THE HARD PROBLEM VS EASY PROBLEM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
SOLTIONS: 1) FUNDAMENTAL 2) PANPSYCHISM
PHI, Tegmark, and Mathematical consciousness
For almost the whole of human history, we’ve believed in souls for an explanation as to what makes us conscious. Some of the smartest humans believed in souls, people who are much smarter than you and I, and it made sense at the time but we’ve now abandoned it for secularism. Recently lots of us have decided that we’re probably just made of meat, think Sagan and Materialism. The problem is that whole that’s almost definitely true, it doesn’t really tell you what consciousness actually is. What is “you” and how do you work? When you think of a piece of music how are you hearing it in your mind? Where is it? Why is it always the same volume? Or how do you remember stuff? How do you get your brain to go back in time and do that? Is it like moving a musce or is it more like running a program? Or theres a very big difference between thinking about moving your arm and just moving your arm. But can you put into words exactly what the difference is? Why can’t you remember anything about the first feww years of life? Why is everyone fine with that? Why does your body just does stuff based on your mental state, like crying, arousing, hunger, how does your brain monitor what you’re feeling and know what to do with your body. What’s just being conscious? What the hell is consciousness? What’s “You”? Billions of years ago, the universe exploded into being and made stars, stars died ad made planets, and one of them at least, made life. Cells evolved into animals, the animals got smarter, developed minds, then they finally evolved into you. This conscious impossible machine that looks back out at all the stuff that made it and actually understands where it came from. The entire universe spent 13 billion years contriving to make you, so now you’ve got 80 years on the bluish-green spaceship as a human, and the bit that does all the experiencing, your mind, you, we don’t even know what that is… we have literally no idea. And anyone who tells you that they know is probably definitely lying. Just the odds of you alone being born with trillions against, the odds of you being born in a time of human history were life was brutish and short were billions to one against. We’ve been born a little too early to explore the stars, but all our ancestors would give their legs to live for a few hours in the timer we live in now, and we get to wake up in it every day for tthe next few decades. When you think of how many species and people have come before you., the sheer size of creation, there’s really no excuse left to be bored, mean or sad… ever. Let’s be honest, not really. The greates problem in science, what is the origin of intelligence and consciousness? How does the mind work? We’ve asked this question for centuries. Whenever you talk about consciousness you get a lot of nice sounding words, but almost no content. Theologians, philosophers, and psychologists have worked for centuries. Never in the history of science have so many, devoted so much, to produce so little. When we apply the scientific method to consciousness, you realize there really are 3 stages of consciousness, 1) consciousness that understand sour position in space, 2) consciousness which understands our position with respect to other people, emotions, social hierarchy, politness, etiquet. 3) predicting the future. So there are 3 levels of consciousness imo. I give a definition of consciousness, its hard to define, i give a definition in one setance: “Consciousness is the process of creating multiple feedback loops to creat a model of yourself in space, with regard to others, and in time, in odred to satisfy certain goals” -michio kaku. A particle like a photon would have a CQ of one, one unit of consciousness, one single feedback loop which is it’s trajectory, the surfaces it reflects off of. An atom would have maybe 10 units of consciousness, it has a sense of charge, electronegativity, they can bond to other atoms. So there are now multiple things being influenced, charge, spin, reactivity, ionization energy, and the quantum behavior of its electrons. A molecule of DNA would probably have even more, it’s influenced by histoens, which silence its genes, its influenced by enhancers and sliencers, it can curl up and make some genes less likely to be transcribed. A cell now has hundreds of units of consciousness, it can differentiate into a function, it can adjust its energy it’s mitochondria, it can add surface proteins to its membrane, ribosomes, vesicles. At this point, you start to see that consciounsness is perhaps just a synonym for “complexity”. Maybe the Jainists and othe reastern religions were right about small bacteria and animals having consciousness. In this sense, they were right about reincarnation. Alligators for example would be at stage one , at level one they understand their position in space with regards to prey, the back of our brain for example is the most ancient part of our brain, the reptilian brain, way in the back the cerebellum, balance for example, sense of territoriality, then the center part of the brain developeds in the adolescence, the monkey brain, the brain of social hierarchies, thats when children have to learn politeness and social etiquette, and control their emotions, then the last part of the brain to develop is the front, the prefrontal cortex, that is the thinking brain, and that differentiates us from the animals. Animals have level 1 consciousness, they understand their psoition in space, monkeys have level 2, they understand to other monkeys, other consciousness, but only humans have level 3 consciousness, because we