Par Christine Hardy, Ph.D
Neural nets and chaos theory are powerful new frameworks which enable us to truly address complexity and to model the mind in terms of dynamical processes and evolving systems. Semantic Fields theory views the mind as a lattice of semantic constellations or SeCos, generated by the interplay of experience, genetic constraints and cultural context. SeCos are self-organized dynamical networks that interweave processes ranging from high-level abstract ones to low-level neuronal ones. It is proposed that, fundamentally, thought is instantiated by dynamic chain-linkages within the SeCos-networks.
There is considerable experimental and empirical evidence suggesting that psi operates as a multilevel process and that psi information can be channeled into awareness in a variety of ways (such as sensations, feelings, intuitions, thoughts, interoceptive sensations, etc.) From the perspective of semantic fields theory, psi events are a fundamental feature of the underlying connective dynamics across SeCos-networks.
It is postulated that the mind is also the source of a projective process imprinting organization and order upon the outer world. This dynamic generates a semantic dimension in objects themselves-eco-semantic fields or eco-fields. As suggested, semantic connective processes are organized not by space-time parameters, but by semantic parameters (such as semantic proximity), which instantiate nonlocal connections between distant semantic fields-whether between minds or between minds and the environment. Semantic dynamics are the ground for both ESP and PK phenomena, whether conscious or nonconscious.
The model hypothesizes that the organizing influence of the mind on surrounding eco-fields will affect the nature and probability of events connected to the person.
Of all mental events, psi experiences display quite unique properties, that are hardly compatible with the classical theory of mind, or cognitivism; in this paper, I would like to present an alternative cognitive theory which may account for psi phenomena, while also being coherent with the most recent developments in the cognitive sciences.
First, let me explain some theoretical and methodological issues regarding the construction of a theory of mind.
One of the major contributions of psi research is that it has added a whole new dimension to the mind-matter problem: nonlocality.
So far, accumulated experimental data do not yield an unequivocal description as to the nature of psi. However, there seems to be wide agreement on viewing psi as a mental phenomenon, that is, to view mind as a necessary condition for its occurrence. What seems to me important is to make a distinction between on the one hand, the necessary conditions for psi to occur and, on the second hand, contingent conditions or influencing factors. Influencing factors are not absolutely necessary for psi to occur, but they may have a bearing on actual psi occurrences, e.g., affecting their intensity or the manner in which they manifest. Necessary conditions, on the other hand, are parameters that, if absent, preclude the occurrence of psi.
Experiments using various shielding materials (e.g., Vasiliev, 1976; Puthoff, Targ & May, 1981) do not lend support to the hypothesis that electromagnetic (EM) fields are potential carriers of psi information (although they do not conclusively exclude this possibility). Similarly, several experiments with positive psi results (e.g. from remote viewing to REG studies) show no systematic declines with increases in distance between subject and target (or target-REG), or even with time displacements in precognition or retrocognition experiments (Dunne, Jahn & Nelson, 1983; Targ & Harary, 1984). All this largely undermines “transmission” models of psi, i.e., the idea that psi information is based on local, or mechanistic, forms of signal transmission (such as EM fields).
Note that the above do not exclude the possibility that psi manifestations (e.g., in a spontaneous case, or a telepathy experiment) are influenced by EM fields. Thus, the recent data suggesting a relationship between psi and GMF or LST (e.g., Persinger, 1985; Spottiswoode & May, 1997), point to physical factors which may affect, say, a receiver’s capacity to pick-up psi information. On the other hand, such data do not permit any conclusions with respect to necessary conditions, that is, the nature of psi information per se (i.e., whether or not it is transmitted by, say, extremely low frequency waves).
In sum, we have little direct evidence for psi being based on some physical wave-carrier; thus, Newtonian space-time parameters can be seen as influencing factors and contingent conditions. What is indisputable, is that psi phenomena are related to mental events: they implicate the psyche, or the mind of individuals. Thus, my position is that we may assume mind as being a necessary condition for psi, and explore the mental facet of psi, while leaving open the possibility that additional necessary condition(s) will turn up at some later date.
Insofar as psi seems to be non-dependent (in the sense of a necessary condition) on Newtonian time and space parameters, it displays nonlocality. Moreover, psi being primarily a function of the mind, it follows that any complete theory of mind must necessarily accomodate nonlocal processes-such as psi.
