TED Conversations

shawn disney

TEDCRED 10+

This conversation is closed.

"Consciousness" is a basic "Field" in Physics.

There is much interest in the details of just how the Brain "creates" Consciousness, but very little that I can find about just why that idea is a lot like the "Ether" controversy of a hundred years ago. A much more fruitful idea would be that C. is an Undefined Term, like Electro-Magnetism in Physics Theory. i.e. you cannot find language to say what it "Is", just because it is too basic. So you use it as an axiom, with the usual field characteristics, to see what conclusions you can derive which might be useful . And they are.

Share:
  • thumb
    May 14 2014: Does it help to describe one yet inexplicable phenomena by another?

    So lets assume my consciousness was a basic field in physics... and now what? To me nothing became any more understandable than it was before. Or did I miss the point of your idea?

    It somewhat sounds to me like Rupert Sheldrake's concept of Morphogenetic Fields in a way, that as we seem to prefer for some sort of 'filler' like we used the 'Ether' for unless our true understanding of things evolved to the point where we are able to describe phenomena in their whole and own principle.
  • Jun 4 2014: Agreed. I came onto this view of things via Quakers and Buddhists, mainly Alan Watts. Of all writers on mystical subjects, he is the clearest by far, especially for Westerners.
    Eastern mysticism , because of its long , pre scientfic history, has accumulated a lot of irrelevant rituals, along with the useful ones. But I see nothing there that is incompatible with modern science, which is more than you can say for the usual Judeo-Christian-Atheist-Newtonian world view which is so common.
  • Jun 3 2014: Its remarkable how the worldview of physics is basically lifeless and consciousness free. Nothing in physics predicts either of these aspects of the universe. To me this clearly means that physics has a great deal to learn from biology, not the reductionistic utopia we have now but the fact of life and what it truly is. Interestingly biology as a science never asks this question, it spends a lot of time describing the living and has some grand theories on development and evolution but life itself is not really investigated but is somehow assumed to arise out of the laws of chemistry and physics. To really get an idea of what is missing read the book by Robert Rosen: "Essays on Life Itself" as an introduction this this question.
  • Jun 3 2014: No, it's not. It's not in physics at all. Go back to high school.
  • May 31 2014: robert r.: Thanks for your suggestion. Could you elaborate on it? The unified perception might be a "phantom", but then so might each of the components , right?
  • thumb
    May 28 2014: As a thought experiment I suggest you think about stereo signals on your music centre..eg: left and right...then think about the centre image of the stereo and what that actually is. Apply this thinking to the the left and right sides of our brains and apply our conciousness as its centre image. What you end up in both cases is a phantom.
  • May 27 2014: Brian: I find it very convincing to posit that there is a global consciousness, for a number of reasons. But the logic of it would suggest that "your own c." is not separate from the globlal c., except in the sense that one part of an electric field is "separate " from the rest. It is understood in electricity that this is merely a practical fiction, but not actually true: It's a matter of concentration and power. The farthest galaxy is not actually separate from the field in your toaster, except in a locallized sort of way for use in calculations.
    About all these non-conscious atoms, they are not a basic level of reality. It is considered that atoms are actually a somewhat structured arrangement of Energy. (Field, of course) So they are not going to be the "source" of either energy or consciousness. So if it should turn out that C, is a basic field of somewhat different form of energy from electromagnetism, you could stop worrying about its source: at the most basic level, we do not have any vocabulary , or simpler "terms" to describe them or it. If you notice, with all the vast knowledge of electricity and its uses, no one has said what it "is". It is like axioms in geometry , you just take it as an undefined basic term, and use it according to the patterns you discover.
  • May 26 2014: Is consciousness an emergent property that arises from non-conscious components? We are all made of non-conscious atoms but yet we have self-awareness. Either this awareness comes from something beyond our parts or it is an emergent property such that it is true that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.

