; let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature; and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the universe, let him estimate at their true value the earth, kingdoms, cities, and himself. What is a man in the Infinite?

But to show him another prodigy equally astonishing, let him examine the most delicate things he knows. Let a mite be given him, with its minute body and parts incomparably more minute, limbs with their joints, veins in the limbs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapours in the drops. Dividing these last things again, let him exhaust his powers of conception, and let the last object at which he can arrive be now that of our discourse. Perhaps he will think that here is the smallest point in nature. I will let him see therein a new abyss. I will paint for him not only the visible universe, but all that he can conceive of nature's immensity in the womb of this abridged atom. Let him see therein an infinity of universes, each of which has its firmament, its planets, its earth, in the same proportion as in the visible world; in each earth animals, and in the last mites, in which he will find again all that the first had, finding still in these others the same thing without end and without cessation. Let him lose himself in wonders as amazing in their littleness as the others in their vastness. For who will not be astounded at the fact that our body, which a little while ago was imperceptible in the universe, itself imperceptible in the bosom of the whole, is now a colossus, a world, or rather a whole, in respect of the nothingness which we cannot reach? He who regards himself in this light will be afraid of himself, and observing himself sustained in the body given him by nature between those two abysses of the Infinite and Nothing, will tremble at the sight of these marvels; and I think that, as his curiosity changes into admiration, he will be more disposed to contemplate them in silence than to examine them with presumption.

For in fact what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret, he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up.



Upland ironweed

Upland ironweed


Time may be found in the quantum Universe. “Could the parallels between the flow of our subjective, felt experience and the flow of energetic quantum reality indicate something of the nature of their deeper interconnection?”  asks Kerri Welch. In the evolution of the wave function,  a physical thought -- a speck of metaphysical dust -- acts as a proto-will and interacts with us. In so doing, it triggers in ourselves the awareness of information passed on to us. We might still debate whether consciousness “causes this” or is caused by what occurs during intervals of quantum superposition before collapse.


In Orch OR, quantum information is ‘pre-conscious’ or ‘sub-conscious’, becoming conscious at the ‘Now’ moment of objective reduction. Thus each conscious moment incorporates quantum information from the past and the future, as well as classical information from the past (‘working memory’).

Stuart Hameroff


Whether we perceive time as “flowing in one direction because it does flow in one direction” or “because our brains perceive it that way” is at the core of the intrinsic circularity spoken of by Paavo Pylkkänen. As consciousness emerges, it appears to cause in ourselves the impression of time asymmetry. The collapse may be independent of how we experience it. “In the same way that entropy may be a subset of a larger temporal reality, our subjective experience may too describe only a portion of a larger reality” adds Kerri Welch.


Entropy has many faces. It has been interpreted as a measure of disorder, the unavailability of work, the degree of energy spreading, and the number of accessible microstates in macroscopic physical systems. While each of these interpretations has a logical basis, it is unclear why any of them should have the dimensions of energy per unit temperature.

Harvey S. Leff


I have talked in the past about the possibility that our future influences the way the present unfolds, that the increasingly complex reality of the future is somehow compactified in the simpler reality of the past and that in the future lies an attractor that pulls the essence of reality within the expanding Universe.  Kerri Welch suggests that the quantum information incorporated from the future could be the “hidden variable” that explains the non-deterministic aspect of the Universe.  Such a view would support a deterministic theory of everything. She points out that backwards time may be hiding in plain sight. One particle could oscillate “between backwards and forwards time” appearing as particle and antiparticle at the same time. They may therefore occur “simultaneously” rather than being mutually exclusive. The Universe may allow “overlapping”. 


