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Chapter 7: Paradoxes for Liberal Naturalism

  1. Mar 23, 2005 #1


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    Thus far, we have considered some conceptual tensions surrounding consciousness that an antiphysicalist, Liberal Naturalist framework must address-- how do we solve the Boundary Problem, and how viable is panexperientialism? In this chapter, we turn to further tensions that seem to present us with outright paradoxes. Rosenberg's intent here (as before) is not to resolve these paradoxes, but rather to consider the challenges they present and look for clues as to what direction of inquiry would make for fruitful investigation. He asks that we take the same attitude and not attempt to draw strong conclusions or brush the problems off as mere artifacts of cognitive limitations or delusions. By the end of the book, Rosenberg will have presented a detailed outline of his version of Liberal Naturalism, and will be able to use it to address these paradoxes and untangle their seemingly intractable knots without resorting to deflationary tactics.

    1. The unity of consciousness
    The human qualitative field is filled with rich and complex phenomenal events. There is a sense in which these qualia are distinct, but there is another, subtler sense in which they enjoy some sort of coherent unity of presentation. For instance, in the qualitative visual field, we can distinguish the color, shape, and motion of a falling ball as distinct phenomenal properties, but there is also a sense in which these phenomenal properties are bound together and 'overlap' to form a single qualitative object or event. More generally and subtly, we can observe that even phenomenal events occurring in different sensory modalities-- e.g. auditory and visual-- seem to share the same phenomenal space, to be painted on the same canvas, to belong integrally to the same whole.

    Rosenberg identifies both a challenge and a paradox arising from considerations of the unity of consciousness. The challenge of unity is to give a clear articulation of what the unity of consciousness actually is. We have definite intuitions that the qualitative field is in some sense unified, and these intuitions have even played a part in guiding e.g. the neuroscientific endeavor to frame and then solve the binding problem of percepts. However, it is difficult to give a precise characterization that resonates with our intuitions of exactly what we mean when we say that consciousness is unified.

    The paradox of unity pits our intuitions about the unity of consciousness against the physical, composite description of the brain. We tend to view the brain, and physical systems in general, as composite systems-- systems that are straightforwardly composed of smaller elements and their relationships to each other. The relevant metaphor here is that of a brick wall, where the wall is the composite system whose existence is determined entirely by its components (the bricks) and their various relationships to each other; in turn, the bricks enjoy an independent existence that does not presuppose the existence of the whole wall. In this way, we view the fundamental particles as composing atoms, atoms as composing organic molecules, organic molecules as composing nerve cells, and so on. At each level, the components of the composite system are separable from the whole-- even if we break the system of relationships that creates the whole, we will still be left with the composite parts.

    However, the unity condition of consciousness seems to resist such a reductive treatment. Rosenberg argues that it is implausible for a given phenomenal event (e.g. a headache) to exist independently from the entirety of the experiencing subject to which it belongs. Likewise, it is implausible to suppose that the qualitative visual field is composed of 'tiny colored dots' that exist independently of the whole experience. Rather, the elements of our experience seem to already presuppose the existence of the whole experiential manifold, and holistically depend on it to achieve their own existence. Thus, the elements of experience are inseparable from the whole-- were we to break the conditions that support the whole of experience, we would not be left with component qualia floating around disparately. We can state the paradox of unity succinctly, then, as follows: How can a single system be both composite and non-composite?

    Rosenberg notes that a functionalist treatment seems well suited to describing the unity of consciousness. After all, functional systems have discernible functional entities as elements, but these elements depend on the context of the whole system to achieve their meaning; they cannot be fully specified without reference (be it explicit or implicit) to the entire system of which they are a part. In other words, they cannot be characterized as 'bricks in the wall.' In this way, functional systems capture something of the holistic nature of consciousness in a way that composite physical systems do not.

    However, while a functionalist perspective may prove invaluable in describing consciousness, it cannot be the whole story for a Liberal Naturalist paradigm. As touched on in chapter 6, a conventional functionalist analysis will suffer to varying degrees from problems of functional teleology, interest relativity, and norms. These are the sorts of things that are created by human observers and imposed upon nature, rather than things that nature itself recognizes and responds to. Perhaps we can work around this problem by defining what it means to be a causal role, and a canonical context for a causal role, in such a way that these do not fall prey to functional teleology, interest relativity, and norms, but rather are objective phenomena to which nature is sensitive.

