Explanatory Gaps and Scientific Theories of Consciousness

By Adam Frank | April 7, 2008 12:32 pm

Adam FrankIs there a gap which reductionist models of consciousness cannot cross? Lots of people find the idea that we are “nothing but” biological computers to be distasteful. How can all these profound feelings and experiences be just an epiphenomena (love that word) of goopy nerves as such?

Distasteful as it sounds to some, this explanation may, however, still be true. Or it may be that other levels of explanation are required. These explanations can be scientific and empirical and don’t ask for the “immortal soul” of traditional religions, yet aren’t quite as stridently minimalist as classic reduction.

This is a new domain for me and I knew, when I started writing my book, that I would eventually have to look into the emerging field of “consciousness studies.” My friend in the philosophy department here, Brad Weslake, teaches a course on philosophy of mind, and recommended the now-famous paper by Joseph Levine on explanatory gaps in explanations of consciousness.

I provide the link here for others to peruse and think about, too.

So what are you: a computer, a receiver, or an emergent set of dynamical processes that cannot be predicted by just your atoms? What else did I leave out?

Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester who studies star formation and stellar death using supercomputers. His new book, “The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate,” has just been published. He will be joining Reality Base to post an ongoing discussion of science and religion—you can read his previous posts here, and find more of his thoughts on science and the human prospect at the Constant Fire blog.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion
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Comments (161)

  1. Josh D

    Quantum consciousness per Penrose/Hameroff? Or Goswami?
    Holomorphic consciousness per the late D. Bohm?

  2. Steve F.

    Hi Adam:

    A nice way to frame the question about consciousness, I think, is to contrast the approaches of religion and materialism. By materialism, I mean the kind of reductionism that holds that we are simply biological computers with intelligence as a kind of evolutionary by-product.

    Religion and Consciousness:

    Religion starts with consciousness as a given. Consciousness written large, either as “gods” or as God, is assumed.

    You might say the religious model of reality extrapolates from a human reality where consciousness – ours, our families, the people we interact with – is the “real” reality. Consciousness – as is the experience of most of us – is built into our world and the universe. It is our home and our first and last reality. It is a given, obvious, and can be taken for granted. All of us reading and understanding these words have it.

    Materialism and Reductionism:

    The materialist point of view is that consciousness is an “epiphenomena” of material existence – it is like foam on a wave. It is something that came to be through evolutionary processes, perhaps for survival advantages. It is not intrinsic to reality. Material – atoms, sub-atomic particles, strings, what have you – are the only real things, the primary reality. And consciousness has to be explained by reducing it to these material things.

    The Implications:

    The implications of these two contrasting views are very interesting. First of all the religious view that posits consciousness as intrinsic to existence corresponds to our experience, whereas the reductionist point of view is a far distant from it, a highly abstract view from highly abstract thought.

    The reductionist view, very clearly, is a model of the universe – certainly a useful model in many cases – created by scientists and thinkers to simplify and better understand certain simple phenomena, meaning that it is in fact a tool used by consciousness. Without consciousness, it has no meaning.

    Secondly, the reductionist point of view doesn’t explain how consciousness comes into being except by vague and nearly meaningless hand-waving arguments about such things a biological computers and the like. In other words, it offers only “smoke and mirrors” – arguments – mythologies – to explain how consciousness came into being. It has similar problems with the origins of life (biological evolution only plugs in after life has started).

    So, religion wins over reductionism in dealing with consciousness. But, does it win over science?

    The answer, clearly, is no. Science, despite what many believe, is not bound by particular points of view such as reductionism (even condensed matter physicists – folks only at the starting point of the chain of increasing complexity – like to point that out). Science, rather, is beholden to a process of investigation where particular points of view often fall to the wayside.

    A physicist’s view of the existence of consciousness might be the following: certain configurations of matter, when they come into being, give rise to a phenomena called consciousness. Consciousness – as is matter – is built into the laws of nature as a possibility – it is there all along. And like matter and biological systems, it is realized through physical and biological evolutionary processes.

    Steve F.

  3. NewEnlandBob

    Consciousness is just another emergent property. There are emergent properties all over science from the smallest components of matter up to large cosmological events.

    Sorry, Steve F. Religion loses. reductionism and emergence wins. Your definitions are wrong.

  4. Steve F.

    Hi NewEnlandBob:

    Emergence, of course, is a very important way to talk about processes where more complicated phenomena appear to come from simpler phenomena.

    Consider, for example, a crystal formed from individual atoms. The atoms by themselves have certain properties. In the ordered structure of a crystal, however, they have different properties, indeed properties that make modern electronics possible. This is a simple example of emergence.

