Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science

Does Quantum Theory Explain Consciousness? 729

Posted by timothy
from the when-will-jesus-bring-the-pork-chops-and-antimatter dept.
astroengine writes "Quantum theory is often seen as the root cause of unrelated, mysterious phenomena. Take consciousness for example. British physicist Roger Penrose recently argued 'that we will need to invoke 'new physics and exotic biological structures': rewriting quantum theory to make sense of consciousness.' But why do this, especially as there is no apparent causal link between quantum mechanics and the conscious mind? There appears to be a very basic logical fallacy here that even the most prominent physicists seem to be making."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Does Quantum Theory Explain Consciousness?

Comments Filter:
  • What fallacy? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Threni (635302) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:25PM (#36257022)

    Care to state it?

    • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:35PM (#36257128) Journal

      This place is full of Quantum; it's everywhere you look

      It's in the halls of Physicists, and pages of a book.

      "There has to be a fallacy!" the comment summarised,

      And if we care to challenge that, we aren't very wise?

    • Care to state it?

      Conflating the unfounded conjecture (AKA WAG) that QM has something to do with consciousness with a claim that QM "explains" consciousness.

      Explanations have to actually explain something.

      Of course, the fallacy may be on the part of the writer rather than the physicists; I wouldn't know.

    • Kurt Godel. Incompleteness. Go to town.

    • by monoqlith (610041)

      Here's a shot:

      The people who think quantum mechanics is going to explain consciousness are making a category error. Epistemologically speaking, it may very well be that quantum mechanics explains certain aspects of our cognition. But these aspects - i.e. its features of memory, attention, selectivity, planning - are often referred to, particularly by Jeffrey Chalmers, the "easy" problem of consciousness. This is because, as cognitive science has already shown, cognition can usefully be broken down into modu

      • by billstewart (78916) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @11:57PM (#36259486) Journal

        Tall Aussie guy, long hair, wears leather jackets, sings a mean Zombie Blues*. Chalmers, who's a philosopher, and Stu Hameroff, an anesthesiologist, started a series of conferences at the University of Arizona on "Towards a Science of Consciousness" a decade or two ago; they alternate between Tucson and Somewhere-outside-North-America, and attract a mixed crowd of neuroscientists, consciousness researchers, philosophers who talk about phenomenology, FMRI imagers, tourists (e.g. me), and a few newagey people and random cranks. A few years ago, there were two "Science and Consciousness" conferences in Arizona around the same time - the scientific one in Tucson, and the Deepak Chopra one in Phoenix**.

        Hameroff's done work with Penrose on things like quantum effects in microtubules (which are brain cell parts that are small enough to actually have quantum activity going on, though it's a very long step from saying "quantum noise might be affecting chemical reactions a bit" to "Woo-woo! Consciousness is, like, Quantum, man!". I can't say I really understand Stu's arguments about the connections, because while I know a certain amount of quantum physics and biology and philosophy, I don't do neurology or brain cell structures or phenomenology, so the couple of conferences I got to were interesting and a very steep learning curve.

        From one perspective, either the world, and therefore consciousness, are entirely deterministic, or else they're not. (Deterministic doesn't mean calculable - Heisenberg among others make it very clear that you can't really simulate the universe using machinery smaller than the universe - but from a philosophical standpoint it doesn't matter if humans can predict what you're doing to do, it just matters whether you've got free will about it.) If you'd like things to be non-deterministic, physics doesn't give you very many ways to hook that into the world, and you're pretty much stuck with quantum mechanics.*** Does that mean that quantum entanglement is involved in any of the processes, particularly between neurons that aren't directly adjacent to each other? Not necessarily (IMHO, probably not.) Does it mean that a non-physical spirit can grab onto some molecules and shake them around in ways that translate up to conscious thoughts, or does it just mean that the chemistry's a bit noisier because God's playing dice with the Universe but your consciousness is still fundamentally a materialist process?

        * "Zombie" is a term of art, referring to a hypothetical person or machine that reacts externally as if it were conscious, but doesn't actually perceive qualia the way conscious beings claim that we do, so for instance it can tell you which ball is the red one or the green one, but doesn't experience redness or greenness. ** So of course Chopra caught on to this, and has been one of the sponsors of the more recent round or two of the scientific conference, and he and Hameroff have put out one or two popular press articles together. There are a number of meditation people who come to the conference, but they tend to be the serious "Here's what an FMRI shows about blood flow in your brain while you're meditating" folks, while the cranks are more likely to have opinions about quantum. *** There are some theories of quantum mechanics that say it's still deterministic, just with underlying hidden variables that we can't observe or measure, but it's been too many decades since college physics for me to remember if those got disproved or are still around.

