Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.2, 314-328
Published Online May 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Formal Similarities between Cybernetic Definition of Life and
Cybernetic Model of Self-Consciousness: Universal
Definition/Model of Individual
Bernard Korzeniewski
Faculty of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Biotechnology, Jagiellonian U ni versity, Kraków, Poland
Received February 5th, 2013; revised March 10th, 2013; accepted March 21st, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Bernard Korzeniewski. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Com-
mons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, pro-
vided the original work is properly cited.
The previously proposed cybernetic definition of a living (biological) individual and the cybernetic model
of a psychical individual (a self endowed with subjective consciousness) are extended and compared, and
their formal similarities are isolated and highlighted. It is argued that the emergence of the biological level
of reality from the physical level and of the psychical level from the biological level is closely analogous.
The (biological or psychical) individual is constituted by a network of elements (negative feedbacks/
regulatory mechanisms or neurons/concepts, respectively) that possesses the following common proper-
ties: 1) it is intentional (in the operational sense); 2) its elements signify (have sense) by connotation
(through relations to each other); 3) it contains an instrumental representation of (some aspects of) the
world and 4) it is self-referential i.e. recurrently directed on itself (its own reproduction or representation,
respectively). Thus life and self-consciousness have deep, formal, structural similarities when viewed ab-
stractly. The cybernetic definition/model of an individual is also referred to societies/states, companies
and other systems. It is postulated that this definition/model is a universal one and can be applied to all
possible systems/objects existing in the Universe or constructed in the future by humans.
Keywords: Definition of Life; Model of Mind; Consciousness; Cybernetics; Self-Reference; System
Life and consciousness are phenomena of immense scientific
and philosophical interest and significance. Their nature and the
kinds of functional organization of matter underlying them still
remains a matter of hot debate. They are usually, explicitly or
implicitly, regarded as being of completely different natures.
However, revealing any formal similarities between them would
help to understand their essence and origin. Such formal simi-
larities can be specified within the formal science dealing with
regulation, signal transduction, information transfer and gener-
ally purposeful inte r a c tions between different elements of a sys-
Many different definitions of the phenomenon of life have
been proposed. The majority of them stress reproduction com-
bined with identity inheritance and the ability to evolve (May-
nard Smith & Szathmary, 1995; Muller, 1935; Ganti, 1975). In
this context, researchers often mention chemical composition
based on organic carbon compounds, metabolism, complex
structural and functional organization, growth, adaptation and
response to stimuli. Particular definitions/characterizations of
the phenomenon of life take into account various such features
and their combinations. Biological systems are certainly sys-
tems of hierarchically organized dissipative structures (Prigog-
ine, 1980; Prigogine & Stengers, 1980) or, in more general
terms, low-entropy systems significantly displaced from ther-
modynamic equilibrium (Schrödinger, 1992). Life is also de-
fined as a self-sustained chemical system capable of Darwinian
evolution (Joyce, 1995) or self-reproduction with variations
(Trifonov, 2012). Sometimes a more abstract set of properties is
regarded as sufficient for the phenomenon of life to be sepa-
rated from the inanimate world. For example, Program, Im-
provisation, Compart mentalization, Energy, Regeneration, Adap-
tability, and Seclusion (PICERAS) were suggested to be the
“seven pillars of life” (Koshland, 2002). For a review of differ-
ent definitions of life, see (Popa, 2004).
I believe that it may be useful to adopt a different strategy,
namely to attempt to formulate a minimalistic definition of the
essence of life. I formulated such definition in cybernetic terms.
According to this definition, a living individual is a network of
negative feedbacks (or, in broader terms, regulatory mecha-
nisms and signal transduction pathways) that are subordinated
to (are at the service of) an over-arching positive feedback
(corresponding to reproduction) (Korzeniewski, 2001, 2005). In
my opinion, this is the most minimalistic definition of life that
manages to remain valid. Although it is very abstract, all other
fundamental properties of living systems can be derived from
this simple formula, when it is confronted with the real world
(Korzeniewski, 2005). This cybernetic definition is expressed
in the terminology of formal sciences (cybernetics, information
theory), which makes it “objective”, for instance, for physicists.
It is sufficiently general to be potentially applicable to possibly
very different forms of life that may exist in the Universe. The
cybernetic definition of life will be further discussed below.
The mind-body (spirit-matter) problemi.e. the problem of
the relation between the subjective psyche and (self-)con-
sciousness and the objective external realityis one of the
most important philosophical problems in the history of hu-
mankind. Within the framework of philosophy, various forms
of monism (materialistic and idealistic) and dualism were pro-
posed. Some of them are more radical, others less so. In this
article, there is no room to provide a detailed review of particu-
lar conceptions, most of which are commonly known anyway.
The position presented here is based on the scientific paradigm.
Science naturally tends towards materialism, although not nec-
essarily towards primitive reductionism. The rapid development
of neurophysiology and cognitive science provoked numerous
attempts at explaining the origin and nature of consciousness
based on the dynamic structure of neural connections in the
brain or on other physical and biological features (Crick, 1995;
Dennet, 1997; Damasio, 1999; Macphail, 1998; Cairns-Smith,
1996; Greenfield, 1998; Penrose, 2002 ; Koch , 2004; Llinas , 2002).
I proposed my own, cybernetic model of the psychical indi-
vidual (Korzeniewski, 2010). According to this model, self-
consciousness emerges when the “cognitive center” in the brain
becomes recurrently directed onto itself, receives and processes
signals from itself and creates its own model within itself. This
center is most probably dispersed across large areas of prefron-
tal and frontal cortex. In animals devoid of subjective psyche
and self-consciousness, it receives and processes signals from
sensory cortex. In a self-conscious brain, the cognitive center
receives signals also from itself. Therefore, in my cybernetic
model, the essence of a psychic individual is based on the rela-
tion of self-reference. This model will be presented below in
greater detail.
The main objective of this article is to point out the similari-
ties between the essence of life and (self-)consciousness as
defined within the cybernetic paradigm. I will use the previ-
ously formulated cybernetic definition of the living individual
and the cybernetic model of the psychical individual. I will
significantly extend and broadly discuss this definition and
model. I will focus on parallels between the emergence of the
biological level of reality from the physical level, on the one
hand, and the emergence of the psychical level from the bio-
logical one, on the other hand. I will attempt to demonstrate
that from the formal, abstract point of view, the mechanism of
emergence of a higher level from a lower level is in principle
identical in both cases. I am referring here to the emergence
both in the diachronic sense, during the evolution of the Uni-
verse and biological evolution, and in the synchronic sense,
when we climb up through particular levels of the hierarchy of
complexity and pass from atoms, molecules and macromole-
cules to living cells and (complex) multi-cellular organisms, as
well as from neurons and their sets to complex neural networks
that are the “carrier” of psyche.
Cybernetic Definition of a Living
(Biological) Individual
Let us start with the essence of life. I believe that a living in-
dividual (and not organism) is the basic unit of life (as well as
the subject of evolution, a unit of selection). I proposed a cy-
bernetic definition of a living individual (Korzeniewski, 2001,
2005). I also referred it to a possible artificial supra-molecular
life (Korzeniewski, 2011). Cybernetics (in the narrow sense of
the term) is primarily a science of regulation and control in
purpose-oriented systems (aimed at realizing some pre-deter-
mined goal). Negative feedback and positive feedback are two
basic concepts of cybernetics.
Negative feedback is aimed at maintaining the value of a pa-
rameter at a pre-set level that is beneficial for the functioning of
the entire system. In the case of biological systems, there are
multiple parameters of the type, for instance: temperature, the
rate of a chemical reaction, the concentration of a compound, a
specific color in a specific place of an organism, the intensity of
functioning of an organ, humidity (e.g. inside an anthill), ex-
posure to sunlight, the size and shape of a specific structure or
of the entire body at a given moment of embryogenesis, preci-
sion of an image produced on the retina, the optimum hunting
strategy and many more. Negative feedback eliminates any
deviations from the pre-set value of a parameter, caused by
various disturbances occurring outside (or inside the organism),
and it does so by triggering an action that leads to a modifica-
tion of the relevant parameter value that counteracts the devia-
tion. Maintenance of constant temperature in a fridge or correc-
tions of the course deviation of a rocket from the pre-set trajec-
tory are examples of negative feedback in the inanimate world.
Positive feedback operates in the opposite manner: it leads to
the faster divergence of a parameter value from a specific value
(often, this is simply zero), the more the current value of the
parameter deviates from that specific value. Thus, this mecha-
nism enhances something that is already present to some degree
(therefore it is called “positive”). In other words, the parameter
value moves away from the “preset ” value t he faster , the furthe r
away it is already removed from that reference point. Therefore,
while negative feedback is a stabilizing mechanism that main-
tains a system in the vicinity of a specific state (although this
optimum state may change, depending on the conditions), posi-
tive feedback leads to instability and explosive and/or chaotic
behavior (while a combination of positive feedbacks and nega-
tive feedbacks may lead to oscillation of parameter values). The
chain reaction during a nuclear blast and an avalanche of stones
are examples of positive feedback in the inanimate world.
The mechanism of negative feedback regulates the value of a
given parameter by maintaining its value near the “pre-set”
value that is the optimum value with respect to some pre-de-
fined goal. For instance, a fridge maintains the temperature of
its interior sufficiently low to prevent food from going bad,
while it is also sufficiently high to reduce power losses (and
avoid deep freezing). In this case, a suitable detector (thermo-
stat) continuously measures (detects) the value of the parameter
to be regulated (temperature). If the temperature increases
above the pre-set value, the detectors sends a control signal that
triggers an appropriate effector (a cooling device) that counter-
acts the para meter deviation from the pre-se t value, i.e. it com-
pensates for the disturbances caused by the impact of the envi-
ronment (the temperature returns to the optimum pre-set value).
The entire discussed sequence of cause and effect (namely:
increase of a parameter value above the pre-set value-meas-
urement-detector-control-effector-compensation-decrease of the
parameter value down to the pre-set value) is called the control
loop. As stated above, the operation of positive feedback—as
its name indicates—is opposite to that of negative feedback. It
has a highly destabilizing impact. It moves a parameter value
from the pre-set value the stronger, the further away the pa-
rameter value is from the pre-set value. As a result, the pa-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 315
rameter value moves rapidly (exponentially) to infinity and the
resulting effect may be termed: anti-regulatory or explosive.
