Table of Contents:
Consciousness in Living Things versus non Living Things
-Consistency with Quantum mechanics
-What is Consciousness?
Can Computers be Conscious?
The central hypotheses in this essay are (1) When fundamental particles, such as electrons or quarks (or bound combinations thereof: like atoms and molecules), change state, what will happen must be “calculated” (information must be processed in some manner, somehow) by the particle(s) (or something associated with the particles), and (2) A conscious experience (a “quale” (plural qualia)) aids in this “calculation”. After this “calculation via qualia” is complete, the particle then changes state, as when an electron in the orbital of an atom jumps to a higher orbital after being hit by a photon.
Thus, this theory postulates that there are uncountable qualia (which are not much like our own human experiences, it is probably better to call them something like “primal” qualia) being generated in matter all the time, everywhere, as particles change state . However, certain of these qualia, associated with certain molecules interacting in living cells, account for the conscious experiences of living things.
A proposal for how experiences that living things have might differ from those of non living things will be explained in detail, but basically some interactions in cells (probably when large molecules inside the cells interact) can reference past states (memories), a sense of self, and sense data from outside the organism. Ordinary particle interaction cannot access any of these things while they happen, making them quite different from our experiences. These rare particle interactions, that happen in living cells only, differentiate qualia like ours versus qualia that occur in ordinary matter, and also differentiate life from non life. This solves the “combination problem” for panpsychism.
In this theory, consciousness is more or less part of how the laws of nature work. Consciousness has a causal role in nature, it is the means by which particles calculate what to do next. It is a sort of “calculation mechanism”, a natural means of information processing. If true, this solves the “hard problem” of consciousness in a functional sense, i.e. the reason we have conscious experiences is because that is how some particles in our brains (as well as all particles everywhere) “figure out” what to do next. This also gives insight into answering the hard problem in a comparison sense, i.e. what are conscious experiences are compared to other things like mass and charge? In this theory it would appear to be some sort of “immaterial” calculation mechanism. More on this below. Philosophical arguments for this idea will rest on the idea that consciousness is not causally inert, and if it is not, then this idea seems to be the only way to reconcile the causal nature of consciousness with scientific fact. Further, this idea appears to be testable.
A major difficulty with theories of the mind, or theories of consciousness, whatever it is best to call them, is that there appear to be two contradictory requirements. (A) The proposed theory of the mind must be compatible with science, particularly physics. The theory cannot contradict any of the predictions of the laws of physics. In short, whatever consciousness is, it cannot do something outside of physical laws. (B) It is also desirable that the theory of mind gives consciousness some sort of role in nature. Our intution about consciousness strongly suggests that our decisions play some sort of causal role, and that we, or our consciousness, is a determining thing.
Is it possible to come up with a theory of mind where consciousness has a role in nature, where consciousness is not epiphenomenal, is not a useless by product, is not causally inert, and at the same time the theory does not lead to new behavior of particles that is different than what the laws of physics predict? The hypotheses of this essay ((1) When fundamental particles change state, what will happen must be “calculated” (2) A conscious experience aids in this “calculation”) appear to be able to give consciousness a role in nature (make it do something) at the same time as being consistent with physics.
Panpsychism is a case in point for the problems (A) and (B). One possible theory that falls under the category “panpsychism” is that fundamental particles, like quarks and electrons, have some sort of rudimentary “mental properties” in addition to their mass, charge, spin, and so on. Somehow these rudimentary mental properties combine to form human and animal type experiences in suitably organized matter, like brains. If true, these “mental properties” cannot be a determining factor in what makes fundamental particles interact as they do. If they were a determining factor, then they would cause new behavior in particles, which there is no evidence for. The current laws of physics appear complete for the energy regime that we humans live in (but certainly not for things like black holes, i.e. extreme energy environments, where the laws of physics are not well understood), and to assume that there is behavior that we are not detecting that cannot be explained by things like mass, charge, spin, wavefunctions, etc. seems very unlikely and simply not true.
Thus, if panpsychism is true, it seems that these proposed “mental properties” must be causally inert, or epiphenominal, a useless by product. Of course, panpsychists can dispute this with arguments, but it seems a major problem that panpsychists have to address. The problem is not confined to panpsychism, it seems to also be a problem for Cartesian Dualism as well.
Though theories of the mind such as materialism and emergentism do not have the problem of proposing causally inert, or epiphenomenal, mental properties to matter, these theories have the problem of seemingly denying mental properties exist at all, and face a massive problem of explaining how consciousness (which seems very different from the physical world) comes out of seemingly “dead”, non-conscious matter. Of course emergentists and materialists do their best to deal with this.
One of the goals of this essay is to show that the two following hypotheses serve to add something to physics, and at the same time do not contradict any of the predictions of physical laws, and also give consciousness a causal role in nature. If true, this provides a way the apparently contradictory requirements (A) and (B) can be reconciled (supposing any reconcilement is neccessary, and of course not everyone believes it is neccessary).
The two hypotheses are:
(1) Every time fundamental particles, such as electrons or quarks (or bound combinations thereof: like protons, atoms, and molecules), change state, what will happen must be “calculated” (information must be processed in some manner, somehow) by the particle(s) (or something associated with the particles), and
(2) A conscious experience (a “quale” (plural qualia)) aids in this “calculation”. After this “calculation via qualia” is complete, the particle then changes state, as when an electron jumps to a higher orbital after being hit by a photon.
The point of this essay is to assume the above (possibly outlandish) hypotheses are true and to explore the ramifications of this idea. Once explored, and the ramifications are reasoned out, it seems to generate a plausible, and testable, way to explain what consciousness is in nature, at least to this ignorant and flawed writer.
Of course, a great number of questions ensue from these two hypotheses, such as:
(1) Is it OK to assume this in light of what we know of physics, does it contradict any physical laws? (2) Does it help physics any to assume these hypotheses. Why do we need to assume this? Isn’t this just a superfluous and useless assumption? (3) How do the conscious experiences – qaulia (singular “quale”) of simple fundamental particles differ from those that humans and animals experience? Surely our experiences are richer and different from those of fundamental particles (if this idea has any merit), but how can we know this? (4) What are the philosophical implications, and arguments for this view? (5) Are computers conscious in this theory? (6) Is this idea testable? (7) Do we have free will in this theory? (8) What exactly is the role of consciousenss in nature in this theory? (9) How does consciousness compare to things like mass, and charge, and space, and forces, etc. in this theory?
This is not an exhaustive list of questions, but the above are what I will try to answer. First, in this introduction, let me answer questions (1) and (2), and make some more remarks.
Usually, of course, it is assumed that particles change state “automatically”, according to the laws of physics, and there is no need for the particle to “calculate” what to do next. Change of state of particles (such as when an electron in an orbital around an atom is struck by a photon, and jumps to a higher orbital) just happens, end of story. However, there is no real reason to believe this “automatic” hypothesis, as it seems nature could work as it does if a calculation of sorts (some sort of information processing, somehow) had to happen every time, as long as the calculation is quick enough. Assuming that a calculation of some sort (involving qualia) needs to happen every time a particle changes state should not be any contradiction to the laws of physics. This seems to answer question (1). Notice that this strongly implies, if true, that these “calculations” appear to use no energy, might even take no time to happen, and do not seem to be detectable (are not measurable), since we don’t observe them.
The only candidate I can propose (with my limited knowledge of quantum physics) that serves as the physical mechanism for this proposed calculation would be the wavefunctions of particles. As wavefunctions interact and evolve as particles change state, surely “information” of some sort is processed, thus some sort of “calculation” must be made. When wavefunctions “collapse”, particles change state. Of course, the additional proposal here is that before this collapse happens (or perhaps during) a quale (an experience of something, – what exactly it’s hard to say) is used to assist in this calcualation (somehow). The hypothesis is that this is a necessary process in nature that must occur before particles change state. They cannot proceed without considering a quale (which is an information carrying “thing”) first.
Please note that I am not claiming, as some do, that consciousness collapses the wavefunction. This is sometimes speculated, because the only time we really know for sure that the wavefunction collapses is when a measurement is made. There is a possibility that only when conscious creatures (like humans) perform a measurement that wavefunction collapse occurs. The more plausible scenario is that wavefunctions are collapsing all the time, all over the place, whenever a large object comes near a wavefunction. It is this more plausible scenario that will be assumed here, that wavefunction collapse occurs due to the presence of macroscopic objects. The connection to consciousness is that qualia and decisions occur to help the particle “decide” what to do next.
Of course, this would be a sort of “primal” quale for simple particles, not like the ones we experience. The qualia we experience, such as nausea, anger, the color red, the taste of pineapple, loud sounds, etc. involve memories, a sense of self, and sense data from bodily organs, like our eyes or taste buds. The quale that an electron would experience when hit by a photon (which causes it to go to a higher orbital) would not reference any memories, or a sense of self, or sense data from a bodily organ, and thus be quite different. More discussion on this issue, and how molecules in living cells might access memories and a sense of self (whereas the vast majority of particle interactions do not), will occur in the next section.
