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Thread: Entropy's Relationship to Consciousness

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    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Entropy's Relationship to Consciousness

    The following article from "The Big Think" proposes that consciousness may be a consequence of entropy :

    https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/ne...BJxZ9gjdg-l_L0

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    Entropy in terms of the second law of thermodynamics is somewhat tricky, but is really the "lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder" where the natural end to the universe is gradual degradation to a heat sink, everything reduced to heat. Not really anything to do with chaos theory, which is different. A higher order of matter, such as ourselves, comes at the price of increasing the rate that entropy operates at, where the universe will 'end' in this heat sink more quickly, by however small an amount.

    I personally think that consciousness, and then self-consciousness, arose as a by-product of evolution. It remains to be seen whether 'higher' consciousness is an evolutionary advantage or not. The way we seem hell-bent on destroying ourselves seems to point to the reverse.

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    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post

    I personally think that consciousness, and then self-consciousness, arose as a by-product of evolution. It remains to be seen whether 'higher' consciousness is an evolutionary advantage or not. The way we seem hell-bent on destroying ourselves seems to point to the reverse.
    Yes. Life arises, becomes aware, then aware of self, then aware of exterior environment, then aware of interactions which benefit and which cause harm or pleasure, then aware of conditions in the environment, which "can" cause pleasure or harm. Then there is sentience, then sapience. All of these are states of consciousness.

    Neuroscience is just beginning to study and understand how this all occurs as a result of neurological networking within the brain, the central, and peripheral nervous system.

    I personally see "consciousness" as a result of a field property of the brain, and the rest of the nervous system, what we loosely call "mind".

    Mind in the Buddhist context is simply considered a bottle in which all of the mental factors arise as a result of contact through the six sense doors, which is a rudimentary explanation of the whole idea of the neurological systems, which arose as a result of evolution as you described / attested.

    In all living systems (animal & plant) it is assumed that there are both conscious and unconscious neurological systems, but exactly how that occurs is not well understood.

    As the author of the article found in the provided link pointed out, paraphrasing: "Since we are derived from elemental parts of the universe, we are ourselves part of the universe. Since the universe deteriorates from being highly ordered @ the time of The Big Bang, decaying since into disorder, we, as all parts of the universe, are subject to the law of entropy.

    As Buddha put it, paraphrasing: "All things arise, dwell for but a time, and then pass away: "impermanent".
    Last edited by Olderon; 02 Dec 18 at 02:19.

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    Quoting from the "Big Think" article,
    Scientists recently found parts of the brain which may form a circuit that provides consciousness.
    It's facile to think that it's just a case of finding a part of the brain which "deals with" consciousness.

    By all means divide the brain into areas related to vision, hearing, reflex actions and so on: The senses and muscular control, certainly, and maybe memory to some extent. But the higher functions such as thought and will, intention and imagination, these don't lend themselves to such categorisation.

    The "Big Think" report goes on to report an investigation into neuron activity comparing the states of sleep, waking and seizure, using statistical analysis of the data. Well, OK, but the connection with entropy seems tenuous to say the least. Of course the waking state will show the least disorder because that's what it is. Attention, focussed.

    For me, the Big Thinker in the subject of consciousness is Dr Roger Penrose. He's been hacking away at the question of what it is for many years now, and he suggests a connection, not with entropy, but with quantum theory.

    https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/why...-quantum-level

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    Depends what you mean by consciousness. There are parts of the brain which, when not working properly, are responsible for unconsciousness. Things like imagination and intention can also be tracked pretty easily these days. I'm still of the opinion that any system as complex as even the simplest brain will result in consciousness of some degree or other, and that consciousness is a by-product of connected complexity of circuits that can learn coupled with a system that allows the sensing of and interaction with the immediate environment, rather than anything else.

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    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    Depends what you mean by consciousness. There are parts of the brain which, when not working properly, are responsible for unconsciousness. Things like imagination and intention can also be tracked pretty easily these days. I'm still of the opinion that any system as complex as even the simplest brain will result in consciousness of some degree or other, and that consciousness is a by-product of connected complexity of circuits that can learn coupled with a system that allows the sensing of and interaction with the immediate environment, rather than anything else.

    Hi, philg.


    Thanks for engaging regarding this topic. Not sure I understand your meaning regarding your statement: "There are parts of the brain which, when not working properly, are responsible for unconsciousness. " Please expand upon this idea.


