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Is defining life an instance of a key consciousness problem?


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The hard problem, that is, of “qualia”: The things we all know about and can discuss, whose limits are generally understood, but no one can define? So “life” is like “liberty” or “justice”?

Last night, I noted that we cannot even define life, but still … many are sure it must be a fully natural event. Why are they sure, under the circumstances?

Rob Sheldon comments helpfully:

We are trying to do far too many things at once with these definitions. Life doesn’t have to evolve to be life, for the simple reason that “liveness” is determined on a timescale of seconds to minutes (or possibly hours), whereas evolution is defined on a timescale of millennia to aeons.

I think intuitively we can tell the difference between a live dog and and a dead one pretty easily, or the difference between a live spider and a rubber one. In fact, we need to make this distinction pretty rapidly just to survive and swat mosquitos, for example.

So no, this is difficulty with defining life isn’t really a semantic or comprehension difficulty, its a philosophical difficulty. It gets in the way of promoting Darwinism, OOL, and abortion, for example. And that’s what all the contortions are about–attempts to find definitions that promote all one’s favorite philosphies and detract from one’s enemies. The best definition of all is “Life is what I say it is and not what everyone else falsely claims.”

Now that we’ve settled this definition, can we get on with the question of how OOL occurred and perhaps when?

Well, that is what I propose to do in the current “Science Fictions” series. Establishing that there isn’t a definition of life – as there was, say, for the Higgs boson – is at least some help in evaluating what we are about to see and hear. It may be that, if “life” is a quale (plural is qualia), a technical definition will never exist.

See also: Is there a good reason to believe that life’s origin must be a fully natural event?