As I have mentioned, the nuclear chain reaction is an exam-
ple of positive feedback in inanimate world. An unstable nu-
cleus of a radioactive isotope, e.g. uranium U235, undergoes
fission and emits three neutrons. Each of the neutrons collides
with another unstable nucleus, which leads in each case to re-
leasing yet another three neutrons. Thus, after some (very short)
time, the number of neutrons is tripled. We have the following
series: 3, 9, 27, 91… of neutrons. This process may repeat itself
for an infinite number of times, at least potentially (in practice,
it is limited by the amount of the unstable isotope). Other ex-
amples of the positive feedback can be found in chemical
compounds that catalyze their own formation from other com-
pounds (so-called autocatalysis) and in a stone avalanche,
where a rock rolling down a slope sets more and more rocks in
Let us return, however, to negative feedback. In live organ-
isms, there is a plethora of regulatory and controlling mecha-
nisms, and negative feedbacks are among the most prominent
of them. When viewed in terms of their function and regulation,
biological systems are practically made of a hierarchically or-
ganized network of mutually intertwined and conditioned nega-
tive feedbacks. Generally speaking, this entire network formed
during biological evolution constitutes, in a sense, a functional
and operational reflection of both the external and internal
environment of a given individual (together with the variability
of this environment in time and space) and it is aimed at the
survival and reproduction in an ecological niche (physical and
biological environment) occupied by this individual. On the
other hand, negative feedbacks and other interactions between
living individuals within an ecosystem are not aimed at the
survival of the ecosystem, because the relations between dif-
ferent individuals (of the same or different species) are usually
antagonistic and not cooperative (see discussion in Korzenie-
wski, 2011).
A leading (and relatively simple) example of the negative
feedback in live organisms at the biochemical level is found in
the regulation of the synthesis of an amino acid by the current
concentration of this particular amino acid (Umbarger, 1978).
Such amino acid inhibits (by lowering the activity of the rele-
vant enzyme as a result of binding the molecule of this amino
acid to the corresponding regulatory center) the first enzymatic
reaction on the metabolic pathway that leads exclusively to its
synthesis, so that the concentration of the amino acid in ques-
tion is maintained at a relatively constant level. If the concen-
tration of the amino acid drops (due to its low supply from di-
gested food or/and its increased consumption, e.g., caused by
synthesis of proteins), the enzyme is unblocked and the rate of
synthesis of the amino acid increases, which results in an in-
crease of its concentration. Otherwise, the synthesis of the
amino acid is blocked. Without such regulation, the pool of a
given amino acid would be exhausted very quickly or, on the
contrary, an excessive amount of the amino acid would be ac-
cumulated, which would disturb the functioning of a cell (e.g.
by increasing osmotic pressure).
Another example at the metabolic level is found in produc-
tion of ATP—the universal energy carrier in a cell—in the
process of oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria. In the
resting state, a high concentration of ATP inhibits the metabolic
pathway producing this compound. A sudden increase in ATP
consumption—for instance, due to muscle contraction (me-
chanical work requires energy consumption)—results in hy-
drolysis of ATP into ADP. An increase of the concentration of
the latter activates production of ATP and compensates partly
for the drop of its concentration (Chance & Williams, 1956)
(although this is not the only mechanism that maintains homeo-
stasis of ATP and ADP—see below).
As far as the components of a live cell are concerned, the
synthesis of particular proteins, and enzymes among them,
must be adapted to the rate of their decomposition (for instance,
due to their damage by free radicals), so that their concentration
is maintained at a constant level. This problem also applies to
other cell components, e.g. lipids and membranes made of them,
polysaccharides, as well as structures of a higher order, namely
ribosomes, cytoskeleton and cell organelles. And the issue is
not limited only to their degradation or synthesis de novo. For
instance, the “amount” (surface area) of the cell membrane
increases as a result of exocytosis, while it de creases as a result
of endocytosis. Additionally, these processes lead to a change
in the content of proteins and lipids in the cell membrane. Thus,
regulatory mechanisms are indispensable to maintain a constant
surface area of the membrane and to reconstruct the quantita-
tive composition of membrane macromolecules. The composi-
tion and structure of a cell varies during the cell cycle as well.
Volumetric growth of a cell (its cytoplasm), production of par-
ticular cell components, DNA duplication, formation of the
karyokinetic spindle, condensation of chromosomes, etc. must
proceed in an appropriate temporal sequence and at an appro-
priate intensity, while they are mutually correlated with each
other. A complex network of cybernetic mechanisms—includ-
ing negative feedbacks and signal transduction—is responsible
for control and regulation of these processes.
The optimum concentration of a given protein may depend
on the circumstances. Its regulation proceeds at multiple levels
including the genetic level. For instance, in a bacterium cell that
finds itself in the presence of lactose (and in the absence of
other sugars) in the environment, production of enzymes re-
sponsible for taking up and decomposing this sugar is activated,
while in other circumstances, these enzymes are not synthe-
sized (the famous operon model) (Jacob & Monod, 1961). Con-
sequently, a set value of a certain parameter (in this case: the
concentration of enzymatic proteins) that functions as an ele-
ment of a negative feedback at a lower level of the hierarchy (to
ensure constant supply of a building material and energy, and
thus to ensure a constant concentration of metabolites) may be
changed by some other negative feedback at a higher level of
the hierarchy (to reduce the expenditure of energy and building
materials on the production of proteins that are not needed at
the moment). In bacteria, the so-called alarmons and (sigma)
factors play an important role in feedbacks responsible for ap-
propriate reactions to varying external conditions.
In eukaryotes, and especially in multi-cellular organisms and
organisms consisting of tissues, a highly complex and hierar-
chically organized regulatory system determines with excep-
tional precision which specific proteins are going to be pro-
duced in a given place, at a given time and in what amounts
(Alberts et al., 2007) (this is of particular importance during
embryonic development and the corresponding morphogenesis
—see below). This regulatory system is based to a large extent
on a network of negative feedbacks and other controlling
mechanisms developed to transmit signals. Cells of different
types consist of different proteins and varying amounts of com-
mon proteins. Cell differentiation consists primarily in selective
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
activation of the expression of certain genes and inhibition of
the expression of others, which is reflected first of all in a spe-
cific protein composition of a cell (DeLeon & Davidson, 2007).
Different protein composition is also required in different
phases of the cell growth cycle, as mentioned above.
In the case of growth and reproduction of cells of unicellular
organisms, the series of events at the base of these processes is
generated in an endogenous (intracellular) way. Appropriate
negative feedbacks ensure the series does not deviate from the
set sequence of changes. In multi-cellular organisms, growth,
division, differentiation and migration of cells during embryo-
genesis are to a large extent induced in an exogenous way
(from the outside of a cell—see below). The series of events—
especially in the case of differentiation of cells—covers hierar-
chically and cascade organized regulation of gene expression. It
means that the activation/inhibition of a regulator gene (activa-
tion/blocking of the synthesis of the regulator protein coded by
this particular gene) at a higher level of the hierarchy results in
the activation/inhibition (through the mediation of the above-
mentioned regulator proteins) of multiple regulator genes at a
lower level of the hierarchy (DeLeon & Davidson, 2007; Gil-
bert, 2006). These, in turn, may activate/inhibit regulator genes
at yet lower level of the hierarchy. There are several such levels
of the hierarchy (occasionally, there may be over a dozen).
Finally, at the lowest level of the hierarchy, the synthesis of
proteins by the so-called structural genes is activated or inhib-
ited. These proteins do not regulate gene expression, but par-
ticipate in the creation of the structure and functions of (a given
type of) a cell. Their synthesis must proceed at the right place,
the right time (and in the right temporal order) and in appropri-
ate amounts. In higher organisms, there are several hundred
different types of cells and a specific gene-expression regula-
tory cascade corresponds to each type. As such cascades are
hierarchically organized and they consist of multiple stages and
involve hundreds and thousands of genes, they are very suscep-
tible to disturbances and chaotic behavior. It means that even a
minute change in the expression of a regulator gene at the top
of the cascade or at higher levels of this hierarchy will result in
massive accumulation of errors at lower levels of the hierarchy
and, finally, it may lead to a sequence of events that is quite
different from the expected one. Even a small divergence from
the right amount of regulator proteins produced at a given level
of the hierarchy (not to mention their type) would change com-
pletely the expression of genes at a lower level of the hierarchy.
Consequently, a totally dysfunctional cell may be created. Such
cell will be unable to fulfilll its original function. To avoid this,
the cascade that regulates gene expression during cell differen-
tiation must be subjected to extremely precise control. We do
not know any mechanism that could be responsible for this
process other than negative feedback. A complex set of such
feedbacks must verify on the run, whether a sequence of events
in a cell corresponds to the intended sequence (originally de-
termined by evolution) and counteract any deviations from that
sequence. The same potential instability is inherent in the com-
plex choreography of morphogenesis at the level of an entire
organism (see below).
Another example of negative feedbacks at the genetic level is
found in the correction of DNA damage or errors in DNA
copying, in particular: replacement of erroneous nucleotides in
a descendant DNA strand with correct nucleotides that are
complementary to the matrix—the original strand (Alberts et al.,
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced by the respiratory
chain in mitochondria damage many cell components: DNA,
proteins, lipids and so on. The rate of ROS production strongly
depends on the proton gradient across the inner mitochondrial
membrane. An increase in ROS level activates uncoupling pro-
tein 3 (UCP3), which increases the proton leak into mitochon-
dria and thus decreases the proton gradient and ROS production
(Echtay et al., 2002).
At the physiological level, two hormones—namely insulin
and glucagon—constitute antagonistic signals in the loop of a
negative feedback that maintains a constant concentration of
glucose in blood (insulin reduces the concentration, while glu-
cagon increases it) (Cryer, 1991). This parameter is so impor-
tant that its precise regulation requires several complementary
control signals. Another hormone—namely adrenaline—in-
creases the rate at which the heart pumps blood to increase the
supply of oxygen and nutrients to tissues during physical exer-
cise and/or stress (Mitchell, 1990; Rowell et al., 1996). The
elevated skeletal muscle work is associated with an intensive
O2 and respiratory substrate (e.g., glucose, fatty acids) con-
sumption by oxidative phosphorylation, which can lead to a
substantial decrease of their concentration in blood. The accel-
erated heart beating increases the delivery of oxygen and respi-
ratory substrates to skeletal muscles and thus counteracts the
decrease of their level. Physical exercise causes a rise in the
CO2 (carbon dioxide) level in blood (in the result of the respi-
ratory substrate combustion). This rise is detected by chemore-
ceptors in the brainstem (in particular in medulla oblongata)
and, through a neural negative feedback, increases the ventila-
tion of the lungs and thus O2 uptake (Coates et al., 1984) and
the heart work (the latter effect cooperates with the effect of
adrenaline) (Mitchell, 1990; Rowell et al., 1996).
