August 04, 2006

Physics and Consciousness

08.01.2006 permalink Physics I've been reading (and just finished) ”Programming the Universe” by Seth Lloyd. The central claim in the book is that the Kosmos is either a quantum computer or is indistinguishable from it. The book also has a clear explanation of decoherence - the mechanism (or is it) by which the Kosmos isolates different possibilities. I got into quantum mechanics (QM) via reading David Bohm's work a looong time ago but never understood it. And I started getting tired (and irritated) by newage attempts to use QM to justify just about anything from precognition to consciousness. I recommend Bohm and Hiley's book ”The Undivided Universe” BTW to anyone who wants to come to grips with Bohm's interpretation of QM. In particular, I think Bohm's (and de Broglie's) work are very very useful in relating the Schrodinger equation to the classical (and earlier) Hamilton-Jacobi equation and Liouville's equation. No other interpretation of QM makes the contact to classical mechanics as clearly as Bohm's interpretation. (For a very recent and tremendously helpful pedagogical take on all this, check out Jeremy Butterfield's article ”On Hamilton-Jacobi theory…”)
And now back to Seth Lloyd. Besides Seth Lloyd's explication of the Kosmos as a quantum computer, his book also sows the seeds for a fourth road to quantum gravity. The previous three roads to quantum gravity (following Lee Smolin's taxonomy) are i) black hole thermodynamics, ii) loop quantum gravity and iii) string theory. While this fourth road is not traveled much by Seth Lloyd in his book, he does point to his paper on the topic. I think this work is tremendously exciting since it posits a more fundamental realm - the quantum computer - as responsible for generating particles, fields and spacetime.
The reason why I'm mentioning Seth Lloyd's work is that notions of the Kosmos as a simulation has interesting resonances with virtual worlds, the Matrix, maya etc. And since Seth Lloyd doesn't mention consciousness, his theory and other similar theories most likely cannot accommodate consciousness or experience. If we, following Spinoza and Wilber, assign quantum computing simulation as one aspect (and a fundamental bottom up aspect at that) of the Kosmos, perhaps there is another (top down?) aspect of the Kosmos that can help accommodate experience. Can an expanded version of decoherence fill this role? These are obvious questions. (I hope we don't see a gazillion papers on quantum computing + decoherence solving all mysteries like we did with QM + wave function collapse. I don't think I could take one more go around of that madness.) Access: Public Type: Blog Add Comment posted by Anand
07.26.2006 permalink Consciousness The person who has done the most (in my opinion) to resurrect the problem of consciousness and bring it back to the forefront of analytic philosophy is David Chalmers. Chalmers has achieved two very important and unrelated things.First, he overpowered Daniel Dennett in a knockdown, take no prisoners metaphorical battle. (This battle was also a generational conflict in that it pitted a boomer against a Gen-X). Two of the very best books on consciousness in the 90s were Daniel Dennett's _Consciousness Explained_ and David Chalmers' _The Conscious Mind_. Dennett's book is about the best you can do if you wanted to fit consciousness into the existing scientific framework. In retrospect, Dennett's deconstruction of the self - as a “center of narrative gravity” wherein the one and the many are simply two focal endpoints in perspective - is brilliant in the way it uses deconstruction as a tool to accommodate consciousness. In sharp contrast, Chalmers - after exhaustively searching for a way for scientific materialism to be true - comes to the conclusion that consciousness cannot be explained in the current scientific framework.
Second, Chalmers in the course of showing that consciousness cannot be accommodated in the present natural order, also comes to the conclusion that almost all varieties of emergence cannot be sustained either except for a radical emergentist view wherein consciousness 'pops out' at a certain level of complexity. (All other forms of emergence are shown to be fundamentally inadequate.) Radical emergence becomes rapidly unpalatable when you carefully examine it in this light. For a former emergentist such as myself, it took a very long time to finally accept that Chalmers was right and that one must look elsewhere for a fundamental theory. Access: Public Type: Blog Add Comment posted by Anand

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