Typically, any discussion of nonlocality immediately focuses on Quantum Mechanics. In the seventies, decades after they had been brought up as a gedankenexperiment (in the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox), nonlocal correlations began to be demonstrated experimentally. Certain prominent QM theorists also introduced the revolutionary idea that observation and the act of measurement contribute to what we observe as reality; they thus tied mental dynamics-consciousness-to quantum events. On the other hand, following up on his hidden variables interpretation of the EPR paradox, David Bohm (1980) proposed the existence of an “implicate order”, and a deep interconnectedness between mind and matter, that transcends newtonian space/time. Finally, models of consciousness based on quantum interference or quantum coherence have gained momentum, bringing properties like superposition and synchronous firing of neurons into mental dynamics (Pribram, 1991; Hameroff & Penrose, 1996).
While it is true that the concept of nonlocality has come to gain acceptance in the context of quantum physics, in my own view, quantum processes are not the only legitimate means for grounding nonlocality in mental events. There is no fundamental necessity to ground a theory of mind in physics, particularly given that physics is currently in a state of flux, with competing schools of thought, and that it is likely to undergo further developments. While I think the case for quantum events in the brain is well grounded, and that psi theories based on QM are an important line of research for physicists, I also believe it is sound to focus on the global architecture and dynamics of the mind, without committing to a particular view on quantum brain processes.
It is however instructive to understand the way in which physicists utilize concepts and postulates to move beyond what is empirically evident and ground their exploration of their own domain. In particular, physicists introduce dozens of new dimensions in their efforts to unify the diverse nuclear forces; dimensions are becoming more and more akin to descriptive parameters, rather than referents to objective reality or to a basic substance. In a similar manner, a cognitive theorist may be allowed to postulate cognitive parameters as useful descriptors of cognitive space. If the parameters turn out to improve understanding, and to lead to more accurate predictions than the parameters of previous theories, then they may be considered as useful conceptual advances.
Several theorists have considered psi to be “transpatial and transtemporal,” as Murphy (1949) put it. For example, Price (1939) stated that his “psychic ether” does not bear any correspondence to the spatio-temporal manifold, and he introduced a parameter of “proximity” between “image fields” independent of spatial distance. Similarly, Roll (1983) posited “psi contiguity” between people and the places they have inhabited, which may persist long after their departure. A similar approach has been proposed by Nelson et al (1996) who underscored the importance of “subjective parameters” (such as “attentional proximity” and “intensity of subjective investment”).
In the Semantic Fields theory (SFT), the introduction of nonphysical parameters reflects the necessity to use descriptors that specifically address cognitive functioning. Thus I postulate certain parameters which are nonlocal in nature and relevant to mental organizational levels in particular; I then explore their explanatory power for addressing a range of mental and psi phenomena. In other words, I hold that experiments lend support to a view of psi as being non dependent (in the sense of necessary conditions) on spatiotemporal parameters, and I therefore assume that a theory of psi must embed nonlocal properties. Once this is accepted, I propose certain postulates which could help account for the specifics of mental and psi phenomena. What then becomes of prime importance is that the theory be self-consistent, and that the dynamics and processes derived from the theory show their congruence with cognitive, clinical, and parapsychological data.
The first postulate is that there exist several parameters specific to semantic space. These are descriptors of the dynamics of the generation of meaning-one of the fundamental process at work in practically all mental acts (from naming and categorizing, to feeling and thinking). I have for now identified four such parameters, one of which is semantic proximity – a nonlocal parameter that is orthogonal to spatial distance in semantic exchanges.
The second postulate is explicitly linked to the issue of mind-matter interaction: I posit mind to be an organizing force that shapes consensual (observed) reality. This is reminiscent of certain interpretations of the measurement problem in QM, and analogous to the fundamental premises of parapsychology’s Observational Theories. However, in the present theory, the injection of order into the environment is based upon network dynamics, and involves the creation of eco-semantic fields – meaning-clusters that organize personal and social space. By endowing physical reality with a semantic organizational level, mind-matter interaction is re-cast as the interaction between complex personal semantic fields and environmental semantic fields. Their mutual interactions, it is proposed, are governed by neural nets and chaos theory dynamics.
