Is matter conscious?

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If everything in the universe is for the most part made of matter, (to keep the idea simple we'll just say it's all protons neutrons and electrons although I understand you can get smaller with the protons and neutrons)stars, people, cars, oceans, planets.. EVERYTHING is made of the same small units of matter, how is it that some matter is conscious? For example people. We are made from the same matter as a wall of iron (on a subatomic level), so theoretically couldn't all matter could be conscious??

Also, I know there is "anti matter" so not everything is trully matter but for the most part anti matter is matter, just a different charge than we are used to.

I understand there isn't much proof a forum could provide to such a vague idea. But I hope you all can atleast see what I'm thinking. And please refrain from talking about god. For all intents and purposes this is a "godless" world.
 
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  • #2
FlexGunship
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Is matter conscious?

No. There's no evidence that matter (in general) has consciousness.

<opinion>
At a certain level of complexity, some stimulus/response systems can create the illusion (humans do this for example) of self-generating desires and actions. For all intents and purposes we call this illusion consciousness.

So, to close out this idea: consciousness is an illusion created by complexity, and it seems that an iron atom is not complex enough to create this illusion.
</opinion>
 
  • #3
Read "Shadows of the Mind" by Roger Penrose. He proposed that consciousness is a non-computable phenomenon that arises from an as yet unknown quantum process. Great read from a brilliant mind!
 
  • #4
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No. There's no evidence that matter (in general) has consciousness.

<opinion>
At a certain level of complexity, some stimulus/response systems can create the illusion (humans do this for example) of self-generating desires and actions. For all intents and purposes we call this illusion consciousness.

So, to close out this idea: consciousness is an illusion created by complexity, and it seems that an iron atom is not complex enough to create this illusion.
</opinion>

What makes you say it's an illusion?

The topic starter's reasoning is sound: if "flesh" can have consciousness, then certainly iron can too. In theory.
 
  • #5
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Consciousness is just an emergent process that has to be programmed, not an inherent property. Matter can be programmed because of inherent properties (electrons for atomic bonding, chemistry, electrical induction) but it requires these things to work in complexly specific ways. Think about it with other emergent processes like calculations and problem solving; computers can do these things but can the silicon just found in sand?
 
  • #6
Gokul43201
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If everything in the universe is for the most part ... of the same small units of matter, how is it that some matter is conscious? For example people. We are made from the same matter as a wall of iron (on a subatomic level), so theoretically couldn't all matter could be conscious??
If everything is made of the same small units of matter, how is it that some matter is ...

1)...liquid? For Example, water. Water is made from the same matter as a wall of iron (on a subatomic level), so theoretically couldn't all matter be liquid?

2)...orange? For example, an orange. An orange is made from the same matter as a wall of iron (on a subatomic level), so theoretically couldn't all matter be orange?

3)...etc - you get the idea.

The answer: Macroscopic properties (such as liquidity, orangeness or consciousness) emerge due to not only the properties of the constituents, but also due to the nature of interactions between those constituents. For instance, by tweaking the strength of interactions between a collection of water molecules, one can make them be solid, liquid or gas. While there may not yet be a good first principles understanding of the origin of consciousness (assuming, for now, that this is a well-defined property), there is no reason to expect all forms of matter to possess it, any more than there is reason to expect all forms of matter to be orange.
 
  • #7
Ivan Seeking
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At a certain level of complexity, some stimulus/response systems can create the illusion (humans do this for example) of self-generating desires and actions. For all intents and purposes we call this illusion consciousness.

Who is being fooled by the illusion?

It seems to me that Descartes addressed this issue.
 
  • #8
Ivan Seeking
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The answer: Macroscopic properties (such as liquidity, orangeness or consciousness) emerge due to not only the properties of the constituents, but also due to the nature of interactions between those constituents. For instance, by tweaking the strength of interactions between a collection of water molecules, one can make them be solid, liquid or gas. While there may not yet be a good first principles understanding of the origin of consciousness (assuming, for now, that this is a well-defined property), there is no reason to expect all forms of matter to possess it, any more than there is reason to expect all forms of matter to be orange.

However, given that have no good first principles for understanding consciousness, we can't know the minimum requirements for a physical system to become conscious.
 
  • #9
Ivan Seeking
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Also, it doesn't seem that we can we assume that size matters - that is to say that we have no way to know the maximum size of a conscious system.
 
  • #10
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The consciousness is emergent from a vast interconnected network of neurons in the brain.

A clump of clay is just a homogeneous collection of atoms. A clump of brain is also a collection of atoms, but they are arranged to form higher order structures, the neurons, in a such a way as to allow the vast networking between them to take place.
 
