I’ve just finished a draft of a new paper, exploring whether reflection on consciousness can help us make progress on foundational questions in quantum mechanics. You can access it here: http://www.philipgoffphilosophy.com/uploads/1/4/4/4/14443634/quantum_mechanics_and_the_consciousness_constraint1.pdf
It’s going to come out with a volume called ‘Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness,’ which will be published with Oxford University Press (edited by Shan Gao). All comments welcome! It’s not incredible accessible, I’m afraid. Below is the first section, which gives the big picture.
Quantum mechanics is one of the best predictive machines humankind has ever produced. Much of our modern technology, from computers to smart phones to GPS, is reliant on its predictive power. The trouble is nobody knows what quantum mechanics is telling us about reality. There are numerous proposals but no consensus on which is most probable. As things stand, the empirical data seems to underdetermine the theory.
In this kind of situation, philosophy has an important role to play, helping us to evaluate the evidential situation with respect to the various hypotheses. But it is generally assumed in this context that philosophy is not able to offer us new data, over and above the scientific data of observation and experiment. The usual expectation is that the philosopher of physics will contribute conceptual clarity and perhaps a cost-benefit analysis of the various interpretations of quantum mechanics in terms of theoretical virtues, such as simplicity, parsimony, non ad-hocness, etc.
In contrast to this standard assumption, I’m inclined to think that philosophy does have new data to offer, and that this data might have bearing on the ontology of quantum mechanics. What I have in mind is data pertaining to the reality of consciousness. Consciousness is not something that we know about through observation and experiment. If we were just going off the data of third person observation and experiment, we would have no need to postulate subjective experiences, as Daniel Dennett (2007) has argued very effectively. Nonetheless, contra Dennett, we do know that consciousness is real: we know that it’s real in virtue of the immediate awareness each of us of our own feelings and experiences. Any theory of reality unable to account for the reality of consciousness is at best incomplete. In this sense, the reality of consciousness is a datum in its own right. I call the theoretical obligation to account for this datum ‘the consciousness constraint.’
I believe that scientists and philosophers of the future will be baffled by the fact that their late twentieth century/early twenty first century ancestors did not make more use of the consciousness constraint. There is a certain phenomenon known to be real with something close to certainty, and yet the ontological implications of that phenomenon are completely ignored by most theoretical scientists, and even most metaphysicians. It is true that the problem of consciousness, broadly understood as the challenge of understanding ‘how brains produce consciousness,’ is now taken to be a serious scientific problem. However, this is generally assumed to be a problem that will go away with a bit more neuroscience. But the problem of consciousness is radically unlike any other scientific problem, not least because the fundamental datum that needs to be accounted for does not come from observation or experiment. Consciousness is something we know about independently of third-person empirical science; as such it is a valuable source of information to be added to the data of observation and experiment.
The bearing of consciousness on quantum mechanics has been
very little explored. Of course, a small number of heterodox thinkers have
tried to make sense of the old idea that consciousness might have a role at the
heart of quantum mechanics (see Chalmers and McQueen this volume). But this has
never been articulated as part of a general approach of working out how the
reality of consciousness constrains theory choice in this area. This paper will
take a first step in rectifying this, by tentatively exploring the question of
whether wave function monism – a popular interpretation of the ontology
of quantum mechanics – is able to satisfy the consciousness constraint.
I will just say that there is no wave function or Hilbert space in the basis of what is called the (path-integral) “quantum measure theory” approach (or QMT).
Quantum mechanics is formulated as a “theory of quantal histories, without ever needing to call on state-vectors, [the wave function,] measurements,or external agents as fundamental notions”
(references at Rafael Sorkin)
Adrian Kent* (mentioned in your references) also is involved in this approach, along with Fay Dowker (who has debated Many Worlds advocates), and others.
Supposing (with QMT) that the basic constituents of quantum reality are histories (there is no wave function of the universe, but here could be a sum over spacetime histories) might lead to some other ideas.
* “The ultimate vision of those who take path integral [sum-over-histories] quantum theory as fundamental to all of physics is a path integral formulation of quantum gravity and quantum cosmology.”