    2. The subjective instant
    Some sets of phenomenal events in consciousness seem to occur simultaneously. These collections of simultaneous events constitute the subjective instant, or what William James called the specious present. However, these simultaneous phenomenal events correspond with physical brain events that are asynchronous. Even more pressing is the observation that, to the subject of experience, the simultaneity of phenomenal events seems to be a privileged, absolute fact, whereas the laws of special relativity show us that there is no privileged reference frame from which we can decide that a given set of physical events in the brain occur simultaneously in an absolute sense. Succinctly stated, the paradox here is that there seems to be a system to which the laws of relativity both do and do not apply.

    The temptation here is to write off the subjective instant as an illusion and give complete deference to the relativistic account of spacetime. However, it is not clear that physics has an entirely firm handle on the matter of time and its apparent 'flow.' An appeal is often made to the direction of causation, as implied by the second law of thermodynamics, to account for the apparent directionality of time. This is an attractive proposition, but it is not clear that physics alone affords us a complete account of causation. If the physical facts do not completely fix the facts about causation and the directionality of time, perhaps some light can be shed on the paradox of the subjective instant via a deeper theory of causation and its relationship to the apparent temporal flux.

    3. The knowledge paradox
    If physicalism is false, and if the world is causally closed under physics, it appears as if there is no room for p-consciousness to make a causal contribution to brain events. But clearly, our knowledge claims about p-consciousness (e.g. "I know that I am conscious right now") are driven by physical brain events. If p-consciousness is irrelevant to the causal dynamics of the brain, then, it seems that it can play no role in producing our knowledge claims about it. In short, it seems as if our knowledge claims about p-consciousness should bear no relevance to the phenomenon itself; we should have no way to really know that we are p-conscious, even though we claim that we are.

    It appears as if the knowledge paradox forces the Liberal Naturalist to be caught on the dual horns of interactionist dualism and epiphenomenalism. We can escape the conundrum of the knowledge paradox if we deny the causal closure of the physical and claim that non-physical p-consciousness really does directly influence the physical dynamics of the brain. The resulting interactionist dualist ontology presents significant further problems, however, and there is no strong evidence that the world is not causally closed under physics. If we reject interactionism, we can bite the bullet and propose that p-consciousness is epiphenomenal on brain events. On this view, p-consciousness is lawfully correlated with brain events, but still does not make any contribution to their causal dynamics. Epiphenomenalism is not much better than interactionism, as it still presents us with significant problems. While knowledge claims about p-consciousness would be true under epiphenomenalism, it seems they would not be justified. Rather, they would be more like lucky coincidences, since there would be no mechanism by which we could attain reasons for making these claims. Our physical brains would cause us to utter that we are p-conscious, and mere serendipity would have it that we were in fact correct. If the laws enforcing the epiphenomenal correlation between brain events and p-conscious events were to somehow be shut off, we would go on (falsely) claiming that we are p-conscious, none the wiser.

    The knowledge paradox is a deep problem for Liberal Naturalism, and on the surface, it seems as if the Liberal Naturalist is forced to choose between two highly problematic views. But perhaps the paradox does not turn on the nature of p-consciousness so much as it turns on our understanding of causation and its relationship to physics. A deeper theory of causation might allow the Liberal Naturalist to maintain that physicalism is false without being forced into either interactionist dualism or epiphenomenalism.