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  • #11
epenguin
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Yes it requires an organisation of matter such as just mentioned by waht though not necessarily would it have to be so vast, that is capable of receiving signals from surroundings and receiving signal of what it is doing itself and the response of the environment to its own actions and being able to process the information received so that it is information that enables it to construct models of itself and its environment giving it predictive power functional to its survival and reproduction. That really is 'intelligence', even bacteria do that, it is not obvious at what level consciousness comes in. (I suspect it is farther down in the animal kingdom than we think). I think of consciousness as something that is needed for proper flexibility in overriding automatisms or enabling the best choice of model of environment and itself. Now I have written this it occurs to me that the need for modelling itself, not just environment, must have key importance in creating consciousness.
 
  • #12
Q_Goest
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If everything in the universe is for the most part made of matter, (to keep the idea simple we'll just say it's all protons neutrons and electrons although I understand you can get smaller with the protons and neutrons)stars, people, cars, oceans, planets.. EVERYTHING is made of the same small units of matter, how is it that some matter is conscious? For example people. We are made from the same matter as a wall of iron (on a subatomic level), so theoretically couldn't all matter could be conscious??
To some degree this sounds like panpsychism.
Panpsychism is the view that all things have a mind or a mind-like quality. ... This definition is quite general, and raises two immediate questions: (1) What does one mean by “all things”? (2) What does one mean by “mind”? On the first question, some philosophers have argued that literally every object in the universe, every part of every object, and every system of objects possesses some mind-like quality. Other philosophers have been more restrictive, arguing that only certain broad classes of things possess mind (in which case one is perhaps not a true panpsychist), or that, at least, the smallest parts of things—such as atoms—possess mind. The second question—what is mind?—is more difficult and contentious. Here panpsychism is on neither better nor worse footing than any other approach to mind; it argues only that one’s notion of mind, however conceived, must apply in some degree to all things.
Ref: http://www.iep.utm.edu/panpsych/
 
  • #13
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The following is an idea I ponder from time to time regarding the relationship between consciousness and its material infrastructure. Take it as food for though or an amusement:

Consider a human or animal body as a biological machine that is the most effective means for consciousness to manipulate other physicalities while experiencing cognitive-emotional thought-feelings (I hyphenate "thought-feelings" to indicate that thoughts are more than pure informatic events within human experience - they stimulate emotional feelings in one way or another too). As such, a human or animal body may be the most attractive "vessel" for a consciousness to inhabit.

Now, what if consciousness is nothing more than an electromagnetic pattern that forms in brain/nerve tissue due to the conductive connectivity of those cells? And what if such electromagnetic patterns can reproduce themselves into other materials? In that case, could it be possible that consciousness clings to a human body as long as it can, but that it may reproduce itself into other materials when that body becomes hostile due to tissue-death, unbearable suffering, etc.? At that point, could the consciousness seek to transplant itself through various material media in search of a new body?

Yes, I know this is all very spiritual/religious-sounding. My point is that the medium of brain/nerve tissue may be particularly well-suited to consciousness but that other media may also work, at least as a temporary conduit to transfer on to more favorable hosts. So, for example, if consciousness would situate itself within an electronic appliance (such as a radio), it could perceive signals it would receive through the appliance but it would not have access to musculature that would let it manipulate its surroundings, so it would seek to transplant itself into a pregnant woman or animal (although it would probably prefer a human).

This is basically a logic for reincarnation, but it would also explain all the traditional superstitions about spirits living in material artifacts, houses, etc.
 
  • #14
apeiron
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...process the information received so that it is information that enables it to construct models of itself and its environment giving it predictive power functional to its survival and reproduction. That really is 'intelligence', even bacteria do that, it is not obvious at what level consciousness comes in...

When talking of levels, people are normally thinking of spatial scale - big brains vs small ones. But there is also a temporal scale that helps make sense of the degrees of "conscious experience".

The kind of awareness we think of as conscious is the direct, immediate modelling of the world "right now". In fact even our big brains can only change state significantly (shift from one point of view, on attentional state, to the next) in about a third to half a second. So if awareness is modelling and predicting, then it has a rate of adaptation which is circa 300-500 milliseconds.

But there are slower modes of adaptation. Learning habits or automaticisms can take days, months, years. The learning of reflexes takes generations of evolution.

You would not call these conscious responses (although we can be conscious of them). But they are a kind of slow-mo adaptation to the world. They are definitely intelligence.