        • ** So of course Chopra caught on to this

          Chopra makes Penrose look sensible.

          *** There are some theories of quantum mechanics that say it's still deterministic, just with underlying hidden variables that we can't observe or measure, but it's been too many decades since college physics for me to remember if those got disproved or are still around.

          I don't pretend to understand the proof, but physicists are adamant that hidden variables have been ruled out.

    • by Dogtanian (588974)
      I believe what he was talking about was the implied reasoning that "quantum physics is weird, mysterious and counterintuitive... and consciousness is also weird, mysterious and counterintuitive. Therefore the former might explain the latter."

      I don't know which particular fallacy this would fall under, but I'm pretty sure that there must be one it fits.

      BTW, I never understood why it was believed that quantum physics would explain consciousness. I'm not saying that it doesn't, I just haven't seen an expla
  • by camperdave (969942) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:26PM (#36257024) Journal
    Quantum Mechanics: The dreams stuff is made from...
  • Recently? (Score:4, Informative)

    by roguegramma (982660) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:27PM (#36257040) Journal
    By "recently" you mean "in the previous century"? He's been arguing this since his book "The Emperor's New Mind" in 1989. Maybe he has some new ideas, but your summary doesn't tell..
    • Re:Recently? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Angostura (703910) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:33PM (#36257100)

      Indeed, I waded though The Emperors New Mind when it was first published and was very disappointed. As far as I could tell, the argument was something along the lines of "consciousness is mysterious and complex and hopefully non-deterministic. Quantum effects are mysterious and complex and non deterministic. Consciousness is probably a quantum-based phenomenon then".

      So I went back to reading Dennett and Hoftstadter.

      • by djl4570 (801529)
        I read both The Emperor's New Mind and Gödel Escher Bach, An Eternal Golden Braid when they first came out and thought the GEB offered a lot more insight into consciousness, thought, self awareness, and self referential structures. At the physical level quantum mechanics explains the chemical reactions and electrical potentials in the wetware. Going beyond the physical layer and looking for quantum mechanics in consciousness sounds a lot like Sheldrake's morphogenetic field.
      • Exactly the same thing happened to me - and I went back to H&D as well! Funny.

        I think he makes this argument on the bet that it'll be proven true later by someone smarter, but b/c he staked his (totally unsupported) claim now, he'll get all the credit for being the "true father" of the theory of consciousness.

        Seems like a reasonable guess to say that consciousness depends on quantum behaviors, but only at the level of rigor of two guys in a bar over a beer.. But b/c this guy has a big reputation in othe

      • by mellon (7048)

        A much better book for this is Anathem, by Neal Stephenson. Because it's fiction, and he never actually says what his theory of consciousness is, you just get to try to figure out what he thinks it might be, and he drops enough hints to let you construct a pretty interesting theory. I enjoyed it a lot.

        We don't actually have a clue how consciousness arises, despite lots of research into the field, so speculation is pretty much all we have. Although there are plenty of neurologists who think their specu

      • Re:Recently? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Burnhard (1031106) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @07:58PM (#36258068)
        Which goes to show how people prefer reading material that confirms their already strongly held opinions.

        I also read both Hoftstadter and Dennett. The former made a similar mistake to the one you accuse Penrose of making: attaching almost mystical properties to the concept of recursion and the emergence of complexity. Dennett has similar problems, but more than that he has mistaken a model of cognition for a model of conscious experience. He side steps the explanatory gap by simply denying it exists, just as Hoftstadter denies it by promoting the idea that it is simply an emergent property, without being about to explain exactly what the nature of that property actually is.
      • Re:Recently? (Score:5, Informative)

        by divisionbyzero (300681) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @09:06PM (#36258552)

        Indeed, I waded though The Emperors New Mind when it was first published and was very disappointed. As far as I could tell, the argument was something along the lines of "consciousness is mysterious and complex and hopefully non-deterministic. Quantum effects are mysterious and complex and non deterministic. Consciousness is probably a quantum-based phenomenon then".

