An Actual Theory of Consciousness

30 Nov

This theory is an extrapolation of an observation I made earlier about the universe in general and how it extends from a universal choice function. In order to understand the specific case of the choice function that is human consciousness, it is necessary to start with the general case of the universal choice function. Only in seeing that this choice function must necessarily be conscious is it possible to grasp why the more limited case of the human choice function must be conscious.

It is often imagined that there could be a simple rule that describes the entire universe. Such a rule has been proposed by Stephen Wolfram in his book, A New Kind of Science. What Wolfram proposed is that the universe could be the product of something as simple as a cellular automaton. He even suggested an automaton, Rule 110, that he describes as being Turing complete and that could, in theory, encode anything that is computable.

However, as I have observed before, any notion of a simple rule that describes the universe runs into problems. In the case of a cellular automaton, although the rule is relatively easy to describe, this does not take into account all the implied parameters that are not described within the rule. In order for a cellular automaton to actually unfold, it must be represented on a digital computer. Digital computers have an intricate construction, require power and are of finite size. The automaton must be supported by the computer’s machinery and algorithms and it must constantly be told what to do and what not to do. The encoding of the algorithm must have defaults for what to do when the computer’s memory is exhausted.

Computer

This may not seem to apply to something like the universe, but actually it does. There is a temptation to think that the universe can have rules that it “just follows” and that nothing need support the rules in the sense of a digital computer. This is the fallback position of most physicists, but it is really a rationalization they make to justify not dealing with an essential problem of existence. Nothing, absolutely nothing, just happens. If the universe did not have some driving mechanism that keeps it on track, every juncture—actually every instant—would essentially be an undecided proposition.

The problem is bigger than that. If there were a simple rule that governs all reality, it would have, for all practical purposes, an infinite number of parameters. For example, will the rule be two-dimensional like Wolfram’s experiments or three-dimensional? Why not ten-dimensional or a trillion-dimensional? Will it be allowed to expand forever into whatever dimensional space it is supported by? What will happen if it somehow “runs into” itself? What will keep it following a particular rule and not deciding midway to follow some other rule? Do all of the parts of the rule proceed at the same pace? What is that pace? Are they governed by linear time? What is the nature of that time? Could there be more than one kind of time? Could the time be different for one part of the rule than it is for another part of the rule? For every “rule” there are an infinite number of “non” rules. When we say “if a then b”, we are also saying “if a then not c or d…or e…or f…or g.” Also, any rule we are likely to think of will require that we ensure the rule does not contradict itself at some point. Anyone who has attempted to design a board game like Monopoly will understand what I mean. Rules are inherently problematic.

It would be impossible for something as complicated as our universe to run smoothly without a consistent rule that is, realistically, infinite in scope. If you think you could come up with a simple rule that works for the entire universe, you are not looking deeply enough. You are not looking critically at all the implicit assumptions in such a rule. Also, if our universe did happen to have a simple rule that took everything into account and had no loose ends, it would probably be a universe that is repetitious or degenerate. Degeneration is a notable problem of cellular automata. Extensive study has shown that, almost without exception, they eventually run down and become repetitious or simply die. The simplest rule we know of that is inherently consistent is also the most degenerate rule imaginable: non-existence. Therefore, the most likely state of the universe would be that it does not exist.

Yet, the universe does at least appear to exist and it is, at least from our perspective, quite interesting. As conscious beings that are part of the universe, we see color and feel emotion. The universe is an interesting place.

Suppose, instead of starting with the observable universe and attempting to find a rule that describes it, we start, instead, with the most obvious default state of the universe, nonexistence, and try to construct a universe from scratch. Our immediate realization is that, for every possible attribute of the universe, we must make a choice. We must decide how many dimensions it will have. We must decide how large it will be. Will the dimensions curl in on themselves or will they stretch out forever? Will there be “matter” in this universe? Will the matter fill the entire universe or just part of it? How large will the area be that it fills? Every aspect of the universe has to be “chosen” before we turn it on and set it running.

The mere existence of the universe involves an immense challenge of choosing. In fact, there is a law of thought (of Aristotelian logic, to be precise) that applies here. It is called the law of the excluded middle. What it says is that, given a particular proposition, either that proposition is true or it is false:

For all p, p or not p.

