Tegmark: Consciousness is a state of matter

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Sep 20, 2014.

  1. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    "Thanks to the work of a small group neuroscientists and theoretical physicists over the last few years, we may finally have found a way of analyzing the mysterious, metaphysical realm of consciousness in a scientific manner. The latest breakthrough in this new field, published by Max Tegmark of MIT, postulates that consciousness is actually a state of matter. “Just as there are many types of liquids, there are many types of consciousness,” he says. With this new model, Tegmark says that consciousness can be described in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory, allowing us to scientifically tackle murky topics such as self awareness, and why we perceive the world in classical three-dimensional terms, rather than the infinite number of objective realities offered up by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    Consciousness has always been a tricky topic to broach scientifically. After all, science deals specifically with effects that can be observed and described mathematically, and consciousness has heretofore successfully evaded all such efforts. In most serious scientific circles, merely mentioning consciousness might result in the rescinding of your credentials and immediate exile to the land of quacks and occultists. (Read: How to create a mind, or die trying.)

    But clearly, consciousness – or sentience or soul or whatever else you call the joie de vivre that makes humans human – is a topic that isn’t going away. It’s probably awfully pretentious of us to think that consciousness is the unique reserve of humans — but hey, evolution handed us these giant, self-aware brains, and so we’re going to try our damnedest to work out whether consciousness is a real thing — whether our brains really are tied into some kind of quantum realm — or if we’re all just subject to an incredibly complex Matrix-like simulation put on by our hyper-imaginative and much-too-powerful human brain. (Read: MIT discovers the location of memories: Individual neurons.)

    The latest attempts to formalize consciousness come from Giulio Tononi, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who proposed the integrated information theory (IIT) model of consciousness — and now Max Tegmark of MIT, who has attempted to generalize Tononi’s work in terms of quantum mechanics. In his research paper, “Consciousness as a State of Matter” [arXiv:1401.1219], Tegmark theorizes that consciousness can be understood as a state of matter called “perceptronium” that can be differentiated from other kinds of matter (solids, liquids, gases) using five, mathematically sound principles.

    The internet brain of modern society

    The paper, as you can imagine, is a beastly 30-page treatise, but the Physics arXiv Blog does a good job of summarizing it (if you’re comfortable with quantum mechanics, anyway). In short, though, it outlines Tononi’s ITT — that consciousness results from a system that can store and retrieve vast amounts of information efficiently — and then moves onto his own creation, perceptronium, which he describes as “the most general substance that feels subjectively self-aware.” This substance can not only store and retrieve data, but it’s also indivisible and unified (this is where we start to wander into the “here be dragons” realm of souls and spirits and so forth). The rest of the paper mostly deals with describing perceptronium in terms of quantum mechanics, and trying to work out why we steadfastly perceive the world in terms of classical, independent systems — rather than one big interconnected quantum mess. (He doesn’t have an answer to this question, incidentally.)

    Tegmark’s paper doesn’t get to the point where we can suddenly say what causes or creates consciousness, but it does go some way towards proving that consciousness is governed by the same laws of physics that govern the rest of the universe — that there isn’t some kind of “secret sauce,” as postulated by mystics and religious types since time immemorial. As far as science is concerned, that’s a rather big relief."====http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/...-of-matter-like-a-solid-or-liquid-but-quantum

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  3. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    The same one Christof Koch has been tooting in recent years: Is Consciousness Universal?

    Perceptronium? Sounds almost like something from The Onion. Ah well, it's at least nice to see some kind of effort finally being made to posit a precursor in physics for phenomenal manifestations. Rather than just leaving it an act of brute emergence. But eliminativist or "experience is just an illusion"-favoring scientists like Nicholas Humphrey would be going bonkers over panpsychism / proto-panpsychism being the conceptual background that won the fray. He and philosopher Galen Strawson got in quite a tiff over related matters, when the latter reviewed his book.

    Koch and Tononi rankled John Searle's feathers, too: Can A Photodiode Be Conscious?
     
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  5. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

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    And the scientific test to find whether this is true or false, is...........?


    It isn't science, it is religion.
     
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  7. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Maybe more like trying to take the hard problem away from the mysticism of religion and crankland, using another mathematical concoction like superstring theory, etc -- which also evade experimental testing. Speaking of which [to Lee Smolin below], what the devil happened to all those promised means to finally check some of those more resistant QG constructs that you mentioned well over a decade ago....