        So I went back to reading Dennett and Hoftstadter.

        Then you didn't understand it. His argument was more like: "Human are capable of recognizing when an algorithm will halt (or not); computers are not; therefore thought cannot be reduced to computation". It has nothing to do with the non-deterministic nature of quantum mechanics because even non-deterministic outcomes are computable. His speculation about consciousness and quantum mechanics is based on an analogy between the "collapse of the waveform" and thought. Even though the analogy is suggestive, according to Penrose, quantum mechanics cannot fully explain consciousness (because of consciousness's supposed non-computability) and to the extent that it cannot quantum mechanics is incomplete. It's still a crap argument but it's a hell of a lot better than your caricature. Dennett and Hoftstadter are even worse in many ways. They, like Penrose, are stuck on artifacts of theory. Stick with people that know how the brain actually works, like Edelman.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by aaronszy (1752850)

          "Human are capable of recognizing when an algorithm will halt (or not); computers are not; therefore thought cannot be reduced to computation"

          This isn't really right. humans are capable of recognizing when SOME algorithms will halt. That isn't very spectacular, computers can do the same. Solving the halting problem would mean being able to recognize whether ANY algorithm will halt without resorting to dumb brute force methods. Humans are limited just as much as computers in this respect.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Prune (557140)
          Penrose's argument from Emperor's New Mind and the updated version in Shadows of the Mind has been formally refuted: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.36.260&rep=rep1&type=pdf [psu.edu]

          Beyond this, Penrose is refuted by physics. The holographic principle and its near-corollary, the Bekensten bound, guarantees that one cannot build a physical artifact more powerful than a Turin machine (finite number of distinguishable quantum states in a region of finite surface area => there are
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:29PM (#36257058)

    He wants the brain to be non-computable, non-simulatable. In short, he wants it to be magic. He has no real justification for his position.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      This is surprisingly common among physicists. Schrodinger for instance believed in vitalism. Which is essentially the same thing, but about 'life' instead of 'consciousness'.

      • by macshit (157376) <.miles. .at. .gnu.org.> on Thursday May 26, 2011 @11:38PM (#36259404) Homepage

        Indeed. I put it down to basic fear. Some people (like Penrose, apparently, and Searle, etc) want there to be something special about human sapience, and find the concept that it's "mere" computation repulsive and scary. It's their gut speaking, really, not their mind.

        Combine that fear with the conceit that "because I'm a world-renowned expert in my field, I must have amazing insight into every field I care to dabble in!" (which is depressingly common in academia) and you get cringe-inducing (but lengthy!) pap like "The Emperor's New Mind."

    • by Suiggy (1544213)

      Agreed. Penrose is getting long in the tooth, and his last few theories to be debunked are evident of this. He's seeing things that aren't there. However, in a sense, he's right, but there's no magic or new physics behind it. After all, everything in this universe is, to some degree, emergent from quantum phenomena--everything in our macroscopic world, from dogs and cats, your car, your house, the tax man, and your brain is nothing more than the result of quantum amplitude flows and configuration states on

  • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:29PM (#36257062) Journal

    Consciousness is weird. Quantum theory is weird. Therefore quantum theory must explain consciousness.

    That's essentially the argument here, and it's pretty easily seen as fallacious. There's no actual evidence that consciousness requires quantum mechanics, besides the trivial fact that our brains are chemical computers and chemistry requires quantum mechanics.

    • by xded (1046894)
      But I have to admit that this would give interesting explanations to, e.g., empathy.
      • Empathy is easily explained by the noting (both conscious and subconscious) of the physical emotional cues of the other party. Or, if you're talking about ESP empathy, then you first need to demonstrate that there's something that needs to be explained; despite many attempts, this has not been done yet.

    • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @07:25PM (#36257758) Homepage Journal

      >>Consciousness is weird. Quantum theory is weird. Therefore quantum theory must explain consciousness.

      Quantum Theory is the new "magic" for all sorts of New Age thinkers.

      Penrose at least proposes a mechanism of action (quantum tube thingies), which has the benefit of at least giving his theory something more than hand-waving to base his theory on, but has the downside of having absolutely no evidence to support it from studies of the structure of the brain.

