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Materialist’s dream: Consciousness as a state of matter

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Great physicists have tended to see mind as underlying matter but a new school of thought argues that consciousness is a form of matter, like solid, liquid, or gas.

Max Tegmark, who sees consciousness as a fourth state of matter (perceptronium), offers to explain in New Scientist:

WHY are you conscious right now? Specifically, why are you having a subjective experience of reading these words, seeing colours and hearing sounds, while the inanimate objects around you presumably aren’t having any subjective experience at all?

Different people mean different things by “consciousness”, including awareness of environment or self. I am asking the more basic question of why you experience anything at all, which is the essence of what philosopher David Chalmers has coined “the hard problem” of consciousness.

The article is paywalled but here’s his paper, “Consciousness as a state of matter,” and here’s a vid if you can’t sleep:

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At the end of the day, it’s not just that we don’t have any good theories of consciousness; it’s that we don’t have any real theories at all.

19 Replies to “Materialist’s dream: Consciousness as a state of matter

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    Three questions”

    1. How big is the leap from “consciousness is a state of matter” to “consciousness is a different type of matter”?

    2. Knower and known are opposites, no?

    3. Opposites are of the same nature, no?

  2. 2
    nightlight says:

    At the end of the day, it’s not just that we don’t have any good theories of consciousness; it’s that we don’t have any real theories at all.

    Which makes even more puzzling the insistence of Stephen Meyer and others at DI, who

    a) insist on formulating ID as a hypothesis about causal role of consciousness in producing/designing biological complexity,

    b) complain that ID is being unfairly rejected as a scientific hypothesis.

    The major problem, which the quoted section acknowledges, is that present natural science cannot say anything scientifically about causal powers of consciousness to affect the matter-energy elements, such as complex biological molecules.

    Hence it is impossible to formulate a valid scientific hypothesis in which has a core premise that “consciousness” is interacting in some way with molecules (in order to arrange them into particular complex combinations observed in biological world), as Meyer and others keep doing.

    By this self-inflicted reductio ad absurdum of their own DI hypothesis, Meyer and DI have done more damage to the idea of intelligent design of universe, than any neo-Darwinists could dream of inflicting.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    nightlight claims:

    The major problem, which the quoted section acknowledges, is that present natural science cannot say anything scientifically about causal powers of consciousness to affect the matter-energy elements, such as complex biological molecules.

    which is an interesting comment for nightlight to make since he himself (apparently unbeknownst to himself), via his own consciousness interacting with the molecules of his brain, has just written more functional information in his short post than has ever been observed to be generated by purely material processes in the universe.

    Book Review – Meyer, Stephen C. Signature in the Cell. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
    Excerpt: As early as the 1960s, those who approached the problem of the origin of life from the standpoint of information theory and combinatorics observed that something was terribly amiss. Even if you grant the most generous assumptions: that every elementary particle in the observable universe is a chemical laboratory randomly splicing amino acids into proteins every Planck time for the entire history of the universe, there is a vanishingly small probability that even a single functionally folded protein of 150 amino acids would have been created. Now of course, elementary particles aren’t chemical laboratories, nor does peptide synthesis take place where most of the baryonic mass of the universe resides: in stars or interstellar and intergalactic clouds. If you look at the chemistry, it gets even worse—almost indescribably so: the precursor molecules of many of these macromolecular structures cannot form under the same prebiotic conditions—they must be catalysed by enzymes created only by preexisting living cells, and the reactions required to assemble them into the molecules of biology will only go when mediated by other enzymes, assembled in the cell by precisely specified information in the genome.
    So, it comes down to this: Where did that information come from? The simplest known free living organism (although you may quibble about this, given that it’s a parasite) has a genome of 582,970 base pairs, or about one megabit (assuming two bits of information for each nucleotide, of which there are four possibilities). Now, if you go back to the universe of elementary particle Planck time chemical labs and work the numbers, you find that in the finite time our universe has existed, you could have produced about 500 bits of structured, functional information by random search. Yet here we have a minimal information string which is (if you understand combinatorics) so indescribably improbable to have originated by chance that adjectives fail.
    http://www.fourmilab.ch/docume.....k_726.html

    To clarify as to how the 500 bit universal limit is found for ‘structured, functional information’:

    Dembski’s original value for the universal probability bound is 1 in 10^150,

    10^80, the number of elementary particles in the observable universe.
    10^45, the maximum rate per second at which transitions in physical states can occur.
    10^25, a billion times longer than the typical estimated age of the universe in seconds.