    The relationship between emergence and reductionism is the following: emergence means that reductionism lacks explanatory power for certain types of problems. New phenomena emerge that cannot be explained by reductionist approaches. Different assumptions and different methods of explanation have to used — this is the basic idea of emergence.

    It is not a tool of explanation, rather it is way of saying that reductionism doesn’t work and you have to find explanatory tools appropriate to the emergent system at hand.

    So, speaking directly to your comment. Consciousness can be – and often is – seen as emergent phenomena. It is real, not simply an epiphenomena.

    If it is indeed emergent, simplistic reductionism looses – higher-levels of complexity can’t be reduced to lower levels. (A note for scientists: wouldn’t it be nice to have a metric for emergence similar to, say, the metric for complexity).

    And religion, with its emphasis on consciousness as a fundamental aspect of reality, wins too. It starts with the recognition of consciousness as a distinct and unique phenomena, not something that depends on lesser phenomena.

    BTW, don’t expect to get it right away. Materialism has put deep roots into our imagination, if only because the great success of reductionist physics in the past. It is hard to escape from its gravitational pull.

    Steve F.

  5. Consciousness (and existence) is a mechanism of an infinite feed-back loop with an infinite number of step between recursion, and with causality flowing in both time directions.

    God has been proven to exist based upon the most reserved view of the known laws of physics. For much more on that, see Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s below paper, which among other things demonstrates that the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Standard Model of particle physics) require that the universe end in the Omega Point (the final cosmological singularity and state of infinite informational capacity identified as being God):

    F. J. Tipler, “The structure of the world from pure numbers,” Reports on Progress in Physics, Vol. 68, No. 4 (April 2005), pp. 897-964. http://math.tulane.edu/~tipler/theoryofeverything.pdf Also released as “Feynman-Weinberg Quantum Gravity and the Extended Standard Model as a Theory of Everything,” arXiv:0704.3276, April 24, 2007.

    Out of 50 articles, Prof. Tipler’s above paper was selected as one of 12 for the “Highlights of 2005” accolade as “the very best articles published in Reports on Progress in Physics in 2005 [Vol. 68]. Articles were selected by the Editorial Board for their outstanding reviews of the field. They all received the highest praise from our international referees and a high number of downloads from the journal Website.” (See Richard Palmer, Publisher, “Highlights of 2005,” Reports on Progress in Physics website.)

    Reports on Progress in Physics is the leading journal of the Institute of Physics, Britain’s main professional body for physicists. Further, Reports on Progress in Physics has a higher impact factor (according to Journal Citation Reports) than Physical Review Letters, which is the most prestigious American physics journal (one, incidently, which Prof. Tipler has been published in more than once). A journal’s impact factor reflects the importance the science community places in that journal in the sense of actually citing its papers in their own papers. (And just to point out, Tipler’s 2005 Reports on Progress in Physics paper could not have been published in Physical Review Letters since said paper is nearly book-length, and hence not a “letter” as defined by the latter journal.)

    See also the below resources for further information on the Omega Point Theory:

    Theophysics: God Is the Ultimate Physicist (a website on GeoCities)

    Tipler is Professor of Mathematics and Physics (joint appointment) at Tulane University. His Ph.D. is in the field of global general relativity (the same rarefied field that Profs. Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking developed), and he is also an expert in particle physics and computer science. His Omega Point Theory has been published in a number of prestigious peer-reviewed physics and science journals in addition to Reports on Progress in Physics, such as Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (one of the world’s leading astrophysics journals), Physics Letters B, the International Journal of Theoretical Physics, etc.

    Prof. John A. Wheeler (the father of most relativity research in the U.S.) wrote that “Frank Tipler is widely known for important concepts and theorems in general relativity and gravitation physics” on pg. viii in the “Foreword” to The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986) by cosmologist Prof. John D. Barrow and Tipler, which was the first book wherein Tipler’s Omega Point Theory was described. On pg. ix of said book, Prof. Wheeler wrote that Chapter 10 of the book, which concerns the Omega Point Theory, “rivals in thought-provoking power any of the [other chapters].”

    The leading quantum physicist in the world, Prof. David Deutsch (inventor of the quantum computer, being the first person to mathematically describe the workings of such a device, and winner of the Institute of Physics’ 1998 Paul Dirac Medal and Prize for his work), endorses the physics of the Omega Point Theory in his book The Fabric of Reality (1997). For that, see:

    David Deutsch, extracts from Chapter 14: “The Ends of the Universe” of The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes–and Its Implications (London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1997); with additional comments by Frank J. Tipler. Available on the Theophysics website.