By changing the diameter of the pupil, iris muscles regulate
the amount of light entering the eye, depending on the needs
and circumstance s, to ensure sharp vision in strong light and the
ability to see anything at all in weak light (Malmström &
Kröger, 2006). Here, the optimized parameter is a possibly
good vision at a given light intensity. On the other hand, mus-
cles that stretch the lens may change its curvature and maintain
in this way sharp vision, when the eye passes from the observa-
tion of remote objects to the observation of close objects, and
vice versa (the phenomenon of accommodation) (Malmström &
Kröger, 2006). Therefore, a sharp vision is maintained despite
the “disturbance” consisting in passing attention between re-
mote and close objects.
Blood coagulation (based in itself on a positive feedback that
supports a network of negative feedbacks—see below), wound
healing, regeneration of damaged tissues and body parts, fight-
ing parasitic infections—all these processes obviously restore
the general condition of an organism (defined by multiple pa-
rameters, e.g. amount of blood) to the “set value”, i.e. they
restore the organism’s health.
At the behavioral level of an entire organism, exhaustion of
the reserves of nutrients (fats, saccharides) in the body of an
animal after a long period of starvation stimulates the activity
of the animal, so that it undertakes appropriate actions aimed at
taking up food. This negative feedback helps to maintain a
proper level of respiratory substrates and building substances
within the individual’s body. Realization of this task involves
numerous negative feedbacks that regulate the operation of the
nervous system and the locomotor system.
Strict control of the contraction and tensioning of muscles to
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 317
ensure smooth movements is indispensable for the performance
of so complex actions as locomotion, precise hand manipula-
tion or speech articulation. It suffices to remember, how much
time a child needs to learn how to walk, perform manual opera-
tions or talk. The decision to move, and thus to contract par-
ticular (groups of) muscles originates in the brain (in the frontal
cortex and the motor cortex, among others). Interoceptive re-
ceptors (proprioreceptors) measure the tonus of particular mus-
cles and send return signals to the brain (to the cerebellum,
among others). In case of any deviation of this parameter (or
the rate of its changes, which is also a parameter) from the set
value, the brain sends a controlling signal that rectifies this
value and restores the right “trajectory” of muscle activity
(Kawato, 1999). The movement trajectory can be also opti-
mized by negative feedbacks involving visual control (Des-
murget et al., 1998).
Broadly understood perceptive and cognitive functions of
living organisms are elements of an extremely rich network of
negative feedbacks and signal transduction mechanisms that is
involved in the transformation (often in a highly mediated
manner) of stimuli originating from the environment into be-
havior of an animal, which finally leads to satisfying its various
biological needs. This is so, because the immense variability of
environment in space and time requires a living individual to
react appropriately, in order to maintain the values of parame-
ters related to its internal homeostasis (e.g. appropriate tem-
perature, levels of saccharides, fats and amino acids used as the
source of energy or construction material, or concentrations of
mineral salts) as constant as possible and to realize its repro-
ductive functions (satisfaction of the sexual drive). The changes
in the environment in space and time are disturbances that re-
quire a proper behavioral response in order to maximize the
individual’s chances of survival and reproduction. Negative
feedbacks involved in the generally understood perception and
cognition may comprise, on the one hand, such simple phe-
nomena as the (already mentioned) lactose operon and eye
accommodation and, on the other hand, so complex mecha-
nisms as the operation of the brain aimed at coordinating the
current and future behavior of a living individual with past,
current and anticipated properties of the environment and
events occurring around the individual. This activity comprises,
among others, perception of stimuli coming from the environ-
ment, integration of sensory data into complex neural/mental
properties and objects, association of various features, objects
and aspects, detection of regularities and relations in sets of
sensory data, formation and use of memory records, planning
and decision-making, as well as others. Creation and strength-
ening (or else elimination or weakening) of the so-called asso-
ciative structures in the network of neural connections (Kor-
zeniewski, 2010) (see below—the functional structure of the
neural network) is one of the leading examples of negative
feedbacks in the behavioral and cognitive domain. These feed-
backs optimize the present and future behavior of an individual
in response to different “disturbances” coming from the (physi-
cal and biological) environment that varies greatly in space and
time. However, even a simple unconditional reflex, for instant
withdrawal of a hand after touching a hot object, constitutes a
good example of negative feedback in which the nervous sys-
tem is involved.
Finally, as already mentioned above, a rich network of nega-
tive feedbacks controls the course of morphogenesis (structure
formation) during embryogenesis. This process is based on
morphogenetic centers and gradients of morphogens. An ap-
propriate combination of the concentrations of the latter consti-
tutes the so-called positional information that determines what
structure and tissue will be formed in a given place of the em-
bryo. The set of morphogenetic centers/morphogens is organ-
ized hierarchically. Those at the higher hierarchy levels are
responsible for the formation of bigger body structures, while
generating secondary morphogenetic centers, together with
their morphogens, that control the formation of smaller (more
detailed) body structures. The entire process is referred to as the
morphogenetic cascade. It leads to the formation of a particular
living individual with a specific structure and function (Gilbert,
2006; Wolpert et al., 2002). Differentiation of particular cells
into different cell types (epithelial cells, muscle cells, nerve
cells, etc.), in turn, is associated—as mentioned before—with a
hierarchically organized cascade of gene expression regulation
within a cell. (DeLeon & Davidson, 2007; Gilbert, 2006; Wol-
pert et al., 2002). Apart from regulator proteins, production of
particular structure/function-related proteins is controlled by the
so-called miRNA (micro-RNA) (Bartel, 2009). Morphogenetic
gradients control not only differentiation, but also migrations of
various types of cells and apoptosis (programmed cell death).
The entire set of processes that lead to the generation of com-
plex and hierarchically organized structure and functions of a
full-grown living individual must be regulated with exceptional
precision. When this regulatory process—presumably based on
a highly complex network of negative feedbacks and other
cybernetic mechanisms—fails (when the multi-dimensional
“trajectory” of morphogenesis deviates from the set path), func-
tionally handicapped individuals are born at best, freaks—at
worst. In the face of the vast complexity of the system consti-
tuted by a living individual, it is impressive that the network of
controlling mechanisms so rarely fails to fulfill its role cor-
For the sake of accuracy, it should be added that negative
feedbacks do not exhaust the list of cybernetic mechanisms
responsible for controlling the functioning and formation of the
structure/functions of living individuals. For instance, subordi-
nate positive feedbacks “integrated” into a network of negative
feedbacks are responsible for “decisions” made according to the
principle of “all or nothing”, e.g. during irreversible differentia-
tion of embryo cells into particular cell types or during deter-
mination of the sex of an embryo (Gilbert, 2006) (and, most
probably, for action-related choices made by the brain). In this
case, when a cell or an entire developing individual enters a
certain development path, continuation of the development
along this path is progressively strengthened. Otherwise, there
could appear, for instance, hybrid cells that combine features of
a nerve cell with those of a muscle cell or intersexes, i.e. indi-
viduals exhibiting features that are intermediate between a male
and a female. Both growths would be dysfunctional from the
biological point of view. The cascade of blood coagulation is
another example of a subordinate positive feedback built into a
network of negative feedbacks. It is a typical chain process,
where a signal is highly enhanced (amp lified) at each stage.
Parallel activation—that could also be termed “feed-forward
activation”—is also quite common. For instance, during the
passage from rest to physical exercise, the central nervous sys-
tem (cerebral cortex) activates not only contraction of skeletal
muscle cells in limbs, but also increases, through medulla ob-
longata, the rate at which the heart operates (the so-called “cen-
tral control”) (in the latter case, the discussed adrenaline- and
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
CO2-driven activation cooperates with neural activation) (Mit-
chell, 1990; Rowell et al., 1996). This is aimed at enhancing
oxygen supply to muscles in parallel to increased oxygen con-
sumption in muscles (involved in the production of ATP in the
process of oxidative phosphorylation). Protein kinases activate
numerous proteins through their phosphorylation within target
cell in response to different hormones and other factors (Reece
& Neil, 2002). Within a muscle cell, not only ATP consump-
tion for mechanical work performed by myosin and actin fila-
ments is activated by Ca2+ ions, but—most probably—a factor/
mechanism related to these ions also leads to direct activation
of particular enzymes of oxidative phosphorylation and other
components of the cell energy system responsible for ATP
production (Korzeniewski, 1998). This mechanism dominates
in the cardiac muscle and cooperates with the above—discussed
negative feedback that operates on the basis of the concentra-
tion of ADP (a product of ATP decomposition) in skeletal
muscles (Korzeniewski, 2007).
All negative feedbacks are hierarchically organized and mu-
tually interconnected (directly or indirectly). In other words,
their functioning conditions the functioning of all other nega-
tive feedbacks and, inversely, the functioning of other negative
feedbacks conditions the functioning of a given negative feed-
back. For instance, insulin and glucagon that regulate the level
of glucose in blood are proteins. Therefore, their synthesis is
dependent (among others) on the above-mentioned negative
feedbacks responsible for the regulation of the synthesis of
amino acids, of gene expression and protein production. A
similar relation is found between the regulation of muscle con-
traction, of energy (ATP) production and of taking up—to-
gether with food—respiratory substrates for ATP production.
