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Part 1.
Metabolic Metaphysics
Part 2.
Star Larvae
Part 3.
Space Brains

The Star Larvae HypothesisAstrotheology and Hinduism
Nature's Plan for Humankind
Part 2. Star Larvae

Quantum Gravity and the Physics of Consciousness

Researchers continue to map correlations between neurological and mental events. But subjectivity per se seems to originate at another interfacethat between quantum and gravitational events.

Normal science has no coherent theory to account for conscious experience.

Insofar 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.

The Physical 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.

Platonic 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 Platonic metaphysics.

Platonic 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 world.

Metaphysical 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.

Above: Overview of Quantum Tunneling with Reference to Stellar Nucleosynthesis

"By 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 dominateand to some extent diminishthe second half of his scientific career. "

— Walter Isaacson
Einstein: His Life and Universe

"Sooner 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."

— C. G. Jung
Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (Collected Works of C. G. Jung Vol.9 Part 2)

A thing's 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.

The process 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 events—into that subset that actually occurs. And the answer to that question, the star larvae hypothesis supposes, reveals essential aspects of the brain/mind relationship.

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.

As profoundly 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.

The pursuit 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.

In contrast 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.

Noncomputability and Objective Reduction

In Penrose's 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.

The so-called 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.

Penrose dismisses 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

The Penrose-Hameroff 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 called microtubules. 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.

"Atoms 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."

Freeman Dyson,
excerpt from his Templeton Prize acceptance speech, 2001

Gravitational 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.

This is 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 of microtubules.

Solar Consciousness

"The subconscious mind is to consciousness what the quantum world is to the classical world."

-- Hameroff's Law

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.

Researchers keep discovering more ways in which quantum processes play essential roles in biological systems. Quantum-mediated biological processes include photosynthesis, olfactory perceptions (smells), and some enzymatic reactions. DNA itself might exploit quantum effects. There no a priori reason to exclude quantum physics from possible mechanisms of consciousness. Research continues to suggest that biology is not only friendly toward, but might require, quantum physics. Stars would seem to be in the same boat.

Philosopher Charles Hartshorne takes a conventional view, in Philosophers Speak of God, but veers into a relevant, creative conjecture:

"According 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!"

Hartshorne might have been too eager to dismiss his own speculation.

Applied 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. Greg Matloff, physics professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) and Hayden Associate at the American Museum of Natural History, also speculates on the consciousness of stars. Researcher Clément Vidal, in a research paper titled, "Stellivore extraterrestrials? Binary stars as living systems," suggests additional reasons to suppose that stars might be living creatures. 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.

A criticism 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 interiors.

Recently, 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 recently [2011], researchers have identified spicules, jets of plasma, as the likely mechanism responsible for the heat transport. News release is HERE.)

More recently, in 2014, NASA researchers identified "nanoflares" as the heat transport mechanism. See video, below.

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.

"Since 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."

— C. G. Jung
"On the Nature of the Psyche" (1947/1954). In Collected Works, Vol. 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. 1960/1969

Like the 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."

Robert Frost

A quantum 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, physicist 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.

In The Dreaming Universe, 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.

Late in his career the physicist Erwin Schroedinger turned his attention to issues of biology. In a small but influential book entitled What is life? he took a step toward a humanistic appropriation of the miraculous when he reasoned as follows:

"Let 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 I—I 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?

NEXT > Space Migration, Ascent to Heaven


The Star Larvae Hypothesis:

Stars constitute a genus of organism. The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase. Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.

Elaboration: The hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which    


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