continue to map correlations between neurological and mental events.
But subjectivity per se seems to originate at another
quantum and gravitational events.
Normal science has no coherent
theory to account for conscious experience.
as science attempts to say something about consciousness, it
proposes that subjective experience emerges from neurological
processes—somehow—when those processes cross a threshold of complexity.
But such a model concedes, essentially, that consciousness is a miracle—it
just happens. And nobody has figured out how to figure out where the requisite threshold of neurological complexity lies or why any such threshold should exist.
Approaching from another direction, some commentators deny that consciousness exists at all. To this school, consciousness is
just another name for certain neurophysiological processes. It does not
signify anything distinct from the observable chemistry of the brain.
Nothing extra-chemical is occurring, so there is no warrant for a separate term. Consciousness is not a scientific
or a philosophical problem for this school; it's just a linguistic confusion.
No one should be surprised that a scientific fringe finds these approaches unsatisfying.
Some dissenters have turned from cell biology and neurochemistry to quantum
physics as a way to approach the relationship between the
brain and subjective experience. They might be onto something.
and the Psychical
In the world of everyday objects, unlike in the quantum world, objects occupy physical space. They have measurable dimensions.
A thing exists physically if it has height, length, and depth. It actually is something if
it possesses mass and persists for some duration—or if it exhibits frequency and wavelength. This is normal, positivist science.
philosophy sees the world differently. It sees the physical world
as the observable expression of unobservable, underlying, metaphysical
forms. These Platonic Forms occupy a dimension outside of space and time. They have
no height. No weight. No age. Nonetheless, they influence
the forms of physical objects. This is normal
forms, or potentials, include mathematical forms. The laws of
trigonometry, for example, describe quantitative relationships among
the sides and angles of triangles. Platonism points out that the
relationships operate independently of any particular triangle or set
of triangles that one could draw or otherwise pinpoint in the physical
potentials also include qualitative forms, such as the concepts of "possible" and "opposite," which
exist independently of any particular possibility or pair of opposites. The observables of the physical world are derivative of such metaphysical forms.
Researchers in the field of quantum physics
have been studying the emergence of physical phenomena from something like a
Platonic dimension by watching it happen—that
is, by studying quanta. And this work has promising implications for the brain/mind problem. The
quantum understanding of physical reality undercuts the classical "billiard
ball" model of particles derived from the mechanics of Isaac
Newton. The model of atoms as solid particles bouncing off each
other in the void, or relating to one another through chemical bonds, has its utility. But it is an incomplete model; it ignores what goes on inside the billiard balls. The science that concerns itself with subatomic particles, quantum mechanics, describes subatomic particles
as being very unbilliard-ball-like.
In the subatomic
quantum world a phenomenon of interest can be here now and there then without ever passing
through the intervening space. Quantum phenomena can even "tunnel"—leap
over thermodynamic barriers and land upstream, against the flow of
entropy, without ever occupying the intervening space. Quantum tunneling
occurs, for example, in certain nuclear reactions inside stars.
of Quantum Tunneling with Reference to Stellar Nucleosynthesis
location in the quantum world isn't specified until that thing, or quantum,
interacts with its environment in a way that pins it down. Before that,
it's smeared out, occupying an indeterminate spacetime position, or what
is called a superposition. Each location that it might have
carries a certain probability of the thing being found there. But where
it actually turns up—where it appears as a measurable event in the determinate
universe—might depend on where it decides to show up. Quanta
in this sense are "organisms," as the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead
used the term. Their state at any given time is dependent not only on
the dictates of their environment, but also on their subjective prehensions
of other organisms, past events, and what Whitehead
called "Eternal Objects"—essentially Platonic forms.
by which an indeterminate quantum potential is reduced to an determinate
event, the so-called collapse of the state vector, is a mysterious
occurrence. Its outcome is noncomputable. It cannot be predicted with
certainty, but only in terms of probabilities. So the question arises
as to how nature translates its potentials—the set of possible
that subset that actually occurs. And the answer to that question, the star larvae hypothesis supposes, reveals essential aspects of the brain/mind relationship.
