Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe?

  

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Via:  larry-hampton  •  9 months ago  •  17 comments

Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe?
Philosopher Philip Goff answers questions about “panpsychism”

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



One of science’s most challenging problems is a question that can be stated easily: Where does consciousness come from? In his new book  Galileo’s Error : Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness ,  philosopher Philip Goff considers a radical perspective: What if consciousness is not something special that the brain does but is instead a quality inherent to all matter? It is a theory known as “panpsychism,” and Goff guides readers through the history of the idea, answers common objections (such as “That’s just crazy!”) and explains why he believes panpsychism represents the best path forward. He answered questions from  Mind Matters  editor  Gareth Cook .


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Larry Hampton
1  seeder  Larry Hampton    9 months ago

Can you explain, in simple terms, what you mean by panpsychism?

In our standard view of things, consciousness exists only in the brains of highly evolved organisms, and hence consciousness exists only in a tiny part of the universe and only in very recent history. According to panpsychism, in contrast, consciousness pervades the universe and is a fundamental feature of it. This doesn’t mean that literally everything is conscious. The basic commitment is that the fundamental constituents of reality—perhaps electrons and quarks—have incredibly simple forms of experience. And the very complex experience of the human or animal brain is somehow derived from the experience of the brain’s most basic parts.

It might be important to clarify what I mean by “consciousness,” as that word is actually quite ambiguous. Some people use it to mean something quite sophisticated, such as self-awareness or the capacity to reflect on one’s own existence. This is something we might be reluctant to ascribe to many nonhuman animals, never mind fundamental particles. But when I use the word consciousness, I simply mean experience: pleasure, pain, visual or auditory experience, et cetera.

Human beings have a very rich and complex experience; horses less so; mice less so again. As we move to simpler and simpler forms of life, we find simpler and simpler forms of experience. Perhaps, at some point, the light switches off, and consciousness disappears. But it’s at least coherent to suppose that this continuum of consciousness fading while never quite turning off carries on into inorganic matter, with fundamental particles having almost unimaginably simple forms of experience to reflect their incredibly simple nature. That’s what panpsychists believe.

 
 
 
Greg Jones
3  Greg Jones    9 months ago

I'm a fan of Richard Dawkins. I am sure that he would say there is no consciousness without a brain of some sort. The elements and physical particles and forces that act upon them can't be shown to have any kind of consciousness, and are only acting according to the principles laws of physics and chemistry. At the cellular level there is no evidence of any kind of consciousness. I suppose that a response to some kind of stimuli could be considered as a primitive form of consciousness. I think that tiny switch turning on occurred during the Cambrian Explosion of life forms. All those diverse little critters in the Burgess Shales seemed to possess some sort of consciousness, even if it was as simple as sensing food nearby. .

 
 
 
Larry Hampton
3.1  seeder  Larry Hampton  replied to  Greg Jones @3    9 months ago

LOL, no I don't think Dawkins would not have cared much for this theory.

What would be the smallest creature that has consciousness? Good question.

There is so much we don't yet understand about our universe, reality and consciousness ...

...and scientist are looking at very real paths of research...

http://cogprints.org/3064/1/qpan.pdf

 
 
 
TᵢG
4  TᵢG    9 months ago

The meaning of operative words is of course crucial in such discussions.   The author (the book author: Philip Goff) has offered the following for 'consciousness':

But when I use the word consciousness, I simply mean experience: pleasure, pain, visual or auditory experience, et cetera.

Okay, with that as the meaning, anything that can experience reality is considered conscious.   So what does it mean to experience reality?   Well the author offers this:

... with fundamental particles having almost unimaginably simple forms of experience to reflect their incredibly simple nature

A fundamental particle (e.g. an electron) interacts with other particles.   That interaction influences the behavior of the particle (in a very predictable fashion).   We would not think of the particle having knowledge of other particles but certainly we know that there is an effect.    

By piggybacking the definition of consciousness on experience and then considering mere interaction as experience, the author has so diluted the concept of consciousness that I no longer recognize the word.   

But matter “from the inside”—i.e., in terms of its intrinsic nature—is constituted of forms of consciousness.