In the domain of cognitive sciences, two main conceptual frameworks are currently prevalent: the symbolic and the connectionist paradigms. In the symbolic or cognitivist paradigm, which was dominant in the 70’s and 80’s, the mind is seen as a symbol-based rule-system: mental processes are equated to rule-driven computations on internal representations, coded in symbols (Fodor, 1991; Newell & Simon, 1976; Stillings et al, 1987; Pylyshyn, 1981). Regarding cognitive science, Stillings et al (1987) thus state: “The view of the mind as an information-processing system is what characterizes and unifies the field.” (p. 314); and elsewhere: “The realization that an organism or machine can produce meaningful behavior by performing formal operations on symbolic structures that bear a representational relationship to the world is a key insight of cognitive science.”(p. 4)
The symbolic paradigm is essentially an extension of cartesian rationalism, in that the mind is equated to conscious rational processes. This fundamental premise, however, is challenged by at least two areas of investigation: the nonconscious and the nonrational features of mental processing.
Recent research has highlighted the presence of a “cognitive unconscious”, insofar as most cognitive processessuch as forming a sentenceimply non-conscious processes working conjointly with conscious ones (Reber, 1993). More importantly, cognitive scientists increasingly recognize that abstract reasoning is probably not the way our mind operates most of the time (Minsky, 1985; Freeman, 1995; Gardner, 1983). Computational rule-bound processing, as expressed in logical or mathematical reasoning, must be seen as a high-level, emergent process. On the contrary, natural thought processes are mostly nonlogical or, as Reber (1993) put it, “arational”; for the most part, they are grounded on associations, as well as analogical and metaphorical thinkingmuch more rapid and global than linear computations. Penrose (1989) thus proposes that the mind makes use of non-algorithmic processes, and indeed several non-algorithmic alternatives have been proposed to model the mind’s processing-quantum processes (quantum potentials, interference patterns, quantum void, quantum computation), topology and morphogenetic fields.
It seems that the very concept of linear, rule-driven symbol manipulation is simply not powerful enough to deal with the flexibility and evolving capacities of the mind; the self-organization and learning that neural networks and dynamical systems exhibit seem to be a much more powerful explanatory tool.
The connectionist paradigm (based on neural nets) and chaos theory (complex dynamical systems theory) are powerful new frameworks which enable us to truly address complexity and to model the mind in terms of dynamical processes, evolving and interactive. Both networks and dynamical systems exhibit self-organizational properties, i.e., the capacity of a complex system to reorganize itself internally. The combination of network and chaos theories is therefore a particularly appealing framework for explaining the self-organizing and evolving features of the mind.
In the connectionist paradigm, which underlies neural nets research, the mind is viewed as a network of elements and processes, organizing itself toward an optimal state (vis-à-vis given inputs and/or objectives), on the basis of weighted connections between the different units or elements (McClelland & Rumelhart, 1986; Bechtel & Abrahamsen, 1990; Levine & Leven, 1995). Cognitive processes (including memory, information processing, perception, etc.) make use of a network of interconnected units in which data are distributed. Cognition is thus equated to the emergence of global properties out of a vast connective network of distributed information.
At a basic neuronal level, the brain indeed displays a widely distributed organizationas in the synchronous oscillatory firing of distant neurons (Koch, 1996), or in the distribution over various brain areas of some 20 visual maps (Changeux, 1983). A major challenge is to understand how such widely distributed information-processing nevertheless gives rise to a unified percept (the “binding” problem).
All in all, there is considerable evidence for the existence of neural-nets properties in the brain, such as distribution of processes, feedback, and collective self-organization (Edelman, 1992; Freeman, 1995; Wilson & McNaughton, 1994; Hameroff, 1994).
Another specific feature of neural nets is their remarkable learning ability, which implies the adaptive organization of the whole network (activated units and connection weights). In other words, presented with data (the input) and with a target pattern, the network finds the most efficient internal organization to code for this pattern. Sophisticated networks display a distributed representation of the target pattern that allows the network to still work efficiently despite partial damage or partial lack of information. These distributed networks can learn to recognize new patterns without loss of previous learning; furthermore, they are able to generalize, that is, to process patterns that are similar but not identical to those already learned. Altogether, this adaptive learning points to a property of dynamical self-organization within networks (Anderson & Rosenfeld, 1988).
Networks’ learning capacity has prompted diverse evolutions of artificial intelligence (AI) programs, which now display some network features, such as microtraits coding (subsymbols) and resistance to partial damage. Powerful integrations of symbolic and connectionist approaches in hybrid AI systems seem to be a very promising direction for research (Anderson, 1983; Bechtel & Abrahamsen, 1990).