The natural reason for this assumption – that particles calculate via qualia, is that this is what we do – we “calculate via qualia”. Or rather we figure out things via qualia, or information process via qualia, or decide things via qualia, or evaluate via qualia, however one should say it. We use qualia as pieces of information, which is then used to make decisions. From the perspective of pursuing what we value, our minds – our consciousnesses – exist to figure out what to do next, so that we then pursue what we value. Consciousness is our means to know what we value. So if this role is to be somewhat similar for all particles in nature, not just us humans, then particles must use qualia to “figure out” or “calculate” what to do next, just as we do. What do particles value? Probably something like finding the right “harmony” out of all the options the particle has, which makes it end up following the laws of physics, but more on this later.
Getting back to question (2) Does it help physics any to assume these hypotheses. Why do we need to assume this?
A good response to the two central hypotheses of this essay is to say: Why is this needed at all? Physics works fine assuming that particles proceed to new states automatically, with no need of a “calculation”, let alone a calculation via qualia. Why assume this?
It is indeed true that we should accept the simplest explanation for things, and on the face of it, it does seem simplest to assume that particle interactions happen “automatically”, between fully “dead” particles, without any need for a “calculation” of any sort, and proceed to new states automatically, much less a calculation via qualia. However, this is only the best (and simplest) assumption if one seemingly ingnores a part of reality with know with absolute certainty to exist: namely consciousness. Occam’s razor does not support an explanation that leaves out part of reality.
If assuming “dead” particles that “automatically” interact leads to no explanation of consciousness (and there are numerous reasons for accepting this, such as Chalmers philosophical zombie argument), then it is not the best assumption to make. If instead, assuming that particles must calculate via qualia before proceeding to a new state leads to an actual explanation of consciousness (instead of a denial, which appears to happen), then it should be accepted, as it appears to be consistent with physics, and hopefully, fully compatible with what we know of consciousness.
It would take too much time here to argue fully that theories of the mind, such as emergentism and materialism, do not provide an adequate explanation of consciousness. The common arguments for this view are (as mentioned) Chalmers philosophical zombie argument, and the fact that experiences of qualia seem so far removed and different from physical states. I refer readers to these arguments. Let us proceed in developing this theory and suppose these arguments have something to them.
At this time it seems right to talk about the “hard problem of consciousness”. Chalmers (1995) rightly tries to ask the question we are really seeking in the philosophy of the mind: Why do we experience anything at all? Why do we not experience things?
When I experience nasuea, the physical explanation of what happens is that nerves near my stomach are triggered, which then conduct a signal to my brain, (via ion diffusion conduction – not the same as electrical conduction in metal wires). This signal goes through a complicated and changing network of neurons in my brain, resulting in me uttering the phrase “I feel sick”, accompanied by some bending over. If we could trace this signal precisely, and had a map of my brain at the time, we could predict with our scientific knowledge that I will utter these words and bend over before I actually do it. Such is the power of science.
What is missing from this story is any need at all to postulate (scientifically speaking) that I actually felt a sensation of nausea. In order to predict my actions, one does not need to use the fact that I actually felt a horrible sensation (experienced a qualia) as a hypothesis. All we have to assume is that the particles that make up my body will automatically follow physical laws, measure things really well, and make our prediction.
This of course begs the question: why did I actually feel nausea? Where is the scientific explanation of why this happened to me?
Thus, I hope, we see the truly hard problem of consciousness. Why do experiences of qualia occur? Why do they not occur? Why are they not needed by science? How can we get science to account for them?
In a nutshell: I have experiences of qualia – explain why!
In the theory presented here, the reason is that all particles experience some sort of quale as they change state. It is a fundamental component of how nature works, because it is part of how particles “calculate” what to do next, and qualia is a necessary component of this calculation. Consciousness is a sort of “calculation mechanism” in nature that is universally used. It is the means by which particles “figure out” what to do next.
If this idea can be used to give an account and prediction of the actual nausea I feel (and I will try to give a hand-wavy story of how I imagine this might be accomplished in the next section) and how and why it differs from the supposedly “primal” qualia most particles experience, then this theory would seem to be on the right track.
If successful, what sort of answer is this to the “hard problem”?
It is a “functional” answer to the hard problem of consciousness. Basically, it explains what consciousness does. It gives it a role in nature, explains what it is for, and what it does so nature can proceed through time.
It is less of an answer to the hard problem in a “comparison sense”. That is, what is consciousness in comparison to things like mass, space, forces, charge, spin, etc? Basically, the hard problem is asking two things (1) Why does consciousnes occur? (in the sense of what does it do, what is its role in nature?) and (2) What is it in comparison to what else we know exists, like space and mass, etc? i.e. is it an immaterial thing or what? What does “immaterial” even mean?
For the “comparison” question, the answer is less clear, but a few things can be reasoned out. As above, if consciousness is truly a “calculation mechanism” of sorts, as is being proposed, it is not a “physical thing”. What that means is that anything measurable (such as length, time, forces, spin, charge, temperature, Energy, mass, etc. – all of which can be roughly defined as a “physical thing”) is like an input into this calculation mechanism, and the next state of a measurable thing is an output. Measurable things (physical things) are changed in part because of the calculation mechanism, and since it has this role of changing measurable things, it is not a measurable, or physical thing, itself. This is quite similar to the role of a physical law in physics. A physical law itself is not a physical thing either, since physical things, or measurable things, are subject to the law. Again, a physical law is like a “black box” with inputs (measurable or physical things) and outputs (changes in measurable things).
The similarity between this “calculation mechanism” (if it exists) and a physical law is quite close. Both take in measurable things as inputs, and both output a change in these measurable things. Both have, at least, a “nonphysical” aspect to them, since physical things are subject to them. That which governs physical things should not be “physical”, one would think. That which makes measurable things change is not a measurable thing itself, it can only be deduced.
However, though performing a similar role, this proposed calculation mechanism is not a physical law, as it is not a rule (physical laws are rules). Rather, if it exists, the rules that measurable (physical) things follow come from (in part) the actions of the calculation mechanism. Not all the rules, to be sure. For instance, Newton’s first law (that things in motion or at rest will stay in motion or at rest until acted upon by a force) cannot be a consequence of this proposed calculation mechanism, since the calculation mechanism only comes into play when an object changes state. Other laws that deal with objects changing state, as in wavefunction collapse, would be the way they are due to this calculation mechanism getting the same result or close to the same result for similar calculations. The actions of consciousness are regular and predictable, hence physical laws are regular and predictable.
To say it differently, a rule cannot be said to really “do” anything. Other things “do” things, and we slap rules on these if we can see a regularity to what something is doing. So the combination of physical (measurable things) changing (in part) due to this proposed calculation mechanism is a regular phenomenon that we can slap a rule onto, like the conservation of energy and momentum.
Now, physics really only has two components, rules (physical laws) and things which follow the rules (measurable things). To what then can we assign causation to, given the structure of physics? We could try to assign causation to the past states of the measurable things, but this is unsatisfying, for something should act upon the measurable things to change them. We could try to assign causation to the laws, but it seems nonsensical to assign a causation to a rule, we assign rules to the regularities of something going through cause and effect, not the other way around. Even though we cannot and should not assign causation to physical laws, it is tempting to do so, since it seems intuitive to assign causation to something that acts upon measurable quantities. However, we cannot assign causation to rules. In short, there is “room” in physics for more than just rules and things which follow the rules. There is room for a causal mechanism. There is room for a calculation mechanism, and this will take on the same role as physical laws: (if we could truthfully assign rules a role in nature) that of changing the measurable things.
So when we ask something like “Why is momentum conserved?” (a physical law) The only answer is: it’s the law. The cause of this phenomenon is “something” in nature that makes things come out the way they do. The only thing we can do is chalk up the phenomena to a rule, and we cannot explain it further.
When we ask why an apple falls, the answer is: gravity. Which is not much of an answer. One can elaborate that by saying “gravity” we mean that we have discovered that all objects with mass attract each other through a measurable force, and we can predict how this force behaves, and use this knowledge to understand other things. If asked “why do all things with mass attract each other?” We can then say that it is actually because of General Relativity, where all of space and time together is a sort of field, and mass makes this field bend, or warp, and when space warps, things sort of “roll down” with the warping. It’s like a cannonball on a trampoline, the trampoline warps due to the heavy cannonball, and if you put a tennis ball on a the trampoline, it will roll to the cannonball.
Which is all well and good, but now ask “why do things ‘roll down’ warped space?” Now there is no answer other than : that’s just what things do – it’s the law, or the rule. We have nothing else to say, no further explanantion. We might say there is “something” in nature that makes things “roll down”, but that is basically the same things as saying: it’s the rule.
Notice the similarity between the “calculation mechanism” being proposed here, and the “something” : they both make particle interactions come out the way they do, and they are both basically “immaterial” (not physical or measurable).
The upshot is that there appear to be things in nature that are not measurable, not detectable, use no energy, seem “immaterial”, whose existence can only be inferred, but still do things. This “something” I talk about that is behind physical laws surely exists and surely has a role to play, and saying that a “calculation (via qualia) mechanism” is part of it is just an added detail if true.