understand tomorrow, we plan for the future, we write books, we pass knowledge to future generations, we day dream, we scheme, animals don’t do that, it’s all instinctual for animals. And then the scientist says, the scale is very nice but what is your unit, the unit of consciousness, my one unit of consciousness, is a thermostate, one feedback loop that allows you monitor the temperature in a room, because it senses its position with regards to temperature. A flower may have 10 or so, because it has to monitor, temperature, humidity, water, sunlight, so on. By the time you hit a reptile, maybe there’s a hundred different kinds of feedback loops. When you get you a mouse, perhaps thousands of feedback loops, and then we as humans, we’re the only ones who see tomorrow. If you have a pet, a dog or a cat, you can teach it many tricks, EXCEPT understanding tomorrow or planning for the future. We could also use this to measure the consciousness fo an AI a computer. Crocodiles have to undertsand its position in space and then its prey, understand behavior of prey. By the time we go to monkeys, they have to understand emotions and have to read body language and have to understand their position in a social hierarchy, coalitions, whos’ your friend who’s your enemy. By the time you reach a humna, the total number of ffeedback loops invovled in predicting the future is enormous, in the millions. But science is about mathematical precision, So how do we measure this, I’d give a test to human in order to rank their level of consciousness. It’s not an IQ exam, that’s the first thing you’d think of, but when you follow people with high IQs over 20-30 years you find marginal people, petty criminals. IQ tests are not strongly correlated with success in life, however when you look at a crimilnal, you realize that bank robbers, even though they have low IQs and flunked grade school, they may understand the future of bank robberies better than the police, they can outwit the police because they can dream up scenarios more realistically than the police can. So here’s my IQ test, and that is to put people in strange environments and have them calculate realistic scenarios. The air force understood this, they gave IQ exams and werent really useful for producing a good pilot in the field. They gave them another test, let’s say you’re stranded behind enemy lines, calculate the total number of escape plans you can devise. They found that people with low IQs were VERY good at seeing the future. And people with high IQs didn’t necesarily see many escape plans like the others. The number of realistic scenarios you can compute for a given scenario, being sstranded on an island, robbing a bank, THAT correlates much better to our level of consciousness than an IQ exam. Perhaps we could even have a CQ to replace IQ, because the consciousness quotient seems more useful from an evolutionary perspective. Evolution actually does not favor high IQs, sometimes a high IQ can get you killed by others, even by your peers. If evolution selected for hyperintelligence then we’d all be geniuses, but there’s something more to genius than just being an autistic savant, you have to be creative and dream up scenarios. High IQ can get you killed, like Giordano Bruno or Gallileo. Yes they had very high IQs and were probably geniuses, however, they failed to accurately predict the future, they did not dream up the correct scenarios for reactions of the people around them, which got them either arrested or burned alive. If this scale is correct, then even Robots could be ranked by consciousness. Unfortunately robots are still at one, for now. They understand their position in space but they have no empathy, manners, or understanding of social cues. Asimo, one of the most advanced robots in the world, still has the awareness of a cockroach. Our robots have insect like intelligence and only do menial tasks. At MIT they’re trying to devlep some emotional robots, that would be the beginning of level 2, and maybe even a little bit of level 3, because robots can predict the future in one dimension, they can predict airflow on an airplane wing. But we can predict the future on multiple scales. Throw someone on a deserted island, let him survive, all of a sudden you realize he has to have a full complex of common sense notions about space time and other people in order to escape behind enemy lines. So how does consciousness arise in the brain, where exactly, how does the whole process work? Whats the relation between brain and mind. Historically we had something called Dualism where the spirit/soul was different from the body, then in the last 50 years we had a little bit of neuroscience where we begin to realize that the brain is wetware, wetware that runs software claled the mind. So we began a unified theory so that the mind is software running on the wetware of the brain, but now, we have the next level of evolution, and that is “the human connectome”. The EU wants to dump a billion dolalrs to create the conectome, a map of all the neural circuitry of the human mind. So one day we’ll have 2 disks, the genome and a connectome, one which has a map of the genes of our body, and the other one with neural pathways of the mind which contains emotions, emories, sensations. In some sense we’re going back hundreds of years and seperating the body from the mind. By having the genome and the connectome. And realize that when you die, in some sense the connectome and the genome live on. And of course, does that mean that you are immortal? Well it depends on how you define “you”, if you are nothing but a wetware running software that when you die you’re gone. But if your connectome and your genome survive, in some sense a part of you lives forever.