Having said that, I have brought up other scenarios involving time-reversal. I  have pictured in my mind the negative-energy particles of the dark sector traveling backwards from the future somehow meeting at the intersection of past and future those positive-energy particles traveling forward in time as if they both were traveling the same distance in their determination to meet. That is how I see a cosmic coincidence unfolding. It was also suggested that antimatter goes backwards in time. In his latest paper, Salvador José Robles-Pérez proposes that the most natural way in which universes can be created is in pairs of universes whose time flow is reversely related. Internal inhabitants of a universe-antiuniverse pair could identify matter with the particles that move in their spacetimes and antimatter with the particles that move in the time reversely symmetric universe.


The mind circulates in a space-time continuum while the body remains anchored here and now. Timelessness rules over the “interior dimensions” of memory and imagination which involve all of the possibles “outside of space but inside of time” -- as Stuart Kauffman formulates it. While imagination builds new connections,  memories rise to the surface before sinking once more into the mnemonic chaos of the Unconscious. We could argue that we need both perspectives from past and future to face the present. In those extra dimensions outside space but inside of time, they play an active role in the way time goes backwards and forwards right under our nose. Although memory travels backwards, vivid moments are fading away because aspects of past information are somehow “inaccessible in the present”. 

The pre-conscious superposition phase may also be equated with the Freudian sub-conscious including dreams and perhaps altered states. This suggests that consciousness is a ‘stream’ of discrete events, rather than a continuous state.

Stuart Hameroff

Imagination is the mind’s way to travel forwards. What if dreams were a resonance structure in which information from future were passed to present? Dreams unfold like a dialogue and maintain a precarious balance between the deep waters of the Unconscious unaffected by the passage of time and our consciousness, between infinite possibilities stored away in parallel worlds and the reality in which we live. Could our ability to experience time-reversal be trapped in our Unconscious? Are premonitions “an effect of reverse causality or of tapping into a timeless knowledge”? As we evolve and become increasingly aware, we may “detect the subtleties of reverse causality, similar to the way we have evolved into our current understanding of time”. 

Either we’ll transcend to a higher level of consciousness, or the day will come when our species will evolve. We would then understand the Universe in the most subtle way.

There is something that feels

Blue wood-aster

Blue wood-aster


Consciousness walks the roads of the future and the trails of the past. Our brain is a time machine. We do not have full access to past and future because of the “symbolic language” of our Unconscious.  Faded images and buried feelings may be all what is left of a time 50,000 years ago when the first humans migrated to the Eurasian continent as far as Australia and dispersed along the coast or when the first plants, before the time of hominids, integrated the capacity for photosynthesis more than 2.6 billion years ago. 

In the pitch-dark early morning, I heard the call and screech of an owl for the first time in a long time.  She sounds like a barred owl. Her call tearing the silence of the night is said to herald a time of spiritual balance and to be a sign that the cosmos is moving towards equilibrium. In the end, our free will and ability to express ourselves may be limited. Although there is ‘order’ in how the Universe appears before our eyes, I still see it as a clueless thing that reveals itself by expressing itself,.  The nature of that order, though, may be deterministic.  No doubt I’ll return to the subject of time when Julian Barbour’s new book The Janus Point is out next month.



Kerri Welch, A fractal topology of time: Deepening into Timelessness

Robert Lanza, Beyond Biocentrism

Julian Barbour, The End of Time

Dean Buonomano, Your brain is a time machine

Stuart Kauffman, Humanity in a Creative Universe


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The emergence of consciousness

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly


We sometimes feel that we have reached an impasse and need a breath of fresh air to keep going. Words are powerless without a final resolution. Our heart measures time; our brain harbors consciousness, and our body moves through space. Weighted down by the material universe, we think of time and consciousness unworthy of our immediate concern. David Bohm might agree with Samuel Alexander on the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of an artist’s creativity. In our attempt to explain any creative process, we have come to understand that the train of thoughts and the flow of words as well as their association with each other influence the way any subject is discussed or pursued to a more or less unpredictable outcome.