The food acquisition involves, among others, movement coor-
dination and perception and behavior control (e.g., eye accom-
modation, forming associative structures related to object rec-
ognition and generating/stopping particular actions). Muscle
contraction and brain operation require energy in the form of
ATP, and the rate of ATP production is adjusted to the present
ATP demand of these organs by the negative feedback acting
through ADP concentration. ATP production requires respira-
tory substrates that are taken up from digested food and O2
breathed in by lungs. These substances are distributed among
different tissues by blood. Adrenaline, CO2 and neural signals
from cerebral cortex elevate the heart rate during exercise and
thus accelerate blood circulation and transport of nutrients and
O2. CO2 speeds up the ventilation of lungs and thus O2 uptake
from the atmosphere. Acquisition of food requires the network
of negative feedbacks involved in coordination of muscle con-
traction and in perceptive and cognitive functions. The elevated
heart work requires faster nutrient delivery to and faster ATP
production within cardiac myocytes. So the negative feedbacks
controlling ATP production, heat rate, food acquisition, muscle
contraction, cognitive functions and behavior form a sort of a
vicious circle or, more accurately, “vicious network”. This is an
example of a “causal closure”, so characteristic for living indi-
viduals. Many similar examples can easily be found. The men-
tioned negative feedbacks are of course functionally related,
directly or indirectly, to thousands other negative feedbacks
that constitute the cybernetic identity of a cybernetic individual.
Generally speaking all negative feedbacks in a living individual
form a coherently organized network. All feedbacks within the
network are mutually dependent and they condition each other.
For instance, the approximately constant level of glucose in
blood could not be maintained by the negative feedbacks in-
volving insulin and glucagon (being proteins) without the nega-
tive feedbacks controlling amino acid synthesis, protein synthe-
sis, coordination of muscle contraction, behavior (e.g., food
acquisition, hunting strategy) and many, many others. Negative
feedbacks involved in wound healing and immunological sys-
tem activation maintain the integrity and health of the whole
individual, and thus support all other negative feedbacks and
other regulatory mechanisms it is equipped with. Wound heal-
ing needs collagen—the production of this protein involves
negative feedbacks regulating gene expression as well as amino
acid and ATP production. And so on, and so forth. Therefore,
the purpose—in functional, regulatory terms—of each particu-
lar negative feedback is determined by the context of the entire
complex of negative feedbacks of a given living individual.
Negative feedbacks of living individuals do not act in void—
they enable and support the existence and functioning of other
negative feedbacks, and at the same time their existence and
functioning depends on the action of those other negative feed-
backs. For instance, ATP, particular amino acids and proteins
are not just produced with a strictly controlled intensity—they
are produced for some purpose. From the cybernetic point of
view they constitute a source of energy and constructing sub-
stances for other negative feedbacks (regulatory mechanisms).
Thus, it can be said that the functional sense of each negative
feedback is realized by connotation, by its relation to other
negative feedbacks.
Generally speaking, mutual co-conditioning of the function-
ing and genesis of various parts (e.g. cell components, cells,
organs) of an organism is one of the most characteristic features
of living individuals. They constitute a certain self-supporting
whole (in specific environmental conditions). Living individu-
als are capable of self-generation (reproduction and develop-
ment in the process of embryogenesis, repair of their bodies,
reconstruction of their components). This is based on the recur-
rent network of component production at different levels of the
hierarchy (the metabolic, genetic, cellular, physiological levels).
The discussed co-conditioning (of the genesis) of elements is
frequently called “causal closure”. Living individuals are or-
ganized in space and time in a circular way. The regulatory
purpose of living individuals related to cybernetic mechanisms
is “active”, as opposed to the “passive” purpose related to the
“static” structure and function (Korzeniewski, 2005). In this
sense, the heart structure and function (blood pumping) is pas-
sive, while the regulation of the heart rate by CO2/adrenaline/
central control in response to exercise/stress is active. Moreover,
cybernetic (regulatory) information is not the only one that is
related to live systems. One can also distinguish structural and
functional information (related, for instance, to cell architecture
and to metabolism) and genetic information (related to the se-
quence of nucleotides in DNA/RNA and the transcription and
translation mechanisms that translate it into a sequence of
amino acids in proteins, while the latter sequence determines to
a large extent the target three-dimensional structure and func-
tions of the proteins). However, the need for a living individual
to have meta bolism and a genetic record/apparatus (as well as a
number of other features, e.g. that of being a dissipative struc-
ture, or a hierarchically-organized system of dissipative struc-
tures) results from the confrontation of the abstract cybernetic
definition of a living individual with the real world and its ele-
mentary properties (Korzeniewski, 2005). Moreover, the cy-
bernetic regulation and transfer of signals constitutes the most
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 319
active, “supervisory” aspect of live organisms, while the “sta-
tionary” (i nva r iable in time) structure and functions—espe c i a l l y
the “raw” genetic record—constitute subordinate elements that
could be regarded as acted-upon objects, rather than acting
subjects. At first sight, it may seem that negative feedbacks (or,
in broader terms, all cybernetic mechanisms) constitute only a
narrow sub-set of the entire set of functions realized by live
organisms. And this is actually the case, in a sense. The regula-
tory/homeostatic aspect is one of numerous aspects of biologi-
cal systems. Still, in another, very important sense, the network
of negative feedbacks is superior with respect to the entire
complex structure and functions of these systems. This is so,
because it is precisely the network of negative feedbacks that
supervises, steers and controls both the process of formation of
the structure and functions, and their current maintenance (to
sustain their existence). As mentioned before, this may be ex-
pressed at the cellular level by maintaining constant internal
conditions, irrespective of various external disturbances, and by
regenerating (creation in the case of cell growth and division)
particular cell components from the already existing elements.
In the case of complex multi-cellular organisms, this takes ad-
ditionally the form of control over the course of the morphoge-
netic cascade, responsible for the creation of a fully-grown
individual from a fertilized egg cell in the process of embryo-
genesis. From the formal and cybernetic point of view, all these
processes are based on negative feedbacks (and other cyber-
netic mechanisms, e.g. subordinate positive feedbacks, signal
transduction or parallel activation = feed-forward activation).
Thus, one could venture a claim that it is ne gati ve fee dbac ks (or
an appropriately organized set of such feedbacks) that “take
care” of the creation of their structural and functional base. This
would turn upside down the traditional, intuitive and common-
sense view that it is the structure (and the “passive”, non-regu-
latory function) of living individuals that “uses” feedbacks to
support itself and to create a new structure (and function). Ob-
viously, there is in fact nothing in living individuals that is sub-
ordinate or superordinate. Everything is mutually conditioned
by everything else, according to the principle of the “vicious
circle” or “causal closure”. As it does not make sense to ask,
whether an egg was first, or the hen, it does not make sense to
ask, for instance, what is more important or primary: DNA or
proteins. One could just as well say that genes code proteins
that ensure their multiplication (as Dawkins (1976) would have
it) and that a functionally integrated set of proteins records its
identity in the form of a sequence of nucleotides in DNA.
All negative feedbacks forming the identity of the cybernetic
individual constitute, direct or indirect, operational representa-
tion of (different aspects of) the external (physical and biologi-
cal) and internal (structure and function of the individual)
world. This regulatory, operational representation allows the
cybernetic individual to survive and reproduce in its environ-
ment/ecological niche. The direct and indirect representations
should be clearly distinguishes. Let us consider a few examples.
The ON state of the lactose operon (which is turned ON by
lactose) can be regarded as a direct representation of the pres-
ence of lactose in the environment (and of the absence of other
sugars that turn it OFF). The turning off of the synthesis of
lactose decomposing enzymes in the absence of lactose or in
the presence of other sugars represents directly the absence of
lactose in the environment and, less directly, the limited energy
and amino acid resources necessary for the synthesis of these
enzymes (and also the limited space within the bacterium cell).
The regulation of the amino acid level/synthesis represents
directly a lowered or elevated concentration of a given amino
acid and indirectly the abundance of food, content of proteins in
food, rate of protein synthesis by the organism, the fact that
proteins are synthesized from amino acids and so on. The pre-
sent diameter of the pupil represents the present light intensity
and, less directly, the sensitivity of rods and cones to light and
the laws of optics saying that the smaller the pupil diameter, the
sharper the picture on the retina. The feedback signals partici-
pating in the regulation of locomotory muscle tension/contrac-
tion rate directly represent the deviations of these parameters
from appropriate (pre-set) values and generally deviations of
movement trajectories from the set trajectories “recorded” in
motor programs in the central nervous system. These deviations
result from the lack of perfect control of muscle tension/con-
traction only by feed-forward signals sent from the locomotory
cortex of the brain and from e.g., disturbances caused by the
unevenness (ups and downs) of the ground. Indirectly, the tight
control of muscle contraction must represent e.g. the physical
laws concerning movement (proper muscle contraction se-
quence must ensure effective locomotion in the real physical
environment). The regulation of behavioral activity directed on
acquiring food represents directly the present nutrient (fat,
polysaccharides) stores within the animal’s body (the food-
acquisition activity is turned off in the state of satiety and
turned on in the state of starvation). Indirectly, it represents the
need for energy and building substances, the fact that living
individuals are dynamic dissipative structures driven by energy
dissipation and entropy production and generally the laws of
thermodynamics. The optimization of hunting strategy repre-
sents the prey, its behavior and the topography of the surround-
ing area (e.g., presence of bushes favoring hunting from am-
bush or of high grass that can hide an approaching predator).
Generally, the planning future actions and making decisions
takes into account the general rules governing the physical and
biological world, and constitutes a response to particular fea-
tures of the surrounding area in which a given individual lives.
The regulation of the movement and orientation of chloroplasts
in leaf cells represents changes in the present light intensity.
Blood coagulation, wound healing and activation of the immu-
nological system constitute a direct representation of a damage
of the body surface (skin and other tissues) and of the factor
that caused this damage, and an indirect representation of ele-
mentary physical laws (blood flows out from broken blood
vessels) and of the presence of parasitic microbes in the envi-
ronment. The level of insulin and glucagon represents directly
the present concentration of glucose in blood. Indirectly, the
regulation of glucose level in blood represents the present
abundance of food, the properties of glucose molecule as a
source of energy, the physiological fact that excess of glucose
can lead to diabetes/diabetic coma, while glucose shortage
would mean respiratory substrate supply limitation to different
organs, especially to the brain for which glucose is the only
respiratory substrate. The tight regulation of embryonic devel-
opment supervises a development of an organism that would be
efficient in survival and reproduction in the external (physical
and biological) world (in this sense, it represents the world
itself) as well as functional internally. It also represents nu-
merous possible disturbances in the complex hierarchically-
organized developmental cascade causing a deviation of mor-
phogenesis from the proper “trajectory”. And so on, and so
forth. Generally, as mentioned above, a representation can be
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
direct, as in the case of the representation of the presence of
lactose by the ON state of the lactose operon or very indirect, as
in the case the representation of physical laws and physiologi-
cal state of an organism by numerous negative feedbacks. Gen-
erally, a direct representation refers rather to the present state of
a given negative feedback, while an indirect representation—to
the existence of this negative feedback at al.