      Penrose is a smart guy (black holes and tiling and all that) but he does like to propose some rather outlandish things in his free time. Might be a correlation between the two, who knows.

    • by shess (31691)

      Consciousness is weird. Quantum theory is weird. Therefore quantum theory must explain consciousness.

      Or, more likely, consciousness explains quantum theory.

    • by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @07:37PM (#36257888) Homepage

      Consciousness is weird. Quantum theory is weird. Therefore quantum theory must explain consciousness.

      That's essentially the argument here, and it's pretty easily seen as fallacious.

      Well, the slashdot link, and the New Statesman story linked to from it, don't really do justice to Penrose's idea, so it's not surprising that you've gotten the impression that there's absolutely nothing there. Actually there's something to it, and although as a physicist I don't buy it, it's not completely stupid.

      The basic idea is that there are various ways to interpret quantum mechanics. The most popular interpretations are the Copenhagen interpretation [wikipedia.org] and the many-worlds interpretation (MWI) [wikipedia.org].

      My own take on it is that Copenhagen and MWI are just different words for talking about the theory, so the distinction isn't empirically testable. Copenhagen does a good job of depicting the psychological experience of doing experiments with quantum-mechanical systems, but Copenhagen is illogical because it gives a special role to measurement, which is actually a physical process like any other.

      Penrose's idiosyncratic idea is that he takes Copenhagen seriously, so he says that measurement is somehow *different* from other physical processes. That suggests that consciousness is somehow different from other physical processes. He also claims that his idea is at least in principle empirically testable, that we should be able to see this process happen by studying neurons. He thinks there is something special going on in microtubules.

      Slashdot's readers would have been a lot better off just reading the WP article [wikipedia.org] on Penrose's theory.

    • by Burnhard (1031106) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @07:47PM (#36257982)
      This argument is a fallacy, because it's not one that Penrose has ever actually made. His argument has a great deal more subtlety about it than the absurd reduction you present.
    • For those of you who hear that quantum mechanics is strange, but aren't sure exactly why, here is a little primer, based on the opening lecture from my intro quantum course:

      Pass a a beam of electrons through two closely spaced gaps. If the electrons were like bullets, one would expect to detect two bright spots on the detecting screen directly opposite the holes. This is not what you will observe however. Instead you will see on the detector a single location midway between the two holes with many electr

      • Consciousness seems to play a role in this, as it seems our measurement of either the momentum or the position of an electron seems to fundamentally change its properties.

        Saying that the measurement 'changes' the properties is an interpretation. There is an interesting correlation between the measurement and the change in properties; using terms implying causation is starting to move into the area of interpretation. These different interpretations are philosophically interesting, but it is hard to come up with ways to distinguish them experimentally.

        For example, in a many-worlds interpretation, the different particle states 'cause' the multiplicity of conscious states. Or th

  • by Pharmboy (216950) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:30PM (#36257066) Journal

    Not that interesting of an article, by someone I've not heard of, explaining why Penrose is wrong yet again, as well as others. No real substance. The concept that physics might explain consciousness is much more interesting than this short (in length and in content) article.

    It simply debunks the idea but offers no alternative or reason why. It was like reading a movie review from a small town movie reviewer....who didn't really see the movie but a friend told them about it.

  • How about filling us in?

  • Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is the most vague, hand-wavy summary I have ever read (didn't read the article...maybe just as vague?). I am a physicist, but even for the non-physicist, this is vague.

  • by Old Wolf (56093) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:35PM (#36257130)

    The article basically says "We shouldn't jump to conclusions just because consciousness and quantum theory are both weird" , with an extra page full of waffle to pad it out. I didn't learn anything substantial from this article and I doubt anybody else would have either. The article doesn't propose anything useful of its own, nor does it successfully debunk any other proposal.

    It doesn't even understand what "jump to conclusions" means. Penrose is cited as doing that for the WMAP result, but in fact what he did was propose a theory (that turned out to be wrong). That's what science is about. People propose theories or hypotheses, and then people try to prove or disprove them, perhaps discovering new truths along the way. There's no 'shame' to be had in theorizing something and turning out to be wrong, nor does that make the scientist 'bad' if he does propose a wrong theory at some time.

    • I didn't learn anything substantial from this article and I doubt anybody else would have either.

      Great - all those years of not RingTFA finally paid off!

