WHY SOME SCIENTISTS BELIEVE THE UNIVERSE IS CONSCIOUS

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They’re not mystics. But materialism is not giving good answers so they are looking around

It’s easy to mock the idea. But consider what neuroscientists studying consciousness are up against:

Traditionally, scientists have been stalwart materialists. But doing so has caused them to slam up against the limitations of materialism. Consider the chasm between relativity and quantum mechanics, or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and you quickly start to recognize these incongruities.

PHILIP PERRY, “THE UNIVERSE MAY BE CONSCIOUS, SAY PROMINENT SCIENTISTS” AT BIGTHINK, JUNE 25, 2017

Put another way, in a universe governed by uncertainty principles rather than hard facts, what is the “material” in materialism? There is no good materialist theory of consciousness; far from it, an article in Chronicles of Higher Education last year labeled the current research a “bizarre” field of science.

Consciousness depends on the brain, yes. But one may as well say that a student’s essay depends on her laptop. The laptop enables an essay that it does not create. Her ideas start elsewhere but where, exactly, do they start? What space do they inhabit?

Some prominent physicists and neuroscientists who cannot accept the idea of a separate immaterial reality (dualism) turn to the simplest alternative, that the whole universe participates in consciousness (panpsychism). Perry notes that this general approach is a staple of Hindu and Buddhist thought but a number of scientists whom one might expect to be materialists also favor it in various ways. Physicist Gregory Matloff even thinks that panpsychism might explain dark matter,the 95% of matter in our universe that must exist, on account of gravitational forces, but is otherwise unknown to us:

Veteran physicist Gregory Matloff of the New York City College of Technology, says he has some preliminary evidence showing that, at the very least, panpsychism isn’t impossible. Hey, it’s a start. Dr. Matloff told NBC News, “It’s all very speculative, but it’s something we can check and either validate or falsify.”

PHILIP PERRY, “THE UNIVERSE MAY BE CONSCIOUS, SAY PROMINENT SCIENTISTS” AT BIGTHINK, JUNE 25, 2017

He is testing this thesis via Parenago’s Discontinuity, an odd feature of the rotation of stars in the Milky Way.

Theoretical physicist Bernard Haisch, in 2006, suggested that consciousness is produced and transmitted through the quantum vacuum, or empty space. Any system that has sufficient complexity and creates a certain level of energy, could generate or broadcast consciousness.

PHILIP PERRY, “THE UNIVERSE MAY BE CONSCIOUS, SAY PROMINENT SCIENTISTS” AT BIGTHINK, JUNE 25, 2017

Theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911–2008), a “giant of 20th century physics,” believed that “reality might not be a wholly physical phenomenon. In some sense, Wheeler suggested, reality grows out of the act of observation, and thus consciousness itself: it is “participatory.” Perry also cites Roger Penrose who, while not strictly a panpsychist, nonetheless says “Somehow, our consciousness is the reason the universe is here.”

That stuff, you may say, is a lot like Pareago’s odd stars in the Milky Way—pretty far out. But consider this: Some prominent neuroscientists, whom you might expect to be stark materialists, are also on board, including Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi. Philosopher Philip Goffsurmises:

The panpsychist offers an alternative research programme: Rather than trying to account for consciousness in terms of utterly non-conscious elements, try to explain the complex consciousness of humans and other animals in terms of simpler forms of consciousness which are postulated to exist in simpler forms of matter, such as atoms or their sub-atomic components. This research project is still in its infancy. But a number of leading neuroscientists, such as Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi, are now finding that working within a panpsychist framework bears fruit. The more fruit is borne by this alternative research programme, the more reason we have to accept panpsychism.

PHILIP GOFF, “COULD ELECTRONS BE CONSCIOUS?” CONSCIENCE AND CONSCIOUSNESS

Koch and Tononi write cautiously but in an open-access research paper they acknowledge that their work “vindicates some panpsychist intuitions – consciousness is an intrinsic, fundamental property, is graded, is common among biological organisms, and even some very simple systems have some” (2014).

In Tononi’s view, consciousness requires a special kind of space called qualia space: “A conscious experience is a maximally reduced conceptual structure in a space called ‘qualia space.’ Think of it as a shape. But not an ordinary shape — a shape seen from the inside.” These do not sound like materialist intuitions.

Respected philosopher David Chalmers, who coined the term hard problem of consciousness in 1995 because there were no good theories out there (and still aren’t), is sympathetic to panpsychism….

more…

mindmatters.ai/2019/08/why-some-scientists-believe-the-universe-is-conscious/
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