    Thus, 10^150 = 10^80 × 10^45 × 10^25. Hence, this value corresponds to an upper limit on the number of physical events that could possibly have occurred since the big bang.

    How many bits would that be:

    Pu = 10-150, so, -log2 Pu = 498.29 bits

    Call it 500 bits (The 500 bits is further specified as a specific type of information. It is specified as Complex Specified Information by Dembski or as Functional Information by Abel to separate it from merely Ordered Sequence Complexity or Random Sequence Complexity; See Three subsets of sequence complexity)
    Three subsets of sequence complexity and their relevance to biopolymeric information – Abel, Trevors
    http://www.tbiomed.com/content/2/1/29

    This short sentence, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” is calculated by Winston Ewert, in this following video at the 10 minute mark, to contain 1000 bits of algorithmic specified complexity, and thus to exceed the Universal Probability Bound (UPB) of 500 bits set by Dr. Dembski
    Proposed Information Metric: Conditional Kolmogorov Complexity – Winston Ewert – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm3mm3ofAYU

    Here are the slides of preceding video with the calculation of the information content of the preceding sentence on page 14
    http://www.blythinstitute.org/.....t_info.pdf

    Lack of Signal Is Not a Lack of Information – July 18, 2012
    Excerpt: Putting it all together:
    The NFL (No Free Lunch) Theorems show that evolution is stuck with a blind search. Information lights the path out of blind search; the more information, the brighter the light.
    Complex specified information (CSI) exceeds the UPB, so in the evolutionary context a blind search is not an option.
    Our uniform experience with CSI is that it always has an intelligent cause.
    Evolution is disconfirmed by negative arguments (NFL theorems and the UPB). Intelligent design is confirmed by positive arguments (uniform experience and inference to the best explanation).
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....62231.html

    So if the personal agent of nightlight did not write the post with his name on it, what did? I certainly don’t think that nightlight’s computer wrote it by itself!

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Stephen Meyer’s Rebuttal to Robert Asher’s “You Don’t Have A Mechanism” Argument – Jan. 2014
    Excerpt: He cannot say that the principle of methodological naturalism requires that all genuinely scientific theories invoke only mechanistic causes, because the principle of methodological naturalism itself needs justification.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....81161.html

    i.e., Methodological Naturalism is itself a philosophical claim that cannot be tested scientifically. So how do atheists know that Methodological Naturalism is true scientifically?

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    As to ‘personal agent’:

    Dr. Gary Mathern – What Can You Do With Half A Brain? – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrKijBx_hAw

  6. 6
    gpuccio says:

    nightlight:

    Present science should not be “natural” (whatever it means), but simply science.

    And science can say a lot about the causal powers of consciousness, as much as about the causal powers of anything else, because science is about empirical observations and their apparent relationships, and consciousness is an empirical fact which can well be observed.

    That’s the simple truth.

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    of interest is the problem that Max Tegmark is running into in trying to mathematically model consciousness and information ‘locally’, i.e. within space-time:

    Why Physicists Are Saying Consciousness Is A State Of Matter, Like a Solid, A Liquid Or A Gas – Jan 16, 2014
    Excerpt: Tegmark points out that any information stored in a special network known as a Hopfield neural net automatically has this error-correcting facility. However, he calculates that a Hopfield net about the size of the human brain with 10^11 neurons, can only store 37 bits of integrated information.
    “This leaves us with an integration paradox: why does the information content of our conscious experience appear to be vastly larger than 37 bits?” asks Tegmark.
    That’s a question that many scientists might end up pondering in detail. For Tegmark, this paradox suggests that his mathematical formulation of consciousness is missing a vital ingredient. “This strongly implies that the integration principle must be supplemented by at least one additional principle,” he says. Suggestions please in the comments section!
    https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/5e7ed624986d