So that is the best I can do in answering the hard problem in a “comparison sense” with this theory. This “immaterial” calculation (via qualia) mechanism I propose has some physical processes associated with it (such as wavefunction interference), but it is also something beyond that (it is part of the “something” behind physical laws), and its existence is not all that strange, at least to me.
Perhaps one way to think about it is that there is a sort of substrate to all space, which is a sort of basis for qualia, and when a wavefunction collapses, a quale erupts out of this “substrate”, like a bubble erupting out of a liquid. The quale is used to help calculate what the partice should do next, then the quale disappears, the bubble pops, and the change of state happens.
A few more remarks, and then the question of how human type experiences can come out of this theory can be discussed.
It should be noted that though this theory is similar to panpsychism, and though people might want to call it panpsychism, there appears to be an important difference. In physics, particles have sort of “tags” on them, which include mass, charge, extension, etc. These “tags” determine what the properties of the particle are, and thus what the particle will do. Panpsychism wishes to add another “tag” of some sort of “mental properties” to the particles, except it seems that these mental properties have to be causally inert, or epiphenomenal.
No extra “tags” are being proposed in this theory, rather it is proposed that there is a “calcuation mechanism” in nature. This is associated with particles, of course, but is not a “tag” that will determine what the particle will do. However, it is still something that will determine what the particle will do. This subtle difference seems to make this theory not a form of panpsychism. In fact, it is not dualism, materialism, emergentism, or any previously proposed theory of the mind. It seems to be an entirely new theory.
This is, of course, somewhat similar to ideas already put forth by Penrose (1989) and Penrose (1994), and some inspiration is owed to the ideas in those books. However, though Penrose proposed some loose associations between the collapse of the wavefunction and consciousness, he did not propose a fundamental and universal calculation mechanism (that is consciousness) like I am proposing. I feel he did not take it far enough. Further, he proposed that consciousness gives humans abilities greater than that of computers, as our consciousness allows us to decide undecidable mathematical statements. Basically, he was trying to find something that consciousness does that lies outside of physics, which I am not trying to do. In contrast, I am proposing that there is nothing outside of physics, but physics gives an inadequate description of nature.
Further, the idea in this essay is not explicitly quantum, it could work with classical physics (if we actually lived in a classical world). However, the wavefunction seems a convenient idea to tie this calculation mechanism to.
The issue of free will will be talked about later, but notice how this theory answers the question of free will. In this theory, with consciousness as a universal calculation mechanism, we have free will in the sense that our consciousness does soemthing in nature. It is a determining thing, something that determines. What might happen when particles interact might be inevitable, completely determinable, and predictable. All that is fine, but the calcualtion via qualia still has to happen, still has to do its role in nature, and it does not know what is inevitably going to happen, so it still has to do its duty. Thus we have free will in this theory, as our consciousness has a role in making things come out as they inevitably do, even if these events are predictable, inevitable, and determinable. The key question here is: what determined the outcome of the particle interaction? The answer: consciousness did (partially). Hence we have free will in these sense that we are a determining thing, we are part of the cause.
So in this theory, the conservation of momentum in the instance of two electrons bouncing off each other is accompanied by a qualia and a predictable decision. The qualia and the decision are added detail to the manifestation of the law of conservation of momentum. This means that many “decisions” are predictable, at least for many particle systems, where quantum effects are not noticeable, and classical, deterministic physics is the way to figure out what happens next. Nothing in this theory should contradict the known laws of physics. It is an add-on to what we know about physics, it should be consistent with physics.
As an analogy, consider aliens analysing a game of poker. Poker is played according to rules, and the humans that play poker may or may not adhere to those rules. Suppose the players adhere to the rules. Further suppose we feed the information about the beginning cards, final cards, who wins each hand, and so on to a computer, do this for many poker games, then transmit the results to some alien scientists far away that know nothing about us. The aliens analyze the many games of poker and figure out the rules of poker, and also create elaborate mathematical models to predict which hands will be folded, who will win given certain hands, etc. They create a science of poker, and can predict what will happen in a poker game to some arbitrary extent, let us suppose these predictions are quite good.
Now, let us ask how well these aliens understand poker? They do not know humans play it as a game, they do not know how humans feel as they play, they do not know the motivations that humans have when they play poker, they may not even know about bluffing, they would not know that people play it for money, they may not understand various strategies in poker, etc. They may not even know that it is a game, because we can just transmit the information to them, and their job is to predict the next set of data, the next character in the data. We basically give them a long array of symbols, and they figure out a way to predict the next symbol or set of symbols that will occur. In fact, one might say they know very little about poker. When they try to understand what the data is about, their explanations vary from it being about agriculture yeilds to weather data.
Yet, even though the aliens have a very impoverished knowledge of poker, they have a good knowledge of who will win, and can predict what will happen probably better than the players themselves. All they have is a science of poker, which though it may be a very good science, isn’t much in the way of knowledge about poker in this case.
The thought here is that perhaps our knowledge of nature, gotten through science, is a bit like the knowledge these aliens have about poker. They know nothing about what is going on “behind the scenes”, and perhaps we don’t either. We know the rules of nature (the laws of nature), but we don’t really know what is making these laws “tick”. The proposal here is that, “behind the scenes,” consciousness is at work making particles do what they do, and what consciousness does to each particle obeys mathematical rules. Hopefully, perhaps, it is time to “lift the curtain”, maybe only a little bit, on the goings on of physical laws.
Consciousness in Living Things versus non Living Things
Supposing the central idea of this essay is true, it remains to be explained how qualia and decisions differ in ordinary matter versus the matter of living beings. One assumes that qualia in a rock would be “unexciting” with no memories or understanding of classical music or deep thoughts about how rocks should behave, whereas qualia in a living being should be more “exciting” somehow. This is the combination problem of panpsychism, more or less, though as above, this theory differs from panpsychism. One would also like an explanation as to why it seems we make deliberate, non-random decisions, and wavefunction collapse produces seemingly random values. First let us deal with how living matter creates the sort of experiences we are accustomed to.
Ordinary particle interactions, though they would have qualia and experiences associated with them, should not be able to reference memories or a sense of self, or sense data from outside a body. Whereas some interactions in a living being (living cell) ought to be able to reference memories, a sense of self, and sense data from outside a body.
What would it be like to be a particle in ordinary matter, like a rock? An atom of Silicon bound to other particles changes state in a rock. What is this like? Firstly, there are not a great variety of experiences to choose from, as there is not a great variety of particle interactions, as there are in a living cell. Secondly, since non-living things cannot record memories, as organisms can, each experience in an atom in a rock would reference no past states. Hence, in this theory, there would be countless experiences happening all the time in a rock, as particles change state. However, when the particles change state, there are no memories encoded in the interaction, and no sense of self. Each experience would be on its own, like the first thought an animal ever has when it is born. Also, perhaps like a baby just being born, there is no context for its first thought, as it knows nothing. In fact, it would be worse than the first thought a baby has, since babies have innate knowledge of some things due to the structure of their brain, and a particle in a rock would have nothing.
Thus, roughly, for a lone particle or a collection of bound atoms (such as a molecule) in non living matter, it would be something like experiencing grey, then nothing, then a different shade of grey, then nothing, over and over again as the particle changes state, interacting at different energies. The experience of grey would be entirely novel each time, no past shades of grey would be known when the particle experiences grey for the millionth time. The shade of grey would occur within no context, it would not be able to compare it to any other experience, as it has no memories. This is just an assumption, but it seems reasonable, given that there are no memories and a smaller variety of qualia that can occur, and no coordination of information to get a different sort of qualia. This would seem to hold for all non living matter, be in a star, or a rock, or salt water, etc.
Thus, if this theory is true, it seems reasonable that the sort of qualia experienced by particles is not “exciting” compared to the sort of qualia that can be produced in a living organism, where we know that memories can be made and referenced, as well as sense data from specialized organs (like an eye), and a sense of self can occur.
I suppose I should try to make a few points clear about these “primal qualia” that the vast majority of particle interactions would experience, and how they differ from our animal experiences. (1) Are these the experiences of a conscious being? It seems that “no” is the answer. A conscious being has memories and a sense of self, and these experiences are more like an experience that is entirely novel to you, that you cannot compare with anything before that you have ever had. However, you can’t even put this expereince into context, because you have just lost all your memories. Plus you die in the next instant after having this completely novel, uncomparable experience. I hope that makes it clear that these axperiences are not like ours.
(2) Are these subjective experiences? Is there a “self” and “I” involved with them? Honestly, I don’t know. I would guess that there is some small element of subjectiveness to these experiences, whatever that means. However without a sense of self or memories to reference, such “subjectiveness” is limited.
Hope that cairifes a few things.
Thus, in this theory, the picture of particles in ordinary matter is of particles interacting, changing state, and as they change state, they (or nature, or something) have to produce a qualia and make a decision as to what new state to end up in. The qualia produced in these interactions seems to be “unexciting” compared to the qualia we are used to, due to a lack of memories and sense of self and sense data.
However, though we know that memories and sense data and a sense of self somehow occur in living organisms such as ourselves, and the details of how this occurs must be worked out in the context of this theory.