    In quantum theory, distance is inverse to energy, because you need particles of very high energy to probe very short distances. The inverse of the Planck energy is the Planck length. It is where the classical picture of space as smooth and continuous is predicted by our theories to break down, and it is some twenty powers of ten smaller than an atomic nucleus. Because the Planck scale is so remote from experiment, people began to put great trust in mathematics and theory. There were even some string theorists who said silly things like "From Galileo to 1984 was the period of modern physics, where we checked our theories experimentally. Since then, we work in the age of postmodern physics, in which mathematical consistency suffices to demonstrate the correctness of our theories and experiment is neither possible nor necessary." I'm not exaggerating; people really said things like this.

    The idea that you could do experiments to test the quantum theory of gravity was mentioned from time to time by a few people through the 1990s, but to our shame we ignored them. One person who proposed the idea forcefully is a young man in Rome called Giovanni Amelino-Camelia. He just ignored everybody who said, "You'll never probe scales that small. You'll never test these theories." He told himself that there must be a way, and he examined many different possible experiments, looking for ways that effects of quantum gravity could appear. And he found them. Now we know more than half a dozen different experiments we can do to test different hypotheses about physics at the Planck scale. Indeed, in the last year, several proposals about Planck scale physics have been ruled out by experiment.

    The key thing that Amelino-Camelia and others realized is that we can use the universe itself as an experimental device to probe the Planck scale. There are three different ways the universe gives us experimental probes of the Planck scale. First, there are accelerators in distant galaxies that produce particles with energies much higher than we can produce in even the largest human-made accelerators. Some of these ultra-high-energy cosmic rays have been observed hitting our atmosphere with energies more than 10 million times those we have ever produced. These provide us with a set of ready-made experiments, because on their way to us they have traveled great distances through the radiation and matter that fill the universe. Indeed, there are already surprises in the data which, if they hold up, can be interpreted as due to effects of quantum gravity.

    Second, we detect light and particles that have traveled billions of light years on their way across the universe to us. During the billions of years they travel, very small effects due to quantum gravity can be amplified to the point that we can detect them.

    Finally, the postulated inflation by which the universe expanded very rapidly at early times serves as a kind of microscope, blowing up Planck scale features to astronomical scales, where we can see them in small fluctuations in the cosmic microwave radiation.

    So what are the theories we will be testing with these effects? One is loop quantum gravity.
    --LOOP QUANTUM GRAVITY: LEE SMOLIN; edge.com​
     
  8. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Then mathematics and logic must be a religion too cuz there's no scientific test to find whether they are true or false either.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2014
  9. kx000 Valued Senior Member

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    So matter can think and imagine on its own?
     
  10. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    There have been some rumors lately from the north country that the meat within the skull is composed of ordinary matter as found elsewhere on Earth. And that [shudder] the organ performs such feats autonomously, without assistance from outside the body.
     
  11. kx000 Valued Senior Member

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    So rocks can think, like the air and water? I think all things are capable of all things. When we are all enlightened, and things are heavenly for that which exist that I could be a tree if I wanted to for a little while, because I am made up of the same ancestor of any tree. If you have ever seen a pokemon evolve, it would happen a little like that. Somewhere along the line I was a stem cell, capable of being anything.

    Kinda off topic.
     
  12. FOLZONI Registered Senior Member

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    That matter can think, imagine, decide & act on its own...
    ...is a necessary part of materialist philosophy, but this means individual human brains not some sort of "collective universal consciousness".

    The idea that organized matter can think is the doctrine called hylozoism. Apologists for religion and the Academic Philosophy (Hume) are forever trying to knock the idea down.

    FOLZONI
     
  13. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, "thinking and identification of objects" are processes grounded in yet another complex system of mechanistic relationships / interactions. The unorganized, nonspecialized, general nature of the latter pervades the universe. The capacity for memory or preservation of patterns and forms, in a broad nonspecialized sense, is likewise something that preceded biological structure and artificial devices (i.e., any science researching the past of the earth or the cosmos depends upon it).

    The one feature of consciousness, however, that seems brutely emergent or lacks a background precursor to arise from is the manifestations in both the extrospective, sensory department (the qualitative / experiential meanings of images, sounds, odors, tactile feelings) and introspective affairs (pain, dreams, imaginations, recollections, etc). This hard problem is befuddled with a slightly derailing 20th-century fixation on certain subset characteristics of these "showings", like qualia.