    The only way to avoid the Omega Point cosmology is to resort to physical theories which have no experimental support and which violate the known laws of physics, such as with Prof. Stephen Hawking’s paper on the black hole information issue which is dependent on the conjectured string theory-based anti-de Sitter space/conformal field theory correspondence (AdS/CFT correspondence). See S. W. Hawking, “Information loss in black holes,” Physical Review D, Vol. 72, No. 8, 084013 (October 2005); also at arXiv:hep-th/0507171, July 18, 2005.

    That is, Prof. Hawking’s paper is based upon empirically unconfirmed physics which violate the known laws of physics. It’s an impressive testament to the Omega Point Theory’s correctness, as Hawking implicitly confirms that the known laws of physics require the universe to collapse in finite time. Hawking realizes that the black hole information issue must be resolved without violating unitarity, yet he’s forced to abandon the known laws of physics in order to avoid unitarity violation without the universe collapsing.

    Some have suggested that the universe’s current acceleration of its expansion obviates the universe collapsing (and therefore obviates the Omega Point). But as Profs. Lawrence M. Krauss and Michael S. Turner point out in “Geometry and Destiny” (General Relativity and Gravitation, Vol. 31, No. 10 [October 1999], pp. 1453-1459; also at arXiv:astro-ph/9904020, April 1, 1999), there is no set of cosmological observations which can tell us whether the universe will expand forever or eventually collapse.

    There’s a very good reason for that, because that is dependant on the actions of intelligent life. The known laws of physics provide the mechanism for the universe’s collapse. As required by the Standard Model, the net baryon number was created in the early universe by baryogenesis via electroweak quantum tunneling. This necessarily forces the Higgs field to be in a vacuum state that is not its absolute vacuum, which is the cause of the positive cosmological constant. But if the baryons in the universe were to be annihilated by the inverse of baryogenesis, again via electroweak quantum tunneling (which is allowed in the Standard Model, as baryon number minus lepton number [B – L] is conserved), then this would force the Higgs field toward its absolute vacuum, cancelling the positive cosmological constant and thereby forcing the universe to collapse. Moreover, this process would provide the ideal form of energy resource and rocket propulsion during the colonization phase of the universe.

    Prof. Tipler’s above 2005 Reports on Progress in Physics paper also demonstrates that the correct quantum gravity theory has existed since 1962, first discovered by Richard Feynman in that year, and independently discovered by Steven Weinberg and Bryce DeWitt, among others. But because these physicists were looking for equations with a finite number of terms (i.e., derivatives no higher than second order), they abandoned this qualitatively unique quantum gravity theory since in order for it to be consistent it requires an arbitrarily higher number of terms. Further, they didn’t realize that this proper theory of quantum gravity is consistent only with a certain set of boundary conditions imposed (which includes the initial Big Bang, and the final Omega Point, cosmological singularities). The equations for this theory of quantum gravity are term-by-term finite, but the same mechanism that forces each term in the series to be finite also forces the entire series to be infinite (i.e., infinities that would otherwise occur in spacetime, consequently destabilizing it, are transferred to the cosmological singularities, thereby preventing the universe from immediately collapsing into nonexistence). As Tipler notes in his 2007 book The Physics of Christianity (pp. 49 and 279), “It is a fundamental mathematical fact that this [infinite series] is the best that we can do. … This is somewhat analogous to Liouville’s theorem in complex analysis, which says that all analytic functions other than constants have singularities either a finite distance from the origin of coordinates or at infinity.”

    When combined with the Standard Model, the result is the Theory of Everything (TOE) correctly describing and unifying all the forces in physics.

  6. Steve F.

    Hi James.

    The Tipler stuff is super cool, definitely over my head.

    But, for the same reasons I’m skeptical of the many-universes theory, I’m skeptical of this. I’m sure that there are no experimental tests of the Omega Point forthcoming.

    Also, it identifies God with the Omega Point, something completely arbitrary and not consistent with the God of religion, a non-starter for me. Dawkins, in what has to be a most unusual twist, identifies God as the God of intelligent design theory, and then uses that identification to try to prove that God doesn’t exist, illustrating the dangers of these very restrictive and arbitrary definitions.

    Steve F.

  7. jayne

    This is one of my favourite topics, but it can get so very circular in its permutations. Crazy-making stuff at times. Conscious attempting to study itself – fascinating and very slippery territory. While cognitive processes can be studied with a good degree of empirical reliability, our deepest experiential states of consciousness defy quantification (meditation anyone?). But I admire those who attempt to tackle this conundrum. It is not for the faint of heart!

