Consciousness ~=~ self-referentiality' (was Re: Consciousness, New Thinking About

Mark Horn rama at
Mon Jun 3 21:01:22 EST 2002

Matt Jones wrote:

> To say that we need something like a unified theory of physics before
> contemplating theories of consciousness just isn't realistic. That's
> not how classical physics arose, it's not how statistical mechanics
> arose, it's not how relativity arose (close, though), it's not how
> quantum electrodynamics or chromodynamics arose, it's not how modern
> evolutionary or molecular biology arose, it's not how psychology
> arose, etc etc etc.
> It's just not how people do science. They start with what they -do-
> know, and speculate about things they -don't- know.
> Cheers,
> Matt

Matt -

I'm not going to disagree, but perhaps a representation of a point 
omitted would be useful, where I wrote:

"Circumstantially it would appear that, ahead of such superunification 
(i.e., unification of all five forces), defining consciousness in 
physically meaningful terms may be too difficult.  On the other hand, 
one could also suggest that ahead of defining consciousness, 
superunification may not be possible..."

My intent was to underscore the possible concurrency of acheiving 
superunification in theoretical physics, and a theory of consciousness, 
and what connections might exist between the models.  I also wished  to 
offer up a choice, and not necessarily -the- choice; given that 
contemporary science generally believes that a unified single model of 
physics is in our (hopefully near) future, either it will precede a 
physical theory of consciousness -- perhaps because consciousness cannot 
be fully understood without such superunification -- or quite the 
opposite, i.e., a physical theory of consciousness will precede a 
complete cosmology, because a "theory of everything" requires first a 
complete theory of the observer.  Yet another possibility may be that 
there is no connection between physics and consciousness at all, and 
defining the observer's place in the physical world will remain a 
philosophical question long after quantum gravity and wormholes become 
old points of fact.

To my mind, science gets done by a progressive addition of new models 
that are well supported by previous models which stand the test of the 
best contemporary empirical methods, models ultimately accommodated to 
signigicant accuracy by new, and proportionately accurate, observations.  
It's as true now as it was 150 years ago, or 1150 years ago.  I don't 
think my statements contradict the fact that we, as those in the past, 
have no detailed knowledge now of what theoretical and empirical 
constructs -will- be like in the future, or whether new scientific 
programmes will be solutions to the problems we now consider, and those 
likely to accumulate while we're thinking about all this.

Implicit, and not to be forgotten, is the self-referential nature of the 
observer defining the observer.  It might be an absurd enterprise, 
afterall, but we hope not.  Note that the observer's theoretical status 
changed significantly with the acceptance of Einstein, Planck and 
quantum theory, so that now the observer defining the observer might 
just make more sense physically than it did a century ago, and maybe the 
observer defining the observer is an evolutionary event of some note 
within the quarternary.  But there is still something that appears to 
me as -too- recursive in contemporary theoretical and empirical 
approaches to evolutionary psychology and consciousness, and though a 
quantum-mechanical basis is often presented as a best choice, the wave 
function of a neuron is still an open research question, because of the 
hopeless complexity of solving the problem of initial boundary 
conditions.  So is quantum-mechanical still a best choice?  I really 
don't know, but I suspect someone will eventually come up with a trick 
or tool to make reasonable large-scale approximations, of single neurons 
and even whole brain states, possible.

Best regards,

More information about the Neur-sci mailing list