(ORDO NEWS) — From time immemorial, great minds around the world have been wondering what consciousness is and where it came from. Today, this topic is increasingly occupied by physicists, cognitive scientists and neurobiologists. There are several prevailing theories. The first is materialistic, which suggests that consciousness comes from matter due to the impulses of neurons inside the brain.
Exclude the brain from the equation – and consciousness does not exist at all. Scientists have traditionally been solid materialists. But they had to face the limitations of materialism. By imagining the gulf between relativity and quantum mechanics or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, you will quickly see these discrepancies.
The second theory is the dualism of mind and body. It is, perhaps, most often characteristic of religious thinkers. Consciousness is separated from matter, it is part of another aspect of the personality – the soul, in religious terms.
Next comes the third option, which is gaining popularity in some scientific circles – panpsychism. According to this point of view, the entire Universe is populated by consciousness.
So far, few scientists take this theory seriously, but it causes heated debate. In truth, panpsychism is very similar to what Hindus and Buddhists call Brahman, a huge universal deity of which we are a part. In Buddhism, consciousness is generally the only thing that exists.
The famous zen-koan speaks about this: “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make any sound?” The point is that everything that we experience is filtered and interpreted by our consciousness. Without this, the universe does not exist at all. In some circles of physicists, the theory of a peculiar field of proto-consciousness prevails.
In quantum mechanics, particles do not have a specific shape or place until they are observed or measured. Isn’t this a form of proto-awareness in action? The scientist and philosopher John Archibald Wheeler believed that it was possible. He is known for coining the term “black hole.” In his opinion, each part of matter contains a little consciousness that it receives from this field of proto-consciousness.
Wheeler called his theory the “anthropic principle of participation.” She argues that human observation is the key to the whole process. Wheeler said: “We are involved in creating not only what is here and now, but also what is far and long.” In his opinion, which is similar to Buddhist views, nothing exists until there is a consciousness that can comprehend this.
Neuroscientist Christoph Koch of the Allen Institute of the Brain is another proponent of panpsychism. Koch says that the only theory about consciousness that exists today is that it is a level of awareness of oneself and the world. Biological organisms are conscious, because, getting into a new situation, they can change their behavior to cope with it. Koch is trying to find out if he can measure the level of awareness that exists in the body.
He is going to conduct several experiments with animals. In one of them, he plans to combine the brain of two mice. Will the information ultimately flow between them? Will their consciousness turn into a single integrated system at some point? If these experiments are successful, he will be able to combine the brain of two people.
British physicist Sir Roger Penrose is also a proponent of panpsychism. Penrose in the 1980s suggested that consciousness exists at a quantum level and is located in the synapses of the brain. He is known for connecting consciousness with some developments in quantum mechanics.
Penrose does not go so far as to call himself a panpsychist. In his opinion, “the laws of physics give rise to complex systems, and these complex systems lead to consciousness, which then gives rise to mathematics, which in turn can encrypt in a capacious and inspiring manner the basic laws of physics that gave rise to it.”
Physicist Gregory Matloff of NY College of Technology claims to have some preliminary evidence that panpsychism is possible. For a start, it’s already not bad. Matloff told NBC News: “All of this is very speculative, but it is a theory that we can test – and either confirm or refute.”
Theoretical physicist Bernard Heysh in 2006 suggested that consciousness is created and transmitted through quantum vacuum or empty space. Any system with sufficient complexity and creating a certain level of energy can generate or transmit consciousness. Matloff contacted a German physicist and proposed an empirical study to verify this.
They examined the discreteness of Parenago: the observation that colder stars, such as our Sun, rotate around the center of the Milky Way faster than hotter ones. Some scientists attribute this to interaction with gas clouds. Matloff had a different opinion. He detailed it in a recent article in the Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research.
Unlike their hotter sisters, colder stars can move faster due to a “unidirectional jet ejection”. Such stars emit at an early stage of appearance. Matloff suggests that this may be an example of how a star deliberately manipulates himself to gain speed.
Observational data show a reliable pattern of the existence of Parenago discreteness. If it was a question of interaction with gas clouds, according to current theory, each cloud should have a different chemical composition, and thus the stars would have to function differently. So why do they all function the same?
The launch of the Gaia telescope of the European Space Agency, which compiles a star map, may provide more data for or against this view. On the other hand, Matloff believes that the presence of a field of proto-consciousness can serve as a substitute for dark matter.
It is believed that dark matter accounts for about 95% of the entire universe, although scientists can not yet find it. So, purely theoretically, if consciousness is a property that arises at the subatomic level with the fusion of particles, how do these tiny pieces of consciousness connect?
Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin offers a slightly different approach to panpsychism, which is called the theory of integrated information. Here, consciousness is a phenomenon that has a real, physical place in the universe. We just haven’t found it yet. Perhaps this celestial body radiates consciousness just as our sun radiates light and heat.
Tononi even offers a criterion for measuring how much consciousness is in things. This unit measures how much the creature can exercise control over itself or around itself. This theory separates intelligence from consciousness, which some people equate to each other.
Take, for example, artificial intelligence. He can already defeat people in many tasks. But he does not have his own will. A supercomputer that can make changes to the world without a programmer’s commands will be conscious. Many futurists from Ray Kurzweil to Elon Musk believe that this day will come in the next decade or so, and that we must be prepared.
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