Seems like the author is stating that the quintessential substance of existence is consciousness.   That everything is simply a form (a structure) of consciousness.   Reminds me of Deepak Chopra.


This is interesting speculation, but it is difficult to take seriously without some form of supporting evidence.

 
 
 
Larry Hampton
4.1  seeder  Larry Hampton  replied to  TᵢG @4    9 months ago

Thanks tig for your response. 

 We would not think of the particle having knowledge of other particles but certainly we know that there is an effect. 

Yet, we truly do not know that there is not an alternative or different form of conscience, as may be experienced by simpler life forms. I understand your skepticism, but it is possible. It is also important to think about how little we actually know...

The starting point of the panpsychist is that physical science doesn’t actually tell us what matter is. That sounds like a bizarre claim at first; you read a physics textbook, you seem to learn all kinds of incredible things about the nature of space, time and matter. But what philosophers of science have realized is that physical science, for all its richness, is confined to telling us about the behavior of matter, what it does. Physics tells us, for example, that matter has mass and charge. These properties are completely defined in terms of behavior, things like attraction, repulsion, resistance to acceleration. Physics tells us absolutely nothing about what philosophers like to call the intrinsic nature of matter: what matter is, in and of itself.

 
 
 
TᵢG
4.1.1  TᵢG  replied to  Larry Hampton @4.1    9 months ago

And thanks to you for a thought-provoking seed.

I agree that there is much for us to learn.    But whereas science relies upon evidence to drive even its hypotheses, panpsychism appears to be purely philosophical.   To be clearer, note this sentence:

Physics tells us absolutely nothing about what philosophers like to call the intrinsic nature of matter: what matter is, in and of itself.

I do not personally find philosophical speculation to be knowledge.   To me, both science and panpsychism are speculating on the intrinsic nature of matter.   The scientific speculation is at least grounded in theoretical physics (mathematics) which is in turn grounded on known physics (empirically derived).   (Key example here is the hypothesis known as string theory.)  The panpsychism speculation does not seem to have any grounding.  If that is indeed the case, then it is no more knowledge-bearing than the long-standing speculation that magic exists.

 
 
 
Larry Hampton
4.1.2  seeder  Larry Hampton  replied to  TᵢG @4.1.1    9 months ago

I do appreciate the the rolling around of ideas Tig, not enough of that nowwa days.

Your comment reminds me of an interview with Neuroscientist Christof Koch a few years back.

WIRED:  Getting back to the theory, is your version of panpsychism truly scientific rather than metaphysical? How can it be tested?

Koch:  In principle, in all sorts of ways. One implication is that you can build two systems, each with the same input and output — but one, because of its internal structure, has integrated information. One system would be conscious, and the other not. It’s not the input-output behavior that makes a system conscious, but rather the internal wiring.

The theory also says you can have simple systems that are conscious, and complex systems that are not. The cerebellum should not give rise to consciousness because of the simplicity of its connections. Theoretically you could compute that, and see if that’s the case, though we can’t do that right now. There are millions of details we still don’t know. Human brain imaging is too crude. It doesn’t get you to the cellular level.

The more relevant question, to me as a scientist, is how can I disprove the theory today. That’s more difficult. Tononi’s group has built a device to perturb the brain and assess the extent to which severely brain-injured patients — think of Terri Schiavo — are truly unconscious, or whether they do feel pain and distress but are unable to communicate to their loved ones. And it may be possible that some other theories of consciousness would fit these facts.

WIRED:  I still can’t shake the feeling that consciousness arising through integrated information is — arbitrary, somehow. Like an assertion of faith.

Koch:  If you think about any explanation of anything, how far back does it go? We’re confronted with this in physics. Take quantum mechanics, which is the theory that provides the best description we have of the universe at microscopic scales. Quantum mechanics allows us to design MRI and other useful machines and instruments. But why should quantum mechanics hold in our universe? It seems arbitrary! Can we imagine a universe without it, a universe where Planck’s constant has a different value? Ultimately, there’s a point beyond which there’s no further regress. We live in a universe where, for reasons we don’t understand, quantum physics simply is the reigning explanation.