    Well my solicited suggestion is that he stop trying to model consciousness within a mathematical model, but instead view consciousness as the originator of mathematical models:

    Alan Turing and Kurt Godel – Incompleteness Theorem and Human Intuition – video (notes in video description)
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/8516356/

    “Either mathematics is too big for the human mind or the human mind is more than a machine.”
    – Kurt Gödel

    “If the price of avoiding non-locality is to make an intuitive explanation impossible, one has to ask whether the cost is too great.”
    David Bohm et al. Physc. Rep. 144, 321 (1987)

  8. 8
    Dionisio says:

    bornagain77 @ 3

    which is an interesting comment for nightlight to make since he himself (apparently unbeknownst to himself), via his own consciousness interacting with the molecules of his brain, has just written more functional information in his short post than has ever been observed to be generated by purely material processes in the universe.

    Good observation! 😉

  9. 9
    Dionisio says:

    gpuccio @ 6

    Very understandable logical comment. Thanks.

  10. 10

    What does the term “matter” even mean anymore in the age of quantum physics? Science has disproved materialism in any significant sense of the term “matter”. All it is now is just an ideological placeholder for “anything but god”.

  11. 11
    aqeels says:

    The hard problem of consciousness is certainly an apt phrase. The concept of consciousness is rather broad so it often helps to focus in on a specific aspect of it.

    Roger Penrose does precisely this. I think he is on the money when he tackles a specific aspect of consciousness, namely mathematical understanding. He demonstrates that mathematical inductive reasoning is beyond computation and so we must find something in the physical universe that is also non-computational if we are to going to try to explain consciouness. The best candidate for this non-computational aspect of the universe is for him the inconsistency between the quantum wave state function and the measurement procedure which he argues are at odds with each other. I am less optimistic about these conclusions, but I do feel that he is on the right track or is at least facing up to the challenge.

    Simply asserting that consciousness is somehow primal to the universe and may be a new state of matter is not really an explanation at all. For starters it does nothing to explain the concept of “perceiver” and the “perceived”. Personally, I beleive that consciousness and how it works will forever elude us for the simple reason that we depend on it for our understanding in the first place.

  12. 12
    Mapou says:

    He demonstrates that mathematical inductive reasoning is beyond computation and so we must find something in the physical universe that is also non-computational if we are to going to try to explain consciouness.

    How was this demonstrated? I’m almost sure that algorithms have been developed that can perform inductive and deductive reasoning. But then again, maybe I misunderstand what you mean by “mathematical inductive reasoning”.

    Simply asserting that consciousness is somehow primal to the universe and may be a new state of matter is not really an explanation at all.

    True.

    For starters it does nothing to explain the concept of “perceiver” and the “perceived”. Personally, I beleive that consciousness and how it works will forever elude us for the simple reason that we depend on it for our understanding in the first place.

    I agree to a certain extent because I don’t yet see why understanding requires consciousness. I think understanding can be a purely mechanical cause/effect process. I see no reason we cannot, in principle, build a robot that can learn to develop an understanding of its environment and behave/adapt accordingly.

    That being said, I think your statement touches the heart of the problem. Like ‘knower’ and ‘known’, ‘perceiver’ and ‘perceived’ are complementary opposites, i.e., one cannot logically exist without the other. This alone explains a lot about consciousness. Since they are opposites, we can infer that the knower cannot be known and the known cannot know. Or, to use your terms, the perceiver cannot be perceived and the perceived cannot perceive.

    The above tells us that, if consciousness exists, it cannot be made of physical matter because nothing can be its own opposite.

  13. 13
    gpuccio says:

    aqeels:

    Roger Penrose does precisely this. I think he is on the money when he tackles a specific aspect of consciousness, namely mathematical understanding. He demonstrates that mathematical inductive reasoning is beyond computation and so we must find something in the physical universe that is also non-computational if we are to going to try to explain consciouness. The best candidate for this non-computational aspect of the universe is for him the inconsistency between the quantum wave state function and the measurement procedure which he argues are at odds with each other. I am less optimistic about these conclusions, but I do feel that he is on the right track or is at least facing up to the challenge.