    4. The superfluity of consciousness
    Suppose that we reject interactionism and embrace epiphenomenalism. The resulting ontology casts p-consciousness as a nomological dangler, a phenomenon that exists despite having no relevance to the causal mesh of the world. Such a view undermines our convictions that nature is parsimonious, and invites speculation that perhaps the world is teeming with phenomena that are superfluous to our scientific understanding of it. This speculation not only does damage to convictions about nature's parsimony, but also undermines any hopes for scientific realism. If nature abounded with entities that are superfluous to our understanding of it, then we could never hope to even approach anything like ontological truth. Our scientific theories would remain useful for predicting the outcomes of experiments, but they would likely not tell us anything about what the world is really like. Occam's razor would become a purely pragmatic consideration rather than a useful metaphysical tool for science and philosophy. The superfluity of consciousness under epiphenomenalism, then, introduces a paradoxical tension between what we take ourselves to know about the world and what we should take ourselves to know about the world. It seems as if we have good reason to think that we know something of the world's ontological nature, but if epiphenomenalism is true, we should not hold any confidence that we do.

    5. The grain problem
    The grain problem arises from considering the incongruence between the structural complexity of phenomenal events in p-consciousness and the structural complexity of their physical, neural correlates. For instance, observe that a uniform patch of color in the qualitative visual field has a simple, homogenous structure, whereas the neural events that correlate with it have a high degree of varying structural complexities and nuances. We cannot inspect a uniform patch of phenomenal color more closely and reveal further layers of structural complexity corresponding to the structural complexities of the correlated neural events. In short, qualia are very coarse-grained with respect to their finer-grained neural correlates.

    The grain problem is pressing for physicalism, but not necessarily so for Liberal Naturalism, which is not obligated to suppose that the physical is the ultimate basis for the experiential. But we are still left with the question of what does form the basis for experience, and how it does this in such a way as to resolve the grain problem. Once again, functionalism seems a promising candidate.

    As previously discussed, functional entities derive their meaning from the specific kind of causal role they play in a larger functional context. Importantly, we need not specify lower level structural details in order to define a functional object or its causal role. The only relevant details of the functional specification are the abstract, higher-level patterns of causation that constitute the functional system as a whole, and the causal contributions that each functional component of the system makes to the system as a whole. For instance, we can regard a computer program as a functional system in this way. What essentially defines the computer program is just its abstract functional pattern of information processing. The lower-level structures of the program-- the physical or logical systems that implement it-- are irrelevant to the description of the program itself, and can be abstracted away. It does not matter if we implement a given program on a PC computer or on an abacus, so long as we guarantee that its characteristic high-level patterns of information processing are preserved.

    In this way, functional systems are encapsulated at their own level of nature. The ontological nature of functional systems, insofar as we view them purely as functional systems, has no finer grain. We can now immediately see a parallel between the coarse-grained nature of functional being and the coarse-grained nature of qualia, a parallel that seems to invite a treatment of the grain problem by way of a functionalist account of p-consciousness. However, we must note again that while an appeal to functionalism may be critically important, it cannot tell the whole story. And, as before, we cannot give the whole answer without a closer analysis of what causation is and how it individuates and stratifies phenomena in nature.

    Let us take stock of where we are right now. We have considered a number of puzzles and paradoxes surrounding p-consciousness, including the boundary problem, the unity of consciousness, the subjective instant, the knowledge paradox, the superfluity of consciousness, and the grain problem. Each of these deep conceptual problems raises questions about causation in some manner or another. It seems likely, then, that there is some fundamental deficiency in our understanding of causation that is inexorably leading us to systematic confusions about p-consciousness and its relationship with the physical.

    With this observation, we conclude Part I of the book. In Part II, Rosenberg will turn his focus to causation, critiquing conventional views of causation and constructing his own novel theory. Once Rosenberg's theory of causation is in place, he will come full circle and return better equipped to questions about p-consciousness and its relationship to the physical.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2005
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  3. Mar 23, 2005 #2


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    I find the ultimate conclusion of this chapter to be a deeply insightful and deeply important one. Even if one takes issue with Rosenberg's analysis of causation in Part II of the book, the arguments of this chapter make a very compelling case that almost all of our deep conceptual difficulties about p-consciousness touch on the issue of causation in some manner or another.