..the discovery of new ideas may typically require a quantum-like, general, even non-logical thinking process, while their justification has to take place in the “classical limit of thought" and make use of the logical thinking process

Paavo Pylkkänen


That which feels, where is it? There is no consensus on the level at which consciousness appears. It may be the result of classical, chemical, and electrical interactions between neurons or arise within cellular structures inside neurons via quantum coherence or even a combination of both.  A model that would establish a relation between states of experience and the quantum universe stems from the fact that there appear to be resemblances between quantum processes and thought processes. In particular, microtubules that are found in almost all eukaryotes and some prokaryotes have been suggested to play an essential role by Penrose and Hameroff. It is often argued that consciousness is limited to large brains and a few living species because only when an animal possesses enough microtubules (or a large enough brain) could it give rise to consciousness in a relatively short and realizable period of time. Among the most recent undertakings, a Functional Modeling Framework proposes to define the criteria for a model of consciousness. 


All that glitters in the brain


The context-dependence of properties in a quantum system affects the superposition and collapse of the wave function, that is when Consciousness comes into play.  David Bohm underlined the indivisible nature of a quantum system. I understand that the collapse of one particle has an effect on the entire system. Could a model of consciousness test the relationship between the conscious experience and the behavior of a quantum system?  In the end, writes Paavo Pylkkänen in a 2014 paper,  we use the thinking process to explain the thinking process, so there is an intrinsic circularity, to begin with. If we are, psychologically, quantum-theoretical beings, he adds, then by being familiar with ourselves, we may be familiar with quantum effects.


Others hypothesize that consciousness emerges from entangled atoms within molecules in the brain or it has to do with photons and photoreceptors. Once the photon is delivered to its photoreceptor, the entangled wave function collapses, and the visual awareness starts to emerge. A ‘quantum Goldilock effect’ -- analog to the fine-tuning -- has been recently proposed, suggesting that the interplay between noise and temporal quantum correlations leads to an increase in the system’s efficiency. 


That something that feels may be a form of ‘proto-cognition’ or ‘proto-will’. I could not say whether we’re talking about panprotopsychism, panexperentialism, or micropsychism. There appear to be varieties of panpsychism that are the subject of many papers and studies today. Modeling frameworks would allow the opportunity to test them. The first step of a conscious experience is feelings. Those are ubiquitous. It is what comes next that creates an irreversible distinction in temporality. William Seager raises the possibility that there is no radical or ontological emergence but an intelligible relation that holds between ’mental components’ and the resulting aggregative state.


What is required of a clump of matter for it to have an experience of something, for it to have a perspective on the world? The new millennium’s theoretical challenges to anthropocentric thought urge us to respond to this question.

Alexander Wilson


Could consciousness be paired with other physical forms of communication abilities? Some may defend a more standard view of the Universe for the reason of conceivability, but conceivability is a concept subject to the extent of our current knowledge. In the end, we remain unsure at what level consciousness emerges and continue to debate whether  ‘proto-cognition’ or ‘proto-will’ is real.  Could it be that it isn’t that consciousness is solely confined within our body, but that the human brain is a transmission box of communication specific to us, the human species? Other transmission models of communication include those in blue whales that have “ten times as many neurons as we do devoted to picking up sounds below 100 Hz”*. Dolphins perceive sounds with a frequency eight times higher than ours. A migrating bird with its light-sensing cells in the eye and its quantum sensor sees the Earth's magnetic field. Cephalopods represent an island of mental complexity in a sea of invertebrate animals. They have developed a large brain and adopted a complex behavior on a branch of the phylogenetic tree, separate from ours. And bees can communicate with each other, through a dance, about the location and quality of a distant food source. Human consciousness appears to be a more integrated, coherent, and unified form of subjective experience. What may be even more disconcerting to us is why some of the other minds have such a short life span. And so is our fate compared to the life of a star.