    (By the way — at the risk of sounding annoyingly pedantic guys — phenomena is the plural version of phenomenon, so you gotta stop saying “a phenomena”… ok? : ))

  8. Hi, Steve F.

    Regarding the equivalence of God and the Omega Point: the Omega Point is omniscient, having an infinite amount of information and knowing all that is logically possible to be known; it is omnipotent, having an infinite amount of energy and power; and it is omnipresent, consisting of all that exists. As well, as Stephen Hawking proved, the singularity is not in spacetime, but rather is the boundary of space and time (see S. W. Hawking and G. F. R. Ellis, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time [London: Cambridge University Press, 1973], pp. 217-221). So the Omega Point is transcendent to, yet immanent in, space and time.

    Additionally, the cosmological singularity consists of a three-part structure: the final singularity (i.e., the Omega Point), the all-presents singularity (which exists at all times at the edge of the multiverse), and the initial singularity (i.e., the beginning of the Big Bang). These three distinct parts which perform different physical functions in bringing about and sustaining existence are actually one singularity which connects the entirety of the multiverse.

    And given an infinite amount of computational resources, per the Bekenstein Bound, recreating the exact quantum state of our present universe is trivial, requiring at most a mere 10^123 bits (the number which Roger Penrose calculated), or at most a mere 2^10^123 bits for every different quantum configuration of the universe logically possible (i.e., the multiverse in its entirety up to this point in universal history). So the Omega Point will be able to resurrect us using merely an infinitesimally small amount of total computational resources: indeed, the multiversal resurrection will occur between 10^-10^10 and 10^-10^123 seconds before the Omega Point is reached, as the computational capacity of the universe at that stage will be great enough that doing so will require only a trivial amount of total computational resources.

    So to recapitulate:

    1.) The Omega Point (or, for that matter, the society near the Omega Point) can trivially perform the universal resurrection of the dead, upon which the people resurrected can live eternally in literal heaven, i.e., paradise.
    2.) The Omega Point is omniscient.
    3.) The Omega Point is omnipresent.
    4.) The Omega Point is omnipotent.
    5.) The cosmological singularity is a triune structure, of which the Omega Point is one component.
    6.) The cosmological singularity is transcendent to, yet immanent in, space and time.
    7.) The cosmological singularity is the only achieved (actually existing) infinity.
    8.) The Omega Point creates the universe and all of existence.

    Those are all the physical properties that have been claimed for God in traditional Christian theology. There are many other congruities between the Omega Point cosmology and Christianity. Below are listed just some of them:

    1.) We are gods: John 10:34 (Jesus is quoting Psalm 82:6).
    2.) We are God and God is us: Matthew 25:31-46.
    3.) We live inside of God: Acts 17:24-28.
    4.) God is everything and inside of everything: Colossians 3:11; Jeremiah 23:24.
    5.) We are members in the body of Christ: Romans 12:4,5; 1 Corinthians 6:15-19; 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:25.
    6.) We are one in Christ: Galatians 3:28.
    7.) God is all: Ephesians 1:23; 4:4-6.
    8.) God is light: 1 John 1:5; John 8:12.
    9.) We have existed before the foundation of the world: Matthew 25:34; Luke 1:70; 11:50; Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Isaiah 40:21.
    10.) Jesus has existed before the foundation of the world: John 17:24; Revelation 13:8.
    11.) The reality of multiple worlds: Hebrews 1:1,2; 11:3.
    12.) God is the son of man: Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:18; 12:32; 12:40; 13:37; 13:41; 16:13; 16:27,28; 17:9; 17:12; 17:22; 18:11; 19:28; 20:18; 20:28; 24:27; 24:30; 24:37; 24:39; 24:44; 25:13; 25:31; 26:2; 26:24; 26:45; 26:64. (This is just listing how many times Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man in the Gospel of Matthew, althought he refers to himself as this throughout the Gospels. It was the favorite phrase that he used to refer to himself.)

    How item Nos. 9 and 10 relate is that within Prof. Tipler’s Omega Point Theory the universe is brought into being by the Omega Point, as the end-state of the universe causally brings about the beginning state, i.e., the Big Bang singularity (since in physics it’s just as accurate to say that causation goes from future to past events: viz., the principle of least action; and unitarity). Another way of stating it is that in the Omega Point cosmology, the Omega Point is the fundamental existential and mathematical entity, from which all of reality derives. Indeed, within the Omega Point Theory, the Big Bang singularity and the Omega Point singularity are actually just different functions of the same singularity. Further, anything which at any time will exist will simply be a subset of what is rendered in the Omega Point.