    That’s exactly what I think of Penrose. Thank you for saying it. 🙂

  14. 14
    gpuccio says:

    Mapou:

    How was this demonstrated? I’m almost sure that algorithms have been developed that can perform inductive and deductive reasoning. But then again, maybe I misunderstand what you mean by “mathematical inductive reasoning”.

    Penrose derives his demonstration from Godel’s theorem. It is a very fascinating demonstration, and although many have tried to deny it, I believe that it remains perfectly valid.
    His two books, “The emperor’s new mind” and “Shadows of the mind” are fully dedicated to that discussion.

    My personal take of Penrose’s argument, put very simply, is that Godel’s theorem proves that our conscious understanding is beyond algorithmic procedures. In particular, the ability of human consciousness of going to a “meta” condition about anything which is perceived, being able to understand its meaning and to comment on that perception, is the true origin of our capacity to transcend algorithms, as shown by Godel’s theorem as interpreted by Penrose.

    I would add that the same property of consciousness is also the origin of its specific ability to generate original dFSCI.

  15. 15
    wallstreeter43 says:

    Gpuccio wrote “”nightlight:

    Present science should not be “natural” (whatever it means), but simply science.

    And science can say a lot about the causal powers of consciousness, as much as about the causal powers of anything else, because science is about empirical observations and their apparent relationships, and consciousness is an empirical fact which can well be observed.

    That’s the simple truth.””

    Gpuccio, correct and not only is consciousness an empirical fact that can be observed but the evidence is starting to lean towards consciousness being immaterial and not material.

    Sam parnia’s aware experiment hit the bullseye on 2 veridical Nde’s which point heavily towards consciousness not being a product of the brain but an immaterial thing outside of the brain.

    The evidence keeps getting stronger and stronger for the mind and brain not being the same thing, but we will always have pseudo skeptics and atheists who will deny this strong evidence .

  16. 16
    aqeels says:

    Gpuccio #13:

    No problem! Roger Penrose has a unique way of looking at things which often places him at odds with the main scientific community, but I applaud him for that. Indeed, we need more people willing to take a different approach. He certainly has the strong AI people up in arms!
    Mapou:

    How was this demonstrated? I’m almost sure that algorithms have been developed that can perform inductive and deductive reasoning. But then again, maybe I misunderstand what you mean by “mathematical inductive reasoning”.

    It’s a good question and thanks to gpuccio for clarifying. I would like to add my own take with a simple example.

    Mathematical inductive reasoning is about ascertaining mathematical truths from a mathematical procedure that provides a certain proof. If you have a mathematical procedure S that proves something true, then Godelian logic dictates that you can always form another Godelian statement G of S, written as G(S) that can be seen to be true so long as you trust S, but cannot be proven within S alone. It’s a very subtle argument but when you understand it you will see that it is very profound.

    Here is a good example that should make it concrete for you. You need a little bit of maths but nothing too complicated. It’s actually a form of Euclids proof of infinite primes.

    Firstly you assume (reductio ad absurdum) that there are a finite number of primes, where the largest prime is N.

    Next you construct a new number M defined as: –

    M = p1.p2……N + 1 (so multiple all primes from the smallest right up to N and then add 1)

    Next we divide M by one of the prime factors from p1…to N. (Anyone will do).

    As we can see you are always left with a remainder 1 (because you added 1).

    From this we can make the following two statements about M: –

    1. M must either be a prime as it’s not divisible by primes from p1…N. Therefore M > N and our initial assumption that N is the largest prime is false.

    2. M is a composite number than can be divided by an unknown prime U where U > N. Therefore once again N cannot be the largest prime.

    If we consider the above procedure to be S , it is clear that a “truth” emerges and we can “understand and see” that no matter how large N is we can always find a larger prime based on the procedure. Therefore we can conclude that primes are indeed infinite, which effectively becomes our G(S) statement. However G(S) is not contained within S.