The positive feedback that finds the strongest expression and
is most characteristic and decidedly most important in the liv-
ing nature is simply reproduction combined wit h inheritance, i.e.
multiplication of one's identity in as many copies, as possible. It
is always possible, at least potentially, to produce more de-
scendant individuals than the total number of existing parents.
For instance, when placed on a nourishing substance (medium),
bacteria that reproduce by fission double their number in a spe-
cific unit of time (necessary for a cell to grow and double its
mass), until the culture medium is filled up. If one starts with a
single bacterium, one receives 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64… bacteria
in subsequent generations. Thus, until the capacity of the envi-
ronment is unsaturated, the number of produced living indi-
viduals is the larger, the larger number of individuals have al-
ready been produced. When the capacity of the environment is
limited and saturated, the number of individuals cannot increase
and the positive feedback is expressed as the expansion poten-
tial. It may take the form of forcing other identities (individuals
of the same or competitive species) out of the limited environ-
ment or of populating new areas. Reproduction and the corre-
lated expansion potential are at the core of the essence of bio-
logical individu a ls .
My cybernetic definition of a living individual runs as fol-
lows: A living individual is a network of negative feedbacks,
subordinate to (at the service of) a superior positive feedback
(reproduction) (Korzeniewski, 2001). This definition is further
significantly updated, extended and discussed in the present
article. The entire set of negative feedbacks (or, in broader
terms: regulatory and controlling mechanisms)—operating at
different levels of hierarchy and representing the cybernetic
aspect of the functioning of a living individual—is aimed at
maintaining the identity of the individual (its survival). The
only ultimate goal of this identity is, in turn, self-multiplication
in as many copies as possible (realization of the superior posi-
tive feedback). From the cybernetic point of view, the identity
of a given individual is precisely such-and-no-other, unique
complex of negative feedbacks (regulatory mechanisms). At
this point, we face a certain type of a (recurrent) vicious circle:
the network of negative feedbacks is ultimately aimed at re-
production, while reproduction leads to multiplication of this
particular network of negative feedbacks. Therefore, a living
individual may be presented as a certain, dynamic system ori-
ented purposefully on itself, its survival and reproduction. In
this (functional and not psychic) sense, it is undoubtedly inten-
A cybernetic living individual consists of all and only these
negative feedbacks that are aimed at its reproduction that con-
stitutes the leading positive feedback. Particular negative feed-
backs cooperate with each other, in order to maximize the re-
productive success. The overriding objective, the mother value
does not consist in survival, in maintaining an individual’s
structure and function intact, as numerous authors would have it,
but precisely in reproduction. We know tens of thousands of
examples of parent individuals sacrificing their live to enhance
the chances for possibly fast growth, survival and reproduction
of their offspring. Of course, survival until the reproductive age
(and the “sub-objectives” leading to this goal, such as acquisi-
tion of food, avoidance of predators, illnesses and injuries, etc.)
is an indispensable condition of reproduction. Also, when there
are no chances for progeny to survive (e.g., because a lack of
food) a mother can eat its children in order to increase its own
chances to survive and to produce progeny in the future. It
should also be pointed out that the cybernetic individual does
not only cover the fully-grown phase, but the entire life cycle.
Therefore, a spore, for instance, constitutes a part (element,
stage) of a living individual, although its life functions are quite
limited. The same applies to viruses. A virion, i.e. a particle of
a virus (nucleic acid, RNA or DNA, in a protein capsule called
capsid) does not show traces of metabolism or any other activ-
ity outside the host cell. However, a virus “immersed” in the
host metabolism, which is switched by an infecting virus from
its normal course to the production of new viruses, behaves as a
regular parasite and therefore it is unquestionably alive. Simi-
larly, according to the cybernetic definition, cancer cells, espe-
cially those that are capable of infecting new hosts (as, for in-
stance, in the case of canine transmissible venereal sarcoma
(Barski, 1966) or the facial tumor affecting Tasmanian devils
Bostanci, 2005)) or colonies of social insects (Wilson, 1971)
should be regarded as living individuals. These problems are
discussed in detail in my previous publications (Korzeniewski,
2001, 2005).
To sum up: a cybernetic living individual is a system of
negative feedbacks (or generally: regulatory and controlling
mechanisms) that signify by connotation, which constitutes an
intentional, functional representation of the (physical and bio-
logical) world, and which is (recurrently) oriented on itself, on
its own reproduction.
Cybernetic Model of the Psychical Individual
(Subjective Self Endowed with Consciousness)
The conscious self can be identified with the psychical indi-
vidual, as opposed to the above-discussed biological individual.
I proposed a cybernetic model of the psychical individual in my
recent book (Korzeniewski, 2010). I will present a brief de-
scription of the model first and expand it in more detail later on.
In my opinion, the subjective psychic sphere is an emergent
phenomenon, a derivative of the functioning of the neural net-
work in the human brain. Integrative structures (inborn to a
large extent) and associative structures of lower and higher
order (all of which are acquired during ontogenesis) form an
image, a representation of the external world. Formation of
associative structures is supervised by the motivation system:
instincts (e.g. self-preservation instinct, sexual instinct, the
instinct of appetite satiation, cognitive instinct) plus the reward
and punishment mechanism. The system creates and strength-
ens these associative structures that are correlated (in temporal
or circumstantial terms) with satisfaction of instinctual needs
and therefore stimulate the reward/punishment “center” in a
positive way, while weakening and eliminating the structures
that are associated with lack of satisfaction of instinctual needs
and stimulate the mentioned (rather functional than structural)
center in a negative way. As a result, the structure of the neural
network is of intentional character. Neurons in the neural net-
work signify by the functional context, by referring reciprocally
to each other. The “sense” of a neuron is determined by other
neurons (or else receptors or effectors) it is connected to and by
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 321
the manner of its connection to other neurons. Thus, the opera-
tive sense of particular neurons and their groups is of relative,
relational character and it is determined according to the princi-
ple of connotation.
Let us take a closer look at this idea. The neural network re-
sponsible for the integration of sensory stimuli originated in
receptors, for extracting more and more general features from
the stimuli (e.g. lines and contours of various inclinations, col-
ours, movement, complex shapes in the case of visual stimuli),
and finally more complex “sensory images” is based on some-
thing I call integrative structures (Korzeniewski, 2010). Simpler
among them (primary i.s.) are inborn (the basic organization
and integration of stimuli, e.g. into spatial, temporal and causal
relationships), while more complex among them (secondary i.s.)
are acquired during ontogenesis (e.g. integrative structures
related to identification of particular pathological changes in
x-ray images). In turn, integrative structures serve as the base
for the establishment of the so-called associative structures (of
lower and higher order) that constitute a neural representation
of objects, sets of objects, various dependencies appearing in
the external world and relations between various actions and
their effects (Korzeniewski, 2010). All of them are acquired
and shaped on the basis of experience accumulated during on-
togenesis. Associative structures may correspond to certain
behavioral patterns (e.g. a choice of a plant or insect to eat, a
decision to follow this hunting strategy and no other) or a cer-
tain category of objects and regularities that are present in the
external world (e.g. recognition of particular objects, knowl-
edge of the laws and dependencies, anticipation of future
events). They also combine stimuli and sensory images from
different senses (sight, hearing, smell, etc.) into one integral
whole. Integrative structures process signals originating from
receptors and extract certain features and aspects from the set of
these signals. Complexity of extracted features/aspects grows at
the successive stages of integration. Spatial and temporal coin-
cidence of certain sets of features (a.s. of lower order), as well
as identification of repetitive patterns in these sets by autono-
mous neurological processes in the brain (broadly understood
“thinking”) (a.s. of higher order) create associative structures
corresponding to various objects, dependencies, rules and be-
haviors. The psychical correlate of the neural network is found
in something I call a conceptual network (Korzeniewski, 2010).
At the level of the conceptual network, concepts (primary and
secondary) correspond to associative structures. For instance, as
a result of accumulation of experience, there emerges the asso-
ciative structure/concept of a “lion” (or a more vague idea of a
“big terrestrial predator”), the directive demanding “do not eat
plants with big round leaves with red dots and a certain smell,
or else you will get poisoned”, or an action plan stating that “it
is easiest to hunt down an antelope in rain season by lurking in
bushes covered with thick leafage”. At the neural level, this
process proceeds through the establishment and enhancement
of neural connections (by lowering the sensitivity thresholds of
synapses) between “routes” within the network of neurons in
the brain that represent relevant features/aspects extracted from
sets of receptor-generated signals and that are responsible for
the generation of certain behaviors (or suppression of certain
behaviors). Anyhow, it is of equal importance for the brain to
remove and weaken (by raising the sensitivity threshold of
synapses) of inappropriate connections that lead to incorrect
identification of objects or to inadequate behavior (from the
point of view of fitness). An associative structure constitutes a
certain “circuit”, a neural “object” in the brain, where nerve
impulses can flow easily and are readily transmitted, which
allows the entire functional structure to be activated by a rela-
tively weak stimulation. For instance, spotting of small frag-
ments of a cat running through high grass easily activates the
entire associative structure/concept of a “cat”. Establishment
and removal of associative structures proceeds under the super-
vision of the system: instincts (drives), e.g. self-preservation
instinct, the instinct of appetite satiation, sexual instinct, the
instinct of avoiding illnesses and injuries, cognitive instinct,
plus the reward and punishment system (Korzeniewski, 2010).
If a given behavior leads to satisfying some instinctive need/
drive, for instance to satiation of hunger, the associative struc-
ture at the base of such behavior will get strengthened/con-
solidated. The reward/punishment system (based, among others,
on the neurotransmitter called dopamine) will send appropriate
signals to appropriate neural circuits/associative structures. The
same will happen if some blurred outline recognized as a leop-
ard actually turns out to be a leopard. On the other hand, food
poisoning after eating some insect with characteristic color
pattern, a failure in a hunt after selecting a given hunting strat-
egy for a recognized type of prey, or incorrect prey identifica-
tion will result in weakening the associative structures at the
base of these behaviors.