  9. PeterS

    Our consciousness resides on(or in) a substrate and the condition of that substrate(the brain) vitally affects the way we experience consciousness. That alone may be grounds for thinking that when we assign some kind of esoteric significance to consciousness we are committing the fallacy of argument from ignorance.

    So NewEnlandBob you are possibly right when you say ‘reductionism and emergence wins’. You neglect to add the rider ‘ultimately when enough research is done’.
    However ’emergence’ does not explain anything. In the hands of most it is a label we apply to a system whose properties confound us because we cannot even begin to imagine how it is derived from the properties of the constituents. So the label ’emergent’ does not explain anything. It is just a sleight of hand used to disguise ignorance.

    But on the other hand the label ’emergent’ is also recognition of a profound property of our universe. That emergence even exists and gives directionality to our universe is even more profoundly puzzling than consciousness, indeed shocking; Adam would say Awe-ful. This is a most important area for debate.

    But to say ‘religion loses’ because reductionism and emergence are good explanatory tools is to completely miss the point. Your argument is based on a presumption that science-nature and God are somehow mutually exclusive and therefore by demonstrating the validity of science-nature we are disproving God. But why should that be? I see this implicit argument again and again that they are necessarily exclusive. But why should they be exclusive? There is some kind of presumption that life or consciousness or whatever you choose to name must be unexplainable for God to exist, but why?
    Then every time science fills in a gap in our knowledge some Fundamentalist Atheist gleefully proclaims the death of God. But why? ***

    If we are to believe in God then we must necessarily believe that the laws of science are an instrument in His hands to create the universe. Hence there is no contradiction when science explains the observable world. Indeed it is an occasion for celebration and awe when science reveals the immensity, complexity, beauty, order and symmetry of the universe because it is also revealing something about the power and the nature of God.

    My point being that whether one is religious or atheist we should still expect the same thing, that science will progressively reveal more about the universe and fill in more of the gaps. The difference is in our response, the way we experience it and in the way it gives meaning to our lives.

    I live in a region with large impoverished communities. Throughout these communities are many, many groups of religious people showing the utmost dedication under terrible conditions to helping these communities. To see such sincere, dedicated compassion at work is a beautiful and humbling experience. Here is just one small example started by a humble Irish nun. http://www.missionvale.co.za/
    The point I am making here is that finding meaning in life can have important, powerful and transformative results.

    *** I suspect that it is an especially cynical type of strawman argument, but let us not go into the motivation of Fundamentalist Atheists, that is a dark subject.

  10. jayne

    Peter, how do you know that consciousness “resides in the brain”?

  11. PeterS

    Jayne, I would be foolish to claim I ‘know’ and I would happily defer to others, like you, with more knowledge about the subject area. My intuition suggests it since tinkering with the brain can alter states of consciousness but intuition is a bad basis for reasoned argument so I am happy to be corrected.

  12. PeterS

    Jayne, I might have misread your question. I see now that my word ‘reside’ implies a duality, something residing somewhere whereas from a strictly reductionist point of view there is only one thing with two aspects. On that question I simply don’t know, my opinion wavers between the two points of view. But tonight, after I have enjoyed a glass of red wine, I am going to contemplate a mathematical, Platonic universe a la Max Tegmark where the universe is a mathematical framework, inhabited by consciousness that projects the experience of concrete reality onto the mathematical framework. What I can’t grasp though is why you and I project this reality onto the framework in such a coherent and consistent way? Our local viticulture is good but I doubt if it is good enough to reveal the answer.

  13. jayne

    Hi Peter, I have no more ‘knowledge’ about this than you or anyone else I’m afraid : )
    Consciousness is as yet one of those indefinable phenomena. Perhaps science will provide more knowledge about it at some point, as you note. Perhaps not. This is another reason why the level of individual experience is so pertinent here. We can only ‘know’ what we ‘know’ about consciousness through our own unique experience of it. I agree that the brain plays an important role in mediating certain aspects of consciousness, however my sense is that we have given far to much power to the brain within the context of exploring consciousness. Thought is only one aspect of consciousness. We, as human beings, are so much more than our thoughts – as is consciousness itself. Like I said, our deepest states of consciousness defy articulation or quantification – yet we ‘know’ them intimately. Mind boggling stuff for sure! I like what you said about finding deeper meaning in life, and how it might be connected to various states of consciousness. But meaning is tricky territory as well – again so subjective and personal. The existentialists explored this far more articulately than I am able to here – but one of my favourites is Viktor Frankl. He wrote some deeply moving and powerful accounts of the importance of meaning for the individual psyche (a bit off topic here – but it really is powerfully beautiful stuff if you ever have a chance to read it, particularly his “Man’s Search for Meaning”, published in the late 1950’s).