    This is the sort of key observation that can begin to elevate us from the quagmire of confusion that considerations about consciousness often place us in. We have, in a sense, brought the apparently disparate problems of consciousness together by unearthing a common problematic thread. The idea that most of our deepest confusions about consciousness arise due to a poor understanding of causation, and that we can resolve all of them in one fell swoop by developing a more sophisticated theory of causation, is the sort of eye-opening breakthrough that studies of consciousness have been crying out for for some time.
  4. Mar 23, 2005 #3
    You say that "qualia are very coarse-grained with respect to their finer-grained neural correlates." I had always thought it the other way around. In visual processing, for instance, I understood that the qualitative experience of seeing is more finely grained than the information sent from the our retinas. Is this wrong? Or is this a different issue?

    By the way, I just noticed your signature quote from Whitehead. It seems very appropriate here, where all the way through the chapter we are being asked to choose whether consciousness is this or that, composite/non-composite, epiphenomenal/dual interactionist, causal/non-causal, subject to /not subject to relativity, and so on. I'd suggest that perhaps "It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil."
  5. Mar 23, 2005 #4


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    If qualitative experience were more finely grained than its neural correlates, neuroscience would be in big trouble! But there is no reason for believing that this is the case, and every reason for believing the opposite.

    The question about information sent from the retinas is irrelevant here, because the nerve pathways from the retina are not plausibly the neual correlates of visual experience. The neural correlates of experience are defined roughly as those neuron assemblies/neural events whose activation systematically corresponds with the occurence of a given experience. The nerve pathways leading from the retina are not plausibly the neural correlates of visual experience, then, because blindsighted people have normally functioning optic nerves but lose some of their qualitative visual field. The neural correlates of visual experience are generally accepted to exist much farther downstream in the processing of visual information, in the highest brain regions of visual processing. When you consider that the shallow structural content of a uniform patch of color in the visual field is likely correlated with a specific kind of functional activity of thousands or even millions of neurons in the brain's higher visual processing regions, it is not hard to see the basis of the grain problem.

    Actually, Rosenberg asks in the beginning of the chapter that we not be tempted to draw premature conclusions, such as choosing one pole of a paradoxical tension over another. We are not being asked to choose anything here; rather, we are being presented with what seem to be the only choices available, given some background assumptions (the falsity of physicalism, plus prevailing notions on the ontological primacy of the physical, the nature of causation as it is generally understood, etc.). Rosenberg's work in Part II can be understood in part as re-evaluating those background assumptions, particularly about causation and its relationship to the physical, and coming to resolve the paradoxes of this chapter by showing that either a) we are not forced to choose one horn of the paradox over the other (e.g. for the knowledge paradox), or b) with a deeper theory, we can come to accept both sides of the apparent paradox without arriving at a contradiction (e.g. for the unity of consciousness).
  6. Mar 23, 2005 #5
    This is an unwarranted assumption which my intuition tells me is false. On what basis can he categorically deny nature the ability to know?

    Will someone please explain why QM randomness is not clear evidence that causal gaps exist in physics? If causation is probabilistic, then the question is left begging about how quantum events are determined. This would tell me that physics is closed neither causally nor explanatorily. If quantum randomness is a “stopgap to be filled by hidden physical variables” then physics is not explanatorily closed and we can say nothing about causal closure. In my view, quantum randomness should be taken as proof that causality is not closed in physics.

    In defense of interactionism, I would say that this same argument could have been made to deny the possible existence of radio by any thinker prior to the work of Hertz and Maxwell. I think ruling out interactionism at this point is premature and unwarranted, and that to do so would be throwing the baby out with the bath.

    How is the canon established? It seems to me that some consciousness is required either to establish the canon or to notice it and take advantage of it in case it is emergent.

    How can ‘semantics’ be meaningful in the absence of consciousness?

    Like Hypnogogue, I, too, “find the ultimate conclusion of this chapter to be a deeply insightful and deeply important one”. However, I have less patience restraining myself from proposing what seems to me an obvious, simple, answer to all the paradoxes and problems discussed in this chapter. The single, simple, hypothesis of the primordial existence of a single conscious individual (even one with severely limited consciousness) leads straightforwardly to the logical conclusion that reality should be exactly as we experience it and that the paradoxes and problems of Chapter 7 have obvious straightforward answers. Maybe after everyone has finished reading the book, someone can look into this approach.

