Thursday, November 5, 2015

the physics of consciousness and google

Hi, Jack!

You may be amused to learn that google simply won't let me post to your list any more.

Maybe it's time for me to really retire.... as someone clearly fervently desires. 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Paul Werbos <>
Date: Thu, Nov 5, 2015 at 9:41 AM
To: Ruth Kastner <>, JACK SARFATTI <>, Gary S Bekkum <>, Dean Radin <>, art wagner <>, "" <>, Russell Targ <>, Brian Josephson <>, Dick Bierman <>, Deepak Chopra <>, nick herbert <>, Chris Langan <>, Stuart Hameroff <>, "Henry P. Stapp" <>, George Knapp <>, Ronald Pandolfi <>, Kit Green <>, Rudy Tanzi <>, Robert Addinall <>, "Waldyr A. Rodrigues Jr." <>, Jeff <>, fred alan wolf <>, Saul-Paul Sirag <>, Menas Kafatos <>, Jennifer Nielsen <>, Aldo Desidero <>, David Kaiser <>, Sharon Weinberger <>, Creon Levit <>, Larry Lemke <>, Christopher Altman <>, Jonathan Post <>, "" <>, "" <>, "" <>, Nancy du Tertre <>, Loraine Rhodes <>

Many of the postings to this list seem to make one of two assumptions:

1. That consciousness, as something which exists beyond the physical universe and mathematics, periodically intervenes in the physical mathematical universe -- and thus people would ask how.


2. That consciousness is "physical" in the sense that it is directly associated with features of the mathematical "law of everything."

Since it easier to give names to these positions than to keep using numbers.. let me call them the superdualist position and the superphysicalist position respectively. It's only natural that a lot of the energy here has gone either to the debate between the two, or to working out the details.

Since I disagree strongly with both positions, I feel a duty to say something about a third alternative, which admits of a WHOLE lot of variation. The third alternative may be called "emergentism."
Emergentism includes not only the usual mainstream but a wide variety of other views. 

Emergentism is not new -- but it's strange how the possibility of it has not been considered more here.

I once (long long ago) agreed with something like Dennett's position --
and I still think it's important to understand and respect it even if we move on a bit. Perhaps Ruth would describe him and me both as
"blockheads," a new technical term used in certain inner circles to which we have not been admitted. Folks like Dennett and Churchland would say that consciousness as we know it -- as we on this list possess it 
to some degree -- is just an emergent property of the patterns or organization of our brains. Not really an "epiphenomenon," as it leads to behavior which remakes the entire planet, but a phenomenon of pattern and form and organization, not something hard-wired into the underlying law of everything. It's basically just a matter of nonlinear systems dynamics, "chaos theory" and self-organization. It's a matter of the patterns which EMERGE as a result of the unrolling of the law of everything, either in forward time or in some more general version of thermodynamics across space time. 

Looking for the "consciousness field" as something in physics is like sincerely looking for the "God particle" or the "past participle gene." It is what my sometime collaborator Walter Freeman would call a "category confusion." It reminds me of a superstring physicist who once told me: "I do believe in 'God,' but what IS God? I think he is a Riemann sphere."
I would translate that into: "If I define the word 'God' to refer to a Riemann sphere, I believe he exists." But peering into his soul, I felt he really associated 'God' with his coffee latte machine, for which he was a privileged high priest and which he felt was worthy of the distant worship of so many others. Definitions are ever so important and require ever so much care in this kind of area.

Likewise with "consciousness." Consciousness as we know it is an attribute to some degree of people on this list, who rightly wonder how much they have in common with many others. Consciousness as we know it is always incomplete and always striving. What about consciousness as we do not know it? That really begs for clarity of definition, and allows all kinds of unconstrained fantasy as well.

Even though the "consciousness field" for our kind of consciousness is a total absurdity, it is very reasonable, as I see it, to discuss whether the "law of everything" might tell us more directly about another type of "consciousness," consciousness as we do not know it, consciousness of the entire cosmos itself. Like that guy's Riemann sphere, which he might choose to call "God," or not -- but it would be more important to understand it than to decide what names to call it. More precisely: if consciousness as we know it does seem to be designed around imperfect, approximate optimization (yes, that is an old concept, but one which has been refined and connected better and better through time)..
to what extent can the "law of everything" be formulated as an optimization system, with emergent properties similar to what we might get from a smarter intelligence? But if so, what would it be striving for? Would it be like the final scene of Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan, or is it trickier than that when its Lagrangian and ours interact in a complex, emergent way?    

Dennett's narrow concept of the law of everything does not admit of the important empirical stuff Dean Radin has spent his life trying to observe from one angle. But I view that stuff as emergent properties of our consciousness, something which calls out for understanding mathematics like neural networks more than it calls out for improving QED or electroweak theory, EVEN THOUGH the physical hardware we use when building neural networks is often designed through a careful use of QED. SOME physical hardware or "substance" (Aristotle) is too weak and limited to admit the construction or evolution of intelligent systems, and some hardware only admits a certain level of intelligence or consciousness, so the physics does matter in that sense -- but the consciousness itself, and the paranormal capabilities, emerge at a higher level of organization. 

I have seen no evidence either from physics labs or from parapsychology   or from astronomy which could not naturally be explained within the constraints of even the most conservative Einsteinian type of model, once we accept the premise that time is just another dimension as part of that model, and study the emergent properties more deeply than people did in the past. It is easy enough to add time-symmetric noise to such a model -- and indeed, since QED itself represents a level of organization/approximation much higher than the underlying law of everything, I certainly would assume such time-symmetric noise in any updated version of QED to cope with new experiments better than the older (unitary) versions did.  Having studied the statistical properties more completely lately, I even tend to think that a simple tweak of the Higgs terms of EWT attached to general relativity in an orthodox way (e.g. as in Carmelli) will do it all, and allow much more than you might imagine. For example, it can fulfill most of the core program of De Broglie and Vigier, without any need for the Q potential stuff in the "law of everything".   But it also allows dangerous stuff, so maybe I should just cut this short for now. 

Perhaps the true cosmos is much larger than that, and certainly we should keep probing for any real empirical hooks into what it might be if it is, but for now a better understanding of emergent behavior seems like a much more necessary and promising direction. Many of the discussions of what might lie beyond our understanding remind me of a cartoon of a fetus speculating to itself about the sex life of its parents... when there are other things it really needs to pay most of its attention to at its stage of progress in life. Or maybe it really is all just an Einsteinian 3+1-D space. We don't really know yet.

Best of luck..

1 comment:

  1. Paul, please don't retire.

    We all need at least one person at NSF who is willing to think outside the orthodox neuroscience box.