It must be stressed that there is no sharp distinction between
integrative structures and associative structures, and between
associative structures of lower and higher order.
The entire system of establishing/strengthening and remov-
ing/weakening of associative structures is obviously a set of
negative feedbacks (more generally: regulatory cybernetic me-
chanisms) aimed at optimizing behavioral and cognitive proc-
esses. Here, the set “parameter value”—leading to maximizing
of the chances of survival and reproductive success—consists
in the recognition of objects and discovery of the rules of the
external world that correspond to the actual state of things as
much as possible, as well as establishment of a pattern of be-
having and reacting to various aspects of the environment that
are variable in time and space (“disturbances”). In this sense,
the entire extremely complex set of behavioral and cognitive
function in higher animals realized by the receptors-brain-
effectors system is nothing more than a sub-system of an even
more complex system of negative feedbacks (cybernetic me-
chanisms), which constitutes the regulatory aspect of the struc-
ture and functions of living individuals (discussed above).
Nevertheless, the living individual and psychic living individ-
ual defined in cybernetic terms should be clearly separated, and
negative feedbacks do not participate explicitly in creating the
cybernetic model of the latter.
As mentioned before, I believe that the dynamic structure of
neural connections in the human brain finds its psychic corre-
late in what I call a conceptual network. Concepts in this net-
work, as nerve cells and their groups in the neural network,
signify only by mutually referring to each other, i.e. by conno-
tation. Ultimately, all concepts in a conceptual network condi-
tion (“define”) all other concepts. Concepts constitute a more or
less imperfect representation in the human brain of various
objects, dependencies, aspects and laws of the external world
(there also exist concepts that do not correspond to anything
real or even sensible). The conceptual network constitutes the
substance of our mind, everything we have direct access to.
Such subjective objects/psychic processes as thoughts, impres-
sions, emotions, dreams, hallucinations, recollections, ideas, etc.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
—all of them are various types of excitation of the conceptual
In my theory, language is a system of a higher order, of a
secondary character with respect to the conceptual network.
Language names correspond to concepts that are b es t delin ea t ed
and characterized by the highest “semantic intensity” (vague
and underdetermined concepts remain nameless). The concep-
tual network constitutes a “significative lining” of language that
allows its names and mutual connections to be understood. On
the other hand, language together with its discrete names and
grammatical rules facilitates greatly the use of the entire con-
ceptual network. At the same time, however, language shapes
and distorts the conceptual network to a significant extent.
Generally speaking, the feature the neural network and the
conceptual network share due to their mutual interrelations
consists in the fact that they represent the external world (in-
cluding the organism’s body) in the functional and cognitive
sense and that they consist of elements that signify by connota-
tion. The building substance, the evolutionary genesis and the
resultant functional structure of the neural/conceptual network
essentially shape and limit our cognitive abilities, as they con-
dition and deform the image of the world formed in our brain/
Let us return, however, to the core of the “psychic individ-
ual”, i.e. to our “ego”, our (self)consciousness1. In my opinion,
not so much a degree, but a type of complexity and organiza-
tion of the network of nerve cells of a conscious subject is cru-
cial for the psychic level of reality to emerge from the neuro-
physiological functioning of the brain. I believe that it is the
relation of self-orientation or self-application that constitutes
this new quality, the specific mode of functional (operational)
architecture of the neural network, which has led to the emer-
gence of self-consciousness, and thus, of the psychic con-
sciousness. As mentioned before, at the level of the conceptual
network—which I consider as the mental equivalent (correlate)
of the neural network in the brain—it involved the formation
(within the network) of a subject capable of observing proc-
esses proceeding in this network, including himself, as well as
the focusing of the cognitive apparatus—hitherto focused on
receiving the world image shaped in the conceptual network—
on itself, its own image within the network. This is the event
that has led to the emergence of the third psychic level of real-
ity (following the physical and biological levels), comprising
the entire sphere of subjective sensations in our brain. It is this
recurrence that develops ad infinitum, a kind of mutual reflec-
tion of two mirrors facing each other, that constitutes total dis-
similarity of psychic phenomena (to the material world) and
their uncommon character.
During evolution, the brain developed a certain (rather func-
tional than strictly localized and structurally defined) cognitive
and decision-making “center”, a complex “neural circuit”
which compares data received from receptors with the memory
records, co-ordinates various functions of the central nervous
system and makes decisions concerning the stimulation of ef-
fectors. The center confronts the signals from the environment
with the already-existing conceptual network and the world
view shaped within the network. At the same time, it uses ap-
propriately integrated sensory data to develop and extend the
network. At the level of the neural network, its operation con-
sists in the activation, creation and modification of associative
structures of the lower and the higher order. Fundamental role
in its functioning is played by the autonomous activity of the
brain cortex, i.e. thought processes. If it is arbitrarily separated
as a relatively well isolated system, its inputs will comprise
receptors and the parts of the neural network (the sensory cor-
tex) which process the data provided by receptors, as well as
the existing memory records. The emergence of the (self-)con-
sciousness would consist in orienting a part of the inputs of the
system on the system itself, i.e. in self-recognition of the proc-
esses occurring in the above-mentioned center. The processes
would also “process” themselves, as they formerly processed
the data obtained from receptors. Apart from the image of the
external world, the center established within itself an image of
itself as well. In other words, the center projects (maps) itself
on itself and creates a model of itself within itself. It refers
recurrently to itself. This is essentially a relation of self-appli-
cation, analogous to a great extent to the relation found in the
liar’s paradox, Russell’s antinomy and Gödel’s proof2. The
psychic correlate of this state of affairs consisted in the emer-
gence of the concept of the “ego”, the “self” within the con-
ceptual network, which resulted in an apparent delamination of
the entire network into the “subjective” sphere focused both on
itself and on the image of the external world, and the “objec-
tive” sphere, which establishes the image of the external world.
This self-orientation corresponds to subjective psychic sensa-
tions. In my theory, the psychic consciousness is closely linked
to self-consciousness as the former is conditioned by the latter.
My idea of a recurrent, incessant projection of the cognitive
center onto itself without end, isomorphic with the quoted
logical paradoxes, is aimed at explaining the dramatic qualita-
tive dissimilarity (to the external world), specific and excep-
tional, or even uncanny character of the subjective sphere of
psychic phenomena, as well as of the essence of (self-)con-
sciousness and the sense of ego. This is precisely the dissimi-
larity and specific character that call for explanation. Explana-
tion of their genesis is what is precisely what I do not find in
proposals presented by other authors, who also deal with the
nature of the brain, psyche and consciousness, and with the
relation of these phenomena to brain functioning (see e.g.,
Crick, 1995; Dennet, 1997; Damasio, 1999; Macphail, 1998;
Cainrs-Smith, 1996; Greenfield, 1998; Penrose, 2002; Koch,
2004; Llinas, 2002 for example). I cannot discern the genesis of
the categorical difference of (self-)consciousness in such ex-
planations as the total size of the network of nerve cells, corre-
lated in time firing of neurons at the frequency of 40 Hz (or
other), fixed action patterns, quantum effects in microtubules,
competition between brain activity patterns, conditioning of the
presence of consciousness by the activity of the medulla ob-
longata, etc. I believe that the special character of the subjective
mind calls for special explanations, and I find such special ex-
planation in the logically paradoxical (recurrent in its essence)
1I believe that “psychic” consciousness—as opposed to “instrumental” con-
sciousness, i.e. to purely “mechanical”representation of an object within a
subject—cannot exist without self-consciousness. Such purely instrumental
representation is present in the case of, for instance, picture recording by a
video camer a, sen si ng th e pr esen ce of lacto se i n t he en vir onmen t b y a ba cte-
rium (operon model) or forming a picture of a passing fly on the retina of a
2The liar’s paradox is expressed in the statement: “I always lie”. In Russell’s
antinomy, one arrives at a contradiction by giving either the positive or the
negative answer to the question: “Is the class of all classes that ar e not ele-
ments of themselves an element of itself?”. The structure of Gödel’s proo
may be summarized in the following statement: “It is hereby proven that this
entire sente n ce cannot be proven”.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 323
relation of self-application, of focusing of the “cognitive cen-
ter” on itself.
Living (Biological) Individual vs.
Psychical Individual
Now I would like to discuss parallels between the essence
and genesis of life (the biological individual) and self-con-
sciousness (the psychical individual) as defined in cybernetic
terms. The analogy between the network of regulatory mecha-
nisms at the base of the biological individual and the neural
(and conceptual) network at the base of the psychical individual
is rather strong. Firstly, as mentioned before, both networks
constitute a certain functionally purposeful (intentional) repre-
sentation, an operational mapping of various aspects of the
external (and internal) world, important for the survival of an
individual. It is worth pointing out that the neural/conceptual
network is in fact (in formal and cybernetic terms) a part of the
network of negative feedbacks, responsible for behavioral and
cognitive functions. Secondly, the significance of particular
elements of a network—negative feedbacks/cybernetic mecha-
nisms in a living individual, on one hand, and neurons and as-
sociative structures/concepts in a psychic individual, on the
other hand—is established by connotation, i.e. an element
makes sense only with reference to other elements and ulti-
mately in the context of the entire network. Finally, both net-
works are recurrently focused on themselves (the relation of
self-application). The ultimate task of the network of negative
feedbacks constituting the cybernetic identity of the living indi-
vidual consists in survival and replication of itself in as many
copies as possible. The neural network at the base of the psy-
chic individual, in turn, is focused on itself in the cognitive
sense. Thus, it constitutes both the subject and the object of its
own cognition.
To put it briefly, although with a considerable degree of sim-
plification, a living individual is a homeostatic replicator.
Without a network of negative feedbacks, the self-replicating
system would be simply a replicator of the type one can easily
find in simple autocatalytic chemical systems. And that was
probably how life came into being at the dawn of biological
evolution. First there formed replicators (positive feedback),
consisting probably (at least in my opinion) of hypercycles
(Eigen, 1979) of proteins and nucleic acids, enclosed in objects
similar to coacervates (simple vesicles that replicate spontane-
ously by growth and fission as a result of elementary physical
processes). Only then, they were “dressed” in a network of
negative feedbacks that supported their existence and prolifera-
tion and made it possible for their complexity to grow (in the
process of evolution). In the case of evolutionary formation of
(self)consciousness, the sequence of events was reversed. First,
the neural/conceptual network was formed. Only then, the net-
work got focused on itself (during the evolution of man and
possibly of certain animals). So, I believe that this sequence of
evolutionary events differentiates the processes of formation of
life and consciousness. I do not claim, however, that both phe-
nomena are identical in every respect. I only claim that life and
(self) consciousness show considerable formal similarities.