The law of the excluded middle leaves no room for ambiguity. If the universe is to exist, it must be complete and perfectly consistent. However, this suggests that there must be some mechanism that decides what the state of the universe actually is. What I propose is that the law of the excluded middle is logically equivalent to a “choice function” that is capable of making the choice. A choice function is a concept from mathematics. It is a mathematical function that chooses one element from every set. There is an axiom in mathematics that says that, for any given set of nonempty sets, there exists a choice function that can choose one element from every set. What I propose is that this choice function must be a reality in the existential sense.

This choice function is not something that is “generated” by the law of the excluded middle. It is logically equivalent to it. In other words, this choice function is a law of logic in itself. This law is infinite in scope and dynamism because the potential universe is infinite in scope and dynamism. It is not a byproduct of complexity. It is the complexity. Moreover, since it quickly becomes clear that the possible choices for the state of the universe must be equivalent to the largest possible cardinal number, this choice function must choose from a set that is equivalent to the largest possible cardinal number. What could be called the fourth law of logic is a rule of magnitude equal to the largest cardinal number. Since this choice function must decide every aspect of the universe and, effectively, un-decide every non aspect, it must be infinite in every possible respect.

Since the state of the universe apparently includes the faculty of consciousness, the choice function necessarily is capable of making choices regarding consciousness, or at least the basis of consciousness. However, to ensure that its choices about consciousness are not ultimately contradictory at some point, it must have a complete command of the topic. If the choice function were something like an automobile mechanic that understands engines without actually being an engine, it might be reasonable to say that it need not necessarily have the faculty of consciousness. However, this choice function is far more intimately connected with the “machinery” it works on than a mechanic is with an engine. It must effectively “be” the machinery in order to design the machinery. Moreover, if it chose for itself to have the faculty of consciousness, such a choice would be within the scope of a choice function that chooses literally everything. It is reasonable to assume that the choice function has the faculty of consciousness. That the choice function has this faculty is essential to the rest of this discussion. If the choice function is capable of mapping consciousness and has a complete command of consciousness, it can reasonably be said to be conscious itself.

For a bit of added robustness, it should be noted that consciousness appears to be a natural attribute of a choice function. A choice function chooses, and it is everyone’s immediate sensation that what they do with their conscious mind is choose. Hence, the notion of free will. Choice is all about preference, and conscious perception is definitely associated with preference. “Liking” something is a definite aspect of the qualia that is associated with consciousness. If there was ever a mathematical match for the experience of a consciousness, it would be the axiom of choice.

Conscious Mind

Let us call this choice function G. The set of possibilities this choice function has to operate on are the set of all x. The actual choices that this choice function makes can be called y. Therefore, using some simple algebraic notation, G(x) = y. G is a mapping of all the possible states of the universe to the actual state of the universe, including all its aspects of time space, motion, consciousness, etc. G is the original “consciousness” that decided the state of the universe.

Apparently, this G chose that the universe contain smaller consciousnesses that we can call P. These are smaller choice functions that act on much more limited sets. However, choosing to include smaller choice functions would not have been as straight-forward as simply choosing them.  Apparently, G was able to choose the set of y in such a way that some aspects were left undecided in such a manner that P functions would have to exist to resolve them. Like the G function, P functions are logical rules. Therefore, they are fundamental truths of existence. It may seem strange that there could be so many fundamental truths. Similarly, it must have seemed strange at one time that the recipe for life could be approximately six feet of a particular molecule. Sometimes reality works on a scale that we, at first, find disconcerting.

This would not be an easy trick, since not choosing something leaves the problem of there being some initial undecided aspect of the universe. This still contradicts the law of the excluded middle. The initial choice function would have to have been surrealistically clever to get around this problem. It would have to have been able to choose a configuration for the universe in which everything is chosen, but in which  new unresolved choices naturally occur.

Interestingly, there are characteristics of the universe that fit this exact description. They are called quantum events. In quantum events, there are outcomes that are apparently decided by chance. It can be shown that it is impossible, even in principle, for these events to be decided by any deterministic algorithm. This result is called Bells theorem. What is says, succinctly, is that no physical theory of local hidden variables can ever reproduce all of the predictions of quantum mechanics. However, an outcome that is not chosen contradicts the law of the excluded middle and would void all logic. Thus, there must be a logical rule that closes the gap.