  14. jayne

    Peter, as for why we might “project this reality onto the framework in such a coherent and consistent way”… yes that is a fascinating question – and kinda makes me think of some kind of ‘behind the scenes collaboration’ of some sort (but that is waaay too esoteric for this forum – slap my wrist! : ))

  15. PeterS

    Ahh, Viktor Frankl. There is such a interesting parallel here. In the ascetic tradition of many religions it requires prolonged meditation or suffering to gain a deep inner apprehension of truth/reality. Viktor Frankl’s suffering in captivity can be seen in this light as the roots of his wonderful insights.

  16. jayne

    Yes, Buddhism too is steeped in this approach. And it can be a powerful angle from which to acquire a deeper understanding of the self – and of one’s own ‘layers of consciousness’. Many psychotherapeutic approaches (Frankl’s being one of them) are based on this kind of experiential/existential model. It is often within the depths of our suffering – or the heights of our greatest joy – that we experience states of consciousness which transcend the mind – and the mere cognitive processing that many people think of as ‘consciousness’.

  17. Gray Gaffer

    Just like angels on a pinhead, semantics is the elephant in the refrigerator nobody wants to confront. Yes, there are definitely footprints in the butter. But this discussion is a tautology in search of a referent. Recursion, see Recursion, applies.

    I do not even see it reducing to “What is ‘I'”. From some perspectives, ‘I’ disappearing in moments of peak concentration is the epitome of ‘Consciousness’. From others, the nadir. There are as many meanings to the word ‘Consciousness’ as there are for ‘God’, and that number is greater then the number of people who have ever lived, or live, on this Earth. That is because the problem can reduce to trying to see your own retina without the aid of a mirror. Only we cannot appeal to others for help in this case because we have no visibility into whatever it is that we mean by ‘Consciousness’ in our own heads, let alone other peoples’ heads.

    I see the only utility in pursuing definitions of ‘Consciousness’ in two endeavors: pathology, fixing broken people, and AI, reproducing the epi-phenomenon of ‘Consciousness’. Descartes said all we need for the rest of it – ‘Cogito, ergo sum’.

    OTOH, this is indeed fun, in a mentally masturbatory way.

  18. jayne

    Hehe… don’t even get me started on Descartes! (…he was one of those who confused ‘thought’ with ‘consciousness’ : )). As for “fixing broken people”, that is a whole other Pandora’s Box in itself. As a psychotherapist I have asked myself countless times what it actually means to be “broken”.

    Check this out as one example:

  19. Steen

    James, there is a serious problem with your approach (which you so generally have spread throughout this board). It is your use of the concept of “Proof.” Proof is generally understood as something that can be independently verified by anybody who choses to explore the subject.

    As best I can read your argument (Frankly, it is hard to read. You had practice enough writing it, so could you possibly pair it down in size and focus your claims/arguments a bit, please. We don’t care that this Tipton is a great guy, we care about the argument/evidence), your proof consists in defining a phenomena (Omega point) and attributing this to a created universe rather than this Omega point merely being a consequence of the universe as is.

    Your argument is creationist in nature. defining the solution ahead of time (It is proved that God exists)and then seek to present “proof” to back this up. That, of course, is the opposite of what the Scientific Method is about.

    And to post it 3-4 different treads, that frankly is spamming. At least fit it to the discussion at hand rather than give 2 lines of lip-service.

    Consciousness itself appears the sum of cerebral processing. As such, nothing indicates this beyond evolutionary processes. Smoke and mirrors and wishful thinking that this must be more than neuronal activity doesn’t make it so.

  20. Mike Gottschalk

    To Steve F., PeterS, Jayne and Steen,

    I’ve been enjoying all of your thinking and expression; it’s a pleasure to interact with you all. Besides Frankl, I’m a big fan of R. May, E.Fromm, P. Tillich and J. Hillman on the Psyche side, and David Chalmers and Deric Bownds on the Neuroscience side of things.

    To me, the most intriguing thing about our human level of consciousness is that when all of it’s underlying mechanisms are understood in any way possible, I’m still left with the responsibility to do something with it. No model of consciousness can dissolve this reality of subjective experience that gives rise to this ‘response-ability’ if you will. It’s from this point where I myself, entertain the idea of soul.