The most striking feature of chaos theory is its ability to account for the interaction of forces and the creation of novel organizational states (Prigogine & Stengers, 1984). Many psychological processes are nonlinear and display instability, thus exhibiting dynamics at the edge of chaos: a minor change of parameters may lead the system to bifurcate, that is to change its global organization and behavior (Abraham et al, 1990; Abraham & Gilgen, 1995). Furthermore, the mathematical framework of chaos theory allows for modeling the interaction of any type of forces with any other type; for example, beliefs may be modeled as interacting with physical and mechanical forces in the production of work accidents (Guastello, 1995). Thus, a number of psychological and social processes have been modelized using complex dynamical systems theories – such as Prigogine’s dissipative systems, René Thom’s catastrophe theory, and chaos theory in general.
Chaos theory accounts for a great number of interacting parameters, for a succession of states and their evolving trajectories, for bifurcations in the system, and for the creation of novel patterns. Furthermore, dynamical models account for the influence of context upon the construction of cognitive patterns (or “global orders”) which remain context-sensitive (Smith, 1995).
A number of scientists are now presenting cognitive theories based on connectionist and/or dynamical-systems premises, sometimes integrating a symbol-based rule-system. Varela et al (1991), for example, propose that cognitive acts are not “instructed” as in a programming command, but rather dynamically “constructed” through experience. More specifically, Maturana and Varela (1980) hold that the mind exhibits “autopoiesis,” that is, the ability to reorganize itself internally and to maintain its structural identity.
In his Global Workspace (GWS) theory, Baars (1988) proposes that numerous brain modules “understand” everything that happens in the stream of consciousness (the GWS), with each agent’s action being “evoked” by a specific signal (a symbol appearing in the GWS), rather than the agent being “ordered” to perform an operation. This type of Production System (first developed by Newell, 1973, as an AI formalism), is data-driven and environment-driven, while being also distributive and modularproperties that are quite astonishing for a symbol-based system.
Adopting a dynamical-systems approach, Combs (1996) views the mind as an ensemble of modules, each one constituting a set of dynamical processes; Combs also underscores the organizing properties of consciousness. In his Dual Network Theory, Goertzel (1994) proposes the superposition of two networksa memory network, having an associative organization, and a control network, showing a hierarchical structure. Both Combs and Goertzel view the mind as a giant system housing many modules, which would be dynamically organized as a giant attractor with subsystems. Baars’ and Newell’s “production systems”, as well as Goertzel’s theory, show a combination of rule-systems and connectionist or dynamical frameworks.
In Semantic Fields theory (SFT), the human cognitive system is viewed as a multilevel web of interactions within the whole mind-body-psyche system. SFT blends a network approach with that of chaos theory to propose both an architecture and dynamics for the mind (Hardy, 1996, 1998). The architecture is a lattice of cognitive networks which I call semantic constellations or SeCos-each dedicated to a specific activity, concept or knowledge. SeCos evolve through the interplay of experiences, environmental and cultural influences, past dynamical organization (endo-context), and genetic constraints.
A basic feature of the Seco is that it is organized as a multilevel dynamical network. Each SeCo-network links together processes that may range from high-level abstract ones to low-level neuronal ones. For example, in learning an artistic skill, a cluster of links will progressively be constructed between sensations, muscle control, affects, intentions, states of mind, concepts, names, categories, and so forth. Thus the SeCo acts as a multilevel web of interacting sub-networks, evolving through the continual interconnection and mutual adaptation of processes (Hardy, 2000).
The SeCos’ networks are created and constantly modified by an underlying, low-level, connective dynamic: a spontaneous linkage process; essentially, clusters of semantic elements are spontaneously attracted to, and link themselves to, other clusters that are semantically related. Implemented both within and across SeCos, the connective dynamic is typically triggered by similarities across clusters. However, given the complexity of these clusters, differences are bound to be present too, thus permitting discrimination, differentiations, and the creation of new paths within the SeCo.
I propose that this highly generative dynamic, based on network-connections (rather than algorithmic operations), is the ground of thought. In other words, rational thinking is a high-level process, while thought at a low level is instantiated by dynamic chain-linkages and the interweaving of multilevel processes.
The linkage process triggered spontaneously in the SeCos-networks (through connective dynamics) explains certain unique features of the thought process-how, for example, it may evolve independently of awareness. Whether triggered by an intention or a percept, chain-linkages occur at the underlying, connective, level; so they may keep creating links or follow weighted paths in the SeCo while attention has drifted unto another task. This explains how a solution to a problem may pop up to the flow of consciousness at a later, unexpected time.