    • Generally speaking - at least peer-reviewed journals - when you propose a theory, you also provide a mechanism or some interpretative framework. Scientists don't (generally) just propose an idea without any formalism to back it up (such as a model or process). Penrose's assertions of consciousness don't have any noticeable disprovable aspects.

      As a scientific researcher, if I want to say that the properties of consciousness depend on quantum physics, the usual expectation is that I'll provide a mechanism to

  • by Bugpowda (671725) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @06:41PM (#36257200) Homepage
    Professional Neuroscientist here... In fact, I'm recording from a sensory neuron that is partially responsible for the conciousness of an awake behaving mouse right now while browsing slashdot.

    There is no reason to think that quantum physics has anything to do with the nature of conciousness. It is not useful to explain free will, or the illusion of free will, of the qualia of objects, or the steadyness of perception on a background of constantly varying spike rates in the brain.

    Perhaps the best, short, free, relatively recent summary of the field was written by Christof Koch and Francis Crick, A Framework for Conciousness, and is available here : http://papers.klab.caltech.edu/29/1/438.pdf [caltech.edu]

    I also have a little essay on the nature of free will on my blog here, if interested. http://brainwindows.wordpress.com/philosophy/philosophy-the-science-of-free-will/ [wordpress.com]
    • by geekoid (135745)

      What do you think of the idea that consciousness is simple emergent behavior from a sufficiently complex organism?

      Meaning, once a species uses tool, plans, and need to deal with chemicals we get our emotions from, and then need to prioritize those* things . It a mechanism to cope with the stress of critical decisions

      *typical balancing desire against raw survival.

    • Isn't the goal of quantum theory to explain electric and chemical phenomena on a molecular/sub molecular scale? Since the behavior or electrons on this scale is part of the workings of the brain (as we currently understand it), and consciousness seems to occur in the brain, isn't it reasonable to hypothesize that quantum mechanics might someday explain consciousness? I'm not saying it will, and we're certinally no where near that point, but you have to admit it's not completely off the wall either.

    • by MoellerPlesset2 (1419023) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @07:54PM (#36258028)

      There is no reason to think that quantum physics has anything to do with the nature of conciousness. It is not useful to explain free will, or the illusion of free will, of the qualia of objects, or the steadyness of perception on a background of constantly varying spike rates in the brain.

      Quantum chemist here (my username's a hint at that), and I couldn't agree more. I fight against this nonsense all the time.. You'd think that if there was anything to it, we'd be all over it - since explaining chemistry and biochemistry in terms of quantum mechanics is exactly what we do. But nope, I don't know anybody in the field who thinks those ideas have any merit whatsoever. (And let's just point out that as merited a guy Penrose is, he's not a quantum chemist, and more a mathematician than a physicist. His main area of expertise is topology, which has applications in cosmology but is totally unrelated to this area)

      It breaks down like this: Electrons in atoms and molecules behave entirely quantum-mechanically. It's why QM was invented in the first place. Since chemical properties are the result of how the electrons behave, all of chemistry is intrinsically quantum-mechanical in some sense.

      However: Molecules as a whole do not act quantum-mechanically. They move about according to classical mechanics - and that's how we model them physically too. Because once things get as heavy as an atomic nucleus (save for hydrogen, under some circumstances), their quantum 'uncertainty' in position etc is so small that it's chemically insignificant. So you need QM to describe how two atoms are bonded, but classical mech does a good job of describing how the molecules as a whole bounce around.

      So the question is: Are there 'non-trivial' quantum effects in biology? I.e. ones that aren't explainable in terms of 'ordinary' chemistry (which is still ultimately quantum-mechanical). There are a few examples, such as magnetoreception in birds, and energy transfer during some photosynthetic processes. But: despite a lot of the hype surrounding them, these things are still dealing with individual, sub-atomic particles. They don't cast any doubt on 'conventional wisdom' that QM phenomena don't happen at the biological scale. There's nothing in the cell that depends on the actions of a single small molecule, or a single chemical reaction, or anything that's small enough to act quantum-mechanically.