    We don’t know what a soul is, but we do know when our experience is soulful- such as reading about mathematical structures involved in conscious experience with a glass of wine. Because we are each unique, soulfulness shows up differently for us, but in each case, we would probably all describe a soulful experience in terms of depth in some way. So in our ambiguity of consciousness and ‘soul’, I don’t any longer see soul as a thing but a process, a way of being conscious. In the past, consciousness was attributed to a soul as if all human beings have one; I wonder if it is more accurate to see soul as an aspiration available to anyone with human consciousness if, they are wanting to enter its dimension. Maybe soul is an emergent state.

    I hope that in our exploration of consciousness, we not only consider its underlying physical dynamics, but that we consider its non-physical dynamics as well. So Jayne, I see “brokenness” ocurring in two dimensions that interact but also have their own “means” of healing. ( A thought just came to me; in a medical model, “brokenness” is conceived as a break down within a person; in a soul model, brokenness can be conceived in terms of a persons relationship to their outside as well: in other words, the problem may not lie in the cog but in the machine…)

    Finally, to give this thought some mathematical heft, let me point out that a process getting termed as an object has its roots in the equation, 1+1=2; that is, the process of adding amounts to an object.

  21. jayne

    Mike, I like the way you think : )
    And I like the idea of ‘soul’ as an emergent state. I see healing in a similar vein as well. When I watch my clients reaching into the deepest aspects of themselves (with a courage that is often astounding) and cultivating some new ‘level’ of awareness, it is incredibly profound. This happens very gradually, and tentatively at first – but that process of which you speak is, I believe, at work in such moments.

    ‘Response-ability’ (love that) is also something Frankl spoke passionately about. It is in our response to the world that subjective experience interacts with whatever it is we perceive to be ‘out there’. This is why I believe the behaviourists were missing such a big piece of the overall picture in only focusing on the stimulus/response aspect of human nature. Subjective experience is the mediating factor which, as Adam and many phenomenological researchers have pointed out, is ultimately irreducible. And it is here, in the core of that experience, where we all ‘live’. Each of us, like it or not, is a ‘captive’ within our own subjectivity – but that subjective experience itself is constantly evolving, and here is where your idea of an emergent process is especially fascinating.

    Ah… I could go on and on, but I have to actually go and ‘live my experiences’ now : )

    It’s been a pleasure.

  22. Mike Gottschalk

    Peter, I wonder why it is that a structure denoted by math is considered to have more substance than a structure denoted by words? Couldn’t we think of an underlying framework in verbal terms as well? And if we did, would it imply something about an underlying structure? I’m voicing a hunch and also assuming that you’re more math conversant than me.

    You also talk about emergence. David Chalmers, the neuroscientist I referred to, divides emergence into two categories which he labels weak and strong. Weak emergence occurs when a mess of complex dynamics form a higher order, such as a thunder storm or turbulence. Strong emergence is then used for higher orders that have a leaping quality to them; here Chalmers distinguishes consciousness from subjective experience and points out that while you can follow a flow chart for the emergence (weak) of consciousness, the emergence (strong) of subjective experience has no such direct schematic: it leaps without leaving its trail. Chalmers presses this point of strong emergence by conducting thought experiments that involve zombies. Did you know that there is more than one kind?

    Anyway, I am interested in your math insights-

  23. Mike Gottschalk

    Jayne, as you mention the courage of your clients, I am struck by how much courage it takes for us to know ourselves deeply and openly; I think this itself is a phenomenon to consider.

  24. patrick

    “All matter is purely energy condensed to a slow vibration, we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is but a dream in which we are the imagination of ourselves.”

    This idea suggests a shared consciousness which can only be understood by those who are willing to step into the next dimension of reality, where one is not necessarily trapped in his own subjectivity, but actually feels his surroundings and may have a positive effect on the world merely by sharing a common goal with other like-minded individuals.

    Logically, everything outside the realm of unique personal experience should be collectively shared. Is there something that impairs us from achieving this state? Is it our perceived reality which, in fact, prevents us from truly knowing our world.

    This can not only be achieved through a tangible physical medium, but also by how our actions affect others. The goal is to have a net positive affect on the world, no matter how you reach it. If you have to ruffle a few feathers to strengthen the flock, then do it. If you try to say the right things, you should also try to do them.

    It also suggests, although our physical body may perish, the effect our thoughts and actions have on the world might continue to exist in the collective consciousness for the rest of time.

