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Thread: Panpsychism, a mathematical explanation for consciousness

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    Panpsychism, a mathematical explanation for consciousness

    Hi all. I'm a keen reader of all things scientific as well as Buddhist. In the New Scientist there has been a recent series on a mathematical definition of consciousness which brings in panpsychism as the view that mind (psyche) is found everywhere (pan). I read the series here started by Aloka, Is It Better to Have Never Been Born? which used Brad Warner's http://hardcorezen.info/is-it-better...been-born/5654 as a starting point for a discussion based on Buddhists texts, so no need for me to go through all those, hence the Tea Room.

    I can't link to the New Scientist articles, but here's something similar from Scientific American for those interested, https://www.scientificamerican.com/a...ess-universal/. In short, the mathematical definition is raised by the proposition that "Any system that possesses some nonzero amount of integrated information experiences something. Let me repeat: any system that has even one bit of integrated information has a very minute conscious experience." The author argues that "The past two centuries of scientific progress have made it difficult to sustain a belief in human exceptionalism" and that any high degree of integrated information (IIT or Integrated Learning Theory) leads to consciousness. It's the integration, the bringing together of information that is important.

    In the New Scientist article this week things have been taken further, with the mathematics pointing to the possibility that inanimate things may have a degree of consciousness. Not of the self-aware, having feelings kind but nevertheless a certain amount of consciousness. The consequences for the brain are that it is the result of rudimentary forms of consciousness coming together to 'give rise to conscious experiences'. Which explains how networks of neurons, which are arrangements of chemicals, can give rise to the experience of thinking and feeling.

    For me, these ideas can explain things which have arisen during insight experiences, my own and those described by others. The feeling of 'oneness with everything' is pretty overwhelming the first time it happens to you. How has this developed in our brains? What is it we are one with? If consciousness is universal, then we are one with everything, but our particular brains need special conditions to align with this consciousness, which disappears once we start conscious thinking again after insight. The place of Buddhism for me is not only an enabler of systems to bring about such an alignment, but to put the experience in a context which moves us forward on the path.

    BTW, I did 'A' level mathematics and some postgraduate work on statistics for analysing the results of investigations, but I'm no mathematician. I just like to follow research as an interested outsider.

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    Phil,

    This sounds like an interesting, and difficult, subject. I've read the linked Scientific American article, though I got a bit lost after two-thirds of the way through. I'm going to read the current issue of New Scientist to see if that gives me a better grip on the subject.

    I'm only just beginning to recover from studying the link between consciousness and quantum mechanics. That is to say, studying reports of other peoples work on the subject. Not doing my own research, obviously.

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    Forums Member trusolo's Avatar
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    Hi Phil and Woodscooter,

    This is indeed a deep topic, a bit speculative but it is getting more well defined and rigorous. Before I say anything about the content, let me give some original source material. The following is a paper by the inventor of IIT model. I have the pdf but it is easier to insert a link here. The paper explains the theory very nicely and in detail.

    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1405.7089.pdf

    A word about where this is from. In physics and math and sciences in general, just before we submit a paper to a journal for peer review, we upload it on whats called “arxiv” - it is a repository of manuscripts. The idea is it takes a long time for a paper to actually get published in an issue from the time of submission. This way everyone can know where the research is and also settle claims of priority. If you ever want to get actual papers for free before they become properties of journals and hence behind a paywall, arxiv is where you find them.

    Go to the following link and type whatever you want in the search field and someone will have a paper on it. The drawback is for common topics there are thousands of papers so it is better if you know what you are looking for. Most of my own papers are also on it. Try it, its a lot of fun looking up random topics and discover bizzare things people study. But more seriously, this service is so useful, in some fields like particle physics and cosmology and other fields where it can take two years for the whole publication process, journals have become redundant. No one waits around for journal issues. Keeping up with latest research is done exclusively with arxiv, which gets updated everyday with a hundred or so new submissions.

    https://arxiv.org
    Last edited by trusolo; 04 May 20 at 03:14.