    If you tried to provide an algorithm for G(S) you would run into a classic halting problem. Imagine you ran the procedure S and started with largest prime number, called N. The algorithm would then conclude that N is not the largest prime from the above steps, but you would need to run the procedure again with another larger prime, and so on so forth. From a computational point of view you have non halting problem in order to prove that there are an infinite set of primes. However our minds are able to transcend the procedure S and see the additional truth that allows us to be confident that primes are indeed infinite.

    I agree to a certain extent because I don’t yet see why understanding requires consciousness. I think understanding can be a purely mechanical cause/effect process.

    True understanding needs awareness. This seems obvious to me but I appreciate that this is pretty much an assertion on my part. As an example, take “Deep Blue”, the computer algorithm that defeated Gary Kasperov in a game of chess. It seems self evident that the algorithm underlying “Deep Blue” does not “understand” the game of chess as we do, as it lacks any awareness of what it is doing. In fact to impute the “it” to the computer is a category error. It was not “Deep Blue” that defeated Gary Kasperov, rather it was the conscious intelligent programmers that defeated him by contriving a mechanism to play a game of chess. Awareness is a part of consciousness and should be regarded as essential to real understanding. In fact I would further add that true intelligence requires understanding and moreover, understanding is predicated on awareness. I am fairly convinced that if the field of AI is to advance, it will need something beyond standard turing machine computational models.

    That being said, I think your statement touches the heart of the problem. Like ‘knower’ and ‘known’, ‘perceiver’ and ‘perceived’ are complementary opposites, i.e., one cannot logically exist without the other. This alone explains a lot about consciousness. Since they are opposites, we can infer that the knower cannot be known and the known cannot know. Or, to use your terms, the perceiver cannot be perceived and the perceived cannot perceive.

    You make the point beautifully here and I wholeheartedly agree. I enjoyed our chat and I hope I have clarified my points for you.

    gpuccio:

    I would add that the same property of consciousness is also the origin of its specific ability to generate original dFSCI.

    I agree and thanks again for your contributions to my initial comments.

  17. 17
    gpuccio says:

    aqeels at #16:

    🙂 🙂 🙂 Great!

    I have often argue that the following two concepts:

    a) Meaning

    b) Purpose

    cannot be defined in any objective way. If we try to give a definition, any definition, for them, we always need to refer to a conscious being experimenting them, or some related concept, as a conscious experience.

    And yet, those two simple conscious experiences are the foundation of all our scientific knowledge and of all out representation of reality.

  18. 18
    Axel says:

    Re your #10, WJM, they are not even naive realists, now, but naive fantasists.

    Hilarious when you think about it. The champions of ‘cold, hard reason’, the glittering prize brought to us by the Enlightenment.

    But what goes round, comes round. Our neighbour’s grubby, white Staffordshire bull-terrier, Bill, used to eat the windfalls from their damson tree. Trouble was, they tended to be half-fermented, so that he staggered around, not just piggy-eyed, but pie-eyed.

    In the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit often used drunkenness as a metaphor for the wilful blindness and general chicanery of the atheist. Now, thanks to their determination to control the lexicon, itself, when it will not lend itself to their fraudulent designs, where the most elementary common sense tells most people that something is nonsense, self-contradictory, oxymoronic or paradoxical, those in the thrall of the current, scientific establishment are, it seems, having eaten of the fermented fruit, mandated to rely on their intuition instead of reason and empirical testing; insisting, however, that the intractable self-contradication, must eventually yield its meaning to reason, before which, thanks to the fabled ‘promissory note’, every knee must bend.

    Except that, in real life, they have to accept the ever-proliferating paradoxes of modern physics, integrating them and moving on, in order to ‘earn’ their daily bread.

    They ought to be sensible enough to realise, as well as we do, that substituting the word, ‘intuition’ for the word, ‘reason’, when the latter is clearly the applicable concept, would not have been what Einstein had in mind, when lauding the intuition above reason.

    But, hey, if that’s the only way they can cover all their bases….! Chance would be a fine thing.

  19. 19
    Axel says:

    Your #6, gpuccio.

    ‘…and consciousness is an empirical fact which can well be observed.’

    Only proximately by the Observer, and the observation is surely only in the sense of our personal perception of our own consciousness, and that, without the possibility of measuring it – however many concomicant physical effects might be measurable.

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