Thus, SeCos are self-organized dynamical networks that interweave sensations, feelings, and concepts through connective dynamics, and that change and evolve as a function of their own dynamical organization and novel chain-linkages. In some cases, the model predicts that SeCos may become fixated, as in purely repetitive tasks, strongly conditioned behaviors, or neurotic behavioral patterns. In this sense, the model is consistent with psychoanalysts’ understanding of psychological complexes as rigid clusters of feelings, behaviors, concepts and physiological processes.
The SeCo concept is also in agreement with Charles Tart’s (1975) description of states of consciousness as idiosyncratic patterns of sensory and mental processes, behaviors, mind-sets, knowledge-sets, and memories. A given state of consciousness may be seen as a web of connections between specific SeCos.
The model is also consistent with the growing recognition of nonrational and nonconscious processes in cognition (Reber, 1993). Francisco Varela, for example, holds that cognition develops out of-and remains tied to-a strong coupling of sensory and motor exploratory behaviors (Varela et al, 1991).
In general, Semantic Fields theory, and the network architecture it posits, is consistent with clinical and phenomenological evidence pointing to the interlacing of processes from various levels (mental, psychological, somatic). Classical rule-systems, by contrast, can hardly address this complex interlacing of different levels; the clustering of processes from various levels could not exist if the mind’s organization was based solely on rule-bound processing.
In positing a transversal, network-type integration, ranging from lower neuronal processes up to abstract, rational ones, Semantic Fields theory casts the mind-body problem in a different light: human knowledge and ideas are never purely mental, abstract, or rational; rather, they are deeply tied to sensory, motor, affective, and physiological processes.
Considerable experimental and anecdotal evidence suggests that psi operates at various organizational levels, ranging from highly abstract to emotional/affective to neurophysiological.
1. Psi test performance decreases with repetition of tasks, as shown by the decline effect (e.g., McConnell, 1982). The experimental findings suggest that psychological variables such as interest, enthousiasm, playfulness, novelty and surprise (both in subjects and in experimenters) enhance psi scoring. Psi may thus be more compatible with spontaneous connective processes and multilevel dynamics, than the abstract or rule-bound mental processing which are often taken as the unique functioning of the mind.
2. Data from spontaneous cases and informal investigations suggest that psi information is sometimes “felt” by the receiver as a somatic or “tele-empathic” sensation matching the sender’s experience. For example, in group telepathy training sessions, psychoanalyst Si Ahmed (1990) observed that subjects, while unable to verbally name the target, were often able to mimic it through gestures and postures.
This concept of “body-psi” has been formally explored in DMILS experiments (such as Remote Staring), that demonstrate that the autonomic system reacts to unconscious psi information and may show stronger results and/or reliability than verbal and conscious tasks (Braud & Schlitz, 1991; Schlitz & LaBerge, 1994; Wiseman & Schlitz, 1996).
3. In a number of psi experiments, nonconscious tasks (e.g., involving silent REGs), or tasks involving some form of dissociation from conscious, goal-oriented, processing, tend to yield higher results than tasks depending on strictly conscious-purposive activities (Berger, 1988; Varvoglis & Amorim, 1991)
Similarly certain psychics and researchers involved in the SRI Remote Viewing experiments have emphasized the importance of drawing, rather than verbally describing the target (Hansen, Schlitz, & Tart, 1984).
4. A variety of data point to the role of affect, rather than purely mental content. Spontaneous psi experiences are often triggered by emotionally charged events; this could, of course, be due to a form of selective reporting, but at least some investigations of target emotionality and psi in telepathy tests suggest otherwise: in ganzfeld experiments, emotionally and/or sensorially rich targets seem to be more conducive to psi than highly abstract or neutral ones (Bierman, 1995).
Similarly, affective relationships between sender and receiver seem to enhance success in telepathy tasks (Broughton & Alexander, 1996). This finding is consistent with what has been generally observed in spontaneous cases of psi (Schouten, 1982).
5. In ganzfeld experiments involving artists, it has been shown that individuals with high creativity scores show enhanced psi abilities (Schlitz & Honorton, 1990; Dalton, 1997). This is consistent with the above emphasis on the spontaneity of connective dynamics, while also underscoring the possible role of multilevel processes in psi: artists and creative people typically draw not only on ideas, but also on feelings, intuitions, sensory inputs, an aesthetic sense, etc.
6. Finally, in certain government-funded remote viewing experiments (the Scanate project), gifted psi subjects have been able to describe distant sites just on the basis of coordinates (McRae, 1984). This points to the fact that psi can also make use of purely abstract data.