The Science Fictions series at your fingertips

Your preferred many worlds scenario is epistemologically self-defeating. In some other quasi infinite self, somewhere out there in your many worlds imagination, you believe that Consciousness and Free Will are integral to Quantum Mechanics. Yet in this present 'real world' you claim that logic, not your atheistic/materialistic philosophy, compels you to accept the many worlds scenario as true. Yet logic itself, in order for it to remain binding and true, demands a perspective outside the material/physical order that is not subject to the whims of the material/physical order: Sam Harris's Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It - Martin Cothran - November 9, 2012 Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state -- including their position on this issue -- is the effect of a physical, not logical cause. By their own logic, it isn't logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/11/sam_harriss_fre066221.html Physicalism and Reason - May 2013 Summary: So we find ourselves affirming two contradictory propositions: 1. Everything is governed by cause-and-effect. 2. Our brains can process and be changed by ground-consequent logical relationships. To achieve consistency, we must either deny that everything is governed by cause-and-effect, and open our worldviews to something beyond physicalism, or we must deny that our brains are influenced by ground-consequence reasoning, and abandon the idea that we are rational creatures. Ask yourself: are humans like falling dominoes, entirely subject to natural law, or may we stand up and walk in the direction that reason shows us? http://www.reasonsforgod.org/2012/09/physicalism-and-reason/ Self-refutation and the New Atheists: The Case of Jerry Coyne - Michael Egnor - September 12, 2013 Excerpt: Their (the New Atheists) ideology is a morass of bizarre self-refuting claim. They assert that science is the only way to truth, yet take no note that scientism itself isn't a scientific assertion. They assert a "skeptical" view that thoughts are only constructed artifacts of our neurological processing and have no sure contact with truth, ignoring the obvious inference that their skeptical assertion is thereby reduced to a constructed artifact with no sure contact with truth. They assert that Christianity has brought much immorality to the world, yet they deny the existence of objective morality. They assert that intelligent design is not testable, and (yet claim the counter proposition, that life is not designed, is testable). And they assert that we are determined entirely by our natural history and physical law and thereby have no free will, yet they assert this freely, claiming truth and personal exemption from determinism.,,, http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/09/self-refutation076541.html “One absolutely central inconsistency ruins [the popular scientific philosophy]. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears… unless Reason is an absolute, all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.” —C.S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry (aka the Argument from Reason) bornagain77
bornagain77, I'm not sure if you say my earlier comment here, where I explained why I don't find the arguments from QM to consciousness having a fundamental role in the universe. While you've given somewhat different arguments here, I see many of the same problems. For example, the quantum zeno effect actually shows exactly the same effect with unconscious observation, so the claim that it shows the importance of consciousness is rather hard to take seriously. Also, you dismiss many worlds, spontaneous collapse, decoherence, etc as "just so stories", but do you have any objective basis for dismissing them? Do you claim any of these are inconsistent with the various QM tests (Bell & Legett violations, delayed-choice tests, etc)? If not, what's wrong with them? Gordon Davisson
A working definition of life? How about this: A living being is a "soul" And what is a "soul"? A soul is an entity with consciousness and intelligence. The late Dr Lynn Margulis, the Symbiosis Guru, said that ALL living things have consciousness and intelligence. She based this claim on her observations of single celled organisms though a microscope. What I'm suggesting is using Dr Margulis idea to provide the definition of Life. chris haynes
And to further solidify the case that 'consciousness precedes reality' the violation of Leggett's inequalities were extended:
Quantum theory survives latest challenge - Dec 15, 2010 Excerpt: Even assuming that entangled photons could respond to one another instantly, the correlations between polarization states still violated Leggett’s inequality. The conclusion being that instantaneous communication is not enough to explain entanglement and realism must also be abandoned. This conclusion is now backed up by Sonja Franke-Arnold and collegues at the University of Glasgow and University of Strathclyde who have performed another experiment showing that entangled photons exhibit,, stronger correlations than allowed for particles with individually defined properties – even if they would be allowed to communicate constantly. http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2010/dec/15/quantum-theory-survives-latest-challenge
That quantum mechanics applies to the large, 'macro', scale of the universe was established here:
Macrorealism Emerging from Quantum Physics - Brukner, Caslav; Kofler, Johannes American Physical Society, APS March Meeting, - March 5-9, 2007 Excerpt: for unrestricted measurement accuracy a violation of macrorealism (i.e. a violation of the Leggett-Garg inequalities) is possible for arbitrary large systems.,, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007APS..MARB33005B
In the following article, Physics Professor Richard Conn Henry is quite blunt as to what quantum mechanics, specifically Leggett's Inequality, reveals to us about the 'primary cause' of our 3D reality:
Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger by Richard Conn Henry - Physics Professor - John Hopkins University Excerpt: Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the "illusion" of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism (solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist). (Dr. Henry's referenced experiment and paper - “An experimental test of non-local realism” by S. Gröblacher et. al., Nature 446, 871, April 2007 - “To be or not to be local” by Alain Aspect, Nature 446, 866, April 2007 (Leggett's Inequality: Verified to 80 orders of magnitude) http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/aspect.html
Moreover, as if that were not enough to at least give a hint to materialists that they may be on the wrong track in regards to explaining life in material terms, the 'Quantum Zeno effect' also gives us strong evidence that consciousness precedes material reality:
Quantum Zeno effect Excerpt: The quantum Zeno effect is,,, an unstable particle, if observed continuously, will never decay. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_Zeno_effect
The reason why I am fascinated with this Quantum Zeno effect is, for one thing, that Entropy is, by a wide margin, the most finely tuned of initial conditions of the Big Bang:
The Physics of the Small and Large: What is the Bridge Between Them? Roger Penrose Excerpt: “The time-asymmetry is fundamentally connected to with the Second Law of Thermodynamics: indeed, the extraordinarily special nature (to a greater precision than about 1 in 10^10^123, in terms of phase-space volume) can be identified as the “source” of the Second Law (Entropy).” How special was the big bang? – Roger Penrose Excerpt: This now tells us how precise the Creator’s aim must have been: namely to an accuracy of one part in 10^10^123. (from the Emperor’s New Mind, Penrose, pp 339-345 – 1989)
i.e. Why in blue blazes should conscious observation put a freeze on entropic decay, unless consciousness was/is more foundational to reality than entropy is? And seeing that entropy is VERY foundational to explaining 'material' events within the space-time of this universe,,,
Shining Light on Dark Energy – October 21, 2012 Excerpt: It (Entropy) explains time; it explains every possible action in the universe;,, Even gravity, Vedral argued, can be expressed as a consequence of the law of entropy. ,,, The principles of thermodynamics are at their roots all to do with information theory. Information theory is simply an embodiment of how we interact with the universe —,,, http://crev.info/2012/10/shining-light-on-dark-energy/
,,,then, since conscious observation puts a freeze on entropic decay of a unstable particle, I think the implications are fairly obvious that consciousness must, of logical necessity, precede the 1 in 10^10^123 entropy of the universe! In fact, due to advances in quantum mechanics, the argument for God from consciousness can now be framed like this:
1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a 'epi-phenomena' of material reality. 2. If consciousness is a 'epi-phenomena' of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality. 3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality. 4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality. Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G_Fi50ljF5w_XyJHfmSIZsOcPFhgoAZ3PRc_ktY8cFo/edit
Verse, Quote, and Music:
John 3:12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." William Shakespeare - Hamlet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dE5B5ay7os Evanescence - The Other Side (Lyric Video) http://www.vevo.com/watch/evanescence/the-other-side-lyric-video/USWV41200024?source=instantsearch
The Law Of Identity, and the fact that the mind/soul cannot be the same thing as the brain/body, is fleshed out in more detail here:
The Mind and Materialist Superstition - Six "conditions of mind" that are irreducible to material: Michael Egnor, professor of neurosurgery at SUNY, Stony Brook Excerpt: Intentionality,,, Qualia,,, Persistence of Self-Identity,,, Restricted Access,,, Incorrigibility,,, Free Will,,, http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/11/the_mind_and_materialist_super.html Six reasons why you should believe in non-physical minds - podcast and summary (Law of Identity: 6 properties of mind that are not identical to properties of the brain, thus the mind is not the brain) http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/six-reasons-why-you-should-believe-in-non-physical-minds/
Moreover, in regards to qualia, (i.e. subjective, conscious experience), it should be noted that qualia is not quite as far removed from 'scientific testing' as has been supposed by some people,,,
For some questions, science may not have answers - Moorad Alexanian - February 2014 Excerpt: Surely, not only the question of the origin of life,, but questions of consciousness and of free will may be beyond the bounds of science. For instance, what measuring devices, other than human beings themselves, can we use to detect human consciousness? Clearly, purely physical data cannot penetrate the mystery that is the human mind. http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/67/2/10.1063/PT.3.2260
That qualia, i.e. conscious experience, is not quite as far removed from empirical study as some people might believe, was first strongly hinted at in the infamous double slit experiment,,
Double Slit Experiment – Explained By Prof Anton Zeilinger (a leader in quantum mechanics) – video Quote: "We know what the particle is doing at the source when it is created. We know what it is doing at the detector when it is registered, but we do not know what it is doing in-between" - Anton Zeilinger http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6101627/