    For a less confused generation / era, an unusually philosophically savvy physicist like Erwin Schrödinger, untouched by the current detours, still knew how to better hit the nail on the head: "The world is a construct of our sensations, perceptions, memories. It is convenient to regard it as existing objectively on its own. But it certainly does not become manifest by its mere existence. Its becoming manifest is conditional on very special goings-on in very special parts of this very world, namely on certain events that happen in a brain. That is an inordinately peculiar kind of implication, which prompts the question: What particular properties distinguish these brain processes and enable them to produce the manifestation? Can we guess which material processes have this power, which not? Or simple: What kind of material process is directly associated with consciousness?" --What is Life? Mind and Matter

    Adding to the current profuse ambiguities are terms like "panpsychism" [all-mind or mind everywhere]. As mentioned above, the prior conditions for the brain's memories and cognitions to emerge from are global. But this is at best proto-panpsychism, the precursor capacity to generate intellective processes being present in matter / energy as a whole, rather than an outright mind.

    Panexperientialism, OTOH, narrows down to just primitive phenomenal showings being fundamentally associated with matter interactions in general -- or experience outrunning cognition and reflective thought. Panphenomenalism would perhaps be a better term, casting off any hint of memory-based / conclusion-generating awareness being involved with such elemental, disorganized "appearances". The manifestations are what these information theories and "quantitative consciousness measurements" --of the neuroscientist / physicist teams-- should be resting more upon, since there's really no explanatory gap for the other attributes of consciousness (used as an umbrella concept).
     
  14. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    I'm of the tentative mind that matter (or whatever the physicalist substrate is) and mind are both coexistent irreducible essences. I can't conceive of mind, in the truest sense of the conscious realization of a reality, as separate from matter. And yet I can't conceive of matter as existing in any way but as a conceptualized substance. Mind is a substance. Matter is a information. This makes me a dualist I guess, with an end toward generating novel realities out of the fundamental interaction/synthesis of matter and mind.

    “Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.”
    ― Erwin Schrödinger


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  15. FOLZONI Registered Senior Member

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    Greetings C C and Magical Realist.

    Your comments are all germane - & certainly indicate the sharp duality of matter & consciousness, and how one can argue quite logically & philosophically from one consistent position into treating either matter or mind/spirit/consciousness as primary compared to the other. I.e. materialism versus idealism. Hence I treat it as just a fixed opposition, a fixed difference (Derrida) that can never be breached - though we can come to ever greater understanding of the function of brains in which this consciousness resides for each of us.

    FOLZONI
     
  16. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

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    I thank that consciousness is simply a product of brain evolution an is of course biological;;; it organizes the input from our senses an facilitates our actions.!!!

    For many it seems... to realize that ther mystical/magical perception of consciousness is only an illusion... is about as likely as a blind person fully comprehendin sight.!!!
     
  17. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    If consciousness is an illusion, then everything you are conscious of is an illusion, right? Then there's no universe. No bodies. And no brains inside them to generate consciousness.
     
  18. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

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    I thank... a perception that consciousness is somethin more than biological... is illusionary... kinda like the notion that will is free... is an illusion.!!!
     
  19. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

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    Another silly, silly boy. Do you really believe that millions of years ago it was "determined" what color shirt you would wear today! Free will IS real.
     
  20. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

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    I suspect that the universe is deterministic... but free will bein an illusion ant dependent on the universe bein deterministic.!!!
     
  21. FOLZONI Registered Senior Member

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    Now that is a really good statement, cluelusshusband!
    My riposte to that is that matter is infinitely divisible so that consciousness cannot be 'latched on' to a particular level - e.g. chemistry, atomic physics, electron physics, quantum theory, Madelung fluid etc. In this way the universe only ever 'can approximate' determinism since there is an ultimate disorder or freedom implicit in the infinite divisibility.

    However I am getting off topic here so cannot deal with this further.

    FOLZONI
     
  22. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    Question: why does something being an illusion mean that it doesn't exist, rather than merely not existing as perceived?
    A mirage exists (as a distortion of light) even if what is perceived (a pool of water, or whatever it may be) does not.
    So for me your argument is lacking some explanation, which I would be grateful if you could provide?
    Thanks.
     
  23. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    Your arrogance is unwarranted: whether freewill is illusory or not is not a matter of determinism or not: many of us find freewill to be incompatible with indeterminism just as much as with determinism.
    It also depends rather significantly on how one defines freewill.

    Whether consciousness is illusory or not would surely also depend on how one defines consciousness.
     

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