      The physics here doesn't make sense (Penrose's ideas in particular don't even hinge on established QM, but rather his own speculative ideas about quantum gravity.. of all things), we have every reason to believe you wouldn't have quantum phenomena at that scale in that environment, and no reason to believe otherwise. The chemistry doesn't make sense, as there's basically nothing hitherto found in biochemistry that doesn't fit into established chemistry. (Which isn't to say biochem hasn't expanded the boundaries of established chemistry, but it hasn't changed the foundations at all) And the biology doesn't really make sense, as cells are not built anything like Geiger counters, sitting in a labile state waiting for a single sub-atomic event to trigger them.

      Finally, the philosophy doesn't really add up either. The quantum-consciousness people seem to have an agenda along the lines of 1) QM is non-deterministic 2) If the brain's higher functions rely directly on QM processes, then the brain is non-deterministic 3) That nondeterminism means we have free will.
      Little of that makes sense to me. (1) is in fact a matter of which interpretation of QM you choose, and ultimately a question of metaphysics, since any non-deterministic theory could be postulated to be the result of a deterministic underlying 'reality' (as is the case with the Bohm interpretation of QM), or vice-versa. (2) is unwarranted speculation and (3) especially doesn't make much sense to me, since the philosophical question of 'free will' tends to hinge on whet

      • by mbone (558574) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @11:46PM (#36259442)

        1) QM is non-deterministic

        (1) is in fact a matter of which interpretation of QM you choose, and ultimately a question of metaphysics, since any non-deterministic theory could be postulated to be the result of a deterministic underlying 'reality' (as is the case with the Bohm interpretation of QM), or vice-versa.

        Uh, not so easy. The whole point of the Bell's Theorem tests is that QM is not reducible to a local deterministic theory. Bohm's theory is deterministic, but non-local, which means that it is not causal. So, chose your poison. You can't have it all; QM is not just a normal classical theory hiding behind some measurement weirdness.

        • by dkf (304284)

          The whole point of the Bell's Theorem tests is that QM is not reducible to a local deterministic theory.

          But good luck on applying that in any meaningful way to structures larger than a molecule with as much interaction with the environment as happens in a neuron.

  • See his book Emperor's New Mind. Most AI people viewed this skeptically back then, too.

    http://www.amazon.com/Emperors-New-Mind-Concerning-Computers/dp/0192861980/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1306449679&sr=8-1 [amazon.com]

  • From a blog post at Cosmic Variance: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/09/29/seriously-the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-really-are-completely-understood/ [discovermagazine.com]

    I've copy/pasted the relevant portion here:

    Obviously there are a lot of things about the workings of the human mind that we don't understand. So how can we be so sure that new physics isn't involved? Of course we can't be sure, but that's not the point. We can't be sure that the motion of the planets isn't govern
    • by elucido (870205) *

      If we don't experiment and look we wont find out whether or not new physics are involved.

  • Short answer... No...
    Consciousness barely explains quantum theory... so how could it be the other way?
    However, I am sure quantum "stuff" and freewill consciousness are related deeply...
    But beyond any explanation better than faith....

  • by forand (530402)
    Simply put no it does not explain consciousness. Quantum Field Theory(QFT) may explain all physical processes which go on in the universe but until we are able to make infinite observations (read never) it will not be predictive for emergent phenomenon (physical 'laws' which appear for large ensembles of particles). QFT is probabilistic when the question posed is looking for a deterministic answer, QFT can thus not provide such an answer.
  • We are biological computers experiencing itself subjectively.

    Contemplate this thought experiment: You have a supercomputer cluster, in which you create a simulated environment where life can evolve (maybe you intervene to speed things up but nevertheless it's allowed to evolve and change to some extent).

    Given enough computational power there is no reason why some kind of entity couldn't emerge (or be created) within this environment that was capable of pondering it's own existence and studying it's ow
    • I prefer this thought experiment: FRY: You're a bender, right? We can get outta here if you just bend the bars! BENDER: Dream on, skin tube. I'm only programmed to bend for constructive purposes. What do I look like, a de-bender? FRY: Who cares what you're programmed for! If someone programmed you to jump off a bridge, would you do it? BENDER: I'll have to check my program. (short pause) Yep! Like us, Bender is unable to escape his programming (until electrocution changes his programming).
  • Quantum theory to me is a hint we may be living in a simulation. Therefore consciousness is subjective phenomena.

    If you were in a simulation the best test would be looking for the inevitable discrepency in the physics of the environment which would emerge as you approached the limits of the computational substrate. On a small scale things would start to look fuzzy and the rules of the system would stop making useful predictions.