Poets are tamers of imagination. For them, the Universe is a poem and humankind, a forest of walking brains. Cosmic consciousness is a shadow trapped inside the Universe shaped like a dodecahedron with flat mirrors reflecting endlessly. The octopod-like consciousness propels its eight-fold appendages suitable for feeling and seeing to explore the cavernous empty space. While human consciousness may be a by-product in the evolution of life,  sufficiently complex networks, whether they be ecological, cosmological or even social or artificial, may have become conscious. Could there be extra physical dimensions where consciousness lies? If consciousness is a multiscale phenomenon, are multiscale emergent phenomena common in nature? Cosmic consciousness may be twofold. On the one hand it is, I believe, the inner resonance box that connects us with our surroundings. On the other hand, beyond our conscious experience and that of other organisms, forms of consciousness have emerged and integrated complex physical systems through experience-sharing, fusion, and phenomenal bonding, all of the ways that have triggered in ourselves neural plasticity. 



As I recall, astrophysicist Franco Vazza and neuroscientist Francesco Izzo attempted a comparative study between galactic networks and neural networks. Preliminary results tend to show that the human neural network and the cosmic web are remarkably similar. According to the Integrated Information Theory,  a system is conscious only to the extent that its parts act in a seemingly indivisible and unified way. As it turns out, even sand dunes can interact with each other.


aqueous dunes interact over large distances without the necessity of exchanging mass. Interactions are mediated by turbulent structures forming in the wake of a dune, and lead to dune-dune repulsion, which can prevent collisions.

Wake Induced Long Range Repulsion of Aqueous Dunes


My mind imagines quantum interactions leading to molecular reactions, the Earth as one physical entity, and the Universe a place where consciousness emerges at the molecular level even in stars. Swarm intelligence means the pooling of individually acquired knowledge, a sort of collective consciousness of a group, a population, the universe quite simply. Do the chains of salps swamping Antarctic waters have a mind of their own? A theory of everything, which includes a theory of consciousness, involves the study of how consciousness, spreading branches on its own phylogenic tree, evolves beyond the brain.


The emotionality of the natural world is not a metaphor. It is not a projection from the symbolic repertoire of our cultural history, nor an arbitrary thought, but the inside, the existential side of the natural world’s biological functioning.

Andreas Weber


*Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary

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There is something that feels

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

I discover two sides of consciousness: on the first side a constitutive consciousness that is the state of being conscious of the phenomenon, and on the second side, the being or existence of this very consciousness itself.

Boss's Dialogue with Heidegger, Freud, Sartre, Buddha and Jung : On Being Authentic


While most of us run out of words, poets caught in the midst of impressions, feelings, and connections imagine “ what it is like” to unveil “what is”. The ontological status of consciousness is defined as follows:  “there’s something that feels”. That ‘something’ represents that which is, regardless of whether it is unseen and intangible. What is that which is? How much consciousness is out there? How is it for that which is to feel? Is an atom’s consciousness external to the Sun’s of which it is a part? 


Do we believe that the mind is only the result of a collection of biological circuitry, or is it something more or different?

The Routledge Handbook of Emergence


Without shared resonance, consciousness is confined to a single emergent layer. With shared resonance, it becomes layers upon layers of intertwined emergence. The Universe may be a composite subjectivity, formed of many individually conscious parts. How do those parts bind together? At the very least, they need to obey principles of reflexivity and transitivity.  If time is my common denominator, how to relate the experience of a star to that of a human being? 


Whatever objects might appear through a mental state, the latter, besides being a consciousness of these objects, is necessarily an awareness of time passing.

Aron Gurwitsch


While it appears to our mind and body that consciousness is grounded in natural science, it may be an element of the quantum Universe. A model of consciousness will need to prescribe a relation between states of experience on the one hand and the natural world or the quantum Universe, on the other.  If analogical terms and fractal representations are imaginative but reductionist to explain the Universe, how to remediate their insufficiencies? 


The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.