With consciousness, it’s ultimately going to be like that. We live in a universe where organized bits of matter give rise to consciousness. And with that, we can ultimately derive all sorts of interesting things: the answer to when a fetus or a baby first becomes conscious, whether a brain-injured patient is conscious, pathologies of consciousness such as schizophrenia, or consciousness in animals. And most people will say, that’s a good explanation.

If I can predict the universe, and predict things I see around me, and manipulate them with my explanation, that’s what it means to explain. Same thing with consciousness. Why we should live in such a universe is a good question, but I don’t see how that can be answered now.

~LINK~

 
 
 
TᵢG
4.1.3  TᵢG  replied to  Larry Hampton @4.1.2    9 months ago

I read your entire comment, but this opening bit was most interesting:

One implication is that you can build two systems, each with the same input and output — but one, because of its internal structure, has integrated information. One system would be conscious, and the other not. It’s not the input-output behavior that makes a system conscious, but rather the internal wiring.

Why?   Why would the system with integrated information be conscious?   Seems to me it is merely integrated.   Lots of systems have integrated information but I would not consider them conscious.   My iPhone is not conscious and it has a ton of integration (internally and externally).   As a software engineer I have built quite a few products that hold integrated information but none of them are even remotely close to what I consider conscious.

Currently the most sophisticated Chess playing automaton is the Alpha Zero implementation.   It will beat any human player as well as every extant Chess machine.   Yet it is nowhere near conscious.   Internally, given its neural network core, it has extremely integrated information.

 
 
 
Larry Hampton
4.1.4  seeder  Larry Hampton  replied to  TᵢG @4.1.3    9 months ago

I know; Right?!

When I first read that, I was reminded of the integrations of fungus; huge underground highways of information systems that incorporate much of an unseen world. 

My thought then was, where does consciousness begin? 

The fact that we don't know, really gives pause to calculating anything beyond that. Yet the philosophical aspect builds on the opportunity given by quantum theory. As aspect actually seems to affect reality, it does give rise to the whole concept of aspect, point of view. Then one has to wonder, how these particles actually respond to each other. Do they observe? Do they anticipate? 

It is quite a curiosity to me.

 
 
 
TᵢG
4.1.5  TᵢG  replied to  Larry Hampton @4.1.4    9 months ago

Well at this point, particle physics offers no hint that particles are anything more than matter behaving consistently.   Particle physics is arguably the most precise science in terms of predicting behavior even though it is one of the bleeding edges of our knowledge.    That is, science cannot explain why particles behave as they do, but can predict the behavior with extraordinary accuracy.    That, to me, is strong evidence against consciousness.

My thought then was, where does consciousness begin? 

How do you define consciousness?

 
 
 
CB
5  CB     9 months ago
"A cell is a factory." —James M. Tour, a synthetic organic chemist, received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Syracuse University, his Ph.D. in synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry from Purdue University, and postdoctoral training in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University.
 
 
 
TᵢG
5.1  TᵢG  replied to  CB @5    9 months ago

The cell is spectacular.   I hope I live long enough for science to discover the origin of self-replication (the most crucial factor of cells).

 
 
 
Gordy327
5.1.1  Gordy327  replied to  TᵢG @5.1    9 months ago
I hope I live long enough for science to discover the origin of self-replication (the most crucial factor of cells).

Not to mention for abiogenesis. That would really help our understanding of biology and even evolution.

 
 
 
Larry Hampton
5.1.2  seeder  Larry Hampton  replied to  Gordy327 @5.1.1    9 months ago

One thing that we are learning as we get closer to the beginning, is that evolution as we have traditionally known it has been advanced. The old axiom of the survival of the fittest is being understood as survival of the adaptive. The sheer magnitude of the sheer sharing of information passed among life on our planet was staggering. With so many possible delivery mechanisms suddenly available, between all differing species, there was a point somewhere in the following chapters of time that conscienceless arose.

 
 
 
Larry Hampton
5.1.3  seeder  Larry Hampton  replied to  Larry Hampton @5.1.2    9 months ago

Or even before then! 

 
 
 
Kathleen
6  Kathleen    9 months ago

Interesting article. We think of consciousness in living things, but not in the universe itself.  Something we have not discovered yet. 

 
 
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