    Is there a personal consciousness after death?

    Maybe not, but our thoughts and actions can stir the collective consciousness until it ceases to exist, which would be pretty rewarding.

    If consciousness lives on after our physical extinction, are we really gone?

  25. Mike Gottschalk

    Patrick- Nice response man! I’m glad you put this thought in the the collective-

  26. Mike Gottschalk

    Jayne, it looks to me that you’re a thinker about consciousness in a manner beyond being a practitioner. For myself, having developed a profound respect for subjective experience, I’ve come to see a very different picture portrayed in the life of Christ: I no longer see him as a force against immorality but a force against “zombieness”- that is, a person existing in a manner wherein their kernel of subjective prowess is hardly cultivated: the cultural forms are entered into, but the personal content seems buried- or choked by weeds. I think Christians who make moralism the core issue are evading the more difficult task of becoming.

    I looked on one of your past posts and noticed your Buddhist bent. One of my favorite koans is, “If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a crysanthimum.” I’m interested in your integration of spiritual practice, science and psychotherapy. I’m writing some essays and a seminar on these topics, and if you’d be up for it I would like your input. My email is, mike.gottschalk@gmail.com. I hope to hear from you, you seem to care about the human endeavor. 🙂

  27. patrick

    Mike- once again, I like what you have to say.

    Christ is portrayed as merciful and forgiving, yet many so-called Christians find it their duty to criticize others based on an apparently vague understanding of the big picture. This closed-minded view of the scripture leads to a harsh means of witness, and the subsequent misunderstandings often will result in a stalemate.

    I’m no theological scholar, not even close, but I never understood Christ to be narrow-minded or stubborn. I always gathered him to be a compassionate, generous person. Yet many “Christians”, including preachers are known to be quite phony, judgmental, and often rude. A friend of mine waited a table for a church party (a well-to-do church) of 10, including the preacher and when they left, found a $10 bill on the table. I guess they tithed everything else.

    It’s “Christians” who behave in that manner who drive god-fearing people away.

    Maybe the rationale is, “If only 144,000 are worthy, I better take some of the other guys out so I can get in. If I do things to challenge their faith, maybe he won’t like them as much as me and my soul can live eternally!”

    We have a shining example of how to live, in Jesus Christ, yet, in my eyes, we get tied up playing god and arguing semantics to the point where we fail to be Christian.

    The bible isn’t a guide to the mind of God, is it? So how can we know if our harsh treatment of “sinners” is proper in the eye’s of God.

    I think Christianity is a guide towards universal understanding, if viewed objectively. The problem here is, how can we understand what the Bible wants to tell us it without confirmation? This requires subjectivity.

    Only, if viewed subjectively it becomes confusing and can lead to complacency if only understood at a rudimentary level.

    This leads me to the conclusion that we can’t possibly attain all the answers by reading the bible without our views clashing.

    I could continue, but I think I’m preaching to the choir.

  28. Mike Gottschalk

    Patrick, thanks. I think Christianity has lost its way in conceiving Christ’s work as one of making Christians; I’m arguing rather, that his work was about illuminating a way into full Human Being. Having lived in that culture, I’ve often found this ironic inverse correlation in someone, when having an identity that is mostly “Christian”, they have less in the way of full Human Being.

    I’ve come to see that any power that Christ has, doesn’t stem from his identity per se, but in what he is able to comprehend; so I ask as a theologian, what does he comprehend, and if we ourselves comprehended it, what would we comprehend? Would we comprehend anything about physical processes? No. But to the non-physical processes that also comprise Human Being, he has some rather profound things to say- mostly about Being and surprisingly little about moralism: except to confront it.

    In a much earlier post Patrick, I confronted you for “ranting” without offering new ways to see our lives. I think we’re finding something larger than both science or religion, in the prospect of real Human Being. If either science or religion becomes something we serve rather than something that serves us in establishing the fullness of being, then we have our roles reversed. You look to me as someone with a lot to say in this regard, so I hope you’ll accept the invitation that I extended to Jayne above. I would welcome your further insights as well. Mike.

  29. Gary Ansorge

    I have a prediction that is a direct expression of emergent consciousness. No AI will ever manifest consciousness until that AI is constructed as a pattern recognition device, for it is in the construction of models of our objective reality that the phenomenon of subjective consciousness is emergent,ie, consciousness is implied w/in the fabric of objective reality and is therefore emergent from the subjective modeling of those objective patterns. Our subjective consciousness is a model of that objective reality. I am a subset of self in everything, a reflection of the all,,,

    GAry 7

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