Of course, materialists made up all sorts of 'just so stories' (many worlds, spontaneous collapse, decoherence, etc..) to try to get around what the double slit experiment was clearly giving us a firm clue of, namely, that a person's subjective conscious experience is somehow integral to the double slit experiment. But, despite these superfluous objections from materialists, Eugene Wigner came along, with 'Quantum Symmetries', and firmly established that the subjective conscious experience of a person is integral to quantum mechanics. Here is Wigner commenting on the key experiment that led Wigner to his Nobel Prize winning work on quantum symmetries,,,
Eugene Wigner Excerpt: When I returned to Berlin, the excellent crystallographer Weissenberg asked me to study: why is it that in a crystal the atoms like to sit in a symmetry plane or symmetry axis. After a short time of thinking I understood:,,,, To express this basic experience in a more direct way: the world does not have a privileged center, there is no absolute rest, preferred direction, unique origin of calendar time, even left and right seem to be rather symmetric. The interference of electrons, photons, neutrons has indicated that the state of a particle can be described by a vector possessing a certain number of components. As the observer is replaced by another observer (working elsewhere, looking at a different direction, using another clock, perhaps being left-handed), the state of the very same particle is described by another vector, obtained from the previous vector by multiplying it with a matrix. This matrix transfers from one observer to another. http://www.reak.bme.hu/Wigner_Course/WignerBio/wb1.htm
i.e. In the experiment the 'world' (i.e. the universe) does not have a ‘privileged center’. Yet strangely, the conscious observer in the experiment does exhibit a 'privileged center'. This is since the 'matrix', which determines which vector will be used to describe the particle in the experiment, is 'observer-centric' in its origination! Here are some more quotes by Wigner reflecting this finding:
"It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness." Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) - "Symmetries and Reflections – Scientific Essays" - 1967 "It will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the scientific conclusion that the content of the consciousness is the ultimate universal reality" - Eugene Wigner - (Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, Eugene Wigner, in Wheeler and Zurek, p.169) 1961 - received Nobel Prize in 1963 for 'Quantum Symmetries'
Moreover, Wigner's work in Quantum symmetries is not the only place where a person's qualia, i.e. conscious experience, is found to be integral to quantum mechanics. In the following video, at the 9:11 minute mark of the video,,,
Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser Experiment Explained http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6HLjpj4Nt4
This following experiment is gone over,,
Quantum physics mimics spooky action into the past - April 23, 2012 Excerpt: The authors experimentally realized a "Gedankenexperiment" called "delayed-choice entanglement swapping", formulated by Asher Peres in the year 2000. Two pairs of entangled photons are produced, and one photon from each pair is sent to a party called Victor. Of the two remaining photons, one photon is sent to the party Alice and one is sent to the party Bob. Victor can now choose between two kinds of measurements. If he decides to measure his two photons in a way such that they are forced to be in an entangled state, then also Alice's and Bob's photon pair becomes entangled. If Victor chooses to measure his particles individually, Alice's and Bob's photon pair ends up in a separable state. Modern quantum optics technology allowed the team to delay Victor's choice and measurement with respect to the measurements which Alice and Bob perform on their photons. "We found that whether Alice's and Bob's photons are entangled and show quantum correlations or are separable and show classical correlations can be decided after they have been measured", explains Xiao-song Ma, lead author of the study. According to the famous words of Albert Einstein, the effects of quantum entanglement appear as "spooky action at a distance". The recent experiment has gone one remarkable step further. "Within a naïve classical world view, quantum mechanics can even mimic an influence of future actions on past events", says Anton Zeilinger. http://phys.org/news/2012-04-quantum-physics-mimics-spooky-action.html
i.e. The preceding experiment clearly shows, and removes any doubt whatsoever, that the ‘material’ detector recording information in the double slit is secondary to the experiment and that a conscious observer being able to consciously know the 'which path' information of a photon with local certainty, is of primary importance in the experiment. Then of course there is Leggett's Inequality which now also has come along and solidly established conscious observation's centrality to Quantum Mechanics:
Quantum Physics – (material reality does not exist until we look at it) – Dr. Quantum video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1ezNvpFcJU
If you have trouble accepting the implications of the preceding video, don’t feel alone, Nobel prize winner Anthony Leggett, who developed Leggett’s inequality to try to prove that an objective material reality exists when we are not looking at it, still does not believe the results of the experiment that he himself was integral in devising, even though the inequality was violated by a stunning 80 orders of magnitude. He seems to have done this simply because the results contradicted the ‘realism’ he believes in (realism is the notion that an objective material reality exists apart from our conscious observation of it).