To a certain extent, the analogy between living, purposeful
systems and self-conscious systems, underlies the teleological
fallacy, i.e. our tendency to attribute conscious purpose to any
system that exhibits purposeful or goal-directed behavior.
In conclusion, according to my conception, a “higher” level
of reality (biological or psychic) emerges from the “lower”
level (physical or biological, respectively) by self-orientation of
a network of elements (negative feedbacks or associative struc-
tures/concepts, respectively) signifying by connotation, which
is an evolutionarily purposeful, intentional representation of
certain aspects of the external (and internal, within body limits)
world. In this formulation, the emergence of psychic con-
sciousness (self-consciousness) from a network of neural con-
nections in the brain devoid of consciousness would constitute,
in a sense, a “repetition” at a higher level of the act of emer-
gence of the phenomenon of life from inanima t e matter.
Therefore, I do not believe that a separate being—in a phi-
losophical sense, a vital force in the case of life, or a spirit in
the case of the psyche—is necessary for the higher level of
reality to emerge from the lower level. I am not a primitive
reductionist, however, as I do not claim that everything that in
fact exists is atoms and neurons, respectively. I am convinced
that the crucial aspect is the degree and, above all, the type of
(objectively existing) complexity, functional organization of
these elements. In fact, only the SYSTEM counts.
Obviously, the entire discussion and conclusions presented in
this article depend on the presented cybernetic definition of a
living (biological) individual and the cybernetic model of a
psychical individual (self-conscious subject). A definition can-
not be true or false, but only adequate, heuristically fruitful and
useful, or not. Apart from the above-presented arguments, one
can formulate the following additional arguments to show that
the cybernetic definition of a living individual is useful and
1) It is formulated in terms of cybernetics and information
theory. It shows clearly—and does so in terms understandable
e.g. for physicists—what is the essence of life that cannot be
reduced to (and expressed in terms of) the physical level of
reality. If the phenomenon of life could not be distinguished
and characterized in strictly formal terms, there would be no
good justification for saying that life is something more than a
complicated physicochemical system.
2) It is based on primary and fundamental properties that
cannot be derived from any other, more primary/primitive
properties. It involves only two primary notions: negative feed-
back and positive feedback. Other properties of a living indi-
vidual—including the fact that it is a dissipative structure (or,
more generally, a system significantly displaced from thermo-
dynamic equilibrium); it evolves and it is characterized by
structural and functional complexity, which can increase during
evolution; it is capable of flexible adaptation; and it separates
the (genetic) record of identity from the executive machin-
ery—can be derived from this definition and from the proper-
ties of the real physical world (Korzeniewski, 2005). A defini-
tion that is based on properties that can be derived from other
properties is not a definition, but a result of some logical opera-
tions. A true definition should be based on axioms that are ir-
reducible to anything else. In my opinion, the cybernetic defini-
tion is as minimalistic as possible, while it is at the same time
3) It clearly distinguishes a living individual from different
systems that are not living individuals (Korzeniewski, 2005),
namely: a) inanimate systems, b) psychological and social sys-
tems, c) biological systems that are not individuals (units of
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
evolution), like a cell, liver or ecosystem. The concept of a
living individual is absolutely central for the phenomenon of
life. One can, for instance, fertilize some distant planet with a
single bacterium and thus give rise to a whole biosphere, but
one cannot have life without at least one living individual.
4) It clearly determines the subject of evolution (unit of se-
lection). Evolution is an inseparable property of real life. How-
ever, life as a whole certainly is not the subject of biological
evolution. Therefore, a good definition of life should clearly
determine what in fact constitutes this subject.
5) It offers a measure of the purposeful—i.e. valuable in the
context of a living individual—biological information (as op-
posed to statistical, thermodynamic information that is mean-
ingless in the biological sense) (Korzeniewski, 2001, 2005).
The main functional difference between inanimate matter and
living beings is that the latter are purposefully, intentionally
directed at the realization of some task, namely survival and
self-replication. This purposefulness must be related to some
specific, biologically relevant information that is different from
the thermodynamic information of purely physicochemical
systems. Therefore, to define the essence of life, one has to
define the essence of the biologically relevant information.
The cybernetic definition of a living individual, due to its
minimalism, seems to be very economical. Yet, neither the
process of origination of life on the Earth about 3.8 billion
years ago, nor the current form of life can obviously be reduced
exclusively to the cybernetic aspect. The genetic, structural,
thermodynamic and energetic aspects are no less important. I
am convinced, however, that all aspects emerge—automatically
in a way—when the abstract cybernetic definition of a living
individual is confronted with the external physical world (Kor-
zeniewski, 2005).
As opposed to a definition, a model may be correct (when it
corresponds to reality) or defective. Obviously, this also applies
to the cybernetic model of a psychic individual. If it is to be
possible to assess something as true or false, it must be testable
(verifiable/falsifiable). It should therefore be stressed that my
concept of the essence and genesis of (self-)consciousness
meets all the conditions required to be met by a sound scientific
hypothesis, namely it allows one to formulate predictions that
can be experimentally tested. Here are some of them. Firstly, it
follows from the conception that there are closed neural loops
in the brain of an adult human being that lead from the dis-
persed “cognitive center” in the prefrontal cortex and back to
this center. Secondly, a temporary blocking of these circuits
due to an external intervention leads to temporary switching off
of self-consciousness. Thirdly, such closed neural circuits are
not found in the brains of infants. Fourthly, they are not present
in the brains of the majority of animals considered to be devoid
of consciousness. Fifthly, the transmission of signals in the
closed loops ceases during sleep, at least during the deep sleep
phase. Sixthly, lots of evidence indicate that there exists a mini-
mum “atomic” moment of consc iousne ss that lasts for about 0.5
second (compare, for instance, Liebet’s experiment (Liebet et
al., 1979)). It could coincide with the period of a single “cycle”
of signals running in the postulated closed neural loops.
According to my conception, mind/psyche (together with the
phenomena it consists of) is not a categorically different phe-
nomenon (in the philosophical sense). It is an emergent prop-
erty of brain functioning, of the dynamic architecture of neural
connections, but it has no feedback-type influence on the brain.
It cannot cause any actions in the external material world, for it
is the brain (the neural network underlying the mind) that can.
This general approach is referred to as connectionism or func-
tionalism. It refers to the so-called soft problem of self-con-
sciousness, i.e. the conditions to be met in the physical world
for self-consciousness to come into being. On the other hand,
the hard problem—i.e. the question of the essence of self-con-
sciousness—is on principle irresolvable (just like the hard
problem of the physical reality or anything else). My objective
is to find out what sort of functional complexity of a network of
neurons (or other analogical information-processing elements)
leads to the emergence of the subjective sphere of mental phe-
nomena. I find the solution in the recurrent relation of the fo-
cusing (orienting) of the cognitive center on itself.
For us, of course, it is a very important difference between
life and psyche that we experience the latter from within, from
the depths of our self-consciousness. In a sense, the subjective
sphere of the mind can be identified with a (special kind of)
objectively existing complexity that is seen “from i nside”. This
does not subvert the fact that, from the “external” point of view,
a psychic individual is to a large extent isomorphic with a bio-
logical individual.
Finally, one could ask, what life and self-consciousness
emerged for. Or, in other words, what is the sense and purpose
of biological and psychical evolution. The answer to these
questions is simple: “for nothing”. The mentioned processes
have no purpose or sense. They simply occur in material cir-
cumstances, where certain above-formulated conditions are met.
Similarly, bodies that have mass fall in gravitational field and
crystals grow in a saturated solution of salt. I am referring here,
strictly speaking, to the “external” point of view. As I argued
above, both biological systems and systems endowed with
psyche have a certain type of “internal” purposefulness (inten-
tionality), originating from specific cybernetic mechanisms
they are equipped with. It is not for nothing that negative feed-
backs are called purpose-oriented mechanisms, aimed at the
realization of a specific task (in the case of living individuals,
the ultimate task consists in survival and reproduction). Simi-
larly, neurophysiological mechanisms at the base of self con-
sciousness may play a role in the functioning of language or
social relations. The focusing of the cognitive center—the “see”
of the processes of thinking and planning—on itself would lead
to the emergence of a clear-cut “ego” and, as a consequence, to
a clear-cut distinction between “me” and “him” (“them”). Un-
doubtedly, we have a subjective, psychic sense of purposeful-
ness and intentionality of our mind. This, however, does not
change the fact that the phenomena of life and self-conscious-
ness—when viewed from the outside—are equally “senseless”
as purely physical processes. At best, we can speak of an “in-
ternal function” of networks of negative feedbacks and neural
networks, the operation of which allows these phenomena to
What are heuristic benefits of the found analogies between
the biological individual and psychical individual as defined in
cybernetic terms? First of all, at least for me, they are very in-
teresting in themselves. It is exciting and perhaps surprising to
see that the most general functional architectures of apparently
so different and so important phenomena as life and self-con-
sciousness are based on essentially the same re lati ons. Ne xt, t he
extracted formal similarities between life and self-conscious-
ness cause that understanding the essence of one of these phe-
nomena helps much to understand the essence of the other. At
the same time, these similarities suggest that in both cases a
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 325
“higher” level of reality emerges from the “lower” level in a
strictly analogous way. They can also suggest that the definition
of a living individual and the model of a psychical individual
are examples of something that can be regarded as a universal
formal definition/model of an individual formulated in cyber-
netic terms. Such a universal definition/model could help to
decide whether various possible systems constructed in the
future by humans or found on some distant planets in the Uni-
verse are alive and/or self-conscious or not.