In living cells, there are groups of bound atoms called molecules. Once bound together, these tend to act as a unit, they interact with each other and bond together in a similar way that atoms interact with other atoms in different sorts of bonding. Protein molecules can be so large that they “fold” into different shapes in different environments. Though molecules occur outside of living cells, living cells have larger molecules, a greater variety, and more complex molecules, and of course these molecules work together to keep the organism alive.
Since this theory entails that conscious experiences occur when particles change state, and since presumably one needs a more complex system than just two atoms interacting to encode memories, a sense of self, and sense data; the only path forward for this theory seems to be to say that conscious experiences for living beings occur when two “largish” molecules interact. I can’t see another way this idea could work. A few things need explaining at this point.
An immediate question for this theory is whether or not a single qualia is produced for a molecule when it changes state, or if there is a multitude of qualia produced for each of its constituent particles as a molecule changes state. The same question applies to an atom. An atom is made up of electrons, protons and neutrons, and protons and neutrons are made up of quarks. When an atom changes state, is there a qualia produced for the whole atom, or does each constituent particle have its own qualia?
Since we are identifying qualia with wavefunction interference, the answer seems to lie in the wavefunction. From what I can gather, molecules and atoms can be regarded as having their own, single, wavefunction. If one particle of a molecule changes state, the wavefunction for the entire molecule changes as well (it collapses). Hence it seems reasonable that one quale for the molecular wavefunction is produced each time a molecule, or a part of a molecule changes state. The same would go for an atom.
This also constitutes a natural starting and stopping point for qualia. This is a very important question, and I think, one that is not addressed in traditional panpsychism. One must assign the start and end of a quale in this theory. It seems to me the only plausible way to do this is to assign it to a single particle interaction, with wavefunction collapse. Hence a qualia starts and stops with a single wavefunction collapse.
Another thing that needs explaining is that another, less likely possibility for this theory is that a succession of particle interactions could account for a qualia. A related idea to the one being espoused here is that, instead of one change of state equals one qualia, a succession of changes of state over time equals one qualia. However, this alternative seems far less likely, as it runs into the problem of how one might assign the start and stop of a qualia. Knowledge of future events would be necessary in such a scheme, to assign the start and stop of a qualia. Hence this alternative seems very unlikely.
However, a similar alternative seems fine, which will be talked about in a bit, where it seems reasonable to assign a “thought” to a succession of particle interactions, as long as they all have the same sense of self encoded in them.
Another thing to note is that each conscious experience of each bit of matter must be “on its own” so to speak. Since we do not detect the experience of an Iron atom in a fork, each qualia produced in each change of state must be independent of each other. It is like some sort of “souls” are popping into existence for the countless interactions happening everywhere. A qualia is experienced and a decision is made for each “soul” and then each “soul” immediately dies, and never exists again.
However, even though each conscious experience must be independent of each other, things seem different for the rare qualia that access past memories and a sense of self. These are connected to past conscious experiences through the very fact that they access memories and a sense of self as they occur. This would seem to be the source our continuity of experience that we living organisms have, the source of our “minds”. My picture of a conscious experience here is that a conscious experience of an organism is one where sense data, memories and a sense of self are all accessed simultaneously. An animal thinks about food, and mixed in that thought are sense data, memories, and possibly a sense of self. Perhaps a sense of self is limited to higher animals, I don’t know. The point is that it all seems to be accessed simultaneously.
If all that is true, then one needs to find a molecule in a cell that somehow encodes memories and a sense of self and sense data for an organism. When this molecule interacts, an organism experiences a thought. The idea would be that a molecule forms whilst being passed this information, it then interacts with some other molecule, which contributes to the change of state for the cell overall, making a “decision” for the cell. While it interacts, a qualia is produced that accesses memories, a sense of self, and sense data for the organism (all of which was previously encoded). This would constitute a “thought” for the organism, the sort of conscious experience we living creatures have. This would contrast the sorts of conscious experiences that occur in non-living matter.
Let us look at a single celled organism, like a paramecium, in the context of this theory. So, in this theory, the many, many, qualia that occur every second in a living cell would mostly be like those that occur in a rock, rather “unexciting”. Most of the interactions would reference no memories, no sense data, and no sense of self. However, sometimes a paramecium must make a decision. If it detects food or a change in temperature, it must react to stay alive in the way that it is accustomed. The paramecium must change state. In order to do this, a complicated series of molecular interactions occurs, where molecules, mostly proteins, bond, fold, ions diffuse, and so on. The hypothesis is that somewhere along this complicated chain of events, there is a “key interaction” between two molecules in whose structure there are encoded memories, a sense of self, and the sense data that is making the paramecium change and react to its new situation. This “key interaction” is the one that the paramecium experiences as a “thought,” insofar as paramecia have “thoughts”.
A little while later the paramecium has another “thought”, as it needs to make another decision about what to do about its environment. This next “thought” corresponds to another “key interaction” in the body of the paramecium. This one references the same sense of self (insofar as a paramecium has a sense of self), different sense data, some memories, and possibly a memory of its last “thought”. Thus we see how the paramecium has a continuity of experience out of the countless conscious experiences going on in its cell body that it does not experience. Though each experience is on its own, the structure of the molecules responsible for the “key interaction”, the electromagnetic field they produce, the complicated wavefunction associated with it, allows it to reference past states, and a sense of self, creating its continuity of experience.
I am far from an expert on cell biology, and cell biology is, of course, very complicated. Further, from what I can gather, there is no one thing that can be said to control the actions of a cell. Rather there are many interactions which happen, which depend on other interactions occurring. The chain of interactions is called a “molecular pathway”. There is no one interaction that controls what the cell does, rather, there are many along a chain of interactions. If this theory is true, it seems like there should be many candidates, such as proteins that change due to their new environment along a “metabolic pathway” that changes how the cell metabolizes energy.
The reaction that corresponds to the qualia an organism experiences does not always have to be a particular enzyme changing, the next time it could be another enzyme, or not an enzyme. As long as the molecule is complex enough and actually has the requisite memories and sense of self encoded in it, as well as sense data, then its interaction can be the one that corresponds to our conscious experience.
An intriguing possibility is that a qualia for an organism might be identifiable with a succession of chemical interactions that happen rapidly over time. This would require, I think, that a molecule which encodes the sense of self for an organism go through a few rapid changes over time. As it changes, sense data and memories are added or perhaps subtracted, corresponding to the molecule becoming bigger or smaller, or even just folding. The idea is that, instead of a conscious experience of an organism happening in an instant, it might happen over an extended period of time. If so, then it would be identified with a molecule evolving over a few milliseconds, bonding to various other molecules, then coming to rest, ending the experience. As long as memories and a sense of self is accessed during each successive interaction, this seems as though this succession can be looked at as the “key interaction”, rather than a single interaction. Perhaps this scenario is closer to what we actually experience? A problem with this whole idea is the question of what happens to the molecule that encodes memories and sense data and sense of self after the key interaction? Is it destroyed? Reused?
Of course, for this theory to work, a way must be found to identify memories and a sense of self with the structure of a molecule. It must be known how such things can be encoded, and what is encoded must be somehow mapped to qualia. This is a major challenge for this theory, and I don’t personally know how to solve it, being beyond my expertise, if I can be said to have any expertise.
The next question for this theory, if true, is how animal and human consciousness would work. The answer would be fairly similar to how consciousness is proposed to work in a paramecium, except the “key interactions” would probably occur in neurons, and not in any other cells in the animal body.
In the context of this theory, neurons would serve the purpose of passing sense data and memories to other neurons. The signals would not be conscious events, but would set up conscious events. The conscious events, where memories, sense data, and a sense of self would be referenced, would occur in neurons much like they do in single celled organisms. Two molecules would interact which encode these memories, sense data and sense of self in their structure, and the resulting change in wavefunction for the interacting molecules would create a quale that is part of the continued experience of the organism.
The next conscious event for the animal does not have to occur in the same neuron as the last event, it can occur in an entirely different neuron. As long as it has the same sense of self, and references proper memories, it does not matter where it occurs, it will be part of the continued experience of an animal. It might be the case that a “sense of self” is generated by the unique electromagnetic field that would be different for every brain. Every animal brain would be unique, and the field generated by all the neurons in the brain might serve as the backdrop for chemical interactions in a brain, creating our “sense of self”. Though such a field might not be a significant factor in the “key interaction”, as matter tends to shield from electromagnetic fields.
Humans, being animals, would have their consciousness generated in a similar manner as animals in this theory. The only difference would be our ability to observe our own thoughts and model them as belonging to some other creature. Our apparent ability to watch ourselves think to a far greater extent than other animals seems to set us apart from other animals. We are self aware to a larger extent, it seems. We get mad at ourselves, can wish to be a different person, be happy we are not like other men, and so on. These are not the sort of thoughts that we think even intelligent creatures like dolphins or chimpanzees have. However, in this theory, our ability to do this would not mean that our neurons work differently than they do in other animals. We would still have “key interactions” like they do.