Adrain Kent (arXiv:1305.6565)
After Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and Husserl it is a waste of time to explain at great length the obvious — that the only reality which is ever given to us directly is phenomenal, i.e., it is phenomena of consciousness, everything else we imagine to explain this reality is explanatory abstractions.
“There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out what nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.” (Niels Bohr)
It can be equally said that there is no physical world; there is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out what nature is; physics concerns what we can say about nature in the language of mathematical formalism.
“In modern quantum theory there is hardly any doubt that elementary particles are ultimately mathematical forms… For a physicist the thing-in-itself, if he uses this concept, is ultimately a mathematical structure.” (Werner Heisenberg)
Hence, “physical reality” aka “matter” exists only in one’s imagination as an explanatory abstraction and a mathematical idealization which, from the point of view of the most conceptually parsimonious ontology of idealism, points to the processes of transcendental consciousness — the processes of transcendental intersubjectivity.
“In spite of the fact that the physical events in the brain belong to the psychic phenomena, we do not expect that these could be sufficient to explain them” (Werner Heisenberg)
“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else” (Erwin Schrodinger)
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness” (Max Planck)
To see the truth, one should give up his naive self-assurance and habitual stubbornness, and surrender to the beauty of simplicity. The world is nothing but consciousness. This is the truth. Simple. Beautiful.
But what is “consciousness”? What is consciousness in itself behind its phenomenal and transcendental aspects of our individual existence?
“The true nature of [consciousness in itself] is the true nature of all [phenomena], because, remaining as it is at all times, it is [Transcendence].” (Vasubandhu)
There is a phenomenal “spoon” (colorforms, sounds and sensations), Neo, but its substance is transcendent*, for it is consciousness-in-itself — divine Transcendence. Tat tvam asi.
*) Never confuse transcendent with transcendental in Kantian and Husserlian sense.
“Hence, “physical reality” aka “matter” exists only in one’s imagination as an explanatory abstraction”
Explanatory abstraction of what?
The quantum mechanics is beyond my comprehension, but I am interested in your consciousness constraint, though I’m not sure I understand it. Suppose that wave function monism had passed your 3D test, or another theory had, and indeed gone on to be shown to be an adequate theory of reality. How would we see the consciousness constraint satisfied?
To take your example, pain is a thing in the real world. The adequate theory must therefore entail with a plausible starting state some set of symbols which we take to mean pain. But you’ve just “insulated from empirical refutation” the pain in the real world, so how are you going to map it to the relevant symbols in the theory? Haven’t you insulated the pain from everything? How will you know that the symbols which mean pain actually map to pain in the real world?
Jesus Christ! More complete drivel. You have no idea whether neuroscience will eventually explain consciousness or not. You are second guessing possibly hundreds of years of neuroscience research. And what Daniel Dennett thinks about the topic is irrelevant unless he has a complete description of the physical brain and explanations of all its possible functions, which he doesn’t. Also, there is no suggestion from the *observed physical record* that quantum effects are constrained by “consciousness”, and assuming so has led you yet again to claiming to have a fundamental theory of the physical world which doesn’t actually provide any facts verifiable by observation.
Interpretations of quantum theory can only be judged on the empirical evidence. Observation is the only arbiter. You have not understood this as you don’t even know what natural science *is*, which is why you keep churning out these crank theories with no empirical support. The Many-Worlds interpretation, for example, is pure speculation as multiple branches of the world have not been observed. Again, you don’t understand this as you don’t know what natural science *is*.
This is just more random, lunatic-level speculation from you that unsurprisingly leads nowhere. You have about as much idea what consciousness is as my dog does. When will you end this crankery and actually produce a “single piece of knowledge* about the world? Never. Because you’re a fraud.
Steven Evans – you contribute nothing, and your aggressive, ad hominem riddled responses are just trolling.
Adults can have conversations, even about things they disagree about.
That “Observation is the only arbiter”(in comment above) is one view of science, but science does not have (or should not have) a catechism (Paul Feyerabend). What is or is not an “observation” is debatable. (We “observe” our own consciousness in a very certain sense, unless one is what Galen Strawson calls a “Consciousness Denier”). That consciousness is a localized (material) process of brains (localized in that the brain in which it occurs is its observer) perhaps makes it a different sort of material process (or entity), but so what? If brain science needs an update, that’s OK.