  7. Mar 24, 2005 #6
    Since the contituents of the brain are not movign at relativistic velocities
    with respect ot each other, this problem does not arise. There is no
    reason why the brain should not be its own refernce frame.
  8. Mar 24, 2005 #7


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    I agree with you on this point; it's not clear to me why the problem, construed in terms of relativity, should not reduce to the fact that the brain as a whole simply sits in its own reference frame for as long as it exists. (The problem might have more bite if we considered a functional analogue of the brain where we could have functional constituents accelerating with respect to eachother.)

    Still, there is the problem of how it is that asynchronous brain events (asynchronous wrt to the skull's reference frame) can correlate with an experienced simultaneity of phenomenal events.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2005
  9. Mar 24, 2005 #8
    It would tell us that physics isn't closed explanatorily. Whether or not it
    is closed causally would depend on he existence of hidden variables.

    There is certainly an explanatory gap, and therefore no non-dogmatic reason
    to reject the causal efficacy of the mental.

    I would guess that the point here is that there are no absolute and objective
    facts about functionallity; to decide that two sytems are functionaly equivalent we have to decide what aspects of functionallity we are interested
    in (if they are physically ientical,the point is trivial, and if they are not, there
    will be some difference that needs to be neglected as irellevant).

    It doesn't obviously require phenomenality.

    Who is this individual ? Me or you ? :wink:
  10. Mar 24, 2005 #9

    I see my mistake about the 'graininess' of retinal information and consciousness. As you suggest, I was mistaking the retinal pattern for the neural correlate. This 'grain' problem, now I see what the problem is, is a new one on me, and very interesting. I'll ponder on it.
  11. Mar 24, 2005 #10
    Hi Tournesol,

    Thank you for answering.

    Just as I thought. From what you said, Rosenberg’s choice “of purposely not treating it as a discovery that there are causal gaps in the physical world” is a dogmatic position. I suspect that until science can abandon this dogma and begin to take the possibility of a fundamental mentality seriously, they will fail to come to a complete understanding of reality.

    We cannot safely neglect all such differences. The particular aspect of functionality I am interested in is the “carrier” function of a communication system. (Rosenberg develops this idea further in later chapters.) I think one absolute and objective fact about this functionality is that the carrier must deliver the same content or meaning to the receiver that the sender intended in order for the communication system to work. Another objective fact is that the receiver must be able to decode, or interpret, or understand, the received message in order for the system to be said to work. In the case of radio, for example, the receiver must be able to detect and extract the audio information from the EM carrier in a way consistent with the encoding done by the transmitter or the radio will not work. I agree that it doesn’t matter if this is done using vacuum tubes or transistors.

    It isn’t obvious what semantics really does require. I think it was Wittgenstein who claimed that semantics requires the entire history of interaction among all participants in the language to which the semantics is imputed. Or something like that. The idea is that language statements have meaning only between communicants which share a method of reducing intent to encoded messages.

    To paraphrase Rosenberg on page 125, the “causal roles”, which define functional objects, are individuated by patterns of interactions which are governed by a signaling system. In particular, the interactions rely on the semantics of the signaling system. My question is how this semantics got developed. Was it like Wittgenstein claimed the semantics of human language developed over the millennia of usage? Or like the semantics of the DNA code was claimed to have developed over the eons by Darwinian processes? I agree that phenomenality is not obviously required. But for such a profound and “meaningful” entity as the “semantics of the signaling system” involved at the root of causation to exist, I think some sort of explanation is called for.

    From the smiley face, I take it that these are not serious questions. But from the wink on the smiley face, I think you might be interested in how I would answer them seriously. So I will.

    In my view, this individual is both you and me. I think there is only one conscious individual in all existence. What seem to be individual conscious people (and other animals) are in reality complex vehicles which are “driven” by the one real conscious individual. Analogies with familiar systems show how this could be possible and plausible. A two-way communication system, similar to our radio system, could connect the conscious individual to each physical body. Some kind of mechanism like our multiplexing, or an algorithm like our time-sharing, could explain how a single individual could appear and act like multiple individuals. The one individual has free will and could exercise it through each body the same way human drivers can exercise their “free will” while driving a car or a bulldozer. I think this model provides easy answers to all profound questions. Thanks for asking.