A team of physicists in Vienna has devised experiments that may answer one of the enduring riddles of science: Do we create the world just by looking at it? - 2008 Excerpt: In mid-2007 Fedrizzi found that the new realism model was violated by 80 orders of magnitude; the group was even more assured that quantum mechanics was correct. Leggett agrees with Zeilinger that realism is wrong in quantum mechanics, but when I asked him whether he now believes in the theory, he answered only “no” before demurring, “I’m in a small minority with that point of view and I wouldn’t stake my life on it.” For Leggett there are still enough loopholes to disbelieve. I asked him what could finally change his mind about quantum mechanics. Without hesitation, he said sending humans into space as detectors to test the theory.,,, (to which Anton Zeilinger responded) When I mentioned this to Prof. Zeilinger he said, “That will happen someday. There is no doubt in my mind. It is just a question of technology.” Alessandro Fedrizzi had already shown me a prototype of a realism experiment he is hoping to send up in a satellite. It’s a heavy, metallic slab the size of a dinner plate. http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_reality_tests/P3/
Although Dr. Sheldon is certainly correct in observing:
"Life doesn’t have to evolve to be life, for the simple reason that “liveness” is determined on a timescale of seconds to minutes (or possibly hours), whereas evolution is defined on a timescale of millennia to aeons. I think intuitively we can tell the difference between a live dog and and a dead one pretty easily, or the difference between a live spider and a rubber one. In fact, we need to make this distinction pretty rapidly just to survive and swat mosquitos, for example."
although that is certainly correct, I would hold that the simple fact that material things are animate (i.e. moving), although surely an indication that a material object possesses life within itself, still does not capture the full essence of what life truly is. For one thing, the 'First Mover' is necessary for motion happening in this universe in the first place:
"The ‘First Mover’ is necessary for change occurring at each moment." Michael Egnor – Aquinas’ First Way http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09/jerry_coyne_and_aquinas_first.html Aquinas’ First Way – (The First Mover – Unmoved Mover) - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qmpw0_w27As Aquinas’ First Way 1) Change in nature is elevation of potency to act. 2) Potency cannot actualize itself, because it does not exist actually. 3) Potency must be actualized by another, which is itself in act. 4) Essentially ordered series of causes (elevations of potency to act) exist in nature. 5) An essentially ordered series of elevations from potency to act cannot be in infinite regress, because the series must be actualized by something that is itself in act without the need for elevation from potency. 6) The ground of an essentially ordered series of elevations from potency to act must be pure act with respect to the casual series. 7) This Pure Act– Prime Mover– is what we call God. http://egnorance.blogspot.com/2011/08/aquinas-first-way.html
The reliance for movement in this universe to be on a non-local, 'first mover', cause is now empirically demonstrated. i.e. The findings of Quantum Mechanics have now been extended to falsify local realism (reductive materialism) without even using quantum entanglement to do it:
‘Quantum Magic’ Without Any ‘Spooky Action at a Distance’ – June 2011 Excerpt: A team of researchers led by Anton Zeilinger at the University of Vienna and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences used a system which does not allow for entanglement, and still found results which cannot be interpreted classically. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110624111942.htm Falsification of Local Realism without using Quantum Entanglement - Anton Zeilinger - video http://vimeo.com/34168474 Particle and Wave-Like Behavior of Light Measured Simultaneously (Nov. 1, 2012) Excerpt: Dr Peruzzo, Research Fellow at the Centre for Quantum Photonics, said: "The measurement apparatus detected strong nonlocality, which certified that the photon behaved simultaneously as a wave and a particle in our experiment. This represents a strong refutation of models in which the photon is either a wave or a particle." http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121101141107.htm
Professor Zeilinger, captures the primary essence of the 'First Mover' argument in this following quote/observation:
"The path taken by the photon is not an element of reality. We are not allowed to talk about the photon passing through this or this slit. Neither are we allowed to say the photon passes through both slits. All this kind of language is not applicable." Anton Zeilinger Quantum Mechanics - Double Slit Experiment. Is anything real? (Prof. Anton Zeilinger) - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayvbKafw2g0
Thus, since a non-local, beyond space and time, cause is required to explain motion in this universe in the first place, how much more is animate life in this universe required to appeal to a such 'non-local' cause? Moreover, besides the first mover argument, life itself is clearly not reducible to what material things are, or to what they do.
The Mystery Of Life - God's Creation & Providence - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4193364
The fact that life is not reducible to what material things are, or to what they do, is most dramatically illustrated with consciousness. Using the Law Of Identity, the fact that the mind/soul cannot be the same thing as the brain/body is clearly established. Dr. Plantinga gives a short, simple, overview of the argument from the Law Of Identity for the mind/soul here:
Alvin Plantinga and the Modal Argument (for the existence of the soul) - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOTn_wRwDE0

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