Philip Thrift says October 15, 2019
“but science does not have (or should not have) a catechism (Paul Feyerabend). ”
Sure. But, excluding the subjective experience of consciousness, *currently* observation is the only known arbiter because a theory or a model is not equivalent to reality. The assumption that consciousness puts constraints on quantum theory leads nowhere. It does not lead to any testable facts. So either it’s nonsense (presumably this is the case) or it has no consequences in the physical world in which case it is irrelevant and unverifiable.
Galen Strawson, Phillip Goff and all these other so-called philosophers have never come up with a single fact about the natural world or consciousness in decades of research. It’s pure crankery.They have not learned basic lessons that scientists learned hundreds of years ago. These crank departments in universities should be shut down. They are full of morons.
“If brain science needs an update, that’s OK.”
Sure. So tell me an update on the scientific method that has happened that has led to new facts in brain science. There isn’t one. So what’s your point?
The idea that consciousness is going to put constraints on quantum theory is like thinking that a YouTube video of a cat will be connected to design constraints on a silicon transistor. It’s insane. Consciousness is many, many layers of abstraction above a quantum field. How could it possibly force constraints? And unsurprisingly the assumption that it does force constraints leads to no new knowledge. The theory is dud.
Whether panpsychism via philosophers (Philip Goff, Galen Strawson, Hedda Hassel Mørch, …) will influence brain science, or whether brain scientists (like Christof Koch) will bring it into the science, seems to me an open prospect. I think (in my perspective) it can have a role in the intrinsic semantics of unconventional/natural computing and its programming language theory in a synbio future.
One question I have is whether this is a question for “brain science” or for physics.
I’m dubious we can ever derive consciousness from brain science.
Once we bring QM into the picture, have we already moved beyond brain science? Do we need to be looking for something similar to a Higgs wave that makes measurement possible like Higgs makes mass possible?
James Cross says October 15, 2019
“I’m dubious we can ever derive consciousness from brain science.”
Why? Maybe neuroscience will be successful, maybe it won’t, but there is no information to give the probability that neuroscience as currently practised will succeed in deriving consciousness. Nobody has any idea.
Turbulence is not well understood by fluid dynamicists, but they don’t go around claiming matter is made of whirlpools or quantum theory is constrained by tornadoes. What Phillip Goff is hawking is nonsense. There is no reason to think that consciousness is anything but an emergent function of complex brains, and certainly no reason to think it has any bearing on fundamental physics. As shown by the failure of Phillip Goff and his ilk to produce any verifiable facts from their meaningless assumptions.
If nobody has any idea, then there is no reason to think consciousness is an emergent function of complex brains either. Any theory is as good as any other. Even if it is emergent function of complex brains, there would be no reason that it wouldn’t have a bearing on fundamental physics. Again, if nobody has any idea.
Philip Thrift says October 15, 2019
“will influence brain science, or whether brain scientists will bring it into the science, seems to me an open prospect.”
Look at the results. Neuroscience has produced a mass of *facts* explaining how the brain works and even linking different parts of the brain to subjectively reported aspects of the mind.
The so-called philosophers have not produced *a single fact* because their theories are nonsensical crankery.
The current score is Neuroscientists 10,000,000 facts v Philosophers 0 facts
You think this suggests philosophers ideas may influence the research? You’ve lost your marbles.
There are a lot of different types and colors of marbles that seem to be in play in brain science. I was looking at some papers yesterday on path integrals (quantum mechanics connection) in brains and neural networks. I don’t think the winners or losers in brain science have been determined.
Philip Thrift says October 16, 2019
What’s that got to do with the price of fish? Quantum mechanics and neural networks are both observationally verified scientific theories. Of course, quantum phenomena may have influences in the brain. But there is no evidence that something as far up the stack as consciousness is forcing constraints in some fundamental way on the quantum substrate. And sure enough, assuming there is a consciousness constraint on the quantum (whatever on earth such an assumption might mean) *leads absolutely nowhere*.
We have found a loser – this stupid idea. Another loser is panpsychism.
You are simply saying that any idea or approach might one day turn out to be useful. Not a fabulously useful statement. In the meantime, we can judge which theories are working and which aren’t. Neuroscience is providing lots of facts. Panpsychism and consciousness constraints are meaningless and unsurprisingly lead to no knowledge.