The science of consciousness. This is one reason by the way that Neuortech and neuroscience are unique fields in all of science. Neuroscience is the only field in which the organ being studied is also doing the studying. This raises a number of potential concerns, is that even possible? CAN a device or organ or computational system understand itself? That’s what we’re asking our brains to do when we’re faced wirth probelms like the nature of consciouesness. The nature of consciousness is extremely hard to study for neuorscientists because it’s very hard to measure. But some people have proposed or believe that one of the reasosn consciousness evolves was to allow us to simulate future scenarios. This relates to something called mental time travel, which is the ability that we have to relive past experiences. So your brain is literally a time machine. We’ve all daydreamed about the past and reliving things that have happened, giving them alterbnate endings and simulating them in the past to see how we can use them in the future. We also daydream about the future. And our ability to mentally project ourselves on the future is one of the valuable cognitive abilities of our species. In many ways. Future oriented time travel makes homo sapiens sapient. It makes homo sapiens wise, because its what gives us the ability to engage in endeavors that other animals cant do. So if you think about something a the signature of our species, like making a tool, carving a blade out of an obsidian stone is something that implcitly requires a thought of the future. It means I’m doing something for something in the future. So I have a purpose for tat. Similarly, one of the most important inventions of humankind is agriculture, the notion of planting a seed today and reaping its beenfits or assuring a source of food in the future is one thing that drove our species forward, and that again is something that requires mental time travel, it requires our ability to think in the distant future. Consciousness is one of the deepest mysteries that we have ever attempted to resolve and part of the problem with studyiong consiciousness is that it’s very diffuclt to measure, but we do have some insights, and for one, in the context of how the brain tells time, there’s evidence that consciousness is not really what it seems to be, so what I mean by that is we feel our subjective experiences unfolding in the world around us in sort of this linear narrative where B follows A and C follows B and D follows C. In which things are happening in a linear progression. So consciousness is a narrative created by your mind. In reality it seems that our subjective experiences and conscious narrative might not be that linear. So there’s a number of experiences or experiments that suggest that the brain processes inforrmation in sort of a discontinuous and discrete manner. So it’s not that I’m conscious of everything happening in a nice linear progression, it seems to be in some cases that what happens after intereferes or modulates what our conscious nexperince of those things that came before. There’s something called the “Cutaneous Rabbit Illusion”, in which if you feel a couple taps on your arm, maybe 4 taps, people will feel that as sort of a continuous progression. But in reality, that can’t be a continuous progression, because it’s the taps that came later that determined where you felt that the previous taps were occuring. And if youy think of something like speech. You’re probably not aware of my speech in a syllable by syllable manner, it seems to be that we become conscious of events around us in sort of “chunks” where your unconscious mind reaches a point of analysis by taking in and sampling everything that’s happening around it BEFORE a subjective experience is delivered into your conscious mind. So I think there’s some suggestions that the unconscious brain is continuopusly taking in sampling events from through it’s sensory organs. Waiting to appropraite points in the narrative to deliver something. A nice narrative of the world around us into our conscious mind. So in the case of speech for example, we don’t have an experience of every syllable by syallable word by word, but sometimes we have this chunking that happens. So for example, if I say “the mouse pad was beside the computer”, in that case the mouse could have another meaning, it could be a rodent or the mouse of computer, but you only knew the meaning of the word mouse in this case with the mouse PD, I could have said “the mouse was hungry”. So the meaning of the word mouse can only be understood based on what comes after, so it seems when people unbderstand that, they might have to wait until the appropriate time to create a conscious perception or conscious interpretation of what we’re listening to. So I think there’s mounting evidence that consciousness is not a linear flow of what’s happening around us but sort of a creation, a narrative, a convenient narrative of what’s happening around us. So what IS consciousness? The term “consciousness” is used to refer to a large constallation of related phenomena that all have something to do with minds. Medically it’s a checkbox you cant tick off diagnostic criteria if your patient appears to be awake and notice the world around them. Consciousness is also used to refer to a number of related aspects of the mind and its operation. Science has provided much mechanical insight into many processes, but the ones that get lumped together under “consciousness” tend to be very high level and very complex in ways we haven’t even come close to explainingyet. Whenever science hasn’t completely answered an interesting question, you can be certain some crazy people somewhere are gonna fill that space with whatever they can imagine. “Consciousness” has been the stable of many handwavvy versions of mysticism or spirituality. Often used as a buzzword to lend an air of sophistication to largely incoherent ideas about souls or “spiritual energy” or really just about anything. In his 1974 paper “what is it like to eb a bat”, philsopher Thomas Nagel suggests that we think of consciousness as the feeling of what it is like to BE something. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to ask what is it like to “be asleep” or “under anesthesia”. But if you’re conscious you experience the world as a subject. the problems only really start cropping up when we try to think of the OBJECTIVE qualities of that phenomena. We can recognize outward signs of wakefulness and alertness pretty easily, but the subjective experience of what it is like to be someone else, or a bat, or anything, I don’t have any way to access internal state for any entity but myself. Imagine a person who has all outward appearces of being awake, alert, and conscious, but from their perspective has the same mental state that you have when you’re asleep. This is called a P zombie, a zombie who’s body seems to be parsing the world around them, but no one’s actually home. That may or may not be physically possible, but it illustrates the difficulty of the problem. Without a complete map of which brain states correspond to which mental states, how can we ever tell the difference between a P-zombie and a conscious person? Even if we could build such a map. Even if we could somehow scan every neuron into someone’s brain and translate that into a meaningful interpretation of what it’s like to be them in that moment, we’d STILL be a loing ways from explaining just how that configuration of neurons gave rise to the sensation of drinking a cup of coffee. This explanatory gap between objective measurable stuff and what that stuff FEELS like from inside a conscious mind is part of the mystique that surrounds consciousness and partially what causes people to have weird or absurd ideas of the concept. It’s the most obvious and intimate thing in the world. The only data that we have continuous access to throughout our waking lives. In other words, the most distant and alien thing imaginable. Something that’s totally inaccessible, even with the most sophisticated analytical tools and badass science we have available. One might eb inclined to dismiss the problem out of hand as just a quaint thought experiment for ivory towerr types. But there are numerous legal, ethical, and practical considerations that revolve around the subjective experience of others. Like How exactly does a fetus experience pain? Or what is it like to be a chicken raised for poultry? Scientists have discovered potentially useful data in neuroscience and psychology, uncovering important landmarks in the very slow process of trying to bridge the gap between the two, but we still don’t have any real substantial answers to those questions. But it’s right here, I mean, I have a consciousness, why should i wait for scientists to figure it out? Cant I just figure out how it works? But there are problems with introspection. The mind thinking to prove that the mind thinks can run into some problems.