Therefore, in this theory, humans have “unconscious” thoughts, that are actually conscious experiences, but are not accessed or are not remembered by our self awareness. There are many thoughts going on in our heads, but only a few are accessible to our self awareness, and thus can be remembered by our self awareness. In this theory, these would correspond to molecular interactions with information encoded corresponding to our self awareness. Only those interactions properly encoded would become part of “our” thoughts in the self awareness sense. So when we catch a ball that is suddenly thrown at us “without thinking”, there are thoughts (corresponding to a sort of “key interaction” but without our main sense of self, our human self awareness) that led to the ball being caught, but they did not have our sense of self awareness encoded in them, so “we” (our self awareness) does not experience these thoughts. Just as I do not experience your thoughts.
It should be noted that I think the theory of “key interactions” presented here and how consciousness works within cell biology should be taken with a grain of salt, so to speak. I am far from an expert on cell biology, and I am simply trying to come up with a story about how consciousness might work within the confines of this theory. One confine is that each particle interaction has to correspond to some conscious experience. Another confine is that the only way (it seems to me at least) to assign the start and the stop of a quale is to make it correspond to a single particle interaction. Another confine is that memories and self awareness have to be part of the particle interaction somehow. One also has to come up with a way to cram alot in information inato a single particle interaction. Given these confines, the story above is the best I could come up with. How good of a story it is remains to be seen, and can probably be improved upon. I hope it is somewhat plausible, but I accept that it is quite likely it is not true, even if the central hypotheses of this essay are true.
As a final note for this section, note that this theory gives a solid definition of life, a way to distinguish life from non life. Simply stated, life incorporates reactions between molecules that reference past states, a sense of self, and sense data from outside or inside the body of an organism. No referencing of past states occurs in rocks, salt water, plasma in stars, gas clouds in space, and so on. Hence this seems to define life as a collection of bound together atoms that uses energy in order to maintain certain other energy states, and can reference past states, a sense of self, and sense data from outside the body of an organism during certain interactions in the body in order to obtain these certain energy states over time.
Such a solid definition of life (that does not depend on evolutionary considerations like replication capabilities of organisms and perhaps captures the essence of life more completely than evolutionary considerations) has never been offered before, to my limited knowledge. It also firmly denies that computers (as they are built today) are conscious, no matter how the computer behaves, simply because computers have no “key interactions” happening in them. More on this later.
To start towards a theory by which we can predict what qualia a person will experience, I imagine this first thing to do is to find a way to assign qualia to particle interactions.
One would simply generate the equations, and then assign a “uniqueness” tag to them. Similar situations get similar “uniqueness” tags. The equations do not need to be solved to see how the interaction comes out, I would guess.
Then one would have to identify a “key interaction” in a neuron or some similar concept. Hopefully those with a better grasp of cell biology can do this. Hopefully it is possible to do this, given how cell biology works. Then a qualia is assigned to such a “key interaction”. For instance, when we see “red”, we assume that the key interaction in a particular cell is generating a “red” qualia. Other qualia can be assigned to other “key interactions”, and the information content (what qualia is being represented) of such interactions will have to be understood. Then the “uniqueness” tags can be converted into predictions of qualia for all interactions. This seems like a tall order, for some sort of mathematics would have to relate an equation to a qualia, there should be some way of generating a proper quale from what an equation looks like, which sounds quite difficult. I would assume that the equation does not have to be solved, but a scheme is needed to assign a quale to an equation. If we can then, with knowledge of cell biology and how the brain works, predict what qualia will occur through this theory, then that would seem a test for this theory. This is all a tall order, of course.
If this works, we could then predict the qualia of other creatures, like bats, horses and paramecia, and rougly figure out what life is like for them. We could predict their qualia, but we would only be able to roughly compare it to our qualia. We could also predict the qualia of a atom of Silicon in a rock, but again, comparing it to our qulaia would be problematic.
What also needs to be done is to see if this key interaction scenario is plausible. I don’t know enough about cell biology to say either way. It doesn’t have to happen with a chemical reaction along a chain of chemical reactions, it could occur in microtubules or something else for all I know.
The other piece of evidence is if the theory works well as a model for the mind. If a model works in a way that is reminiscent of how we see our thoughts working, then this should count as evidence as well. What I mean here is that we have an idea of how our minds work, we witness a “world of thoughts” and so on. This all seems to happen in a particular way, and we evaluate what to do in a particular way. This should be replicated by whatever theory of consciousness we come up with. If the theory does not produce the correct mechanics of the mind, then it is suspect.
If the predictions of this theory bear out, should it be accepted? This is a good question. One expects that a brute force computing approach to modeling the brain with neurons should be capable of predicting our thoughts. Why not accept it as an explanation? A brute force approach seemingly explains nothing. If a simulation of a brain predicts what a brain will do, and predicts that someone will think about puppies in a field, (through matching previous verbal reports that people have reported when that brain state was achieved before) this prediction does not explain why it is happening, just predicts that it will happen. Whereas in this theory, the prediction comes with an explanation about consciousness and its place in nature.
Further, this theory (as I have naively developed it) would seem to be predicting conscious states based on specific internal states of individual neurons (which might be the right way to go about developing this theory or not), which is different than predicting what conscious state will be achieved through looking at a bunch of neurons at once. If it is the case that prediction can occur only through looking at a bunch of neurons at once, then this “nature has to calculate” theory is suspect.
Is this theory falsifiable? If it is not, then it is not a scientific theory, and not worth anything. The last paragraph shows one way in which it might be falsifiable.
Another way this theory could be falsified is if there is no “key” chemical reaction in a chain of chemical reactions in a cell. If there is no chemical reaction that could possibly encode the requisite information, then it seems like this theory is suspect. One might fall back on other structures in the cell, such as microtubules, but these might be ruled out too. Hence this theory seems falsifiable in terms of needing proper physical mechanisms in a cell to make it work.
The other way to falsify this theory is that, after finding a plausible mechanism, the qualia that one predicts from this mechanism do not occur, do not agree with verbal reports. Being able to test this seems a long way off, but it might be doable someday. Hence the theory seems falsifiable in its predictions.
(I) Consistancy with Quantum Mechanics
As above, a central idea of this essay is that the information available to particles determines what they will do. This seems to be an idea intrinsic to fields. When an electron encounters a magnetic field, it starts to spiral. Without the field, the theory goes, the electron would not spiral. The field has to “tell” the particle about the particles around it, otherwise the particle would not “know” about them.
When physics was first developed, Newton and others found it ridiculous that a planet should orbit the sun with no means of the sun “informing” the planet of its presence. Nevertheless, the gravitational equation seemed to call for this. It seemed common sense that something must “tell” the planet that the star is nearby, so that it can properly orbit.
This problem of “action at a distance” was only solved almost two centuries later by Faraday and his ideas about magnetic fields. Today, the “action at a distance” problem seems solved by the idea of gravitational fields, electromagnetic fields, quantum field theory, and what have you. The modern conception of fundamental physics seems to have seemingly empty space filled with various quantum fields, and particles like electrons and quarks are ongoing, travelling, vibrations of these fields. It seems that particles are informed of the presence and nature of other particles by passing particles between each other. For instance, photons (particles of light) pass between electrons, telling the electrons what to do, the photons mediate the electromagnetic force.
Quantum field theory works very well for the energy realm that we live in, which is not at all like the extreme environment of a black hole. However, what ultimately lies behind reality (whether or not the quantum field picture is right) is unknown.
Nevertheless, while it must be accepted that that the information available to particles partially determines what they will do, it is not clear that the information completely determines what a particle will do. An electron encountering a magnetic field will become “spin up” or “spin down” and be deflected accordingly. Which state it will “choose” cannot be determined beforehand, and a 50% probability can only be assigned to either state. While the 50% probablity part might be undetermined by the information available to the particle, the requirement that the particle become either spin up or spin down surely is determined by the information available to the particle. The question here is, though it must be accepted that we cannot determine beforehand what the electron will choose, is it completely determined by the information available to the particle? Or is it only partially determined, and some of it simply, mysteriously, undetermined. This question seems unresolved by modern quantum theory.
The assumption for the rest of this essay will be that a particle’s behavior is completely determined by the information avalaible to the particle. Basically, it does not seem credible for this theory, which postulates that particles must “calculate” (process information) via qualia in order to change state, that this only partially determines what a particle will do. Our own experience definitely suggest that our decisions completely determine our actions. Hence this theory (I think) is in accordance with both the Everett interpretation (which seems to postulate many parallel universes and a deterministic universe) of quantum mechanics, and the Bohmian interpretation (which seems to postulate faster than light information transfer, but not “true information”, and a deterministic universe). Interested readers are invited to look at these interpretations for themselves. Both of these interpretations seem to favour a deterministic worldview, despite the inherent unpredictability of quantum mechanics. That is, what is going on is determined, but not determinable. If the Everett interpretation is correct, then perhaps this calculation via qualia mechanism informs the particle what is going on in parallel universes, so it can make its “proper” choice. If the Bohmian interpretation is correct, then perhaps this calculation mechanism informs the particle of what very distant particles are doing, so it can make its “proper choice”.
In entanglement, the principle that the information available to particles determines what they do seemingly still holds. Entangled particles are affected instantaneously, even across light years, if their entangled partner is affected. One can argue that there is no field informing the particles of anything, nevertheless, the particles share the same wavefunction. Hence it still holds that the information available to particles determines what they do. One can also look at entanglement as if entangled particles are part of the same particle and affecting one affects the other. The principle that the information available to particles determines what they do seems to still hold in this interpretation as well.
