Sunday, June 17, 2007

Consciousness Riff

My starting point is the assumption that the physical laws of the universe do not explain consciousness. This is where I have come out on this: nothing in the physical makeup or evolution of the universe or of humans can explain how consciousness arises. It is possible to provide a physical explanation of how the mind works -- neural nets, neural maps, etc. -- but the additional aspect of consciousness remains unexplained. Consciousness must therefore be a fundamental property of the cosmos just as is space-time, the four basic forces and the elementary particles and the laws of physics. But while consciousness is not physical, it adheres to everything physical, crossing the physical at an oblique angle. Consciousness is the ability to receive information. Information is derived from processes of emission, transmission and exchange of particles, waves or whatever else it is that conveys change and effects in and on the physical things the universe is made from. Consciousness converts this potential information into actual information by being aware of the exchanges and processes. Consciousness makes the exchanges into information by perceiving them.

So: Take a rock. Is a rock conscious? What is a rock but a swarm of particles each in a certain quantum state and each bound through an exchange of other particles to everything else? There is lots of information in that rock about individual particles but nothing about the rock itself. Therefore, there is no state-of-being of the rock to be conscious of. The rock is not conscious. Okay, are the individual particles conscious? No, same argument, there is nothing it is like to be a particle. So what is conscious? Whatever it is that is the consciousness of all the particles and waves in the universe across time. What would you call that?

So how do we get to be conscious? At some point in animal evolution, the organism begins to gather and process information -- through nerves -- about itself. The human brain is the mightiest of such processors. Of course, that complex processor can operate without consciousness. You can imagine (lots of folks use this example) a zombie that looks and acts just like a human but is not conscious. So who adds consciousness and when? And maybe, no one adds it put it just coalesces around the information being handled by the brain?

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