far the most important manifestation of Einstein's midlife transition
from a revolutionary to a conservative was his hardening attitude
toward quantum theory, which in the mid-1920s produced a radical
new system of mechanics. His qualms about this new quantum mechanics,
and his search for a unifying theory that would reconcile it with
relativity and restore certainty to nature, would dominate—and
to some extent diminish—the second half
of his scientific career. "
And that answer hauls in that other revolution in modern physics, relativity
theory. Einstein’s theories of relativity contribute their own brand of weirdness
to the undermining of the billiard-ball model. The faster a thing moves,
in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the heavier it gets
and the slower it ages; achieving the speed of light, an object has infinite
mass and experiences no duration of time whatsoever (which is why it never
happens—the only things that travel that fast are photons, massless "particles.") In one understanding of Einstein’s theory, the masses
of objects distort spacetime, the magnitude of the distortion providing a measure of an object's mass, or gravity. In this way of visualizing
the theory, the gravity of a black hole is so concentrated that it not
only stretches spacetime, but punctures it.
or later nuclear physics and the psychology of the unconscious
will draw closer together as both of them, independently of one another
and from opposite directions, push forward into transcendental territory,
the one with the concept of the atom, the other with that of the archetype."
as quantum mechanics and relativity theory have expanded our understanding of nature,
these triumphs of twentieth-century physics have yet to be stitched together
into a comprehensive model.
of such a Grand Unified Theory has taken a strange turn lately, as the
eminent British mathematician Sir Roger Penrose has proposed a model of physics that
accounts for subjective, conscious experience in terms of quantum-gravitational
events. And the mechanism he proposes might characterize the inner workings
of stars as well as the inner workings of brains.
to those who advocate emergent models of consciousness, Penrose proposes that
consciousness is fundamental to the physical world. Like the
philosopher Whitehead, Penrose rejects the idea that consciousness per
se is reducible to deterministic processes of biochemistry.
and Objective Reduction
physics of subjectivity, consciousness "emerges" from the complexity of
brain activity in the sense in which water emerges from the complexity
of a well-digger's activity. Well digging doesn't reach a threshold of
complexity beyond which water spontaneously appears. Diggers tap existing
water and figure out how to bring it to the surface. Biological evolution
has figured out how to tap consciousness and bring it to the surface.
Penrose-Hameroff model of consciousness, developed by Penrose in collaboration
with University of Arizona anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, grew out
of Penrose's foray into the artificial intelligence (AI) debate. Proponents
of "strong AI" propose that a sufficiently complex arrangement of computer circuits, running a
sufficiently complex software program, would exhibit consciousness for the same reason
that the complex circuitry of a human brain exhibits consciousness.
The strong AI argument regards consciousness as an emergent property
of complex, high-speed computation.
this argument in principle. Consciousness is not reducible to computation,
he contends, no matter how fast or complex the computations. His argument hinges in part on the ability
of human minds to discern the truth or falsity of certain mathematical
propositions that cannot be proven true or false within the formal rules
of mathematics. Presumably, a programmed computer, its program moving
in lockstep with formalized rules of logic and mathematics, could not
calculate, or apperceive, the truth or falsity of these types of mathematical
statements. Their verification is noncomputable. They are not algorithmically
verifiable. Therefore, if brains are complex computers, which is the model
that currently dominates cognitive science, then mind must be more than
brain. Or at least, mind must be more than the purely chemical activity
of the brain, which constitutes the signal-processing circuitry that underlies
the brain-as-computer model. Penrose concludes that quantum events, with
their indeterminate character, rather than theoretically computable chemical
events, are the more likely source of consciousness.
Philosopher John Searle defends quantum consciousness, philosophically.
Penrose-Hameroff model of OrchOR
model of consciousness, orchestrated objective
reduction (OrchOR), is predicated on the existence of coherent quantum states
that span multiple neurons and persist long enough to attain a self-collapse
threshold; they collapse under the influence of their own gravity.
The sustained coherence of the indeterminate quantum state—the superposition—which
in the Penrose-Hameroff model presages consciousness, is made possible,
according to the model, by special conditions inside cellular structures
These structures compose the cytoskeleton of the cell, whch plays a key role in cell division. They also compose the transport appendages, cilia and flagella, of certain microbes.