P. W. Anderson


What it is like refers to how it is for the subject itself, whether it be the Universe as a whole or an electron. Although analogies refer to relations and similarities between aspects of experience, there is no conception that allows one to establish the identity of a ‘what it is like’ aspect of experience with a physical state. Since mathematics is considered essential to gain understanding into the Universe, could those relations be translated into a mathematical structure?  


In any scientific approach, writes Johannes Kleiner in his paper on mathematical models of consciousness, two fundamentally different methodological approaches allow one to gather information: a first-person perspective and a third-person perspective. A scientific model of consciousness addresses both. What is an act of consciousness? How does it unfold? In the case of the universal wave function, in which the Universe is as much the observer as it is the observed, the process starts during superposition and ends with collapse. What exactly happens during the intervals between events of collapse and what flows throughout these intervals might need to be taken into account in regard to the transfer of information, feeling, or consciousness. Could the idea of cosmic consciousness be addressed within a general mathematical framework?


Free-floating Evaporating Gaseous Globules (ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Sahai; CC BY 4.0)

Free-floating Evaporating Gaseous Globules (ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Sahai; CC BY 4.0)

how much is what we “see" affected by the scientific theory and, more generally, the worldview or paradigm we happen to hold?

Paavo Pylkkänen


No scientific methodology applied to date, writes Johannes Kleiner, can be used to address non-collatable aspects of experience.  A part, property, or feature of conscious experience is non-collatable if there are no reasonable means to identify this part, property, or feature over experimentation. Non-collatability implies limitations on how aspects of experience can be referenced in a theory or empirical investigation. How then do we define cosmic Consciousness that is ineffable and inaccessible? The observed is the experiencing subject. How experience reveals itself to the Universe, how it finds itself experiencing, defines cosmic consciousness. Its conscious experience constitutes the totality of feelings. 


One of the mathematical models of consciousness is the Integrated Information Theory. At the heart of the theory is an algorithm that aims to determine both the quality and quantity of a physical system’s conscious experience. It is constantly under development, with new and refined definitions being added every few years. Johannes Kleiner and Sean Tull published in a paper this year their mathematical analysis of the theory.


The idea that we can only talk about consciousness of the self and not a universal consciousness feels limiting. For me, the thinking process unfolds internally as if I were conversing with other minds around a table. It is reminiscent of a fictional dialogue cleverly written in 2014 between Medard Boss, Heidegger, Freud, Sartre, Buddha, and Jung. The quotation at the beginning of this post is part of it. Words of Josiah Royce, Thomas Nagel, and others resonate in my head. 


If there is conscious life elsewhere in the Universe, says Thomas Nagel, “it is likely that some of it will not be describable even in the most general experiential terms available to us” because there might be out there, asserts Josiah Royce, “a depth of meaning, a completeness of expression, a wealth of facts, a clearness of vision” to which we may not have access. Even so, it does not mean, observes Nagel, that “we should deny all the possibles that come from what we can never describe or understand”. It is not to say either that “such an understanding may be permanently denied to us by the limits of our nature”. 


If the theory we are allegedly testing is also the one we use to interpret the results, and the one which defines what counts as observation, problem, method and solution, how objective, neutral and impartial can such testing be judged to be?

Paavo Pylkkänen


There appears to be a difference between self-consciousness and cosmic consciousness as if we need to access one to attain the other. Not everyone reaches such a level of symbiosis with the Universe and displays an easiness when describing their surroundings. There is a transition, claims Richard Maurice Bucke, between self-consciousness and cosmic consciousness, that is when a person who was self-conscious enters into cosmic consciousness. As a result, we will feel how the Universe is “not a dead machine but a living presence” and it will inspire us to “take on enormously greater capacity both for learning and initiating”. Either we’ll transcend to a higher level of consciousness, or the day will come when our species will evolve. 


We would then understand the Universe in the most subtle way. Such a new aspect of ourselves could become a common feature when our evolved behaviors help respond to the socio-economic and environmental challenges. When we discuss the future of humankind, we often mention how we could benefit from being artificially augmented. What I would rather know is what will happen to our sense of empathy, sensitivity, and intuition. Should we hope that those human traits will also grow in the future?