    That said i often wonder if there is a global consciousness - not metaphorically speaking but as real as my own consciousness?
  • May 24 2014: Thanks for your suggestions. I haven't read the sources you quote, but from your comments I gather that they are part of the current efforts to show that consciousness is a product of the brain. My best source for looking at it in another way is Alan Watts, an ex Anglican cleric who is very knowledgable about Asian philosophies. But I'm also a retired engineer.
    The whole point of my position is that we are not going to get anywhere trying to "explain" C. by studying the brain. It would be like trying to explain electricity by studying motors, generators, radios , etc. That;s all very fine, but at the end of it , i.e. modern Physics, , you have not "explained" it at all , you have postulated electromagnetism as one of the basic (undefined) terms in the realm of Fields of force, which hold atoms together, etc.
    That's the way science progresses, by postulating new and more basic ways of describing our Reality. We are rather removed from the Greek Atom idea, though many people still seem hypnotized by it.
  • May 18 2014: Frank: Yes, there are profound questions indeed that you raise. But I don't think you need to assume that individual molecules are" assumed out of existence"' it is just that functionally , at a basic level, they are the same kind of Illusion that the Good Old Greek Atoms were, i.e. another form of energy.
    As for C., I think the analogy with Electricity is helpful. A bunch of carefully designed wires and switches do not "create " electricity either, so why does it need to be true that a bunch of nerve cells "create" Consciousness"? But the implication of that is, the C. is indeed a field of energy, and "inhabits" suitable physical bodies, just as electricity does., and is no doubt "Conserved", just as Electricity is. You say that C. is not, and never has been a "field" in Physics. Quite right; my question is , why hasn't it been? Of course, I know the answer. Western science has been all about "Particles" for a long time, and the mindset continues. We should take note, however , that Biology is a serious Science, and some of the recent work seems to be heading in a way consistent with my suggestion . See "Superorganism". E.O Wilson's work on Ants. I know this is a hard thing for Westerners to take seriously, because of our very heavy , long term investment in the Idea of the Sovereign Individual. So what if the Hindus turn out to have made a lucky guess? When you consider the upside, we would all be better off. with that theory anyway, it is more humane and useful as well.
    • thumb
      May 24 2014: What books have you read on consciousness?
      My suggestions are that you read Antonio Damasio's "Self Comes to Mind," or his early book, "The Feeling of What Happens."

      Science only turned it's attention to consciousness some 20 years ago. Before this it had been left to philosophers to address. But in this short time neuroscience has provided a sufficient amount of information about how the brain functions.

      My personal feelings are that there needs to be a better term to replace the word "consciousness." Daniel Kahneman uses the model of "System 1 and System 2 thinking," to describe mental activity. This incorporates the role that the "unconscious" plays.

      Further, any model that attempts to explain consciousness must observe and explain how damage to various parts of the brain effect behavior.
  • May 17 2014: Consciousness is and never has been a field in physics. It is only since physicists were forced to look at the concept of "observer" that some sort of consciousness was required. This was due to special relativity and more importantly in quantum theory. But even here not much has been done. In addition, how do we answer the question of consciousness when it is assumed that individual molecules are assumed not to be. Must it be true that a bunch of nerve cells create consciousness?
  • May 16 2014: Jacob: Thanks for the update about Penrose. I don't see any contradiction between that and a mundane theory that C. is like an electric field. However, I notice that even the most learned , qualified thinkers usually throw up their hands when it is suggested that we develop some analogy which would enable ordinary people to visualize how what they are implying fits in with ordinary experience. They are the first to say, it doesn't. . Which is perfectly OK. As I said, we don't really know, in that sense,what electricity "IS", but so what?
    One large benefit of the field theory is that it resolves, either by answering, or by making irrelevant, a great many paradoxes of Religion which continue to puzzle people to this day. Just look at the questions that keep coming up on TED conversations.Afterlife, Material vs. Spiritual, Sin, Free Will, Determinism. ,.Science vs.Religion, etc.
    A collapse of Wave Function may be presumed to be compatible with Electro-Magnetic theories, if it were not, we would have heard about it by now, wouldn't we?
  • May 16 2014: One model of consciousness(as far as I know there is no consensus about the nature of consciousness) holds that the collapse of the quantum wave function inside of the microtubules in our neurons is what gives us conscious moments.

    "The theory, called "orchestrated objective reduction" ('Orch OR'), was first put forward in the mid-1990s by eminent mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose, FRS, Mathematical Institute and Wadham College, University of Oxford, and prominent anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, MD, Anesthesiology, Psychology and Center for Consciousness Studies, The University of Arizona, Tucson. A review and update of a controversial 20-year-old theory of consciousness published in Physics of Life Reviews claims that consciousness derives from deeper level, finer scale activities inside brain neurons. The recent discovery of quantum vibrations in "microtubules" inside brain neurons corroborates this theory, according to review authors Stuart Hameroff and Sir Roger Penrose."