  12. Mar 25, 2005 #11

    Other thoughts that come to mind in respect of this one consciousness are non-locality (we know that things can be everywhere at once, or that in some sense all points are the same point), and I vaguely remember something about all electrons being the same electron is certain theories. If time and space are arbitrary concepts, as some (most?) physicists argue, then there seems to be no theoretical problem with saying that there is one consciousness that is everywhere is time and space and which underlies all individual occurences of sentience/mind in time and space. Similarly there is one ocean but many waves.

    On the thing about semantics and meaning within functional systems I'm not sure I've understood the issue fully. Excuse me if I've muddled it. However, I don't think that that consciousness can be shown to be necessary to such systems. You assume that the signal sent by one part of the system must be sent intentionally, and must be understood for what it is intended to be (a specific message) by a second part of the system. But for the two parts to function as a whole it is not necessary that the signals between them are intentionally sent, nor that they have any intended meaning, nor that they are interpreted in any particular way. The 'signal' between the parts may be sent involuntarily (it may be a discharge of waste, for instance, or a shedding of surplus electrical charge).

    If another part of the system is caused to behave in a certain way by this signal and as a result forms a functional relationship with the first part this is just serendipity. Later on, when a dependency has formed between the parts, their now systematic functioning will seem to be based on a shared communication system, the electrical discharge (say) seen as intentional communication, and the signals between them can be analysed for meaning as if the parts were communicating by a common language. But it seems to me that there need be no meaning in the message, no interpretation of it by its receiver, no intention behind the sending of it, and no need for semantics. All that is required is some consistency of physical interaction, allowing a stable system or interdependency between the parts to develop. Or did I miss your point?

    (This applies also to systems in which human beings are the parts, which has been a particular interest of mine. I used to collect management related aphorisms, and one of the best I found was "The trouble with communication is thinking that it's happened".)
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2005
  13. Mar 26, 2005 #12


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    First, I agree that causation is central to the many paradoxes surrounding consciousness, and I'm looking forward to the second part of the book. I thought Rosenberg was going to get more into the knowledge paradox, the aspect of consciousnes I find most crucial, and interesting, but I'll have to wait until the next chapter. I think the other paradoxes in this chapter are much less serious, and not true paradoxes, just tough problems.

    While we're on the subject, could someone explain exactly what the consequences of a single consciousness theory would be? I just don't understand how it is any different from a many consciousness theory, except for some differences in terms.
  14. Mar 26, 2005 #13
    I'm not sure what you mean by consequences. In terms of Rosenberg's book the consequences would be that some of his arguments regarding the subject/object distinction, the boundedness of consciousness and so on would have to be reconsidered. It would also cast a whole new light on the brain-mind relationship, which would have to be rethought as the brain-mind-consciousness relationship. Generally the consequences would depend on the particular version of the 'one consciousness' theory being considered.
  15. Mar 26, 2005 #14

    You have not muddled the issue of semantics at all. Your post, to the contrary, brought out the essential details which, by my obscuring them, I muddled the topic all by myself.

    That’s a reasonable and obvious position to take. But for me, with my particular world view, I think consciousness can be shown to be necessary.

    In my view there are two cases: In the overwhelming majority of functional systems, I think consciousness is only indirectly necessary, but in a tiny minority of cases, I think consciousness is directly necessary. I’ll try to explain but keep in mind that my explanation will be based on my particular world view which is based on the premise that the only thing real is a single consciousness with its thoughts.

    The messages carried by signals in a communication system consist of information. I have divided the notion of information into two types which I call “upward” and “downward”. Downward information is information that is inherent in parts of a system by virtue of its constituents, their arrangements, their positions in space and time, etc. This information “flows” to other parts of the system and thereby directly “causes” the evolution of the system according to the laws of physics. This constitutes the overwhelming majority of cases of the specific behavior of functional systems. It is what you described in your post and what you characterized as serendipity.

    Upward information, on the other hand, is information which “flows” to or from a conscious observer. In my view, there is only one such observer, but my idea works just as well if you impute consciousness to, say, human beings.