James Cross says October 16, 2019
“If nobody has any idea, then there is no reason to think consciousness is an emergent function of complex brains either. ”
OK, well have your brain removed, if you haven’t already, and tell us if you still experience consciousness. Consciousness has only ever been reported by live humans. There are many mappings from the observed functioning of different parts of the brains and reported aspects of subjective conscious experience. Some animals, also possessing complex brains, also show possible signs of consciousness. Nothing else has ever shown signs of consciousness or reported consciousness other than complex brains. No-one has ever suggested any input into consciousness other than the physical brain. Though so-called philosophers like Phillip Goff try to explain consciousness by consciousness i.e. by claiming properties of matter like that in the brain are a form of consciousness, or that consciousness puts constraints on quantum phenomena. This leads nowhere because it’s gobbledegook. For all these admittedly vague reasons, it currently appears that consciousness is simply an emergent function of a physical brain.
“OK, well have your brain removed, if you haven’t already…”
LOL. Correlation is not causation. But as you say: ” Nobody knows.”
James Cross says October 16, 2019
‘Correlation is not causation. But as you say: ” Nobody knows.”’
Are you in favour of a no-deal Brexit perchance?
No, I’m saying that there is a mass of detailed correlation between the observations of the workings of the physical brain and the reported experiences of the mind. Brain damage to specific parts of the brain corresponds precisely to loss of certain mind functions. This suggests strongly that the mind is a function of the brain (if you add in the fact that matter preceded mind).
Do you disagree with that? Do you think there is evidence of some other source of mind?
I don’t know what Brexit has to do with this discussion! LOL
The problem is that the correlations don’t explain consciousness or tell us what sort of physics/chemistry produces consciousness. If they suggest anything, they suggest consciousness is a holistic property of brains critical dependent on certain parts of the brain but not located precisely anywhere in it.
“Consciousness has only ever been reported by live humans.”
Seriously Stephen, is that the predicate for your compelling argument? Let me give you some mature advice for your adolescent ramblings: The reason you have a problem with philosophy and philosophers in general is because you have never met a true philosopher and/or metaphysician in your entire life. Physics is a derivative of science and science makes its living on the backs of the philosophers and metaphysicians who pave the way for new theory.
There are no true philosophers within academia, there are only philosophologists. And why is this the case? Because just like the inquisition of the dark ages, the philosophers and metaphysicians have been purged from academia because they are heretics.
Please refer to the following quote from Robert Pirsig:
“Philosophology is to philosophy as musicology is to music, or as art history and art appreciation are to art, or as literary criticism is to creative writing. It’s a derivative, secondary field, a sometimes parasitic growth that likes to think it controls its host by analyzing and intellectualizing its host’s behaviour.
Literature people are sometimes puzzled by the hatred many creatice writers have for them. Art historians can’t understand the venom either. …But philosophologists don’t have this problem at all because the philosophers who would normally condemn them are a null-class. They don’t exist. Philosophologists, calling themselves philosophers, are just about all there are.
You can imagine the ridiculousness if an art historian taking his students to museums, having them write a thesis on some historical or technical aspect of what they see there, and after a few years of this giving them degrees that say they are accomplished artists. They’ve never held a brush or a mallet and chisel in their hands. All they know is art history.
Yet, ridiculous as it sounds, this is exactly what happens in the philosophology that calls itself philosophy. Students aren’t expected to philosophize. Their instructors would hardly know what to say if they did. They’d probably compare the student’s writing to Mill or Kant or somebody like that, find the student’s work grossly inferior, and tell him to abandon it. Literature, musicology, art history, and philosophology thrive in academic institutions because they are easy to teach. You just Xerox something some philosopher has said and make the students discuss it, make them memorize it, and then flunk them at the end of the quarter if they forget it.”
I originally posted this on a previous thread, so I’m reposted it here.
Stephen Evans said regarding a previous post of mine: “All you can say is that it seems like consciousness is a subjective experience exhibited by brains made of (pan-psychic) matter but it’s not understood how.”