    Crap that sounds familiar.
  • First, define consciousness or, better yet, prove it matters. Explain fMRI studies that indicate that one actually makes decisions PRE-consciously yet still makes consciousness relevant. That's right, fMRI studies indicate that you make a decision to take an action BEFORE you are actually consciously aware of it. Turns the entire idea of consciousness on its head so that it is merely becoming conscious of what your brain/mind has already decided microseconds BEFORE you are conscious of making the decisio

  • by thelandp (632129) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @10:07PM (#36258892)

    The article is a "Straw Man" argument, that is to say based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.

    To my knowledge, no one makes such a statement as "Quantum Theory Explains Consciousness". There are some sceculative attempts to explain consciousness, but none that I know of use Quantum Theory as the be-all and end-all.

    What people might be saying is, there are some interesting relationships between Quantum Theory and Consiousness, which merit further exploration. This is hard to dispute, given the seemingly important role of the conscious observer in the act of measurement.

    Thus, "Quantum Theory relates to consciousness" has been mistaken for "Quantum Theory explains consiousness". These are two very different ideas, as "relates", and "explains" are two different kinds of relationships. In fact, "explains" is a special case of "relates to", is the meta-relationship, but I digress.

    This sounds more like someone wants to work in the field of philosphy of consciousness, but is grizzling about being expected to know the difficult field of Quantum Theory.

    What would make you happy? That thinking about Quantum Theory be banned in all discussions about consciousness?

    In the middle, there is a clear example of tautology, with the phrase "no apparent causal link", expressed as though it is an observation to use as input. "Consciousness is not explained" because "there is no apparent link", both expressing essentially the same idea, and the latter is just assumed to be true.

    Your argument degenerates into terms like "very basic". When you just keep saying how obvious it is, usually it's the result of the argument lacking any real content.

    Now I don't expect this will serve any purpose, but I will take this criticism and make it constructive. It would advance the cause if Science better for you to say what you think consiousness *might* be explained by, rather than what you think it "probably isn't" caused by.

    Or if you really want to help rule it out as a cause (which *would*, I admit, have some benefit), then MAKE A MORE SOLID CASE.

  • Well, what a blast from my college past. I vividly recall all the late night manic chat sessions trying to decode Patricia and Paul Churchland's Neurophilosophy and Daniel Dennets Conciousness Explained.

    Anyway, after years of rumination, to me it's clear that:

    Quantum mechanics are definitely a part of neurobiology, and hence a critical building block of conciousness. We couldn't think without quantum mechanics. But plants couldn't photosynthesize without quantum mechanics either.

    The quantum mechanical properties of neurophysiology apply just as much to clams as it does to humans. And it's just as applicable to those in a coma as to those engaged in a peak experience of some sort. So quantum mechanics definitely don't explain the conciousness of humans and in lesser degrees of other species.

    Conciousness is an emergent property of the brain. Most of our evolutionary ancestors weren't concious in the sense we mean it today. Our massive brains are evolutionarily adaptive. Humans pay a big biological cost in having these big brains; very difficult childbirth, very long period of helpess infancy, wide pelvises to accomodate these giant heads, and a whole lot of extra calories and oxygen needed. But we're obviously breeding like rabbits as a species, and the primary limitation on further explosions of population are conciousness-driven (deciding not to have children, and having developed the means to do so).

    Conciousness is, pretty much by definition, a really thorny thing to think about and almost perfectly designed to drive philosophers and cognitive scientists into mental loops. Since conciousness can also be described as self-insight, you get into a deep virtualization question in trying to have accurate insight into how you have insight :)!

    So the trickiest part about conciousness is figuring out our own conciousness! It's a lot more easy and productive to try and consider someone else's conciousness than our own. Thinking about our own conciousness can easily get to the "eye of the universe question" - even if one has a good biological theory of conciousness, why do *I* have an experience of unique selfhood? That winds up being one of those unsolvable Big Questions, like "why is there something instead of nothing." Whether the existence of existence is explained via the Big Bang or theology, there's still the unanswerable question of what was the first mover. What started the cosmological ball rolling for there to be a universe in the first place?

    Well, that was my moment of peak nerditry for the day! I'm going to go kiss a pretty girl for a while as penance...

RADIO SHACK LEVEL II BASIC READY >_

Working...