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    Thanks for the links, Trusolo. I shall track down some more papers. Hi Woodscooter, I get lost in the maths, but I'm pretty good at teasing out the central ideas. The New Scientist article gives a good introduction for those like me, not up with the maths but still interested. One reason I'm interested is following a series of meditations I was undertaking a few years ago. I was interested in visualising the progression from the very large, universe size, to the very small, molecule size in terms of what life might show up as (linked to wishing all beings well, whatever their size and shape). Once when I was looking at the microscopic end of things I saw whizzy things, a bit like Taz from the cartoon series when spinning, and everything seemed in motion like that, living and non living. It seemed that the living 'spin' was different, but only by degree.

    I don't take these vision things too seriously when I meditate, but it got me thinking about whe difference between living and not alive, when everything is made of the same stuff. The article resonated with my earlier experience so I am attempting to keep up with any research looking at how consciousness could arise from non-consciousness. It could be explained by their being no non-consciousness. But I'm not holding my breath.

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    Forums Member trusolo's Avatar
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    I think there is a big issue here and elsewhere in general with using the same word “consciousness” to describe two levels of whatever it is. one is what we do deliberately, “conscious thinking, doing, feeling, perceiving” and the other is more along the lines of “mind is a mirror” or “the one who is aware” etc. that entity, if one wants to call it consciousness has no personality etc. so in that sense it is universal but if that is the case then words like experience, knowing, even awareness are meaningless for such a construct because these labels are derived from the former type of brain processes- I don’t think they really apply to a blank, personality-less, mirror-like state of whatever (mind, brain, consciousness).

    The other issue that arises by using the same word or synonyms for two systems, where one is definitely more “universal” than the other is that implicitly one tries to fathom a larger or higher-level system by using a lower-level system. This cannot be accomplished for any system. For example, try as hard as we can, we can never fully experience an object in four dimensions. We have to sort of construct it by its several three dimensional “cuts” that we can experience.
    I don’t know how to explain this well.

    PS: I once tried reading/studying abhidhamma because it is supposed to be the buddhist theory of consciousness and gave up because 1) I didn’t understand a lot of it or the need for a lot of its classifications and 2) I got side-tracked into comparing abhidhamma as quantum theory of experience/consciousness or comparing it to the “standard model” in particle physics.
    Last edited by trusolo; 05 May 20 at 03:57.

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    I guess it's one of those subjects that if you aren't confused then you haven't studied enough. One problem is terminology, because something like the word 'consciousness' is used in so many contexts that it is confusing in itself. For me, we have self awareness, or self consciousness, the feeling that I am me and I see and hear and feel, and so on. Then there is the underlying consciousness which makes decisions before we do and which carries out routine operations such as heart beat, maintenance and everything we are unaware of doing.

    Next comes the problem of consciousness in other living things. The 'higher' animals seem to have self awareness as well as consciousness, although the rest may just have consciousness. Plants react and communicate, so I guess they have their own form of consciousness, as do living things down to the single cell level such as bacteria. It's when we get to viruses that things start to get a bit weird. They are, after all, merely packets of chemicals in a chemical sheath, which have the ability to replicate the chemicals. There is a good discussion here, https://www.scientificamerican.com/a...es-alive-2004/. In evolutionary terms the nucleus may have evolved from a large virus DNA.

    If a virus is in a grey area between living and non living, does it have consciousness which is in a similar grey area? Can there be a sliding scale of consciousness which never reaches non-consciousness? In any form of matter? And if matter is made of twisty bits of energy, can these have a form of consciousness? Which brings us back to panpsychism of course. Does it take the same leap of faith that allows us to use mathematics dealing with different dimensions that we can't visualise, or even comprehend, being mere three dimensional creatures? If some scientists can say they have evidence of another universe going in the opposite direction of time, as I read this week, then as Buddhists maybe we can bring insight into the situation when it comes to us. I know that during insight experiences I could argue that I have become aware of different types of consciousness. It might not be scientific evidence, but it is something I can use as a Buddhist to carry on investigating that which adds to my own personal exploration and understanding of the world.