The above data show that psi information can be channeled into awareness in a variety of ways, such as sensations, feelings, intuitions, thoughts, interoceptive sensations, kinesthetic impressions, etc.; the whole mind-body-psyche seems to act as a receptive system. It seems highly unlikely, then, that psi is an autonomous process in the percipient’s mind, i.e., a mechanical force, or a specific information channel, or the activation of a rule. To the contrary, the data strongly suggest that psi functioning is distributed between conscious and nonconscious processes, and that it can implicate practically all organizational levels of the mind-body: sensations, motor acts, the autonomic system, emotions, feelings, and intellect. The kind of multifaceted phenomena we observe in research and spontaneous cases are just the kind we would expect if psi information were indeed received through a multilevel psychophysical network exhibiting connective dynamics.
Several psi theorists have underscored the role of associations in psi events reminiscent of the connective dynamics I present. In his Association Theory, Carington (1945) viewed the “field of consciousness” as consisting of “associative groupings of psychons,” that is, sensa and images (p. 101). Drawing on the idea of a “common subconscious”, he proposed that the shared idea of an experiment, or the use of a “k-object” associated to the target in the experimenter’s mind, would create associations that may become active in the minds of subjects. Carington suggested that reinforcing the association by repetition would strengthen psi results; this was supported by a retrospective analysis of an earlier telepathy experiment.
Murphy (1949) believed that psi was fundamentally “transpersonal”, being grounded in the relationships between the psychical structures of individuals. He proposed that psi would be greatly enhanced in an experiment if participants were to strengthen their “interpersonal field” by becoming less ego-centered and more attuned to each other. In stating that all participants in an experiment influence results, by virtue of their interpersonal interactions, Murphy (1945) anticipated a central tenet of General Systems Theory (von Bertalanffy, 1968)which was later to be expanded within chaos theorynamely the existence of complex simultaneous interactions between components of a system. For example, in von Lucadou’s (1983, 1987) Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI), the system formed by a group of people and their environment (e.g. experimenters-subjects-device) produces “pragmatic information” that will be decisive on events (e.g. the results). Nonlocal correlations will then briefly link individuals’ mental state with the external system and produce temporary psi effects.
In general, then, the connective dynamics of SFT bear similarities with the above cited associative processes; furthermore, insofar as the theory embeds a systemic framework – the SeCos being systems of interacting elements (Hardy, 1999) – SFT also has areas of overlap with von Lucadou’s theory.
From the perspective of Semantic Fields theory, the underlying connective dynamics across SeCos-networks are fundamental features of psi experiences. Through nonlocal semantic connections, psi information activates the SeCos whose elements best match the target system, and the information becomes distributed in the SeCos’ multilevel network.
What induces the psi information to emerge into consciousness (as an ESP-type phenomenon or an intuition), rather than remaining nonconscious? I propose this depends on a number of factors, such as the intensity and volume of chain-linkages, or the strength of the affect attached to the event.
Assuming that psi information does become conscious, the selection of the channel through which it emerges into awareness may be based on different dynamics. One possibility is that psi information is relayed through the person’s preferred cognitive mode, e.g. imagistic, verbal, kinesthetic, etc. A second possibility is that the intensity and salience of specific elements in the target system will trigger chain-linkages with similar elements in the receiver’s mind; for example, the sender’s fear will tend to evoke fear in the receiver, or an intense scene may evoke quite similar imagery. These two possible dynamics do not exclude one another and may work conjointly in the psyche.
The above address the question as to what happens to psi information once it is within the person’s lattice, i.e., how it is “processed”, once received. To understand how information about distant events may get into a person’s lattice in the first place, we need to consider broader dynamics.
To begin with, I postulate that semantic connective processes are organized not by space-time parameters, but by semantic parameters – such as semantic proximity, recurrence, intensity, and linkage-types. These semantic parameters instantiate nonlocal connections between distant semantic fields and create a complex web of mutual influences.
I propose that nonlocal communication between individuals (e.g., telepathy) is grounded in dynamical interactions that are based on such semantic parameters. Two individuals’ “normal” communication creates a nonlocal common semantic constellation (or interface-SeCo) that organizes and binds the semantic clusters activated in their respective lattices. In other words, while interacting regularly with people, we develop nonlocal connections with them that, given sufficient recurrence and intensity, may become quasi-permanent “semantic bridges”. If reinforced and developed through repeated exchanges, the interface-SeCo will act as a nonlocal link between the two persons. Thus, if one person has a strong experience that has some similarities with semantic clusters in the interface-SeCo, then a spontaneous semantic linkage will be triggered, activating these clusters; the activation may then spread through chain-linkages and reach into the other person’s lattice via the interface-SeCo.