So the debate about when consciousness kicks in has possibly even more to do with the rate of model change as the size of the model - its neural complexity or some other spatial measure.

Imagine an alien that could only refocus attention every two seconds, or ten minutes. Would the alien be conscious? (Or just stoned?). They would move about more slowly and cautiously. They would take longer to register changes in the world. They would be conscious, although clearly not enjoying the same zippy speed we seem to have.

Alternately, why not an alien with a higher rate of update? Then we might seem semi-conscious.
 
  • #15
Gokul43201
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However, given that have no good first principles for understanding consciousness, we can't know the minimum requirements for a physical system to become conscious.
This doesn't contradict anything I said, does it?
 
  • #16
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If everything is made of the same small units of matter, how is it that some matter is ...

1)...liquid? For Example, water. Water is made from the same matter as a wall of iron (on a subatomic level), so theoretically couldn't all matter be liquid?

2)...orange? For example, an orange. An orange is made from the same matter as a wall of iron (on a subatomic level), so theoretically couldn't all matter be orange?

3)...etc - you get the idea.
Arent those words (liquid, orange) just higher level descriptions (and arbitrary ones at that), as opposed to actual new macroscopic properties beyond the existing microscopic ones?
 
  • #17
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No. There's no evidence that matter (in general) has consciousness.

<opinion>
At a certain level of complexity, some stimulus/response systems can create the illusion (humans do this for example) of self-generating desires and actions. For all intents and purposes we call this illusion consciousness.

So, to close out this idea: consciousness is an illusion created by complexity, and it seems that an iron atom is not complex enough to create this illusion.
</opinion>
Illusions are by definition conscious activities. So when you say that consciousness is an illusion, you say nothing more than that consciousness is consciousness.

But suppose consciousness is a complexity of matter, why would consciousness not have a simpler version, just like that complexity has a simpler version? According to evolution, the brain has simpler ancestors, and it eventually traces back to simpler biological structures such as microbes, which in turn have simpler forms all the way back to inanimate matter.
 
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  • #18
epenguin
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Now, what if consciousness is nothing more than an electromagnetic pattern that forms in brain/nerve tissue due to the conductive connectivity of those cells? And what if such electromagnetic patterns can reproduce themselves into other materials? In that case, could it be possible that consciousness clings to a human body as long as it can, but that it may reproduce itself into other materials when that body becomes hostile due to tissue-death, unbearable suffering, etc.? At that point, could the consciousness seek to transplant itself through various material media in search of a new body?

Yes, I know this is all very spiritual/religious-sounding. My point is that the medium of brain/nerve tissue may be particularly well-suited to consciousness but that other media may also work, at least as a temporary conduit to transfer on to more favorable hosts. So, for example, if consciousness would situate itself within an electronic appliance (such as a radio), it could perceive signals it would receive through the appliance but it would not have access to musculature that would let it manipulate its surroundings, so it would seek to transplant itself into a pregnant woman or animal (although it would probably prefer a human).

This is basically a logic for reincarnation, but it would also explain all the traditional superstitions about spirits living in material artifacts, houses, etc.

It does not sound unscientific to me. It sounds a perfectly materialistic idea that the circuitry of the human brain and hence an individual's consciousness might be reproduced in another material, silicon or whatever.

And not just one single consciousness. J.D.Bernal, certainly a materialist, speculated many years ago that different individual consciousnesses might one day be fused together in some such way. Though it sounds like the fullest possible consciousness - the idea of heaven, or perhaps hell.
 
  • #19
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What experimental evidence do you have for or against atoms of iron having consciousness?
 
  • #20
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What experimental evidence do you have for or against atoms of iron having consciousness?

Galen Stawson?
 
  • #21
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Galen Stawson?
That's a person's name. I was looking for an experiment.
 
  • #22
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That's a person's name. I was looking for an experiment.

Why so serious?
 
  • #24
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So, hmm if... you know, excuse me but say somebody goes to the toilet... would you say that'd be conscious too?

If yes, what kind of definition of 'conscious' are you using?
 
  • #25
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But suppose consciousness is a complexity of matter, why would consciousness not have a simpler version, just like that complexity has a simpler version?



It has. Some animals look completely unconscious to me(in the sense of complete deterministic, instict-driven machines, e.g. flies, butterflies, worms). Some look slightly conscious - cats, dogs, chimps.

About 40 000 years ago we, homosapiens, became more conscious of ourselves and the testament for this is the beginning of art(the first cave writings).

We've become more conscious of ourselves and reality in the last 3-4 centuries, so one has to wonder if it will ever stop.
 
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