That the information available to particles determines what they will do does not necessarily mean that particles actually “sense” their surroundings and then “decide” what to do, however it seems to imply it. Indeed, it seems to me that all accounts of quantum mechanics are rife with language that anthropomorphizes particles. There is talk of particles “deciding”, and “knowing” all over descriptions of quantum physics. It is assumed in these accounts, of course, that this is just a matter of language, and is an analogy. However, what if it is not? We are conditioned by education to assume that particle interactions are “automatic” processes between “dead” things, but what if this is not quite true? I hope its worth exploring this possibility, to see if it works.
If it is true that particles “sense” and “decide” in a manner consistent with physical laws, then this in turn implies that these are “conscious” decisions. It implies that they involve a quale, a moment of consciousness, an experience of something. Again, this is not definite, but it is suggestive.
Now, assuming this scenario (i.e. the central hypotheses of this essay) to be true, it seems it might be consistent with a perplexing part of quantum mechanics, namely the unpredictable, random nature of particle interactions. Assuming every particle “decides” what to do based on the information it can “sense”, then we can ask if any particle can “sense” what another particle can sense?
If the wavefunction of particles extends very far from the locus (or center) of the wavefunction, then very distant particles can influence the wavefunction of a particle. If so, then it would seem to follow (given the basically random distribution of matter in the universe) that the picture of the universe that one particle can “sense” is not the same as what another particle can “sense”.
Hence it would seem that the information available to a particle is not available to any other particle.
This would seem to follow from relativity as well. Each particle has its own “light cone”. It cannot access information from outside of its light cone. Hence, any particle not in the same position as particle A cannot and will never have the same information as particle A accessible to it. Further, any given particle is in a different location from every other particle. Hence it will “sense” a unique configuration of particles around it. No configuration will ever be the exactly the same for any given particle. If what the particle will “decide” to do depends sensitively on its distant environment, then, it seems, there should be no way to predict what it will do, as we cannot sense its environment. Considering that particles access “nonlocal” information about other particles, there is reason to suppose that each particle cannot “sense” the same thing that another particle can sense, if distant particles can affect significant changes to other particles.
Now, when we make a measurement of a particle interaction, it therefore follows that the instrument we use does not have access to the information that the particles we are detecting has. Hence there is no way to know what it will do, as we cannot “sense” what it can “sense”. We cannot detect what its wavefunction detects. The information of any instrument will necessarily be incomplete. Hence what the particle will do will be necessarily unpredictable. This assumes that the information the particle can “sense” determines what it will do. Hence what the particle will do is determined by the sum of information it can gather through its interactions with other wavefunctions, but it cannot be determined by us, as we will never be able to “sense” what it can “sense”. Though what the particle will do is determined, it is not determinable.
Therefore, the hypothesis of this essay appears to be consistent with one of the central features of quantum mechanics : the unpredictability of fundamental particle interactions. Also, the random nature of wave function collapse is explained if there are certain features of a particle that depend sensitively on the information available to the particle. Since every particle cannot detect what another particle can, and the value (like spin up or down) depends sensitively on the distant environment it can sense, random values seem reasonable. There are, of course, other features that it does not explain, such as why there are wavefunctions in the first place, superposition, and the like. Here it is simply assumed that a wavefunction is how nature allows particles to detect what is around it. Why a wavefunction exists in the first place in this worldview, I can’t say. It would be just the way nature does its “detecting”. That is all I can fathom.
I would note here that another way to understand this whole idea is that particles are always trying to behave as they “should”. Given their surroundings, they can sense what they “should” be doing, and compare this to what they are doing. Or perhaps a better way to phrase this is that they can sense how things “should” be going, and compare this to how things are actually going, then they adjust accordingly.
Perhaps the way to explain this is that particles are like a device that is a frequency comparator. It compares the frequency of what is going on versus the frequency the way it should be, and then adjusts itself accordingly to attain the right frequency. This is the action of consciousness, to compare “frequency” as it is with frequency as it “should” be, to become harmonious instead of discordant. Hopefully this is a comprehensive analogy.
Being no great physicist, I humbly hope that all this is not too far “off the rails” so to speak.
It seems quite interesting that, if you view particles this way: as some sort of primal “agents” that detect the world around them and “decide” what to do based on the information at hand; then this whole random uncertainty business of quantum mechanics seems understandable.
(II) What is consciousness?
What does this theory, if true, say about the nature of consciousness? What is consciousness in this theory?
Consciousness is the means by which particles determine what to do next.
Consciousness is a necessary part of nature in this theory, associated with each particle, or rather its wavefunction. Nature cannot proceed until a qualia is produced and a decision is made based on this qualia. Thus, consciousness is part of how the laws of nature work. Thus, consciousness is a determining thing in this theory. It helps determine what will happen.
As in the introduction, though the role of consciousness in nature is clear in this theory, it is not exactly clear what consciousness is in comparison to other things in nature, like mass and charge, though as in the introduction, this calculation mechanism is not a physical thing, since it acts upon all physical things. In this theory, consciousness would be visualized as something “immaterial” that permeates all space, that is activated whenever a particle changes state. Though whether or not this is the best way to picture it is not clear.
It is probably best to say this process happens instantaneously, since particles seem to change state instantaneously. However, perhaps qualia can be looked at as part of the build up from one change of state to the next (making it take up more time)? Since consciousness is the means by which particles calculate what to do next, and we detect no energy loss from state to state, this process of calculation via qualia appears to use no energy. This all seems reasonable in the context of this theory, and seems to give more a of picture of what consciousness is in comparison to other things. Hopefully, if this theory is true, all this can be cleared up.
It should be clear by now that though it would seem that the automatic hypothesis (that particles change state automatically, with no need to calculate what to do next) seems simpler on the face of it, it is by no means guaranteed that this is the case. It seems possible that there could be a calculation each and every time. Further, the automatic hypothesis only seems simpler if you ignore consciousness entirely.
If one postulates that all particles are “dead” and change state automatically, it is hard to see how one can then expect to explain the phenomenon of consciousness. Indeed, science seems to miss consciousness entirely, and seems to have no need for consciousness to explain anything. One can make the case that science, as it is approached today, ignores consciousness entirely (by assuming that all interactions are automatic between “dead” things) then people wonder why science has such trouble explaining consciousness.
Incorporating consciousness into reality as I have suggested might be the only way of fitting it in with what we know of science. If it is the only way to incorporate it into science, then this hypothesis must be true. If there is no way for consciousness to exist if you assume that all particle interactions are interactions between dead things, then this seems like the way forward. In fact Occam’s razor might support this hypothesis over the automatic hypothesis.
(III) Free Will?
If consciousness is a determining thing, what does this mean for our ideas of free will? What exactly the term “free will” means is far from clear. However, in this theory our decisions cause things to happen, even if our decisions are predictable and inevitable. We are a determining thing in this theory, insofar as “we” can be identified with our consciousness. In some sense, physical laws determine what we will do in this theory, but since we are physical laws (in some sense), it is not something else determining what we will do in theory, it is us. More specifically, since consciousness is the means by which particles determine what to do next, it is a causal factor in what happens as particles change state.
Just to clarify a bit, I should note that predictability does not mean “determined by something else”. Suppose you go to a car lot to buy a used car. You talk to and deal with one salesman, and are observed by another salesman. The salesman who observes you has no contact with you, you don’t even know he’s there. Nevertheless he takes note of what you say, what you dress like, and correctly predicts what car you will buy, and even what price you will settle on. He’s very experienced and smart. You end up doing exactly what he predicts. Does this mean he determined (caused) what you did? Obviously not.
What this means is that the ability to predict what will happen does not necessarily have anything to do with what determines things to happen. Thus, even though what particles will “decide” what to do in a way that is predictable, that does not make it determined by something else. They are still self determined.
Most theories of consciousness seem to categorize consciousness as “causally inert”. In Emergentism, Functionalism, Materialsm, and even traditional Panpsychism, consciousness is a useless by-product of some brain process, or a useless add on to matter, with no causal powers. This is in contrast to our direct experience of consciousness determining what we action we take. This is of course a problem with most theories of consciousness, but it is not a problem for this theory, as consciousness has a role in nature in this theory. It is not causally inert in this theory.
Hence this theory seems to agree with our intuitive notion that we have “free will”, though I emphasize again that the “free will” question is highly ambiguous. If the “free will” question asks if we (our consciousness) are a determining thing, then the answer is “yes” in this theory.
The only other theory of consciousness that seems to give consciousness a causal role in nature would seem to be dualism. However, dualism has the “mental realm” affecting the “physical” in a way that is not in agreement with physical laws if consciousness is not causally inert, which cannot be true. If consciousness in dualism affects the physical world in a way consistent with physical laws, then either consciousness is causally inert again in dualism, or such a dualist theory is a very similar theory to the central theory of this essay.
Thus, it would seem that this theory is the only theory of consciousness yet come up with that gives consciousness a determining role in nature and is consistent with physics. If it is the only theory possible to do both these things, then this seems a very strong argument for this theory.