We’ve all wondered about the mystery of consciousness. But Physicist Max Tegmark thinks he knows, consciousness might just be a mathematical pattern. There are relaly actually 2 seperate mysteries, as the famous philosopher David Chalmers has emphasized. First theres the mystery of how our brain processes information. Which david calls the easy problems of consciousness, even though they’re actually very hard. We’ve made huge progress in recent years, building copmputers that can play chess, that can process natural language, that can answer quiz show questions, that can drive cars, and so on. But then there’s the second mystery of consciousness, that David calls the “HARD problem of consciousness”. Why do we have qualia/subejctive experience? If i’m driving a car, I’m having a subejctive experienece of colors, sound, emotions, thoughts, but why? Does a self driving car have any subejctive experience? Does it feel like anything at all to be a selft driving car. From a physical perspective, people are just protein and water, rearranged. The only difference is that one is conscious and the other is not. It’s just a bunch of particles arranged in a different way so why is your brain conscious, while another arrangement, like a bunch of carrots, not? This physics perspective goes agains the idea that philsophers like to call Dualism, that consciousness is explained by adding something beyond physics, some extra ingredient, a life force, Elan Vital, or a soul. They say dualism has gradually lost popularity among scientists because if you were to measure what all the particles in your brain are doing and find that they perfectly obey the laws of physics it would mean that this soul would have absolutey no effect on what you’re doing. Whereas if you were to measure instead that these particles in your brain are not obeying the laws of physics because they’re being pushed around somehow by the soul, then that brings the soul into the domain of physiucs because now you can just measure all these new forces that the soul is exerting and study the properties physically of it just as you would study the properties of a new field or particle like the Higgs Boson. From the physicsal perspective, the moving quarks and electrons are nothing but a mathematical pattern in spacetime. A bunch of numbers specifying positions and motions and various properties of these particles like electric charge and numbers you can see, and this table. And from this physics perspective the hard problem of consciousness gets transformed into a form i like much better, because we can now start instead of staring by asking the hard question of why some arrangements of particle feel conscious, we can start with a hard fact that some arrangement of particles like your brain ARE conscious and not others. So we can ask “what are the special physical properties that these arrangements have to have to be conscious. But how can something as complex as consciousness hpossibly be explained by something as simple as particles? Well I think it’s because consciousness is a phenomenon that has properties above and beyond the p[roperties of its particles. And physicists call phenomena that have properties above and beyond those of their parts “Emergent Phenomena”. This can be explained with an example called “wetness”. A water droplet is wet, but an ice crystal or gas cloud is not wet, even though they’re made of the exact same water molecules. So its not the molecules and particles that make the difference, it’s the PATTERN in which they’re arrange. So it makes no sense to argue whether a single water molecule is wet or not, because the phenomena of wetness only emerges when you take a vast number of water moleckules and arrange them in this special pattern we call liquid. So solids, liquids and gases are all emergent properties above and beyond those of their particles, they have properties that the particles don’t have. I think that just like solids liquids and gases, consciousness too is an emergent phenomenon. Because if I drift off into sleep and my consciousness goes away, I’m still made of the exact same particles, the only thing that changed was the pattern into which my particles were arranged. And if I were to freeze to death, then my consciousness would definitely go away, but I waould still consist of exactly the same paricles. It’s just that they are now arranged in an unfortunate pattern. But to understand consciousness you need to mearutr it? Could there by a number to quantify consciousness? That’s exactly what the Neuroscientist Julio Tenoni thinks and he’s defined such a quantity that he calls “Intergrated Information” PHI, which is basically a measure of how much different parts of a system know about each other or interact with each other. And he and his colleagues have managed to measure a simplified version of this quantiity using EEG after magenetic stimulation and it’s worked really really well. This consciousness detector. We can identitfy consciousness in patients that are awake or those who are dreaming. But not patients who were anesthetcized or those who are in deep sleep, and they even correctly identified consciousness in 2 patients with locket in syndrome, i.e totally unable to communicate in anyway. So this is potentially very useful for doctors in the future. We can apply this to some future superintelligent computer. So to do this, lets look at systems that and states of matter with emergent phenomena that have something to do with information. To store information it has to have the physical properties it has to have some states are very long lived. We just have to ask ourselves, how can something as physical as a bunch of moving particles possibly feel as nonphysical as our consciousness. I think its because our consciousness is a