The emergent meaning may be related to the activated clusters in a straightforward manner; or, it may lead to derivative psi information concerning the other person’s experience, by way of a back-propagation of chain-linkages. The activation of clusters in the “receiver” may then remain unconscious or provoke emergences of meaning in the flow of consciousness or in dreams. Thus, semantic dynamics allow for various ESP phenomena via spontaneous linkages between spatially distant-but semantically proximate-semantic fields, with or without the person’s immediate awareness.
Contrary to symbolic (cognitivist) theories, recent theories of the mind put much more emphasis on the environment, and the importance of an organism’s constant interaction with its surroundings. Gibson’s (1979) ecological theory views the organism as reacting to “affordances” in the environment (although he swings too far in this direction, depriving the mind of internally constructed processes, such as declarative knowledge). In Francisco Varela’s model, the cognitive subject and the world mutually define each other through tightly coupled interactions. According to his concept of enaction, cognition involves both a knowing and an acting. Enaction is thus “embodied cognition” (Varela et al, 1991). Another interesting approach here is Pierre Lévy’s (1990) cognitive ecology, which develops the concept of a “thinking human/objects collectivity”: subjects and objects are both seen as agents in a social-cognitive network, whose “transpersonal” modes of thinking are shaped not only by language, but also by technologies (e.g., computers).
The model presented here posits a dynamic interaction between consciousness and the world, based on connective processes; it takes into account environmental and cultural influences, and underscores subjects’ creative input in interpreting and shaping reality. In this framework, perception is not solely an interpretational process, but also a projective process: it generates a semantic organizational level in objects and the environment – what I term eco-semantic fields, or eco-fields. Perception induces a circular dynamic between the subject and the object of attention, activating and reorganizing internal SeCos, while also injecting emergent meaning-clusters into the object’s eco-field. The modified eco-field is then retrojected into the person’s lattice, starting a new loop, until no further meaning is generated.
Thus consciousness imprints organization and order on the physical world by influencing and modifying the eco-fields of objects and of the environment. Rather than being a closed system, its operations being purely internal (as assumed in the symbolic framework), the mind is here viewed as a complex network system that, via semantic parameters, interacts dynamically with other complex systemswhether other individuals’ lattice, or environment’s eco-fields (Hardy, 1997).
It is worth noting that this semantic dynamic, independent of spatial distance, is not bound to the act of perceiving (as would be postulated by Observational Theories); rather, it is triggered at the onset of the low-level connective process. Each time we think about a place or an object, or remember it, we create a semantic network-connection with it that will not only modify our own mental processes but may also carry subtle two-way organizing influences.
The organizing force of the mind on eco-fields will affect primarily objects, events, or places with which we are in constant and meaningful interaction; in other words, the semantic influence will be stronger when there is strong semantic proximity, recurrence or intensity. This organizing influence on surrounding eco-fields will affect the nature and probability of events, to the extent to which these events are meaningful and/or connected to the person. This points to a constant, if subtle, PK influence of consciousness upon the environment, in the sense that meaning generation organizes physical reality in a way that reflects the set of values and worldview of the imprinting individual. More generally, insofar as we are social beings, it is often a group – as a system of intertwined semantic influencesthat will affect ambient eco-fields and connected events (for example, in a shared work-place).
Thus, the connective dynamic, which is the driving force in the creation, self-organization and evolution of SeCos, is also responsible for the interaction of mind with its physical environment. The semantic dynamic is the ground for both receptive and projective psi, whether conscious or nonconscious. Out of the web of constant nonlocal exchanges, specific meanings may emerge in the flow of consciousness, yielding information about distant persons or objects, or past or future events. Similarly, out of the constant and subtle influences upon environmental eco-fields, some instances of strong or explicit influence will be recognized and labeled as PK.
Psi abilities, revealing unique properties of mental functioning, may turn out to be crucial not only for the exploration of mind-matter interaction but also for cognitive modeling; indeed, I believe that any theory of mind that seeks to be complete must address psi phenomena.
The concept of eco-fields bears some resemblance to models of psi that imply fields connected to objects or locations, such as Roll’s (1965) “psi fields”. Roll grounds the creation of these fields on isomorphism, stating that a psi field produces an “isomorphic representation” of itself in either another psi field, or a physical field. One of his “canalisation hypotheses” is that the isomorphism between two psi fields can only grow the more they interact. By contrast, the present theory permits a range of complex mutual influences between personal semantic fields and eco-fields, including antagonistic ones, while also allowing for partial reorganization of these fields (Hardy, 1998).