In brain cells, however, microtubules
perform neither of these functions. Penrose and Hameroff argue that
these tubular structures host states of quantum superposition that grow until they self-collapse.
This process, which Penrose and Hameroff call "objective reduction," is
distinct from the collapse of quantum indeterminate states that occurs
under the influence of external factors. In objective reduction, a superposition's own gravity causes its collapse.
are weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert
substances. They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities
according to the laws of quantum mechanics. It appears that mind, as manifested
by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every atom."
excerpt from his Templeton Prize acceptance speech, 2001
self-collapse of a quantum indeterminacy that spans many neurons is a determinate
physical event, each such collapse itself being the physical correlate of a
particular subjective experience. In other words, in this model consciousness
is quantized. It occurs as a sequence of discrete events in rapid succession.
Instances of subjectivity can, in this model, vary by magnitude in proportion
to the mass of their originating quantum superpositions. The notion is
similar to Whitehead's discrete occasions of experience.
a rough summary of the
model proposed by Penrose and Hameroff. The model is controversial
and continues to attract critics. Nonetheless, it remains a promising candidate
for a description of the interface between the physical and mental worlds.
The model implies a scale of consciousness, from rudimentary forms of
sensation that define the experience of simple organisms to the apprehensions
of the sublime of which human minds are capable, the qualitative and quantitative
differences being attributable to differences
in the numbers of microtubules that participate in the objective reduction.
In the OrchOR model, the magnitude of
potential consciousness might not be directly proportional to brain size,
but the two variables should correlate to some degree.
And in this model,
the particles that are given determinate existence by the collapse of
the superposition are electrons associated with the molecular components
subconscious mind is to consciousness what the quantum world is
to the classical world."
But if particles more massive than electrons could be
held in superposition long enough to undergo objective reduction, then
the corresponding conscious experience would be proportionately further
along the scale of magnitude. Implicit also in the Penrose-Hameroff model
is the possibility of structures other than biological cells managing
the process of objective reduction.
Charles Hartshorne takes a conventional view, in Philosophers
Speak of God,
but veers into a relevant, creative conjecture:
to contemporary theories, the sun is wasting away its own matter. Above
all, if the sun receives nothing in return from its effects, this
is precisely because it is blind and unconscious; otherwise, the
spectacle of life on Earth would mean an immense aesthetic content
streaming back to the sun!"
might have been too eager to dismiss his own speculation.
to the quantum tunneling of protons
inside stars, the Penrose-Hameroff model provides a theoretical foundation
for stellar consciousness. Considering the mass of a proton relative
to that of an electron, a difference of more than 1000 to 1, and the
number of protons available to participate in objective reduction inside
stars, a (highly speculative) case can be made that
stars are not only conscious, but superconscious. Biologist and independent researcher Rupert Sheldrake also has speculated on the possibility that stars are conscious entities. MP3 audio file of his talk on this subject to the Gaia Network, at the Royal Geological Society in London in December 2015, is HERE. The star larvae hypothesis speculates, more boldly, that stellar
consciousness is a strong candidate for the sentience ascribed to the astral entities of the religious imagination.
Author and entrepreneur Gregory Sams argues for a conscious sun.
of quantum models of consciousness points out that quantum
superpositions in the brain would not be sustainable for the requisite durations, because the brain is a warm, thermally "noisy" environment,
and quantum coherence requires a relatively noiseless, cold environment.