Is consciousness “immaterial” in this theory? It is hard to know what this question means. Certainly there seems to be an immaterial aspect to consciousness in this theory, as it is part of how the laws of nature work, and the laws of nature are immaterial, if anything is. At the same time, qualia is associated with the wavefunction of particles, so they seem to have a sort of physical existence as well. If it is true (as this theory proposes) that consciousness is part of the calcualtion mechanism by which particles figure out what to do next, that would imply a sort of immaterial calculation mechanism, as we simply don’t see one when we observe particles. All in all, perhaps the idea of material vs. immaterial is not a great distinction. It is hard to know what to say to this question, other than, “probably yes and no at the same time”.
(VI) Combination Problem?
This theory is similar to panpsychism, but, as above, is also a little different. Nevertheless, the same problem that faces panpsychism, the “combination problem”, seems to apply to this theory. However, this theory solves the combination problem handily, as long as this theory is true.
The “combination problem” is simply the question: if every bit of matter has “mental properties”, then presumably simple bits of matter, like electrons, have “simple” experiences, and things like us humans have more “complex” experiences (complex is not a good word, all experiences are quite simple, but the chains of experiences of a human are not) and meaningful experiences, and somehow things like baseballs have simple experiences not like us humans? How is this possible? How do “simple” thoughts combine into “complex” thoughts? How do they add up?
This question seems addressable in this theory. As above, the solution presented here is that while ordinary particle interactions reference no memories or a sense of self, there are certain special interactions in living cells that can. This seems to solve the combination problem, as well as perhaps open up an area of research, where we can figure out how to assign qualia to certain particle interactions. If this is successful, we should be able to test the predictions of this theory.
It should be also noted that this theory also solves another pressing problem for panpsychism, namely : how do you determine the start and stop of qualia? I am not well versed in the volumes of philosophical writing that are produced every year, but I have not seen anyone ask this question. Nevertheless, it seems a good question for panpsychism, or any mental theory. Qualia do not last forever, they are fleeting. By what mechanism in matter do they start and stop?
If your theory of mind cannot answer this question, the theory should be regarded with skepticism. Happily, this theory has a natural stop and start point for qualia, it is simply identified with the start and stop of a change of state for a particle or a molecule. Thus this unrecognized (I think) problem is also solved.
It is interesting that this theory implies a sort of minimum subjectivity to each moment of qualia during each change of state of a particle. Though most particle interactions do not reference memories or a sense of self or sense data from outside an organism, there is nevertheless a sensing of something, and some sort of purpose in every particle interaction. The only way to interpret this, that I can see, is that each particle must sense out its own place in the grand scheme of things, and act accordingly, given its innate sense of the way things ought to be. That each particle has information about every other particle seems implied by Bohmian mechanics. So if each particle has information about what all the other particles in the universe are doing, and changes state to put itself in the proper state to be harmonious with everything. This raises the interesting question of whether or not the information it has is always correct, or often in error?
Given that this theory seems testable, whether or not it is true should be determined by testing it, and not philosophical arguments, which are far less reliable. Nevertheless, let us look at the philosophical arguments.
The nice thing about this theory is that it seems to work consistently and well as an explanation for consciousness. With some basic ideas, I am able to formulate a consistent story for what consciousness is, explain how our consciousness differs from that of non-living matter, give it a role in nature, and solve the combination problem. The theory gives us a form of free will, is immaterial and consistent with science, and might even explain some puzzling features of Quantum Mechanics. This seems to me like a success, at least we, or at least, I, know what a theory of consciousness might look like, even if all this is wrong.
I cannot find the reference, but I remember reading that some heavyweight philosopher once said “We don’t even know what a theory of consciousness might look like”. Well, we have that problem no longer, even if this theory is wrong.
Further, this theory seems to agree with many of our intuitions about consciousness, which should be a mark in its favor. Our intuition suggests consciousness is immaterial, and it is immaterial in this theory, whatever immaterial means. Our intuition suggests that matter has no consciousness, and while in this theory, matter has some sort of consciousness, it does not have a consciousness like ours, with memories and a sense of self. Our intuition suggests that our wants and needs cause our bodies to do certain things, this theory agrees.
Basically, the theory works well with our intuition, which should be a mark in its favor.
Another nice thing about this theory is that nothing new needs to be found. There is no need for new physics, no need for new discoveries to explain consciousness. It has been under our noses, so to speak, the whole time, we just haven’t recognized what it could be until now.
Other arguments for this idea include the following:
(I) There is no other way to give consciousness a causal role in nature and have it be consistent with physics.
There are good reasons to believe that science is not compatible with our knowledge that consciousness exists. If one just looks at neurons in a brain from a scientific perspective and what they do to process information, there is no reason to think that consciousness exists in this perspective. We only know consciousness exists from our personal knowledge, not from scientific investigation.
With such profound difficulties, this hypothesis, that nature must calculate via qualia, might be the only scheme by which we can incorporate consciousness into the scientific worldview. Whatever hypothesis we come up with, it must be consistent with what we know of science. This hypothesis does that. The correct theory of consciousness must be a part of nature, have some relationship to the rest of nature. It must have a causal role. This theory does that as well.
Is there any other way consciousness might exist in nature? There might not be.
We’ve got something that we know exists: consciousness. We know it seems to do things, it evaluates, it makes us do what we evaluate. There is an unending and perfect correlation between our thinking that we ought to do something, and our trying to do it. There seems to be overwhelming evidence from our personal experience that consciousness has some sort of causal role. It decides what we do, it causes action.
How firm is the fact that consciousness is a determining thing? It seems very solid, yet the only evidence comes from our minds, and there is no way to confirm it with measurement. The only way to doubt this is to say that the apparent causal role is all an illusion. However, this would be very weird. Why would consciousness exist, just to fool us? Why would nature appear to use something, just to have it all be an illusion? Nature can be strange, but it is not that strange. Hence, that consciousness is a determining thing seems a very strong fact. One could object by saying that we cannot scientifically back this up, but it is outside the realm of science, and it seems pretty well undoubtable.
So, we have one condition for a proper theory of mind:
(1) Consiousness must have a causal role in nature. It is not causally inert, it is a determining thing.
Another condition is:
(2) The action of consciousness must be consistent with what we know of physics.
At the energy levels of particles in the brain, we seem to have reliable knowledge of the relevant physics. We can now know the properties (strength, conductivity, etc) of new materials before they are made for the first time. We must be doing something right. Our theories are quite successful in this energy regime, and whatever consciousness does, its action must be consistent with these known laws.
How can (1) and (2) be reconciled? Obviously, the central theory of this essay reconciles (1) and (2). Logically, if it is the only way to reconcile these two facts, then this is a very strong argument for this theory. Conclusive even.
Thus we have:
(3) The “Nature has to Calculate” theory of consciosuness is the only way to reconcile (1) and (2).
And the conclusion:
(4) The “Nature has to Calculate” theory of consciousness is necessarily correct
As above, other contenders for a theory of consciousness, such as Functionalism, Materialism, traditional Panpsychism (not this theory), some versions of Dualism, Emergentism, etc. make consciousness causally inert. While there is a chance this is true, the theory should at least be able to say why it is not. Yet none of these theories can come close to even saying why it is not. There is no explanation in any of these as to why consciousness is causally inert, it is just assumed, contrary to our own experience.
So, at the least, none of these theories can reconcile (1) and (2). As above, the only other theory that might be able to is dualism, but it has to be a dualism that is consistent with physics, and if it is, then it is a dualism that is basically the central theory of this essay. This theory is hard to categorize into traditional theories of consciousness. It is close to panpsychism, but it also seems to have elements of Dualism, given its immaterial aspects, it also has an element of Emergentism, since our sort of consciousness emerges out of simpler experiences of qualia.
Hence, it seems this is the only theory that can reconcile (1) and (2). As long as consciousness is not causally inert, that makes this theory true. The only way is to find another theory that can reconcile (1) and (2) besides this theory, and options seem limited. At least I can see none.
(II) Science will never find consciousness.
A related argument to the above argument is the following, also based on the idea that consciousness has a causal role in nature, it is not causally inert.
In science, what sort of things can have a causal role? The basic model for physics is to find rules (physical laws) for the behavior of matter and to find the aspects of matter which obey these physical laws (rules).
The things which obey physical laws that we have discovered include mass, forces, length, time, charge, charm, etc. The rules we have discovered include conservation of momentum, energy, etc.
What seems to play a causal role in physics is the physical laws (rules). This is not exactly true. Rules do not cause things to happen, rather whatever is going on to make the rule true plays the causal role (the “something” I mentioned above. Thus, it is more correct to say that whatever is going on to make physical laws work the way they do is playing the causal role. What exactly this is, is not exactly clear.
Particles bounce off of each other, and the way in which they will bounce off is determinable by the conservation of momentum. So it seems that the conservation of momentum plays some sort of causal role, and physical laws play a causal role in general. However, it obviously more correct to say that the “something” in nature that makes it so momentum is conserved is the thing playing the causal role. But we don’t have much of an idea what this thing is.