Sheldrake’s (1981) morphogenetic fields and Wasserman’s (1956) M-fields also share some similarities with eco-fields, insofar as they retain a “memory of the past”. Sheldrake invokes “morphic resonance” as the principle of interaction between species’ morphogenetic fields and biological processes or behaviors. Thus the morphogenetic field acts as a blueprint of biological or psychological forms.
It is clear that the SFT does not tackle the morphogenesis problem; it focuses on network-type influences between physical, physiological and semantic organizational levels. While personal semantic fields do interact with collective SeCos, the latter are just one set of influences among many competing others. Indeed, in the present theory, the complexity of personal cognitive networks allows for the existence of choice and creativity, despite the weight of collective patterns.
In conclusion, the above authors posit the possibility of matter being imprinted by mental-type fields or mental events, thus retaining the memory of these events. However, once created, these fields seem to be structurally rigid, their sole interaction with other fields involving resonance or further replication. SFT, on the contrary, proposes networks-type fields that evolve and specifies the dynamics of their creation and transformation. Explicit psi events, in this context, are a natural consequence of the connectivity between these fields.
In the Semantic Fields theory, the mind is viewed as a force creating order and organization both within its own semantic network and within the environment. It is a negentropic force that, while not the inverse of entropy, counteracts entropy by generating new states of order and higher complexity in the universe. SFT hypothesizes that an individual semantic field’s general influence on reality – and particularly upon surrounding eco-fields – will encourage events consistent with the person’s conceptual grid, worldview, beliefs, affects, values, etc.; conversely, it will tend to reduce the probability of events antithetical to these cognitive/affective traits. This prediction is coherent with the sheep-goat effect, in which subjects tend to score significantly better (as a group) when they believe psi to be real and psi testing to be relevant.
The organizing influence of the mind on the environment acts in two distinct ways: the first one, is reminiscent of a generalized field, while the second, to the contrary, is focused.
1. Generalized semantic influence: the semantic field affects surrounding eco-fields as a direct consequence of the creation of meaning and self-organization within the person’s lattice. In this respect, it does not depend upon the person’s focused attention on the objects affected.
This leads to the hypothesis that the instant of intense meaning generation (including creative thinking and emotions) should prove to produce the strongest negentropic effects. Thus, if a REG is operating in the vicinity, it is predicted that subjects engaging in intense meaning generation should induce shifts in the system toward more organized states-i.e. causing significant departures from theoretical distributions; by contrast, subjects engaging in mechanical or meaningless mental activity will produce no such shifts.
Intense meaning generation refers to novel thought processes-like considering new ideas with enthousiasm, or having a aha! experience; it also refers to thought processes invested with strong feelings, emotions, and significance. The experiment would test the effects of the intensity of meaning generation on a “hidden”-REG (or field-REG), i.e., on a REG of which the subject is unaware. The general idea is to monitor experimental situations (or tasks) able to trigger shifts in the creation of meaning, in a way similar to field-REGs and group consciousness experiments (Nelson et al, 1996; Radin et al, 1996). One interesting possibility would be to have subjects speak of strong personal psi experiences, as this task would blend meaningfulness, strong mental interest and deep emotions.
2. Focalized semantic influence: as the mind’s self-organization, in this theory, is linked to the creation of meaning, it will affect semantically linked target systems; it will affect things and events that are meaningful to the person or that can shift the mental state of the person-triggering emotions, ideas and novel experiences.
This leads to the hypothesis that objects, events, or living systems that are important or meaningfully related to the subject, may be affected by that person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions, independently of the distance. This leads to several possible tests:
In an experimental design in which items of affective import (names, objects) are mixed with neutral ones, it is predicted that a random selection will favor the meaningful items (especially when coupled with feedback to the subject). This prediction follows from the idea that a person’s semantic field affects the probability of meaningful events related to that person.
Given the electronic analogue of a divination-system (i.e., a pool of phrases describing different dynamics, situations or events, and an REG-based selection of one phrase), it is predicted that the selected responses will tend to reflect the state of the subjects’ semantic field. In other words, out of a large pool of semantically distinct phrases, subjects’ questions will tend to bring out phrases coherent with the state of their own semantic field, or with the state of the semantic field of the person or object considered by the question. This prediction follows from the idea that spontaneous chain-linkages are generated between semantically related elements, within and across semantic fields.
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