Two things Stephen: First, my model does not postulate that consciousness is a subjective experience exhibited by the brains. It postulates that consciousness is an objective experience exhibited by the brain, an objective experience which happens to be radically indeterminate. It’s not a subjective experience at all, it’s an objective one. The only reason consciousness is considered a subjective experience is because human beings are just too dumb to figure it out and therefore the experience itself is considered subjective because of our own ignorance in regards to causation. Causation is the real problem, not the notion of panpsychism. Therefore, panpsychism and causation are intrinsically linked.
Second, materialism is double-edged sword Stephen. Materialists are at a loss to account for the physical world other than some lame magic trick called the big bang. Panpsychists are in the same boat, except for one minor distinction. Materialists have to account for three magic tricks. First, how a dead, non-living, physical universe is derived and second, how a dead universe can generate living organisms and third, how living organisms can generate objective conscious experiences. That is why it becomes imperative to determine the ontological primitive which will then solve the riddle of both causation and consciousness. My models accomplish that task…….
Well, publish your models in Nature and I’ll read them. You sound like a bigger crank than Phillip Goff, though, which takes some doing.
I’m a heretic Stephen, the only true philosopher and metaphysician you will ever encounter. As far as publishing my work; as of right now, chances are pretty good that I will not make my findings public for one simple reason: The true nature of reality is wild and untamed in a way that no one would ever imagine.
“You sound like a bigger crank than Phillip Goff, though, which takes some doing.”
I may indeed be a bigger crank than Phillip Goff or, the most brilliant metaphysician of the twenty-first century. Corresponding to the grounding tenet of metaphysics: without a vocabulary that captures the ontological primitive and/or the ultimate reality, we are all just children playing in the sandbox of ideas. In that sandbox, one is forced to choose from alternatives of which none are favorable.
In conclusion; when I say a vocabulary that captures the ontological primitive, I’m not talking about analogies and/or metaphors, but a literal vocabulary which literally expresses the ontological primitive for what it really is. The simplicity, elegance and beauty of that vocabulary will blow your mind…
The problem isn’t materialism (or physicalism, in Galen Strawson’s vocabulary); “it’s the ordinary everyday picture of matter” that is the problem.
On “consciousness is simply an emergent function of a physical brain”: That “consciousness is simply a function of a brain” is right, but what does “emergent” or “physical” add?
Philip Thrift says October 16, 2019
The article linked to is drivel. Once again the philosophers can tell us *nothing* based on the barely comprehensible, pure speculation that consciousness is somehow fundamental and connected to the *intrinsic nature” of matter. How is someone given a job in a university and allowed to publish an article in the NYT, when his theory explains absolutely nothing and sounds like the ramblings of a brain-damaged drunk?
I accept that you make this assumption that consciousness is fundamental, and then what? ***Tell me a single verifiable fact that follows from this***. You can’t. There are none. The theory is nonsense. These clowns are just involving themselves in rearranging meaningless word salads. It’s a staggering level of crankery. Complete and utter BS.
BTW, there’s an upcoming conference that’s been announced that may be of interest:
THE SCIENCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS | TSC 2020
APRIL 13-18, 2020 | Tucson | Arizona
Loews Ventana Canyon Resort
Abstract deadline is December 1. This is not too far from me (flying there, I would arrive at about the same time I left), so I (slight chance) might go (and maybe send an abstract on “intrinsic/experiential semantics for unconventional/natural programming”.
Philip Thrift says October 17, 2019
“THE SCIENCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS”
Here is part of the lineup:
“Is the Universe Conscious? Cosmopsychism andEastern Approaches
Miri Albahari, U Western Australia
Deepak Chopra, Chopra Global
Philip Goff, Central European University”
If you find you’re appearing along with Deepak Chopra, you know you are a crank and a fraud of the very first order.
James Cross says October 17, 2019
“The problem is that the correlations don’t explain consciousness or tell us what sort of physics/chemistry produces consciousness. ”
It’s not a problem so much as the current boundary of knowledge gained after a lot of hard work, and produced 100% by scientists with zero contribution from cranks like Phillip Goff and his ilk..
“If they suggest anything, they suggest consciousness is a holistic property of brains critical dependent on certain parts of the brain but not located precisely anywhere in it.”