phenomena that doesn’t only have properties above and beyond those of its parts, but also has properties that are rather independant of its parts. Independant of its substrate, independant of the stuff that its made of. We actually have other phenomena in physics that are also substrate independant in this sense. Ex: waves, they have properties like wavelength, freuqncy, and speed, and we can descrbe them really accurately with equations, even without knowiung what kind of substances the waves are waves in. So the waves take a life of their own. A wave can cross a lake even though the water moleculaes are just staying in place going in circles. Computation is also rather substrat eindependant, because alan turing famously proved that any computation can be performed by any ubstance as long as it ahas a certain minimumset of abilities to compute. This means that if you were self-aware computer game character trapped in a game world of a super intelligent computer, you’d have nio way of knowing whether you were running on windows or Mac OS because you would be substrate independant. I think consciousness is the same way, the physical phenomena that feels non physical, just like waves and computations. More specifically, I think that consciousness is the way information feels when its been processed in certain complex ways. This means that its substrate independant, and it also means that its only the structure of the information processing that matters. Not the structurre of the mattert that’s doing the information processing. In other words, we have the laws of physics and they govern these motions of “stuff”. If the motions obey certain principles we can get this emergent phenomena of computaion, information processing. But now we can take this idea to another level, we can say suppose this information processing obeys certain principles. Then we can get higher level emergnet phenomena, consciousness. So what would these principles be? We don’t know what sufficient conditions are for a physical system to be conscious, but let me tell you about 4 necessary conditions that max tegmark explored in his work. He’s argued that consciousness is the way that information feels when its being processed, first of all, 1) The Information Principle. it has to be able to store information like a computer, and 2) the Dynamics Principle, it has to process information like a computer, 3) The Independance Principle, it also needs to be realtively independant of the rest of the world. because otherwise this conscious entity would not feel like it had any sort of independant existence at all. 4) Integration Principle. I think that this system has to be unified whole. Because otherwise, if you just have 2 independant systems, then this gonna feel like 2 seperate conscious entities rather than 1. So is this good news or bad news? So what do we make of this idea that consciousness is the way information feels when being processed by particles moving around in certain ways. I think its good news, and if someone argues that its bad news because they dont like the idea of being just a bunch of particles, then I object to their use o hte word “Just”. Because lets face it, you guys are not just a bunch of particles, your brains are the most beautifully complex space time patterns in our entire known universe, and moreover ive argued that your consciousness has properties above and beyond those of your particles which arerather independant so its not the particles but the patterns that really matter. This is also good because in our quest to understand consciousness, we’re not stuck wating for some missing ingredient. This is really about asking the right questions, and instead of adking “what missing thing can we blame our consciousnes on,? like a soul?”. Instead, might it be that we already have all the ingredients we need to solve the hard problen of consciousness. This question is a very powerful one both in science and ion our regular lives. People used to ask “what new undiscovered force prevents the moon from falling down”, newton suggested that it was nothing, the moon obeys the same laws of physics as everything else, and this bold idea revolutionized modern science, and you can ask, what is it that breaths life into a clump of atoms and makes it alive? Again scientists have discovered that the answer is nothing. Because the difference between a ndead bug and living bug isnt that you add a secret life sauce to it,,, its simply just the pattern in which the particles are arranged that matters. You can then ask what breaths fire into an information processing system that makes it conscious. I ve argued again that nothing, its simply the structure of the information processing. Finally, if our entire cosmos turns out to be perfectly described by physical laws, like modern physics suggests, then we can ask hawking’s famous question. What is it that breathes fire into a mathematical structure and makes a universe for it to describe? Well, Ive argued that consciousness is a mathematical pattern. Which means some mathematical patterns simply ARE sonscious, so the answer to this question is also “nothing”. The only difference between a structure that exists only mathematically and one that only exists physically is not the presence of some sort of physical existence magic angel ust, its simply its structure. So here is the idea. Instead of asking what do we need to add to physics to explain consciousness? Consider instead that we dont need to add anything at all, because consciousness is simply the way information feels when its being processed in certain complex ways by particles moving in very special patterns. Instead lets ask “what are these patterns and what are their physical properties”. It’s not the particles, but the patterns that really matter.
