"Complexity Theory and Theories of Consciousness: the Supervenience Hypothesis"
SSU Interdisciplinary Graduate Program
Last modified: August 23, 2007
The field of consciousness studies, due to the intimacy and immediacy of its subject matter, is one of the most important domains of human inquiry, endeavoring to ground a unified theory of human (and non-human) phenomenology. However, the study of consciousness has also been among the most challenging disciplines in which to make progress, due to a host of factors, including substantive conceptual, methodological and technological obstacles. In this paper, I will defend the view that a correct theory of consciousness must supervene upon a correct theory of complexity (complex systems) – a position I shall abbreviate as the Complex Consciousness Theoretical Supervenience Hypothesis (CCTSH). The argument will proceed as follows: According to cutting-edge science, brain activity is accurately describable (to the degree to which description is possible) in the language of complexity theory. This is readily explained by the uncontentious posit that the brain is a complex adaptive system. Given the premises that the mind – and therefore consciousness – supervenes upon brain activity (the physicalism premise), and that accurate theories of the mind supervene upon accurate descriptions of brain activity (the weak identity theory premise), we can conclude that accurate theories of consciousness will supervene upon accurate theories of complexity (complex systems). More specifically, from a naturalistic perspective, theories of consciousness will supervene on (be species-variants of) complexity theory insofar as they, minimally, assume, and are congruent with, its logicomathematical language.