You’re just a wave, you’re not the water.*

At the end of his wonderful 2011 book, “Who’s In Charge,” Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist, writes: “Understanding how to develop a vocabulary for those layered interactions (at the interface between mind and brain)…constitutes the scientific problem of this century.”

Not just the interface between brain and mind. Also the interface between self and other, pieces and the whole, man and society. That was the job of philosophers: To develop a new vocabulary, because the vocabularies that evolved since we stood on two legs have failed to keep up.

We’re blinded by these limits of our inherited languages, the evolved systems of our brain, and the obvious material success of abstraction. Except for mystics, who spoke in riddles: everything is nothing, the void, being itself, be here now.

But the words, and the images, have  been right in front of us the whole time, we just couldn’t see: It’s a wave, an organization, created by simple sets of rules, that communicates across the interface between systems.

A school of fish has coherence, but there isn’t time for a message to spread to each fish to turn “left.” The school remains organized because each fish inherited simple rules about how far to stay from its neighbor. Rules about proximity keep a flock of geese together in the wind.

Similar rules allow traffic to flow on the freeways. We don’t think of water molecules as having free will, but the very same mathematics that describe the flow of a fluid describes the flow of traffic. Someone hit their brakes when their coffee spilled, and set up a whorl that persisted for hours.

All we know at the interface is a set of simple rules. Don’t change lanes if someone is there. Don’t rear end the car in front of you. Those rules result in behavior that is wave-like when viewed in the aggregate.

Quantum mechanics gives us fits. A photon is either particle or wave… depending on how we measure it. A wave with no medium but one that is organized, and at times described as “coherent.”

We can’t imagine an ocean wave without water. But we can imagine that wave as an organization of information about an earthquake that occurred hours ago and thousands of miles away. Time and space. Look closer. Several waves. Closer still, a single wave. Peak and valley. Each part of the wave reflects information about the earthquake, a hologram, a fractal.

Clarity decreases the tighter we focus, according to Heisenberg. The wave disappears, organization disappears, when we look only at a water molecule and don’t know where it’s going.

What’s worse: that monad may be influenced by more than one wave at a time. Another wave from a squall near Hawaii interferes with the earthquake message, sends information that reenforces or perhaps cancels, temporarily, the movement of one molecule. Our driver pulls to the side of the road to let an ambulance pass. Different rules apply, then don’t, and traffic flows like water.

Blended chords wash over us, conveying laughter, or sadness. Remove the oboe, then the violins. Look small enough and the last musical note is nothing but a blip, as frequency disappears. Then, what we see is the result of what we have chosen to look at, and it’s no longer a symphony.

At the interface, simple rules convey information between systems in ways that seem like magic, when spoken in our old languages, to brains that evolved subsystems to dodge snakes and run from tigers. That brain never needed to know that neural net subsystems process, reenforce and cancel, to achieve results feeding other nets, waves of information flowing in both directions.

We talk as if we live in a binary world. Yes/No, zeros/ones, self/other, alive/dead. But we do not. We live in a world of potentials, of gradients, of transmission — of waves that bounce, bend and reflect upward and downward, information conveyed by simple rules at the interface that lead to organization, causation in both directions.

Mathematician Gödel blew up one of the grandest efforts of philosophy in the 20th century with the observation that any self-referencing system could not be both coherent and complete. For wonderful explanations of this, see Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by  Douglas Hofstadter.

But if we assume that any such system both refers to itself and does not, then incoherence, or incompleteness, disappears. Is that itself incoherent? Not if we let Gödel pet Schrodinger’s cat, a potentiality, a wave, peak and valley, pressure and not, created by rules that govern observation of elements in the subsystem.

Waves exist because of alternation over time communicated by rules between elements. For a single molecule, there is no wave, just a monad in waiting, ready to follow rules that don’t apply until it moves. Hit the brakes to keep the distance, then accelerate, change lanes to fill the gap and traffic flows like water, or sand through an hour glass, described by simple equations that do not reference free will.

Here is the tricky part. Where do those rules come from? Why does the spiral of sunflower seeds match the spiral of a conch, and both match the spiral of this galaxy? Fractals may be Fibonacci’s children, but math does not govern, it describes something that does. What is that? Being as such, the Hand of God, a chance collection of rules that may or may not apply in the universe of dimensions next door?

I don’t know. But a key to the door may be that simple rules between entities create organisms of information that have the power of causation  between systems and subsystems that otherwise seem unrelated, to our old paradigms. I believe this crossing at the interface can best be described by the mathematics, and metaphor, of waves.

*Jimmie Dale Gilmore