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Transitional thoughts

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Transitional thoughts

As time passes, an increasing number of praying mantises are spotted in the native plant garden. A friend of mine said the other day that it is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. “Whenever I want to feel humbled,” writes Thomas about the ecological collapse, “I think of the species that disappeared because of our conceit. They went away painfully, but we never saw it happen. A last male or female waited forever for a mate, and then they fell dead and unmourned after their hope was dashed”. The Moon set early last night as I, too, fell asleep at an earlier time than usual, exhausted by the burning magma of thoughts in my head. 


Transitional thoughts


Moving forward, I’d like to restate the following points: The code in the hidden order of time converts information into rounds of communication between Consciousness and the Universe. No matter which fundamentals of reality take part in the circle of concepts and whether some are co-emergent,  I intuitively feel that time comes first.  I remain cautious, though, keeping in mind that I ought to go deeper. Writing helps with the disentangling of my thoughts. I would not know where to start without it as I continue to grasp the more profound significance of what I have so far barely touched upon. 

The deeper we go, the more our understanding grows and adds substance to the dynamic framework that we put in place. The approach is uncertain and won’t be devoid of twists and turns. ‘Transitional thoughts’ lays out a course of action that I tentatively draw for the next few posts, a path opening on the hazy horizon. I am well aware of the gap between running ideas in one’s head and testing them, and I wonder how mathematicians render a phenomenal experience into a mathematical representation.


Initially, I wanted this post to complement an earlier one on computational models of the Universe. A model of consciousness is a hypothetical theory about how conscious experience and the physical domain relate. It refers to brain function and individual consciousness. Since a dream of a final theory can only include a theory of consciousness, I thought that a paper on models of consciousness by Johannes Kleiner from the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy could be of interest in my own pledge to define the bond between the Universe and Consciousness. 


As it is often the case, I got sidetracked from my original intent. An article by David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen will soon be published in the volume of Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness.  They plan to demonstrate how consciousness comes into play in the collapse of the wave function. “Measurement is where consciousness comes in. Measurement is when a physical system affects a conscious observer”. In a video chat with Robert Wright, four years ago, David Chalmers suggested that whenever the wave function collapses, that is when consciousness kicks in. Without it, there is no consciousness. 



David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen intend on spelling out, in mathematical terms, how consciousness exerts a causal effect on the dynamics of the wave function. “Consciousness never enters a superposition. It is always in a definite state. The collapse defines the definite state of consciousness”. In my mind, quantum fluctuations are at the steering wheel of virtual particles. Could a process of appropriation occur during the superposition state leading to the collapse of the wave function? When we speak of quantum ontology, we mean that at the base of quantum mechanics lies the possibility that a wave similar to a physical thought or a speck of metaphysical dust operates a particle of matter mentally, giving it shape and guiding its movement by the transmission of information.  


A larger problem at hand is how the wave function applies to the entire Universe. The concept of universal wave function entails that the Universe as a whole is both the observer and the observable. All the actors and players within the Universe are only bearers of their own perspective. We could look at the entire Universe as the setting of an infinite number of superposed states that collapse and emerge in the quantum universe. The cosmic microwave background could be seen as the collapse of a universal wavefunction. It is as much a holographic projection of the data-embedded early universe as it is a snapshot of a universal form of consciousness. 


From the perspective of bottom-up panpsychism, “the moment any physical system potentially becomes entangled with consciousness, it too will have to go into a definite state,” concedes David Chalmers. If consciousness only occurs at the time of the collapse, it would imply that a shared resonance from micro-conscious to macro-conscious entities could only be limited in time, at best intermittent. The definite state constitutes a self-recognition of such an event. But what the collapse signals is that a transfer of information, feeling, or consciousness is finalized. In a sense, a wave-particle is a wave of consciousness that may be short-lived and whose only function is to combine with others.



