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Abstract of


Pre-Syntactical Randomness
Towards a Process-Oriented Foundation of Higher-Order Syntaxes
Presented at 2006 International Whitehead Conference, Salzburg, Austria

(subject: cognitive neuroscience, cognitive science of mathematics, (meta)mathematics, Process Physics)

Author: Jeroen B.J. van Dijk
City: Eindhoven
Country: The Netherlands
Pre-Syntactical Randomness
Towards a Process-Oriented Foundation of Higher-Order Syntaxes

From the most basic subconceptual level, the brain’s neurocognitive processes inevitably
bring along object-oriented portrayal of reality. Through self-referential dynamics neural
patterns organize themselves into distinguishable units (‘neural-mental objects’). Damasio
(1999), Gärdenfors (2000), and Edelman & Tononi (2000) mention that this neural self-
reference is essential for generating conscious mental experience. It facilitates the
preconscious and conscious categorization of novel somatosensory input, which is essential to
higher-order neurocognitive processes (such as concept formation and pattern recognition),
and provides the emergent foundational ‘objects’ of conscious experience.
Although the bound-in-one, collective whole of these neural-mental ‘objects’ may
constitute a very convincing object-oriented image of reality, these neural-mental unitary
patterns are not objects. Rather, they are relatively stable emergent dissipative structures (G.
Nicolis & I. Prigogine, 1977) brought along by a dynamical, self-referential neural substrate.
Remarkably, the only tools ready-available for analysing this neural substrate, are the
higher-order mental concepts that are emergent from the neural substrate itself . However,
these mental concepts cannot be adequately applied beyond their own mental syntax – just as
a higher-order programming language cannot adequately embody binary code.
Similarly, in axiomatic mathematics, nothing can be proven beyond the axiomatic
foundations, i.e. mathematics cannot adequately encompass any sequence or assembly of
mathematical ‘objects’ that cannot be reduced into a shorter description. This insusceptibility
to reduction is called ‘randomness’ (Chaitin, 2001; Casti, 1996), which is primarily regarded
in a ‘post-syntactical’ sense, in that it involves irreducible mathematical facts that are
expressible, but not computable (i.e., reducible) through the mathematical syntax involved.
However, randomness can also be ‘pre-syntactical’, in that it represents any lower-
order, pre-syntactical dynamical structures (e.g. Self-Referential Noise; Cahill, 2000, 2005)
that cannot be adequately expressed through higher-order (emergent) syntax. To mathematical
realists, this pre-syntactical randomness does not make any sense; at most it represents
disturbing, non-formal, ‘real-life’ noise that one should ignore. Nevertheless, in cognitive
science of mathematics (Lakoff and Nuñez, 2000; see also: Edelman and Tononi, 2000,
p.214), axiomatic mathematical concepts are believed to be subsequent to cognition.
Combined with the above-mentioned emergence of cognition from self-referential neural
processes, this makes the (omni)presence of lower-order pre-syntactical substrata quite
plausible, especially when considered within the context of: (a) dynamical hierarchies (Baas,
1994; Kitto, 2002), and (b) Max Velmans’s proposal that a ‘reflexive’ (i.e., self-referential)
universe is the most obvious and natural generator of a reflexive mind (2000, pp.278-281).
Main references:

• Nils A. Baas, Emergence, Hierarchies and Hyperstructures; Artificial Life III (ed.
C.G. Langton), Addison-Wesley (pp. 515–537), 1994
• Reginald Cahill and Christopher Klinger, Self-Referential Noise as a Fundamental
Aspect of Reality, published in Proc. 2nd Int. Conf. on Unsolved Problems of Noise
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July 1999, Vol. 511, p. 43, American Institute of Physics, New York, 2000.
• Reginald Cahill, Process Physics: From Information Theory to Quantum Space and
Matter, Nova Science Publishers, 2005
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