Some people think “wow that’s it, how can such a thing exist as part of the real world?”, if you’ve ever had a philosophy course, this is known as the famous Mind Body problem, it has a simple solution according to John Sealre. All our conscious states without exception are caused by lower level neurobiological processes in the brain and they are realized in the brain as higher level or system features. It’s about as mysterious as the “wetness of water”, the wetness is not an extra juice squirted out by the H2O molecules, it is the condition that the system is in. Just as the jar full of water can go from liquid to solid dependfing on the beahvior of the molecules, so your brain can go from a state of being conscious to a state of being unconscious, depoending on the behavior of the molecules, the famous Mind-Body Problem is really that simple. Even 30 years ago, when tech first got started, there was very little work on consciousness, but now, we are starting to seriously consider it. It all began to change when neuroscientists like francis Crick and physicists like Roger Penrose said now is the time for science to attack consciousness. Since then there’s been an explosion, a flowering of scientific work on consciousness, and this has been great. But it also has some fundamental limitations so far. The centerpiece of the science of consciousness in recent years has been a search for correlations, correlations between certtain areas of the brain and certain states of consciousness. Now we understand much better the kinds of brain areas that go along with the conscious experience of seeing facies, or of feeling pain, or of, feeling happy, but this is still a science of correlations. Its not a science of explanations, we know THAT these brain areas go along with certain kinds of conscious experience, but we don’t know WHY they do. I’d like to put this by saying that this kind of work, from neuroscience, is answering SOME of the questions we want answered about consciousness, questions about what certain brain areas do, and what they correlate with, but in a certain sense, those are the easy problems, the neuroscienctists know there are no true easy problems of consciousness, but the easy problems of consciousness dont address the real mystery. Why is it that all the physical processing in the brain should be accompanied by consciousness at all? Why is there this inner subjective movie? This Qualia? Right now we don’t really have a beat on that. You might say, lets just igve neuroscience a few years, it’ll turn out to be another emergent phenomenon, like Traffic Jams, like Hurricanes, like life, and we’ll figure it out. The classical cases of emergence, are all cases of emergent behavior. How a traffic jam behaves, how a hurricane functions, how a living organism reproduces and adapts, and metabolizes. all questions about objective funcitoning, you can apply that to the human brain in explaining the behaviors and functions of the human brain as emergent phenomena, how we walk, talk, play chess… all these questions about behavior, questions about behavior are among the easy probelsm of consciousness. When it comes to the hard problem, why is it that all this behavior is accompanied by subjective experience. And here are the standard paradigms of emergence, even the standard paradigms of neuroscience, don’t really so far have that much to say. I’m a scientific materialist at heart, I want a scientific theory of consciousness that works. And for a long time, I’ve banged my head against the wall looking for a theory of consciousness in purely physical terms that would work, but eventually came to the conclusion tat it just didt work for systematic reasons. Its a long story but the core idea is that what you get from purely reductionist explanations in psical terms, brain based terms, the stories about the functioning of a system, its structure, its dynmics, the behavior it produces, great for solving the easy problems: how we behave how we function. But when it comes to subjective experience, why does all this feel like something from the inside, something fundamentally mute? And its always a further question. So I think we’re at a kind of impass here. We’ve got this wonderful great chain of explanation, where physics explains chemistry, chem explains bio, bio explains psychology. But consciousness doesn’t seem to fit into this picture. On one hand its a daytum, that we’re conscious, on the other hand, we don’t know how to accomodate it into our scientific view of the world. So I think consciousness right now is a kind of anomall, one tat we need to integrate into our view of te world but dontet see ow. Faced wit an anomall like tis, redical ideas migt be needed. I tink, tat we ma need one or 2 ideas tat intiiall seem craz before we can come to grips wit consciousness scientificall. There are a few candidates for what those crazy ideas might be. Danial Dennett has a crazy idea that there IS NO hard problem of consciousness, the whole idea of the inner subjective movie involves a kind of illusion, or a confusion. But actually all we’ve gotta do is explain the objective functions, the behaviors of the brain, and then we’ve explained everything that needs to be explained. That’s the kind of radical idea, we need to explore. If we need to have a purely reductionist, brain based theory of consciousness. AT the same time for me, that view is a bit too close to denying the datum of consciousness to be satisfactory. Let’s explore 2 craz ideas that may have some promise. The fiorst crazy idea is that consciousness is fundamental, phsyicists sometimes take some aspects of the universe as fundamntal building blocks, space time, and mass. Tey postulate fundamental laws governing them, like the laws opf gravity, or quantum mechanics. These fundamental properties and laws aren’t explained in terms ofg anything more basic, but rater taken as primitive and ou build up te world from teir. Sometimes te list of fundamentals expands. In te 19t centur Maxwell fiugured out tat ou can’t explaine electromagnetic phenomena in terms of the existing fundamentals, space time, mass. So he postulated fundamental laws of electromagnetism and postulated electric charge as a fundamental element that those laws govern. I think thats the situation we’re in with conscousness. If you cant explain consciousness in terms of the existing fundamentals, space, time, mass , charge, then its a matter of logic, you need to extend the list. The last thing is to postulate consciousness itself as a fundamental bulding block of nature. This doesn’t mean you suddenly can’t do science with it, this opens up the way for you to do science with it. What we then need is to study the fundamental laws governing consciousness. The laws that connect consciousness to other fundamentals spacetime, mass, physical processes. The second answer is that Consciousness might be universal, EVERY system might have some degree of consciousness. This view is sometimes called “Panpsychism”, Every system is conscious. not just humans, dogs, mice, flies, but even microbes, elementary particles. Even a photon has some degree of consciousness. It’s trajectory is the one feeback loop, but it also has 0 interconnectivity so it’s just one unit. The idea is not that photons are intelligent or thinking, its