Of course, the common traits of the biological individual and
psychical cybernetic individual result partly from the fact that
the latter constitutes, in a sense, a part of the former. The neural
network underlying our subjective psyche is, whatever else it
could be, a fragment of the network of negative feedbacks
(regulatory mechanisms/signal transducing pathways) forming
the cybernetic base of the living individual. It participates e.g.,
in negative feedbacks involved in cognitive, behavioral and
motor functions. Therefore, it is not surprising that the neural
network “inherits” numerous properties of the regulatory net-
work. No doubt, a prominent one is intentionality, first directed
exclusively on survival and reproduction. However, once the
psychical intentionality originated, it gradually become oriented
on other than only biological goals, namely on self-realization,
self-manifestation. The “civilization buffer” weakens signifi-
cantly the pressure of natural selection. No wonder therefore
that in conscious subjects, especially those living in developed
societies, the axes fitness-lack of fitness and pleasure-displeas-
ure diverge to a large extent (Korzeniewski, 2010). The devia-
tion from purely biological motivations can adopt the form of
overeating leading to obesity, sex not leading to reproduction or
alcohol or narcotics addiction on the one hand, and of science,
art, religion, philosophy and ethics on the other hand. Therefore,
the repetition on a higher level, during origination of the psy-
chic individual, of the same process (forming a self-oriented
intentional network of elements meaning by connotation con-
taining a representation of the world) that took place during
origination of the biological individual on a lower level can
explain why the goals of the former can be, at least to some
extent, different than the goals of the latter.
It is likely that the reason of the origin and the primeval
function of the psychical individual were to support the bio-
logical individual. This means that at the beginning mind and
self-consciousness were directed exclusively on survival and
reproductive success of their biological “carrier”. However, the
question arises what was the rationale of the emergence of
self-consciousness, i.e. why a self-conscious brain was more
effective in realizing this task than a brain devoid of self-con-
sciousness. Perhaps the higher-level psychical intentionality
enhanced the biological intentionality delivering an additional
‘drive’ or ‘force’ that supported and ‘channeled’ social interac-
tions, cognitive activities, development of language, sexual
relations and so on. However, as mentioned above, after some
time this drive gained some autonomy that expressed itself in
origin of culture, art, systems of beliefs and so on. The psychi-
cal individual ceased to be only (or predominantly) a servant of
the biological individual, developed its own purposes and be-
came to a large extent independent. Finally, it started to con-
sider its own origin and nature.
The cybernetic definition/model of an individual can be ap-
plied to artificial and virtual life in order to decide if a consid-
ered object/system is a living individual (in cybernetic terms) or
not. In particular, this definition/model was used to determine
how (hypothetical) artificial living individuals based on metals,
plastic, glass, silicon and so on, whose most basic structural and
functional units appear at the supra-molecular level, would look
like (Korzeniewski, 2011). It was shown that such artificial
“supra-molecular” living individuals existing self-dependently
in the environment of some distant planet would have to have
the form of dispersed individuals, composed of several separate
“sub-individuals” that would be integrated functionally but not
structurally. These sub-individuals would be analogous to such
“modules” of human technical civilization as machines, robots,
steelworks, chemical plants, electronic factories, power stations,
mines etc. Such dispersed individuals would resemble colonies
of social insects and moles, which are also composed of sepa-
rate sub-individuals (particular insects and moles) carrying out
different specialized functions.
One could also speculate whether it is possible to repeat the
formal process leading to emergence of the biological and psy-
chological cybernetic individuals for the third time, on a yet
higher level. What kind of level could come into consideration?
Of course the first one that could come to our minds is the so-
cial level. In the material sense a society (or a state created by it,
understood as organization of people and not in geographical
terms) is a system of particular humans, but in the formal, cy-
bernetic sense it is rather a system of interacting self-conscious
minds of those humans. Does this system fulfill the defini-
tion/model of the cybernetic individual presented here? Let us
look closer at it. The social roles, functions of society members
are certainly determined in relation to other members. Workers
in a factory produce goods for other people, teachers transfer
knowledge to (children of) other people, physicians cure other
people, engineers design and construct different devices for
other people, and so on, and so forth. All society members con-
dition the existence of all other members and, on the other hand,
rely on the activity of other members. The sense of a given
society member is determined by its relation to other society
members. Therefore, we can undoubtedly say that society
members and rela ti ons bet wee n them form a functional network,
in which all members and relations mean by connotation. Cer-
tainly, the structure of the society constitutes to some extend a
representation of the external world, including the biological
and psychological nature of particular members. Farmers must
know and apply the relevant physical and biological laws in
order to gain high harvest, engineers—to construct devices,
buildings and so on, physicians—to cure people. It is also not
difficult to demonstrate that the network of social interactions
represents some aspects of the external world. A special or-
ganization of people (taking into account their biological and
psychological properties) is necessary to build a house or fac-
tory, to perform science that serves medicine and technology, to
produce and deliver artificial fertilizers. (By the way, cyber-
netic relations between society members include among others
negative feedbacks, for instance in economy, in the demand-
supply balance.) Therefore, the society, the network of social
relations underlying it constitutes an operational, functional
representation of the real (physical, biological, psychological)
world. In a sense, this statement is obvious or even trivial—to
exist and function in the reality a society must take into account
its features, cannot be autistically isolated from it. A society/
state is also intentionally oriented on itself, its own survival,
functioning and expansion. All above-mentioned cybernetic
mechanisms based on co-conditioning serve this purpose. Ad-
ditionally, police helps to keep internal homeostasis. Army
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
defends the system against external threats and can serve ex-
pansion of the society. Economical homeostasis, development
and expansion play in a sense a similar role. A society/state
cares about itself using various cybernetic mechanisms, pur-
posefully te nds to maintain its integrity and possibly to expand.
On the other hand, while the biological and psychical individu-
als are “closed” systems, a society does not have well defined
boundaries, is in a sense “fuzzy”. For instance, its members can
directly interact with the members of other societies and par-
ticular societies can even exchange members. Of course, this
does not take place in the case of negative feedbacks or
(sub-networks of) neurons belonging to different biological and
psychical individuals, respectively (as a matter of fact, psychi-
cal individuals can exchange concept/ideas, although in an
approximate and imperfect way; however, this occurs through
linguistic communication and not through a direct exchange of
neural sub-networks underlying them). Furthermore, while the
elements of the biological individual and psychical individual
(negative feedbacks and neurons/concepts, respectively) have
generally fixed position and relations with other elements, the
roles and social relations of society members can change
quickly and significantly. Finally, the superior goal of the
whole society (integrity, homeostasis, development and possi-
ble expansion) frequently contradicts the individual goals of its
elements (particular people). Again, this does not take place
within biological and psychical individuals, where negative
feedbacks and (sub-networks of) neurons are subordinated to
the whole entity—the individual (although one could argue that
different contradictory psychical motivations within one mind
are counter-examples for this rule). As we see, a society (or
state) fulfills quite well, although not perfectly, the cybernetic
definition/model of an individual, first applied to life and
self-consciousness. This definition/model can be used to esti-
mate the degree of “individualness” of a given system. The
above analysis emphasizes heuristic fruitfulness of formal
similarities between the biological individual and psychical
individual that allow to formulate a universal model of a cy-
bernetic individual.
The social quasi-individual (society/state) has its own inten-
tionality (directed on maintaining integrity and homeostasis,
development and expansion of itself) that frequently contradicts
the intentionalities of particular psychical individuals it is
composed of—humans (human psyches). Numerous human
motivations and behaviors are egoistic and not altruistic, and
the society must use different regulations and mechanisms to
suppress/control them (e.g., law, justice, police). (This process
is analogous to some extent to the suppression of uncontrolled
proliferation of cells within a multi-cellular biological individ-
ual in order to avoid cancer; compare Korzeniewski, 2001,
2005) The discussed conflict of intentionalities resembles quite
closely the conflict between the (intentionalities of the) psy-
chological individual and biological individual—the above
mentioned divergence of the pleasure-displeasure and fitness-
lack of fitness axes. It should be clearly stated that these con-
fli c t s re su l t d i re ct ly from the fact of the e xistence of (cy bernetic)
(quasi-)individuals on different levels of hierarchy of system
organization (biological, psychical, social).
A similar reasoning as for societies/states can be applied to
industrial or other companies. I will not analyze them in detail,
because their formal structure is quite similar to the structure of
entire societies/states. Certainly, their elements (employees and
their roles) mean by connotation, the network of their relations
constitutes a representation of both the external (material goods,
competition, customers’ preferences) and internal (employees’
skills, ambitions) world, and the whole company is intention-
ally directed on its own maintenance, development and expan-
sion. Therefore, to some extent, they should also be counted
among cybernetic individuals, although they meet similar limi-
tations as societies/states. To be sure, both societies/states and
companies resemble rather biological than psychical individuals,
although they are significantly different from both (for instance,
the expansion of a company consists in a quantitative growth of
the company rather than in its reproduction, that is production
of new companies with si milar identities).
Another, much more speculative possibility of a cybernetic
“super-individual” is a group of directly connected (by wires,
laser impulses and so on) “artificial brains”, having their own
subjective minds, but forming intentionality and self-conscious-
ness on a higher level. Another speculation concerns a network
of computers resembling Internet. Also in this case the formal
model/definition could help to decide if it is possible to create
within/from it a sort of a cybernetic individual.
Generally, the formal cybernetic definition/model of an indi-
vidual can be applied not only to the biological individual and
psychical individual, but also to many various systems of dif-
ferent nature. In this sense, this model/definition is universal.
We cannot be sure what kinds of object/systems can be found
in the Universe or artificially created in the future by humans.
The f orm al def ini ti on/ mod el can help to decide whether we deal
with a cybernetic individual in a given particular case or not.
If we accept the cybernetic definition of a living individual
and the cybernetic model of the psychical individual, we con-
clude that there exist significant formal similarities between the
essence of life and self-consciousness. Namely, an individual
(biological or psychical) is constituted by: 1) a network of ele-
ments (negative feedbacks/regulatory mechanisms or neurons/
concepts, respectively) signifying by connotation; 2) that is
intentional (in the operational sense); 3) that constitutes a func-
tional representation of (some aspects of) the world; 4) and that
is recurrently directed on itself (its own reproduction or cogni-
tion, respectively). Thus, the biological level of reality emerges
from the physical level in a way analogous to that in which the
psychical level emerges from the biological level. A certain
specific type of objectively existing functional complexity of
the system is crucial for the emergence of life and self-con-
sciousness. It is postulated that the cybernetic definition/model
of an individual applied to the biological individual and psy-
chical individual is a universal one and can be used to decide if
societies/states, companies and different objects/systems exist-
ing in the Universe or constructed in the future by humans are
individuals or not, and to what extent.
I am grateful to Guy Brown for a stimulating discussion and
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