In a time-embedded Universe, Consciousness takes the form of a silent chatter, the arousal of feelings internally vocalized. Thomas gained an understanding of what it is. “All creatures have consciousness,” he writes. “Consciousness seems like emptiness, but when it aligns with thought, it becomes magnified and fulfilled”.  His distinction between thought and consciousness is an interesting take on the wave-particle duality as if consciousness has always been there, but it is the thought of it that somehow eludes us. 

As we wish to pinpoint consciousness’ whereabouts and physically seize it,  we may ponder upon the implications of a method such as facial asana. It is based on the belief that one half of the face is reactive, and the other side is composed. “From an abstract perspective,” Thomas writes, “the reactive side is occupied by thought, which is in turn possessed by self, ego, whereas the composed side is occupied by consciousness, which is in turn detached from the mind and body. After we lose self, our thought becomes pure and spiritual - exactly like consciousness. When thought is possessed by self, it can be challenged to the point of disintegration, but it attains oneness of presence after it aligns with consciousness”. 

The individual consciousness takes the form of Thought, which is fluid and mobile like quicksilver, perpetually in a state of change and unrest fraught with pain and effort; the other consciousness is not in the form of Thought. It touches, hears, sees, and is those things which it perceives—without motion, without change, without effort, without distinction of subject and object, but with a vast and incredible Joy.

Edward Carpenter


The idea of alignment between thought and consciousness could be seen as a state of superposition until, in a possible form of interactionism, consciousness takes over. Going back to the wave function, it may be that a physical thought, a speck of metaphysical dust, needs to interact with us in order for us to be fully conscious of it as we evidently are at the time of measurement. 


Transitional thoughts

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Thought is Consciousness

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly


I was pleasantly surprised by the profoundly enlightening comments I received earlier this month. “We are not aware of the conflict within because ego possesses thought and we think it natural,” writes Thomas, “but after thought finds release from ego, we become stunned at finding the true characteristics of thought, and we are left dumbfounded when we realize that it is not different from consciousness.” When we are conscious, our sensitivity is directed outward, like sunlight, making us aware of everything, even a once-familiar gait from a distance. “Thought is consciousness.” 


Thought is Consciousness


The garden is in complete disarray. The plants have taken over. Is it an act of will on their part?  Fall is adding colors to the landscape. Like those native plants, we can’t seem to ‘grow neatly.’ Our thoughts and actions appear messy at times. Chaos has its beauty. I am not an experienced yogi like Thomas, although I sure would need to practice some of his techniques -- like facial asana -- to allow thought and consciousness to be “aligned and become one.” In my next post, I’ll tackle mathematical models of consciousness and, while we wait for Thomas’s account in his own words, I will reflect a bit more on his experience with consciousness. But for now, I’m going to let my mind run its course through the neverending flow of thought-provoking news.


...there is no total opposition between a deterministic universe and free will. In particular, it is possible to freely act in a deterministic world.

Eric Sanchis


I have conveyed in the past the way I feel about the accidental nature of things. In a seemingly deterministic universe, what it comes to in the end is whether our free will and ability to express ourselves are a real thing or a false belief of those -- like me -- who can’t completely agree that it is all about the nature of knowledge, and the nature of agency and the self combining in ourselves to act and create.  I wish to read more about the role of intuition and remain in agreement with Alexander’s description of a state of cluelessness preceding an act of expression.


The impression of free will is the feeling according to which our choices are neither imposed from our inside nor from outside. It is the sense we are the ultimate cause of our acts. In direct opposition with the universal determinism, the existence of free will continues to be discussed.