not that a photon is wracked with angst because it’s life is pointless. But the thought is maybe that photons might have some element of raw subjective feeling, some primitive precursor to consciousness. This may sound a bit cooky to you. Why would anyone think such a crazy thing? Some motivation comes from the first crazy idea, that consciousness is fundamental. If its fundamental, like space time and mass, its natural to suppose it might be universal too, the way they are. Its also worh noting that althought the idea seems counterintuitive to us, its much less counterintuitive to people from different cultures where the human mind is seen as much more continuous with nature. A deeper motivation comes from the idea that perhaps the most simple and powerful way to find fundamental laws connecting consciousness to physical processing. Is to link consciousness to information. Wherever there’s information processing, there’s consciousness. Complex information processing like in a human, complex consciousness. Simpke and familiar information processing simple consciousness. The really exciting thing is that in recent years, a neuroscientist, Julia Tenoanee, has taken this kind of theory and developed it rigorously. With a mathematicsl theory, he has a mathematical measure of information integration, which he called “PHI”, measuring the amount of information integrated in a system. An dhe supposes that Phi goes along with consciousness. The human brain, an incredibly large amount of information. High degree of phi means a whole lot of consciousness. A mouse, medium degree of information and integration, still pretty significant, pretty serious amount of consciousness. As you go down to worms, microbes, particles, the amount of phi falls off. But its still a non zero, a photon still has a nonzero degree of consciousness. Antinoni’s theory still has a nonzero degree, in fact he’s proposing a fundamental law of consciousness, high PHI = High Consciousness. I don’t know if this theory is right, it’s actually perhaps the leading theory in the science of consciousness and its been used to integrate a whole range of scientific data, and it does have the nice property that it’s simple enough to write on the front of a t-shirt. Another final motivation is that panpsychism might help us integrate consciousness into the physcial world. Physicistis and philosophers have often observed that physics is curioously abstract, it describes the structure of reality with a bunch of equations but doesnt tell us about the reality that underlies it. As stephen hawking puts it “what puts the fire into the equations”, well on the panpsychist view, you can leave the equations as they are, but you can take them to be describing the flux of consciousness, thats what physics is ultimately doing, describing the flux of consciousness. It’s consciousness that puts the fire into the equations. Consciousness doesn’t dangle outside the physical world as some kind of extra, it’s there right at its heart. This view this panpsychist view has the potential to transfigure our relationship to nautre, and may have some serious social and ethical consequences. Some of these may be counterintuitive. I used to think I shouldnt eat anything which is conscious, so therefore I should be vegetarian. But now if you’re a panpsychist and take that view, you’re gonna go very hungry, this tends to transfigure your views wheras what matters for ethical purposes and moral consideration, is not so much the fact of consciousness, but the degree and teh complexity of consciousness. Its also natural to ask about consciousness in other systems like computers, what about the AI in the movie her? Is she conscious? Well if you take the informational panpsychist view, she has complicated information processing and integration. Remember, consciousness is not just the number of units, its how they interact, the sun has many particles but its not conscious because they interact poorly. It has complicated information processing, so the answer is very likely yes, she is concscious, it raises pretty serious ethical issues about both the ethics of developing intelligent computer systems, and the ethics of turning them off. Finally you might ask about the consciousness of whole groups, the planet, does canada have its own consciousness? Or at a more local level, does an integrated group like the audience of this video, we are having a collective consciousness. This group is distinct from the inner movies of each of our parts, i don’t know the answer to that question but its at least worht taking seriously. So this panpsychist vision is a radical one, I dont know if its correct, Im actually more confident about the first crazy idea that consciousness is fundamental than the second that its fundamental. This raises any number of questions has any numbe rof challenges, like how do those little bits of consciousness add up, to the kind iof complex consciousness we know and love. If we can answer those questions, then I think we’re gonna be well on our way to a serious theory of consciousness. If not, well this is the hardest problem perhaps in science and philsoophy, we cant expect to solve it over night, but i do think we’re gonna figure it out eventually. Understanding consciousness is a real jkey, both to understanding the universe and to understanding ourselves. It may just take the right crazy idea…
Personally I think consciousness is all about awareness, not just of your environment but also of yourself, for example I’m thinking, And I know that Im thinking, and I know that im talking about knowing that im thinking. But what I also know is that we dont know that mcuh about the brain, its like we have a general map but all the fine details are missibng. One of those details is the gateway to consciousness. A team of doctors ma ave discovered it, tese guys worked with Geroge Washington university and are studying a patient who has epilepsy. Epilepsy is caused by abnoramal neuronal activity in your brain, it’s when neurons just start to spark uncontrollably. ans one potential symptoom is that you lose consciousness. Well these doctros were stipulating parts of this patient’s brain to try and find out where her seizures were coming from. And when they stimulated a part called the Clostrum, the pateitn stopped what they were doing and just stared off into space. when they stopped stimulating that part of her brain, she recovered and had no recollection of what had just happebned. So its possible this team has found the on/off switch for human cosnsciousness. Now i say possible because we have to consider some factors. One, we’ve got a sample size of one person, that’s not enougn to draw anykind of scientific conclusion. 2) this patient had had a previous surgery where part of her hippocampus had been removed, that’s part of the brain assiociated with memory. That means she’s outside the norm so it may not be that her experience is representative of anyone elses. But lets assume the team in 2014 found the on off switch. What does that mean? It means that if part of our brains will lose consciousness when stimulated and have no memory of what happened, it sounds dystopian and scary. Also, if we study this mechanism enough, we might be able to replicate it and create machine consciousness.
