Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Complexity Biology-Based Information Structures Can Explain Subjectivity, Objective Reduction of Wave Packets, and Non-Computability

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Complexity Biology-Based Information Structures Can Explain Subjectivity, Objective Reduction of Wave Packets, and Non-Computability

Article excerpt


In the early 1990's, after consulting myself, publisher Keith Sutherland recruited Professor Jonathan Shear to help him found the Journal of Consciousness Studies, thus bringing a new channel of publication to the field of consciousness research. Sutherland had been stimulated by Penrose's monumental book, The Emperor's New Mind, strongly arguing that analysis of the halting problem, and other aspects of computational theory, implied that human information processing was not computable (1). This point developed the suggestion by Penrose's Oxford colleague, J. Lucas, that metamathematical theorems imply the existence of consciousness, a point supported by Penrose, based on his experience of mathematical intuition, and its role in guiding discovery in mathematics.

The rest is history: in 1994, David Chalmers published his magnificent JCS paper (2), amplified in his book, The Conscious Mind (3), which became the reference point for all subsequent work in the field, from Jon Shear's book of papers, 'Consciousness the Hard Problem' (4), in which Chalmers refuted all objections to his proposals, to the Penrose and Hameroff collaboration (5) now dominating the field. Key points made by Chalmers were, inter alia, (A) to deny conscious experience as an ingredient of creation is inadmissible i.e. the subjective aspect of mind, with its sense of 'self', whatever that may mean, is undeniable. (B) Consciousness needs to be admitted as an a priori ingredient of creation, as fundamental as the electron or matter-energy. (C) Since reductive explanations of consciousness had failed, any explanation should be non reductive in nature, and (D) the brain must support special information states with a 'Dual Aspect': in addition to ordinary information content, they must possess an additional aspect permitting them to support subjective experience. Chalmers's points, including several others in addition to these four, have served as the anvil, on which all work in the field has since been forged.

Chalmers's main point (1) was that the existence and nature of experience IS the hard problem. It can be restated as follows: all of us, when we experience anything, carry a 'sense of our own presence', of which we may be more or less strongly aware at different times. When we recall a story from our life, our memory includes a 'sense of our own presence' at the events we describe e.g. when our name was called out in a roll call in class at school and we replied, 'Present!', our response affirmed our 'sense of our own presence' in class. This factor both affirms the non-triviality of subjective experience, and identifies what is needed to explain it: something that carries a sense of being in 'Time present' (as TS Eliot puts it) (6). That is what is really required.

A largely unrecognized problem is that Chalmers's points have not been sufficiently rigorously implemented. The general attitude on how to represent states of experience in physical terms is exemplified by the tacit point in the many books by Amit Goswami (7): since classical physics cannot represent conscious experience, quantum physics must be used to do so (sotto voce: quantum theory is all that is available). Goswami waxes eloquent on all that can supposedly be achieved using quantum theory, but that approach fails to take into account that standard quantum theory is used to represent matter, so to use it to try to represent states of experience fails to distinguish between object and subject in any fundamental way. It trivializes Chalmers's points.

Similarly, quantum theory is basically reductive in nature (states of many particles are represented as products)-one reason why physics likes it. Though Chalmers states that a non-reductive theory is required to represent experience (1), in practice, no one has proposed an intrinsically non-reductive theory to do so. All uses of quantum theory, including the latest Hameroff-Penrose proposals (5), fail to provide the inherently non-reductive information states required to properly fulfil Chalmers's requirement: no reason is given for the chosen states to be anything other than states of objective matter! …

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