Eric Sanchis


Surprisingly, artificial intelligence, too, can turn thoughts into words. A neural network used by a team of researchers at the Center for Integrative Neuroscience was able to encode a sentence-length sequence of neural activity into an abstract representation, and then decode this representation, word by word, into an English sentence.  Assuming that an AI can think and communicate independently, will it have free will? It leads to a fundamental question, that is how Consciousness and free will are connected. Is consciousness a prerequisite for free will? Is free will sine qua non in the definition of consciousness? Does the implementation of free will in an entity require that this entity is provided with a brain or an advanced mental system? The computational approach of a concept, such as free will, entails that it will be possible to put together this synthetic property with other synthetic properties to create artificial characters that do not presuppose a brain’s existence.


Consequently, I wonder whether my mind wandering freely could precede me being aware of it. A few months ago, I had a lucid dream of an incandescent line formed by warm underground waters breaking off a river of ice flowing to where I could not say. My eyes felt riveted on what looms beneath glaciers that defines their fleeting nature. A research article published this month brought back its memory. The study concludes that the damage feedback processes observed in the shear zones of Pine Island and Thwaites ice shelves in Western Antarctica are, in turn, accelerating further ice shelf instability and mass loss and, therefore, may constitute a precondition for disintegration.


Serpens South star cluster (NASA/ESA)

Serpens South star cluster (NASA/ESA)


Our restless mind has a will of its own. Leaving Earth’s river of ice, I fly off to the radiance of Serpens South magnetic rivers. Molecular clouds are strongly magnetized, and magnetic fields influence the formation of stars driven by a complex interplay of several fundamental forces, including turbulence and gravity. New observations from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy have allowed us to measure magnetic fields at the center of our galaxy and provided us with an image of the Y-shaped structure of warm material falling toward the relatively quiet and massive black hole Sagittarius A*. 


Dust and magnetic fields: NASA/SOFIA; Star field image: NASA/Hubble Space Telescope

Dust and magnetic fields: NASA/SOFIA; Star field image: NASA/Hubble Space Telescope


The observations done at the European Southern Observatory in Chile have resulted in discovering another quiet but smaller black hole not far from us. At 1,000 lightyears away, it lies about 25 times closer to us than Sagittarius A*. Its mass is typical of a galactic stellar remnant black hole. Among hundreds of millions out there, the non-accreting black hole is part of a naked-eye triple system, called HR 6819, in which the black hole and one of the stars are orbiting each other. 


My mind feels like a free-floating object searching for kindred spirits among cosmic loners and travelers with their heads in the clouds. My inner camera zooms in and out, riding across lightyears to extend its mental outreach and elongate its suspended body endlessly. There appear to be many more free-floating planetary-mass objects in interstellar space like CFBDSIR 2149. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched in the mid-2020s, will survey bound exoplanets as well as planetary-mass objects not gravitationally bound.  



While we wait for the Roman Space Telescope and other next-generation space telescopes and observatories to be fully operational, we contemplate the possibility of lifeforms out there on multiple fronts. First closer to us, it was recently proposed that any phosphine gas detected in a rocky planet’s atmosphere is a promising sign of life. Its discovery in Venus’s atmosphere could originate from the presence of life unless it is the result of photochemistry or geochemistry. Second, in our search for extraterrestrial intelligence, a study has concluded that fewer than 0.04% of stellar systems have the potential of hosting advanced civilizations and that one in 1600 stars, closer than about 330 light-years, host transmitters just a few times more powerful than the strongest radar we have here on Earth. 


Unfortunately, I have found no extraterrestrial intelligent life form on my mental promenade. My mind returns to Earth, riding the fast radio bursts. They are observational phenomena whose astrophysical origin remains a mystery. Over one hundred sources have been detected so far. One of them, FRB 121102, occurs periodically. Last month, a paper predicted the source to be active from July to October. It should be active again from December to March 2021. 


In front of the Supreme Court

In front of the Supreme Court


Death has become a leitmotiv in my writings lately. I don’t know why. A friend of mine just passed away the same day Ruth Bader Ginsburg did. Thought is consciousness.


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