What we call the hard problem of consciousness is explaining how you get subjective experience from the brain. Its not a question about how we behave, its a question about what its like, how it feels from the inside. You can explain all those objective mechanisms and onjective processes and you still wouldn’t have answered the hard problem. Which is WHY is it that all that functioning is accompanied by consciousness. The hard problem divides philsophers and scientists alike. Some philosophers argue that consciousness can be explained far more simply, a lot of puzzles, no mysteries. We’re gonna understand it from the bottom up and from the top down, I have no doubt about that. Daniel Dennet argues that consciousness is nothing more than a cognitive illusion that science will, in due course, explain. Our brains have been desigened by evolution and then redesigned by cultural evolution to give us a user friendly system of things in the world that we deal with. So the user friendly world that we live in, the manifest image, is a sort of friendly user illusion in the same way that the desktop of your laptop is a user illusion, it simplifies and it distorts in helpful ways for most purposes. If you really want to know what’s going on you have to go backstage. And the same thing is true about the brain and consciosuness. Until recently we didn’t have very good tools for doing it. The brain was off limits. As off limits as distant galaxies. We’re now developing the tools for studying the brain and developing the computational models so we can understand how a brain can deal with information and refine it, and uncover the semantics and the world outside and inside. So we now have the tool kit, now we just have to use the tools.
On september 13 1848 a freak accident caused an explosion that drove an iron rod straight into the skull of a worker named phineas gage. A rod almost as tall as he was and he didn’t die. But the phinease before the accident and the one who lived after it didn’t seem to have a lot in common personality ise. The phinease with no hole in his brain was a proper hardowrking gentlemean. And the phineas with injured brain was kind of a belligerant jerk, Phineas’s brain was changed and his personality changed too. This misfortune has provided lots of fodder for researchers of psychology and neurology, but the case of phineas gage holds lessons for philsoophers too. It provides us with some rare hard evidence that a part of us historically part of as nonphysical, our personality, is actually directly affected by what happens t us physically. So where does that reside? Minds and bodies interact with each other. But his is a pretty puzzling proposition, how can a purely mental immaterial thing like consciousness, which may be pure abstract mathematical patterns, have any effect on a purely physical thing? The puzzle of how minds and bodies can itneract with each other is known as the “Mind Body problem”. This is the problem that makes us wonde rhow can my body have a seperate entity called a mind lurking inside it, controlling it and being controlled by it? What would tether my body to this body in particular? Why couldn’t my mind just run off on its own or take a dip in the other bodies to see what it’s like in there. Descartes said that the mind is tethered to the body at the pineal gland, located at the base of the brain. And that all mind body interactions are filtered through that portal if yopu will, between the mind sand the body. But that only pushes the problem back without solving it. Since the pineal gland is part of the physical body. Many modern philsophers of mind seeing no way to solve the mind-body problem have felt compelled to abandon substance dualism altogether. Some are happy to be physicalists but others are convinced there are some parts of the human experience that simply can’t be boiled down to brains. Contemporary australian philosopher Frank Jackson presents us with the thought experiment of Mary, a woman who spent her entire life in a black and white room, learning everything with a black and white television. While locked in this room, Mary becomes a neurophyscist specializing in the science of color. She learns everything there is to know about light, optics, the physics of color and how it affects our sensory organs but she never saw it for herself. So here;s the question, when mary finally walks out of the room and see’s color for the first time, has mary learned something new? Jackson devised the thought experiment as an argument against reductive physicallism. Because the qualitative experience of seeing a color like red isn’t the same as knowing facts about red. If everything can be explained int terms of the phsycial, then when mary finally saw red it wouldn’t have contributed to her understanding at all. It wouldnt have told her anything she didnt already know. What’s missing from a physicalist account, many argue, is what are known as Qualia, instances of subjective first person experience. Qualia are what it feels like to stub your toe or take the first bite of a slice of pizza, or being betrayed by a trusted friend. Its what mary is said to gain when she steps out of the room and sees color for the first time. Physicalists respond to thought experiements liek jacksons by arguing that they beg the questuin. A philsophical fallacy where the premises assume the conclusion they’re supposed to be proving. Jackson’s thought experiment assumes that mary learns something new when she steps out of the room. But if physiucalism is true and she really knows weverything physical about colorl then of course seeing it for herself isn’t going to add to her understanding of it in any way. Phisicalists argue that their case is making progress as we learn more and more about the physical processes of the mind. But thats not really satisfying because we want an answer not a promisory note. But to be fair, physicalists have only been at work for a few decades while dualists have been bashing their heads agaisnt the mind body problem for centuries.The mary case and other arguments like it convince some people that they have to maintain their commitment to dualism evenn though they cant see a solution to the mind body problem . Contemporary british philosopher Colin Mcginn advocates for a view called Mysterianism, that the question of consciousness is unsolvable by human minds. He says we can’t figure it out because our brains are compartmentalized. The way we understand our mind is through reflection, it’s deeply personal and subjective. But the way we understand our brains and bodies is objective and verifiable. And those 2 modes of understanding just don’t mix. No amount of reflection could lead to any claims about neurons firing and no amount of empirical research will give rse to whaty its like to see color through someone else’s eyes. Our brains just dont have a compartment that can piece together those different modes of evidence. The mind body probelm hasbnt been solved and physicalism hasn’t been proven because both those things require brains to do something they cant do.