Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution


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In effect, the bits of matter from Newtonian physics are smeared out into sets of potentials or possibilities. How can there be one rule for the objective world before a measurement is made, and another that jumps in after the measurement? The wave function treats all properties of the particle electric charge, energy, spin, etc the same way.

They all become probabilities holding many possible values at the same time. Even at this basic level, the quantum perspective adds a lot of blur to any materialist convictions of what the world is built from. Then things get weirder still. According to the standard way of treating the quantum calculus, the act of making a measurement on the particle kills off all pieces of the wave function, except the one your instruments register. The wave function is said to collapse as all the smeared-out, potential positions or velocities vanish in the act of measurement. You can see how this throws a monkey wrench into a simple, physics-based view of an objective materialist world.

How can there be one mathematical rule for the external objective world before a measurement is made, and another that jumps in after the measurement occurs?


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For a hundred years now, physicists and philosophers have been beating the crap out of each other and themselves trying to figure out how to interpret the wave function and its associated measurement problem. What exactly is quantum mechanics telling us about the world? What does the wave function describe?

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Materialism alone cannot explain the riddle of consciousness | Aeon Essays

What really happens when a measurement occurs? Above all, what is matter? T here are today no definitive answers to these questions.

The Quantum Theory of Consciousness Has Undeniable Proof of Afterlife

There is not even a consensus about what the answers should look like. Rather, there are multiple interpretations of quantum theory, each of which corresponds to a very different way of regarding matter and everything made of it — which, of course, means everything. The earliest interpretation to gain force, the Copenhagen interpretation, is associated with Danish physicist Niels Bohr and other founders of quantum theory. In their view, it was meaningless to speak of the properties of atoms in-and-of-themselves. Quantum mechanics was a theory that spoke only to our knowledge of the world.

Not all researchers were so willing to give up on the ideal of objective access to a perfectly objective world, however. Some pinned their hopes on the discovery of hidden variables — a set of deterministic rules lurking beneath the probabilities of quantum mechanics. Others took a more extreme view. Thus, for every experimentalist who measures an electron over here, a parallel universe is created in which her parallel copy finds the electron over there.

The many-worlds Interpretation is one that many materialists favor, but it comes with a steep price. Here is an even more important point: Which one you choose is mainly a matter of philosophical temperament. On the other side, there are the psi-epistemologists who see the wave function as a description of our knowledge and its limits. Right now, there is almost no way to settle the dispute scientifically although a standard form of hidden variables does seem to have been ruled out.

This arbitrariness of deciding which interpretation to hold completely undermines the strict materialist position. The real problem is that, in each case, proponents are free to single out one interpretation over others because … well … they like it. Everyone, on all sides, is in the same boat. Putting the perceiving subject back into physics seems to undermine the whole materialist perspective.

Each interpretation of quantum mechanics has its own philosophical and scientific advantages, but they all come with their own price. It was easy to think that the mathematical objects involved with Newtonian mechanics referred to real things out there in some intuitive way. But those ascribing to psi-ontology — sometimes called wave function realism — must now navigate a labyrinth of challenges in holding their views. Reading through the dense analyses quickly dispels any hope that materialism offers a simple, concrete reference point for the problem of consciousness.

Consciousness: a brief review of the riddle

The attraction of the many-worlds interpretation, for instance, is its ability to keep the reality in the mathematical physics. In this view, yes, the wave function is real and, yes, it describes a world of matter that obeys mathematical rules, whether someone is watching or not. The price you pay for this position is an infinite number of parallel universes that are infinitely splitting off into an infinity of other parallel universes that then split off into … well, you get the picture. There is a big price to pay for the psi-epistemologist positions too.

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Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: Set up a giveaway. But to accept this as a scientific principle would mean rewriting the laws of physics.

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Everything we know about the universe tells us that reality consists only of physical things: Nonetheless, just occasionally, science has dropped tantalising hints that this spooky extra ingredient might be real. Weiskrantz showed him patterns of striped lines, positioned so that they fell on his area of blindness, then asked him to say whether the stripes were vertical or horizontal. Naturally, DB protested that he could see no stripes at all. Apparently, his brain was perceiving the stripes without his mind being conscious of them.

One interpretation is that DB was a semi-zombie, with a brain like any other brain, but partially lacking the magical add-on of consciousness. Chalmers knows how wildly improbable his ideas can seem, and takes this in his stride: The consciousness debates have provoked more mudslinging and fury than most in modern philosophy, perhaps because of how baffling the problem is: McGinn added, in a footnote: McGinn, to be fair, has made a career from such hatchet jobs.

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But strong feelings only slightly more politely expressed are commonplace. Not everybody agrees there is a Hard Problem to begin with — making the whole debate kickstarted by Chalmers an exercise in pointlessness. Daniel Dennett , the high-profile atheist and professor at Tufts University outside Boston, argues that consciousness, as we think of it, is an illusion: This is the point at which the debate tends to collapse into incredulous laughter and head-shaking: Chalmers has speculated, largely in jest, that Dennett himself might be a zombie. But everybody now accepts that goldness and silveriness are really just differences in atoms.

However hard it feels to accept, we should concede that consciousness is just the physical brain, doing what brains do. Look at the precedents: Or take life itself: Light is electromagnetic radiation; life is just the label we give to certain kinds of objects that can grow and reproduce. Eventually, neuroscience will show that consciousness is just brain states. Solutions have regularly been floated: But the intractability of the arguments has caused some thinkers, such as Colin McGinn, to raise an intriguing if ultimately defeatist possibility: After all, our brains evolved to help us solve down-to-earth problems of survival and reproduction; there is no particular reason to assume they should be capable of cracking every big philosophical puzzle we happen to throw at them.

O r maybe it is: Koch concedes that this sounds ridiculous: Besides, panpsychism might help unravel an enigma that has attached to the study of consciousness from the start: Growing up as the child of German-born Catholics, Koch had a dachshund named Purzel. The problem is that there seems to be no logical reason to draw the line at dogs, or sparrows or mice or insects, or, for that matter, trees or rocks.

Which is how Koch and Chalmers have both found themselves arguing, in the pages of the New York Review of Books, that an ordinary household thermostat or a photodiode, of the kind you might find in your smoke detector, might in principle be conscious. The argument unfolds as follows: Explanations have to stop somewhere.

The panpsychist hunch is that consciousness could be like that, too — and that if it is, there is no particular reason to assume that it only occurs in certain kinds of matter. It is the argument that anything at all could be conscious, providing that the information it contains is sufficiently interconnected and organised. But in principle the same might apply to the internet, or a smartphone, or a thermostat.

Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution
Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution
Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution
Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution
Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution

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