Considering the way science is set up, with mathematical rules and things which obey the rules, is there any other thing that could possibly play a causal role in science? It appears not. To be certain, forces can be said to cause things to move, charge causes things to attract or repel, but as for the cause of the way in which events will unfold, physical laws (rather the thing behind them) are the cause of the manner in which events will unfold. Without them, events would be different.
Now, consciousness also plays a causal role in our actions, our movements. Consciousness has causal properties as well.
Thus we have two competing things which cause events to come out the way they do. Thus there will be an inevitable tension. This comes from the nature of physics itself, where we seek mathematical rules and things which follow the rules.
Thus it seems inevitable that a theory of consciousness that seeks to be compatible with science will relegate consciousness to be causally inert. The action of consciousness will be necessarily seen as a rule or the action of a bunch of rules when viewed through the lens of science. It is impossible to find something else which causes things using science, because science will necessarily “see” this other thing as a rule.
If this is true, science can never “find” consciousness, it will always “see” it as a rule. Thus there is a natural incompatibility with science and consciousness.
The only solution, then, is to say that some rules (physical laws) and consciousness are one and the same. This is roughly what this theory does.
By declaring that whenever a particle changes state, a moment of consciousness must occur, it seems I am taking the only possible path to reconcile the causal nature of consciousness and the causal nature of physical laws.
Hence this theory seems to be the only way forward.
(III) Consciousness ought to be everywhere.
For some reason our brains (and most likely the brains of other animals) have consciousness associated with them. Our brains are just collections of particles. They are composed of protons and neutrons with electrons in orbitals around them, bonded together in various ways through electron interactions. There is nothing special about them compared to particles outside the brain. If these particles have qualia associated with them, why not other particles? Even further, particles in our brains are interchangeable with others. We lose some carbon atoms out of our bodies, and they are replaced by others. Nothing in us changes. Hence there is nothing special about the particles in our brains.
So either all particles have consciousness associated with them, or something special occurs in brains and neurons that produces consciousness. If something special occurs in neurons and brains, then either there is a latent capacity for consciousness in all particles, that is “awoken” in the brain, or there is no such latent capacity intrinsic to matter, and consciousness is entirely produced in the brain and is absolutely nowhere else, even in a potential form.
The idea that consciousness is not even in a potential form outside of brains seems suspect. If there is no potential for it, how does it occur? So there must be a latent capacity for it everywhere, or it is occurring everywhere.
This is all related to discussions of whether or not consciousness is an “emergent” phenomenon or not. Many have written on the subject of emergence, and the argument being presented here is similar to that put forth by Nagel (1979) for panpsychism. I do not see the point of going into a lengthy discussion here, but I will say the following:
First, it seems that any “emergent” phenomenon is derivable from fundamental matter, even if we canot figure out how to do it. “Wetness” or liquidity is derivable form the structure of, say, Hydrogen and Oxygen, and how they should combine to form a molecule. Even if we cannot figure out how to do it (we actually can, but suppose we cannot), that does not mean it magically appears and is not in some potential form in the structure of its atoms. Our lack of capacity to figure this out does not mean it appears out of nowhere. There is no “emergent” phenomenon that is not in potential form in fundamental matter. Acidity, liquidity, etc. are all derivable from the basic structure of matter. Thus consciousness must also be in “potential” form in basic matter.
Second, consciousness must be fundamental to nature. It has unique qualities that are simply not found in the “physical” world. We don’t detect conscious experiences, and neither can we measure politics, ethics, meaning, etc. Yet these things exist, and exist, (at least partially) because of consciousness. With all these unique properties, consciousness must be fundamental to nature. It cannot be an emergent phenomenon, because it produces things utterly untouched by science.
Carrying on with this assumption that consciousness is associated with all particles everywhere – which is actually really quite reasonable, as there is nothing special about the particles in our brains – one then might ask: what is consciousness for? We know that our minds exist for evaluation. We evaluate in order to have a good life. We decide what to do. Qualia, sensations, consciousness, are here to aid in this evaluation. Why else have a mind except for evaluation? When we think, we consider information, and we decide what to do. For some reason qualia is a part of this process. It appears we wouldn’t work without it.
Thus if all particles must have consciousness associated with them, and consciousness exists as a part of our evaluation process, then it must be a part of every particle’s “evaluation process”.
(1) There is nothing special or unusual about the particles in our brains.
(2)Whatever properties the particles in our brains have must be shared with identical particles outside the brain.
(3) The particles in our brains have consciousness associated with them.
(4) All particles identical to the ones in our brains must have consciousness associated with them.
This is actually a strong argument. The conclusion follows from the premises, and the premises are true. One way around it is to deny that the particles in our brains are typical ones, which is false. One of the hallmarks of modern physics is that each fundamental particle is absolutely identical to other particles. All quarks are exactly alike, so are electrons, and so on.
The other way to deny this is to appeal to “complexity” or the unique “configuration” of the brain, something like that. Something “arises” out of the complexity of the brain. The particles have the potential for consciousness, but do not manifest it until they get “complex”. Note that even if this is true, Conclusion (4) is still correct, as consciousness is still associated with particles, just in a potential form. As before, the point of this essay is not to delve deeply into the issue or “emergence”, of which much has been written.
A better objection would be to say that “wetness” does not exist at the atomic level, but it emerges from the configuration of atoms, like Hydrogen and Oxygen. Therefore, it is not true that “whatever properties exist in the particles in our brains must exist outside our brains”. If “wetness” does not exist in particles at all, but only in the configuration of particles, we do not have to accept premise (2).
As a response, one could say (as above) that “wetness” does exist in atoms, at least in a potential form, since we can derive liquidity from the fundamental interaction of atoms. If so, (and this seems reasonable), then premise (2) is sound, at least for “potential” things.
However, if consciousness only exists in a potential form outside of brains, one might ask : how does being in a brain “unlock” the potential for consciousness that must be in every fundamental particle? Surely the environment of the brain is not that special that then and only then will particles manifest their potential for consciousness. It seems more likely that all particles everywhere must have some sort of consciousness.
(5) Consciousness exists to help evaluate what to do for an organism.
(6) Given (4), all particles must use consciousness to “evaluate” what they should do.
Again a strong argument. The premises are true, and the conclusions follow. As long as consciousness is not in a “dormant” form outside of brains, this seems like a good argument.
(IV) The infallibility of consciousness.
Of course people can be irrational and make mistakes, however, there seems to be an element of infallibility in our conscious processes. How else to explain this infallibility besides our consciousness being a part of the laws of nature, which are also infallible?
For instance, suppose a motorcyclist drives far too fast down a residential street. This is irrational behavior, she could get hurt or kill someone. However, the motorcyclist is young and probably thinks there is zero chance anything bad will happen, and riding fast is fun. If the world worked the way the motorcyclist thinks it does (it doesn’t, but suppose it did) then her decision would be rational. It seems that as long as the world works the way we think it does (which sometimes doesn’t happen) we always make rational decisions. We are infallible in this sense.
It seems you can do this with any irrational behavior. A schizophrenic man climbs a skyscraper because he thinks that aliens will destroy the earth if he doesn’t. If the world actually worked that way, he would be a hero.
This is probably the reason we can rely on humans who do mathematical proofs. If there was not this infallibility component to consciousness, we would not trust verified mathematical proofs. When we make a mathematical mistake, we forget a rule, or our brains temporarily think the wrong rule applies, or we can forget to write down a term. However, if we go over it carefully, we can always trust it. Hence there is some component of infallibility. As long as our minds are clearly going from one mathematical step to another, we trust the result. How else can we explain this infallibility except that our consciousness goes through an infallible process? Neuronal processes are not infallible (hence the source of our mistakes), but a process that decides what nature will do next is infallible.
Can Computers be Conscious in this Theory?
Can a computer be conscious? In this theory, it would depend on how the computer works.
Though every particle interaction involves some sort of moment of consciousness, would there be the sort of consciousness we experience occurring in a computer?
If the “key interaction” scenario is true, it would seem that the answer is no. A computer works by shuffling electrons (and “electron holes”) around circuits. Currents go through various pathways, and, as a result, run programs. There is no one moment when an electron encounters a complex field that represents the memory of the computer and the situation it is in, and a sense of self and thus makes a calculation that involves qualia like we experience. It is just shuffling and more shuffling. Though the computer stores information, qualia would not occur against the backdrop of memories as it does in an organism. Thus the moments of consciousness within a computer are nothing to speak of, they are not like the ones that occur in cells, they are like the ones that occur in rocks. They are a “step by step” procedure, not an “all at once” evaluation that is made when a molecule changes state. They are probably like experiencing black, then grey, then black, over and over. This seems true even if a computer is used to calculate the actions and speech of a robot made to interact and fool humans into thinking the robot is alive. A computer that passes the Turing test is not conscious in this theory. The ability to fool people into thinking you are a moose by wearing a moose costume does not make you a moose. The ability of a computer to fool people into thinking the computer is a living, thinking, thing, does not make the computer a living, thinking, thing.
If computers were built differently, more like a cell, with molecules doing the calculations in an “all at once” fashion, then they would be conscious like us.
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