(Penrose and Hameroff address the objection HERE.) This criticism would seem to dampen the prospects for stellar consciousness,
unless stars, like refrigerators, are heat pumps that cool their
an active heat-pumping mechanism has been identified in stars, or at least
mechanisms have been proposed, to explain what seems to be an active
transport of energy from inside a star to its surface. In "The
Paradox of the Sun’s Hot Corona" (Scientific American,
June, 2001) authors Bhola Dwivedi and Kenneth J. H. Phillips describe
research into the possible mechanisms behind an observed reversal of the
sun’s heat gradient at the chromosphere. Moving outward from the
chromosphere to the corona, increasingly far from the core, temperatures
steadily rise, a paradox that suggests that the sun's metabolism actively
pumps heat from its inner to its outer layers. This observation establishes that
heat in stars is transmitted not only by the passive modes of conduction,
convection, and radiation, but also by active transport. As the authors
conclude, "Even as one mystery begins to yield to our concerted efforts,
others appear. The sun and other stars, with their complex layering, magnetic
fields, and effervescent dynamism, still manage to defy our understanding." (more
researchers have identified spicules, jets of plasma, as the likely mechanism responsible for the heat transport. News
release is HERE.)
An additional mechanism that might cool stellar cores is the Ranque effect, in
which a rotating gas heats up at its periphery while its interior cools
along the axis of rotation. Researcher
Renzo Boscoli describes this effect and applies it to stellar metabolism.
It's a highly speculative application of the Ranque effect, but intriguing
for its relevance to the prospect of stellar consciousness. Says Boscoli, ". . . due to a constant Ranque effect I see no reason why the centre
[of a star] would not continue to cool towards absolute zero." If
the effect can produce such extreme cold, so much the better are prospects
for quantum-derived stellar consciousness.
psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and
moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest
on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible
but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different
aspects of one and the same thing."
Hawking process, the Penrose-Hameroff objective reduction model describes
an interaction between quantum mechanics and gravity. The star larvae
hypothesis leverages the Penrose-Hameroff model not only to suggest that
stars are conscious, but also to lay the theoretical foundation for an industry of proton
manufacturing. In theory, Hawking radiation could be used to manufacture protons by exploiting the quantum peculiarity sometimes
called called the observer effect. The effect has to do with
the ability of observers to influence the outcome of quantum reduction.
Choose Something Like a Star (1916)
"O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud—
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid."
superposition collapses into a determinate
event by one of two routes, either by the proposed objective reduction
process of the Penrose-Hameroff model or by the interference of
environmental influences. A peculiarity of research in quantum physics
is the discovery that human subjectivity seems capable of acting as such
an environmental influence. It appears that, by selecting a particular
mode or frequency of observation, an experimenter can influence the result
of the collapse of quantum superpositions.
In one example,
Wayne Itano and colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and
Technology placed a system of atoms in an irradiated environment
that normally, after a given period of time, would have caused some of
the atoms to move into an "excited" state by way of a quantum-mechanical
process. However, by observing the system with sufficient frequency,
they prevented any of the atoms from moving into the excited state. For
any given observation, the probability was overwhelming that no atoms
would have changed state, and by making observations frequently enough,
the occurrence of at least some atoms transitioning was postponed potentially
indefinitely. Each observation effectively sets the clock back to zero.
This effect is known as the Quantum
Zeno Effect and has been verified experimentally as recently as 2015.
Physicist Fred Alan Wolf summarizes the implications of this and similar
experiments, "Intent, through our powers of observation, actually
modifies and alters the course of the physical world and causes things
to occur that would not normally occur." This observation implies that conscious
intent has some power to skew quantum events in desired directions. The
observer effect seems to be the result of selective decision making by mind. And by such means, indeterminate,
probabilistic, noncomputable quantum processes, potentially including Hawking
radiation, can in theory be influenced toward desired outcomes, such
as the production of protons preferentially to other types of particles.
his career the physicist Erwin Schroedinger turned his attention to issues
of biology. In a small but influential book entitled What
he took a step toward a humanistic appropriation of the miraculous when
he reasoned as follows:
us see whether we cannot draw the correct non-contradictory conclusion
from the following two premises:
(i) My body functions as a pure mechanism according to the Laws of Nature.
(ii) Yet I know, by incontrovertible direct experience, that I am directing
my motions [. . .]
The only possible inference from these two facts is, I think, that
in the widest meaning of the word, that is to say, every conscious mind
that has ever said or felt "I"—am the person, if any,
that controls the 'motion of the atoms' according to the Laws of Nature."
So what developments
await brains and minds in space that will enable them to direct the outcomes
of quantum processes en masse toward preferred ends—according
to the Laws of Nature?
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