    Note that downward information is symmetric in the sense that the sender and receiver are both the same kind of thing, viz. (physical) components of a system. But upward information is asymmetric in that the sender (or receiver) is the consciousness while the receiver (or sender) is part of a (physical) system. So we have three cases to explore.

    I have already described the first case, of downward information, being largely what you described in your post and which is the principal (if not the exclusive) interest of science. Now for the other two (in my view more interesting) cases.

    The case of information flowing from physical systems to consciousness begins with perception. The only complication or disagreement here is that I say that there is only and exactly one perceiver while most people say that each individual human can perceive. For the purposes of this post I will defer to them and it won’t matter to the argument.

    An example of this case would be a driver of a car noticing a red traffic light. The driver perceives the red patch, but more than that, it is interpreted as a signal to stop the car. There is a vast gulf between the simple perception and the interpretation of the signal.

    The case of information flowing the other way, i.e. from consciousness to a physical system is at the heart of the contention of this whole subject. That is, can conscious intent affect physical systems at all? And, if so how? My answer, which I hope will clear up the muddle I have made of the topic of semantics, is the following:

    Since the laws of physics cannot be broken, any such influence will have to be via some gap in physical causality. There is such a gap: quantum “randomness”. If the physical system were rigged with some specific sensitivity, such as the apparatus for the Schroedinger’s Cat experiment, then by consciously choosing the outcome of certain quantum events, macro physical effects could be achieved without breaking the laws of physics. Let’s suppose, for the sake of this post, that such a sensitive structure is present in the brain (My bet is that it is the dimers’ orientations in the neuronal micro-tubules as described by Penrose and Hameroff).

    Returning to the example of the driver of the car, when the information about the red light is perceived, processes, which might be a complex mix of physical, conscious, sub-conscious, and unconscious processes (whatever each of those things is), result in the intention to stop the car. This intention is part of consciousness, which for now I will agree is a brain state. The intention is acted out by the action of free will choosing the outcome of the triggering quantum states which results in a cascade of physical actions (which would seem puzzlingly serendipitous if that’s all you saw) ultimately resulting in the driver’s leg lifting and then the foot pressing on the brake pedal. (My view is not much different. I have the one consciousness “driving” the brain and body much like the human drives the car.)

    Now, to tie this to semantics. Here, the downward information is more complicated so I’ll leave it to last. The semantics involved in the perception of the red light is the interpretation of that color in that place to “mean” ‘stop the car’. That meaning involves a complex history of other people, other cars, someone’s solution to the problem of traffic accidents at intersections, traffic laws, etc. etc. That “meaning” is the very definition of semantics.

    In the other direction, the semantics of the signaling by the free will to step on the brake has got to be complex as well. It would involve Schroedinger-Cat-type-structures in the brain that would do all the triggering for a complex set of muscle movements. “Knowing” exactly which sensitive quantum event outcomes will produce the required action is nothing more than semantics. It is the knowledge that certain outcomes mean certain corresponding actions.

    Now to understand why I say that consciousness is involved in the semantics of downward information, we have to make some further inferences from my initial premise of only a single consciousness. The first inference is that physical reality (just as Berkeley proposed) is a set of thoughts in this consciousness. We know (or strongly suspect) that this set of thoughts is consistent, i.e. that the physical world does not contain contradictions. We also know that the formal body of mathematics (to the best of our knowledge) is also consistent. And finally, we know that the physical world behaves (with the possible exception of quantum randomness) according to mathematical principles.

    It seems obvious to me that the next inference we can make is that the one consciousness consciously and deliberately decided or chose to maintain consistency in the evolution (i.e. behavior) of the physical universe. This would be in the same sense in which one decides to play chess. Simply by making this choice, the effects of downward information serendipitously make a huge number of complex systems run their staggeringly awesome courses, from galaxies to economies to cells to atoms, seemingly unattended by consciousness. And, I think for the most part, these actions are all unattended by consciousness. The semantics comes in at the very beginning when the choice was made for the system to remain consistent and when the initial conditions were established. From then on it has been pretty much as Newton described it: a complex machine that was designed, built, wound up, and then left to run unattended.