Right, so in the end you agree that there is no reason currently to think other than that the source of the mind is the brain, and you know of no other inputs to the mind than the brain. So why did you claim originally that you doubted neuroscience could come up with an explanation for consciousness? Presumably you have little idea of the reams of results in neuroscience, and equally you have no idea where neuroscience research will lead in the next few hundred years. So what is your doubt based on exactly? Complete ignorance by the looks of it. And there is the connection to Brexit 😉
My doubt is based on the reams of results in neuroscience.
James Cross says October 23, 2019
“My doubt is based on the reams of results in neuroscience.”
But neuroscience is a young science. It is nowhere near a complete description of the brain as far as anyone knows. It could be decades or hundreds of years away. If the neuroscientists had a blueprint of the brain and a description of all possible functionality based on that blueprint, but still couldn’t explain consciousness then you’d have a point. But they don’t, so you don’t.
I don’t need years to figure out I can’t drive in a car from New York to London.
The reams of results only confirms that you can’t get a mind out of a MRI.
James Cross says October 24, 2019
“I don’t need years to figure out I can’t drive in a car from New York to London.”
The Earth’s surface has been mapped *completely*, that’s the point. So it is a *known fact* that there is no land route from NY to London.
“The reams of results only confirms that you can’t get a mind out of a MRI.”
One more time. The structure of the brain is not completely understood. Therefore it is *not* known whether neuroscience will be able to provide an explanation of consciousness or not. So your claim that this has been confirmed one way or the other is incorrect, yet again.
Do you see the difference between what is known and what is not known?
It is a good distinction to learn as it would put you in the top 0.1% of human beings who are capable of thought and aren’t just monkeys.
We have a broad map of the brain and consciousness isn’t on it.
Fundamentally the level at which neuroscience approaches the problem cannot yield the result. You can’t explain subjectivity from the outside because it is inside the experience. You can understand more about it, study it, but not explain. it This is a philosophical problem.
“This is a philosophical problem.”
The final nail in the coffin of this debate: Well said James. Since consciousness is a philosophical problem, the solution to the hard problem lies with the discipline of metaphysics. Furthermore, since there are no philosophers and/or metaphysicians within the institutions of science or academia, people who are actually capable of thinking for themselves instead of regurgitating what others have previously stated, consciousness will forever remain a mystery. Biases and prejudices have to be overcome along with the willingness to breach the boundaries of conventional wisdom in order to solve the mystery. Breaching those boundaries require heretical thinking…
James Cross says October 25, 2019
So you know that neuroscience can never explain consciousness, not even in a million years, because ” You can’t explain subjectivity from the outside because it is inside the experience. ”
I think you should publish this in Nature magazine. I suspect a Nobel Prize awaits you.
It would be great to hear you chat to Roger Penrose on these matters. He has views on quantum mechanics/mind that seem to have some intersection with your ideas. If only some podcaster could get in touch with you both.
I had lunch with him over the summer in fact. His connection between QM and consciousness has a slightly different focus: he thinks consciousness emerges from wave function collapse.
Looking forward to reading about it!
On my account, one of the key features that come along with the “consciousness constraint” (as you put it) is the instantaneous unity of experience (see: https://qualiacomputing.com/2019/11/22/breaking-down-the-problem-of-consciousness/). Indeed, each experience has many bits of information. And if you are a physicalist who takes panpsychism seriously, it will then follow that you should try to find features in physical theory that match features of consciousness. Quantum coherence *might* suffice to explain the phenomenal binding problem. But as Chalmers points it, entanglement and coherence are not “either or” properties. Hence many of the features of our experience (including the transitivity of inclusion) may require an even deeper approach.
My current research in this area has taken me to postulate a crucial role for *topological segmentation* of the universal wavefunction. I won’t explain the full argument, but I think this approach may give a lot of things others don’t, and in particular, articulate why the unity of consciousness was recruited for information-processing purposes by natural selection.
I’ll post that sometime in the next couple of months at Qualia Computing. In the meantime, I just wanted to say I like how you are looking at the problem space.
Wow – the comments from Steven Evans. He too needs to watch https://www.whyarewehere.tv/people/
Mr. Evans would find solace in what Alex Rosenberg and Peter Atkins state.