    There are entire neurological systems which operate without any consciousness. The autonomic nervous system for example keeps all of our vital functions running without any conscious effort on our part. This is not to say that we can have no effect upon such functions as heart rate, breathing, or sensory systems. However, if we had to consciously keep track of these bodily functions day an night, then we would be pretty much occupied, and distracted from everything else.


    The unconsciously operating autonomic nervous system is to me pretty much the most amazing thing about all life.


    Resource for further study: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomic_nervous_system

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    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Expanding upon the whole idea of consciousness, I would like to introduce the following TED Talks regarding the topic:



    https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q...ness&FORM=VDRE
    Last edited by Olderon; 06 Dec 18 at 11:49.

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    Many thanks for your responses. The autonomic system never fails to amaze me too. I'm a student of the brain inasmuch as I've followed research on it, of one kind or another, for the last 40 years. Although we can't point to where consciousness arises we can certainly point to areas which temporarily end it, render it unconscious. Consciousness doesn't necessarily mean self-consciousness of the kind we normally associate with 'thinking'. Most of what goes on in the brain and in the body is not part of this self-consciousness and does most of the work of keeping us alive.

    Some think, with good scientific evidence, that this part we are not aware of makes up who we really are. We are mistaken when we think that 'we' make 'conscious' decisions. They are made by the brain before we become aware of them, some experiments showing as much as two or three seconds before. We are 'tricked' into thinking that we made them in our self-conscious state by the rest of the brain, so that we really are more of an observer than a 'doer'.

    This raises many issues, of course, not least to those of us on the path. If that is really what is happening then how do we bring about changes to ourselves that we want to happen? My view, based on current research, is that the brain is in a constant state of change and that everything we do has consequences for these changes. We can consciously (meaning with the self aware bit we consider to be us) bring about changes to the whole brain by meditating and following the path, so that even if decisions really are made beneath our level of awareness, the decisions change over time to something more like those we are trying to achieve.

    It explains why bringing about the changes we want through our practice is so difficult, and on such a large timescale. Practice of this kind relies on bringing about changes at levels of consciousness we are not aware of, and has only come about through thousands of years of experience passed on by others, especially the Buddha. Without knowing anything about how the brain works in this scientific sense he came up with a way to bring about those changes we are looking for which work at all levels of consciousness.

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    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Hi, philg.

    I see your meaning more clearly now. What you pointed out is that medical research comes to an understanding of how our biological systems function though research with regard to their mechanisms of failure. This is true.

    Physics research functions in a similar way as they collide larger particles (more massive) into each other at higher and higher energies and detect the pieces rendered during the collisions to attain a better understanding of less complex (more fundamental) components (parts) which comprise the more complex particles. For example: Neutrons were collided with each other to detect protons and electrons. Nuclei were collided with each other to detect neutrons, protons, electrons, and etc.

    source for further study in particle physics: https://www.energy.gov/articles/how-...elerators-work

    Source for further study in Brain Research: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q...=1&oi=scholart

    From a personal perspective, I was able to conduct my own brain function ( or lack of brain function ) research as a result of a perfusive right-brain stroke I experienced a few years back as I lost analytical and motor functions. So, I personally know your observations and conclusions to be accurate.

    Much we have learned regarding brain plasticity has come as a result of such experiences in patients as large sections of their brains had to be removed due to brain injuries and disease.

    source for further study regarding Brian Plasticity studies: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q...=1&oi=scholart

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    A lifelong fan of Science Fiction writing I have also been hooked on what constitutes consciousness, in the sense of communicating with alien life forms and other forms of life on Earth. At the same time computers extended the fun. What would it take for a computer to have consciousness? What would they do if they did? I remember reading The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein in 1966. The narrator discovers that the computer HOLMES IV has achieved self-awareness, calling itself Mycroft Holmes after Sherlock's brother. Consciousness was the result of adding more and more bits to a central computer, and (spoiler alert) lost when the bits were destroyed.

    Sorry to hear of your stroke, but intrigued to hear that you can relate it to the kind of research we have been talking about. Have you noticed plasticity bringing back some function? Thanks for the links too. In terms of Buddhism I am interested in research which shows such plastic activity following meditation practice, mainly to further my understanding of the real changes that Buddhist practices can bring about in the brain and hence in the mind.

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