    This latter, serendipitous, picture describes almost all of the universe we see. There is only a relatively infinitesimal part of the picture, such as the actions of bulldozers and beavers, which have changed part of the physical system in response to deliberate conscious choice.

    I hope that helps, and I hope it wasn’t too long.

  16. Mar 26, 2005 #15
    I would like to hear more of your ideas Paul but perhaps this thread is not the appropriate place. Could you start another one ?

    I too think much in the same manner as you except my driver is only a passenger I interact with, like a co driver in a rally type situation making me aware of hazards in the road from a pre knowledge of having driven it with someone else before. I choose whether to accept his advice or not based on a unique developed "self" which has formed according to experiences and interactions with others since birth.

    p.s...I do have both hands firmly on the wheel at all times ;)
  17. Mar 26, 2005 #16
    Thank you. I agree this is not the place. Rather than starting another thread, why don't you start by reading some of my essays at paulandellen.com/essays/essays.htm and let me know what you think by email? I don't think there is much interest in my ideas on this forum.

    I think our views are quite different. Read my essays and we can talk.

  18. Mar 26, 2005 #17


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    I don't think you really understand QM. It is a completely causal theory. The previous state of the system causally (unitarily) sets up the eigenvalues, and our observations act causally on the set of eigenvalues to select one (or in some cases a continuous subrange). It is true that "we cannot know" which eigenvalue will be selected ahead of time but that is not a faliure of causality. It just is not true that in quantum physics "everything is random", any more than it is true that in relativity "everything is relative".
  19. Mar 26, 2005 #18
    Consequences of a single consciousness

    I may not be able to explain it exactly, but I can tell you what I think.

    If there is but a single consciousness, then it is clear that it is not closely tied to any particular brain. That would mean that it could have existed prior to the emergence of biological life. That would make it easy to explain cosmic origins and the emergence of life because a conscious agent could be posited and which would be in a position to do some choosing and designing and experimenting. And, we wouldn't have to explain the emergence of consciousness in biology because it isn't there.

    If there are multiple consciousnesses, it seems likely that they are associated with live functioning brains. This would mean that there was no consciousness prior to the emergence of biological life, unless of course, there were a second kind of consciousness. That complicates things. In that case we would have two "hard problems" to unravel. If there isn't a second kind of consciousness, then we have the problem of explaining the origin of the cosmos, the emergence of biological life, and the emergence of consciousness in the absence of an agent able to choose, design, experiment, etc.

    I think the problems in the multiple consciousness case are much harder than those in the single consciousness case.

  20. Mar 26, 2005 #19
    You got that right. I'm here to learn.
    So our observations, in part, cause the selection. Okay.
    So our observations help cause the selection but we can't predict the outcome. Okay.
    It isn't? I suppose you're right: it isn't a failure of causality, but it sure sounds like a gap in causality. If QM could explain how that eigenvalue got selected even though we still couldn't predict it, then I would say there would be no causal gap. It would be like the result of throwing a die. We can't predict the outcome, but we can certainly understand how the face is chosen as a result of the geometry of the die and the evolution of its position and momentum as it disipates its kinetic energy bouncing around on the table. We know what causes the eventual orientation of the die even though we can't predict it. If you could explain at the same level how the observation "causes" the eigenvalue to be chosen, then I would admit that QM is causally closed. Until then, I see a clear causal gap in QM.
    I agree. I never said that in quantum physics "everything is random" and I don't believe anything I have ever said could be construed that way.

  21. Mar 27, 2005 #20

    Still considering your ideas above, but a note on my objection - I didn't mean to suggest that consciousness is not necessary to the formation/operation of complex functional systems, only that it can not be shown to be necessary, which is a slightly different thing.

    In fact I also would argue that consciousness, for biological systems at least, would be the best explanation of the innate tendency towards survival, growth and increasing complexity that they exhibit. Staurt Kaufman writes ""There’s a price to pay in becoming more complex; the system is more likely to break, for instance. We need a reason why biological systems become more complex through time. It must be very simple and it must be very deep." (in ‘Complexity' – Roger Lewin p 132) What could be more simple and more deep than consciousness?
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