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    Forums Member trusolo's Avatar
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    Hi Phil,
    That was very nicely stated - the exact nature of the problem you want to investigate. Talking about virus situation, an issue is at what level on the scale do we say that what is happening is the work of a consciousness as opposed to carrying out programmed instructions? do our cells know they doing what they do for the benefit of some larger assembly?

    In some sense, we have plenty of things, mechanisms, that stay dormant until the right stimuli show up, then they get activated e.g. immune system. That is basically what a virus does. It is considered “difficult” to deal with because it is like throwing a spanner inside a sophisticated super computer mainframe. It is too basic to be integrated in to the current structure of that machine. When immune system fights against a virus, both are doing the same thing - reacting to stimuli based on chemical programming.

    In that sense, we are also “packets of chemicals in a sheath” - just a very complicated one. At what point on that scale it doesn’t feel that way is one of the questions. It definitely is useful for our survival to have an integrated overview of our entire packaging - self awareness, so that we know the implications of damage to individual parts.

    Other than that it is difficult to make a theory out of it because we have to make too many assumptions even for our own type of self awareness and consciousness let alone other types. I suspect that for a while and up to a point, our own subjective experience of it will have to do like you mentioned at the end. For example, I read in that IIT model that they assume matter has to be the basis for consciousness, which is unnecessary, unless they mean light also as matter.
    Photons can band together and do collective activity, thats what lasers are. Whos to say that if conditions are right, light cannot self organize in complex forms.

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    Hi Trusolo,
    Interesting that you should mention light. At my Mitra Buddhist ceremony, the public one where, for the centre I went to, I became an official 'Buddhist', I was given a picture of Amitabha and a quote by Tarthang Tulku, which I have kept in my shrine corner at home. It says, "The energy of human consciousness may share an affinity with light that we do not yet understand. Turning towards that light we might find it the source of all our inspiration and creativity."

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    Forums Member trusolo's Avatar
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    I have always suspected that these energy channels in the yogic chakra system and chinese medicine system and acupunture is a network of some kind of em field (light but not the visible kind) that permeates all through the body with focal point in the head and running along the spine and forming a parallel network like blood vessels. We just haven’t detected it yet with instruments. This is pure speculation on my part but people separated across space and time have claimed that such energy channels exist and if it can be tapped into it can bring about great benefits.

    The language of many meditation techniques, medicinal techniques is also strangely similar - “removing blockages”, “cleaning”, “purifying” your system, “activating” vital centers etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by trusolo View Post
    I have always suspected that these energy channels in the yogic chakra system and chinese medicine system and acupunture is a network of some kind of em field (light but not the visible kind) that permeates all through the body with focal point in the head and running along the spine and forming a parallel network like blood vessels. We just haven’t detected it yet with instruments. This is pure speculation on my part but people separated across space and time have claimed that such energy channels exist and if it can be tapped into it can bring about great benefits.

    The language of many meditation techniques, medicinal techniques is also strangely similar - “removing blockages”, “cleaning”, “purifying” your system, “activating” vital centers etc.
    For many years I experimented with chakra meditation alongside the meditations I had been taught. I visualised opening up each colour as my breath circulated round my hollow body, until there were the layers of colour to breath through, then opening up the earth channel, infra red, and the top of the head, white light from above. On many occasions the energy seemed to flow through me and was nothing to do with me, I was merely a conduit for it. It tapped into an energy 'out there', which seemed to be connecting other flows of energy, maybe from other people. These columns spread out into an overarching sheet of energy, connecting all the energy flows.

    I sometimes still slip into this meditation, although I don't need to sit in formal meditation much to get back into it. There are times when I have to be careful that I don't subconsciously tap into the energy as it takes me into bliss, and I've had enough of that to know that it's more of a dead end than anything. I'm not running bliss down, but small doses are enough. Of course, there may not be any energy there at all, but the experience is well worth the effort, whatever the language used to describe it.

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