What I propose is that a P consciousness is a choice function, analogous to the choice function G, that decides these outcomes.

Note that these choice functions are not algorithms and, therefore, are not subject to Bell’s theorem. They do not “compute”; they are functions. They are mappings of possibility to actuality. They map the set of all x to some y. Since quantum events are entangled and can have any level of entanglement, this suggests a way to quantify such choice functions.

Since the initial choice function and these smaller choice functions are real in the existential sense, it makes sense to give them a name. For the purpose of this discussion, they will be called “spirits”.

These spirits apparently have magnitude. Since the quantum events they describe are naturally “entangled” the degree of their entanglement suggest a way to assign them a magnitude. The nature of spirits and the possibility of assigning them a magnitude suggest a possible definition:

A spirit is a choice function that exists where a choice is called for and it is impossible, even in principle, for the choice to be made by a deterministic algorithm. The magnitude of the spirit is equal to the product of the degrees of freedom of the total entangled choice to be made.

This is not merely a definition, but also a complete explanation. It is as complete as humans, with their syntactic methods of logical representation, are capable of comprehending.

I propose that human consciousness is a manifestation of these defined spirits.

It may eventually be discovered that human brains perform part of their function by relying on quantum randomness. It may also be discovered that this randomness is highly entangled across significant portions of the human brain. Moreover, it may be realized that there can be no hidden variables that account for the behavior this entanglement produces. This kind of entanglement is not essential to the existence of these choice functions, as will become clear further on.

That spirits are conscious is a natural extrapolation of the discussion above about the initial choice function. If the initial choice function included consciousness, it makes sense that these smaller choice functions could include it. Also, it seems likely that the purpose of allowing these smaller functions would be to also allow that there be additional consciousnesses. Finally, since the P functions are, in fact, conscious, it is a fore-drawn conclusion.

Consciousness appears to be at odds with the mechanical nature of the observable universe. The observable universe is demonstrably a syntactical process. Consciousness is semantic. John Searle showed in 1980 that a semantic process cannot be represented by a syntactical mechanism. Unfortunately, in an effort to seem overly formal, he constructed his proof, called the Chinese room argument, in a way that seems to leave logical holes. In fact, the general idea he is trying to convey, that a syntactical process cannot give rise to a semantic process, it sound. What he showed is that consciousness must be, in a sense, separate from the universe. It “observes” the universe and “traces” it, but it is not a part of it.

There is an interpretation of quantum events that gives a different perspective on quantum mechanics. It is called the Everett interpretation. In the Everett interpretation, what actually happens is that the universe splits into different paths.

Everett Interpretation

Since conscious spirits cannot be part of the universe in any mechanical sense, the Everett interpretation becomes critical for my theory of consciousness. What apparently happens is not that spirits choose which way the universe will go. What is more likely true is that all possible paths exist at all times and spirits choose which path they will follow. This is what occurs when we experience one path and not the other. Our consciousness is, in effect, choosing which path it will follow. This also explains the curious connection between quantum collapse and observation. As has been observed, observation does not cause quantum collapse. Nevertheless, collapse and observation are inextricable.

If it was possible for two spirits to choose different paths, they would find themselves alone in a universe where other expected manifestations of consciousness—other persons—seem to exhibit behavior that is inconsistent with consciousness. Therefore, it is most likely that all spirits are tethered and must follow the same path. This tethering is possibly another form of entanglement that takes place in the spiritual realm, and suggests that the total magnitude of a spirit cannot be measured by mechanical means. This entanglement may be related to the sensation some mystics have that all spirits are joined at some deeper level. It is impossible to say how many spirits are joined in this way or everything that is included. It may include all apparently conscious animals or even the entire “Gaia” of our planet or some larger region.

It is important to keep in mind that neither the notion of quantum field collapse nor the Everett interpretation are “correct” or that they are mutually exclusive. The actual structure of the universe may be nothing like what we are able to imagine. I have merely presented a theory of consciousness as it relates to the universe we can understand. As I explained earlier, it is as close to an actual understanding as our limited cognition will permit.

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