Cosmology Mind Neuroscience Physics

Can a theory of consciousness help us build a theory of everything?

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From George Musser, author of Spooky Action at a Distance and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory, at Nautilus, noting

Neuroscience is weighing in on physics’ biggest questions.

The physicists and philosophers I asked to comment on collapse driven by information integration are broadly sympathetic, if only because the other options for explaining (or explaining away) collapse have their own failings. But they worry that Integrated Information Theory is poorly suited to the task. Angelo Bassi, a physicist at the University of Trieste who studies the foundations of quantum mechanics, says that information integration is too abstract a concept. Quantum mechanics deals in the gritty details of where particles are and how fast they’re moving. Relating the two is harder than you might think. Bassi says that Ranchin and Kremnizer use a formula that predicts absurdities such as the instantaneous propagation of signals. “I find it feasible to link the collapse … to consciousness, but in order to do it in a convincing way, I think one needs a definition of consciousness which boils down to configurations of particles in the brain,” he says. In that case, the collapse would be triggered not by consciousness or information integration per se, but by more primitive dynamics that integrated systems are somehow more sensitive to.

Which brings us back to emergence and the biggest emergence problem of all: how the quantity of particles makes the quality of mind. Integrated Information Theory may not solve it—the scientific study of consciousness is young, and it would be surprising if neuroscientists had hit on the right answer so soon. Consciousness is such a deep and pervasive problem that it makes an odd couple of neuroscience and physics. Even if the answer does not lie in the interconnectedness of networks, it surely demands the interconnectedness of disciplines.

More.

We think we know what a theory of everything should be like but we really do not know what consciousness is and can’t grasp it using current assumptions and methods. That means we will be at the job a while…

See also: Would we give up naturalism to solve the hard problem of consciousness?

and

What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

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2 Replies to “Can a theory of consciousness help us build a theory of everything?

  1. 1
    J-Mac says:

    “You’re saying the information is between interacting elements, but I’m composed of atoms, so shouldn’t the information be over those? … You can’t just arbitrarily say, ‘I choose neurons”

    And

    “Bassi says that Ranchin and Kremnizer use a formula that predicts absurdities such as the instantaneous propagation of signals. “I find it feasible to link the collapse … to consciousness, but in order to do it in a convincing way, I think one needs a definition of consciousness which boils down to configurations of particles in the brain,” he says. In that case, the collapse would be triggered not by consciousness or information integration per se, but by more primitive dynamics that integrated systems are somehow more sensitive to”

    As well as

    “Which brings us back to emergence and the biggest emergence problem of all: how the quantity of particles makes the quality of mind. Integrated Information Theory may not solve it—the scientific study of consciousness is young, and it would be surprising if neuroscientists had hit on the right answer so soon.”

    Seems to me information or its origins is the greatest obstacle on the way to solving what consciousness is and how to define it…

  2. 2
    Origenes says:

    An approach based on Integrated Information Theory allows for the possibility that causation occurs on more than one level. Using a quantitative measure of causation, researchers can calculate how much each level contributes to the functioning of a system, rather than presume an answer at the outset. “If you don’t have a good measure or concept of causation,” Hoel says, “then how are you sure about your claims that the microscale is necessarily doing all the causal work?”

    What’s worse, Hoel, is that it would not even make the slightest sense if the microscale does all the causal work. Consider this: why would fermions and bosons do things in such a way that it results in coherent rationality? Why on earth do you, or anyone, think that fermions and bosons which don’t give a hoot about e.g. Integrated Information Theory can produce Integrated Information Theory? They don’t want to do that, they don’t know what a theory is, they are not interested and do not have the power to orchestrate the whole venture.

    “Scale is an immediate rejoinder to IIT,” says Erik Hoel, Tononi’s former student and now a postdoc at Columbia University. “You’re saying the information is between interacting elements, but I’m composed of atoms, so shouldn’t the information be over those? … You can’t just arbitrarily say, ‘I choose neurons.’”

    Hoel, atoms or neurons won’t do any better than fermions and bosons. Precisely because they all share the same problem: no overview, no plan, no interest, no intelligence and no tools to coordinate their ‘colleagues’. You are looking at a category of causal actors which obviously does not have what it takes to produce rational consciousness.

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