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Neurological evidence for chaos in the nervous system (2014) (nautil.us)
37 points by dnetesn 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments



This is an interesting read, and is pretty intuitive stuff - I mean, how can cognition be anything but the froth on the edge of a critical chaotic process? Were it not, we would be simple automata, readily replicable with deterministic code.

We even reflect our nature in the societies and systems we build, which are all ultimately chaotic, myriad variables interplaying to produce complex and often unpredictable outcomes.


Isn't chaos (in the mathematical sense) purely deterministic?

Those processes are very sensitive to the initial condition, but given the same seed, they'll evolve identically.


> Isn't chaos (in the mathematical sense) purely deterministic?

yes. things like the logistic map or lorenz system demonstrate mathematical chaos, while being utterly deterministic.

"chaos is random" is a popsci dilution / mangling.


Chaos is indeed deterministic but only in the first few iterations. The limitation we have is computational power. The further into the future we go, the hard it is to determine the outcome.

The best example of this would be weather forecasting. A lot of weather bureaus can perfectly forecast the next 24 hours but become increasingly difficult to get it right the more into the future you get them to forecast.


> Chaos is indeed deterministic but only in the first few iterations

More precisely, chaos is fully deterministic but that can't practically be usefully applied beyond a few iterations, because small measurement error on inputs blow up into giant uncertainty in outputs.


The limitation for weather forecast is floating point precision, which lead predictions to diverge with reality because the small losses of precision add up to large discrepancies as time passes, in chaotic systems.

If we could compute with Real numbers, we would get much better predictions.


> If we could compute with Real numbers, we would get much better predictions.

This is a paradox. The real numbers are in some technical sense not computable. I get what you mean though, analog computers. However, there are still limits to the precision.


Good point. Relevant article: http://lampx.tugraz.at/~hadley/uncomputable_numbers.html

"almost every number is uncomputable"

"This means that predicting the weather arbitrarily far into the future is impossible without knowing the current conditions (temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind speed, etc.) to arbitrary precision. Since the quantities that describe the weather are real numbers, they are uncomputable. No finite computer program can calculate the weather arbitrarily far into the future."


I love this kind of argument. It is of course very simple that every real number is uncomputable -- real numbers have greater cardinality than the integers. So if you had a program (which can be described by a finite sequence of integers) capable of producing each real, you would have a finite integer sequence for each real, contradiction.

Note though that quantum mechanics adjusts this notion of real numbers in classical mechanics. A full quantum description of our world in theory requires only finitely many bits, because the quantum state is finite. But then measurements in quantum mechanics are non-deterministic, so impossibility of perfect prediction is still true :P


Even then, measurements can never be 100% accurate, and we can never have enough measurements.


Maybe. I tend to agree with you. With that being said, the code/automata ideaa of consciousness always remind me of the deists, etc. I'm always a little weary of to literally interpreting the mind this way.


Neurological evidence for chaos in the nervous system is growing

Growing? Show me a biologist or psychologist (or chemist or physicist for that matter) who does not understand as a given that biological and neurological systems are so incredibly complex that they can be described as chaotic.

In fact, this is understood by all of us. We don't expect identical twins to think identical thoughts.

This is a long article saying nothing, making something mundane and obvious out to be a looming paradigm shift.


"Chaos" is being used in a mathematical sense, here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory




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