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116085105.htm
  • May 16 2014: Your comment is perfectly understandable. But consider the history of science: Thousands of years speculating about what "lightning" is all about, but only in the last 200 years or so have we even talked about electric fields. And at the beginning, just like with germs, I'm sure lot of people would say "but electricity has no measures , nor physicality". Yes, you can't put your hands on it. But luckily that did not deter curious people.
    One of the reasons this has not happened in regard to Consciousness surely is that so many people, using the traditional Judeo-Christian-Greek-Atheist Worldview, believe we can locate C. as a Brain Product. In other words, outside of Hindus, etc. the modern world has not considered this way to looking at the universe seriously. It leads to far different implications, and of course, new dimensions of what and how we can measure things would be expected. It is no argument to say that the theory is no good because we haven't come up with much so far. remember, "Radiation "was an unknown subject when my Grandfather was around, and naturally, no one knew how to measure it, etc. So what? The real measure of a good theory is the "fruitfulness" of it..
  • May 16 2014: Vera: Since we are talking about what I think is a basic element of "reality", on a par with the force fields of Physics, llike electricity , which hold the atom together, one would expect that the usual field characteristics might apply. In electric fields, for example, none are really isolated, or cut off from each other. Whether you are talking about your house wiring, or distant galaxies, it is the same field. Not in practice, of course, in the sense that local concentrations, such as your local Utility, can be considered as if they were separate, for calculation purposes.
    As to how the Brain creates images, that would seem to be merely "experience" . Babies seem to learn it as they go, via Evolutionary mechanisms. As to how images are shared, it would seem only reasonable that they could be shared automatically, like radio broadcasts are shared. You don't need anything beyond a radio set, which our brains may be. Which would be why there are imperfect, but widespread feelings that it is possible to share images, traumatic incidents, etc. wordwide , in ways that Materialist science would doubt.
  • thumb
    May 16 2014: Hi Shawn.

    Do you believe that we "see" objective reality in consciousness?

    If consciousness is the brain-producing "field" of thoughts, images and ideas, can anyone explain how in the world any idea or at least some images, including images-of-brains themselves, get into one's consciousness?

    What these images are made of?

    We already have a few classical thoughts on consciousness and its, undoubtly, ephemeral nature.

    Before starting this discussion some basic knowledge needs to be brought up .


    "The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence seems to him."
    Arthur Schopenhauer


    “I will never know how you see red and you will never know how I see it. But this separation of consciousness is recognized only after a failure of communication, and our first movement is to believe in an undivided being between us.”
    ― Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception


    I'd like to add my very simple comment - lets be aware, no one is able to fly out of his mind to observe anything as it is.

    In your case - we can say, that no one can fly out of his brain to see the world as it is (or brains and bodies as the are) Cheers!
    • May 26 2014: Vera: Following out the electric field theory of C., it would not be likely that the field would "contain" any images at all in the absence of a body or structure of some sort to "process" the energy. It is known from physiology that our "senses" may take different forms due to individual body characteristics. I.e. blind people sometimes can hear better, etc. So it is not at all improbable that images produced by different brains might be similar but varied to some extent. People who listen to radio broadcasts report that reception varies a lot depending on your equipment,etc., but the general messages are much the same. Why should shared social images be different from that kind of pattern, and shared in much the same way?
      And folk wisdom has plenty of cases where people have always thought ipossible to "fly out of your brain". If C. is a field, that should be possible, if not frequent.
      To answer your first question, if C. really is a basic field, then , sure, it is as close to "objective reality" as it would be possible to get. Think of it as "being God", but only being aware of a tiny part of it.
  • thumb

    R H 30+

    • 0
    May 16 2014: So your idea is that consciousness be an undefined term? But unlike electro-magnetism - which is measurable and has physical characteristics -- consciousness has no such measure nor physicality. Therefore it doesn't belong in 'Physics' at all . It would be under a separate discipline. Nor do I hold it as an axiom. I don't see it as a single 'thing', or a consistent dynamic. I would think consciousness would be inconsistent and infinitely variable, again thereby finding its independence from physical science. Thank you though for the though-provoking topic.
  • May 14 2014: I"m not sure what you meant about the Ether. Did you mean that it was a term used as a placeholder for something we didn't understand? But the whole point of it was that people could not accept the idea of a wave without a "Carrier". It was not just semantics.
  • May 14 2014: Science is full of examples of replacement of Theories, themselves inexplicable , but which dispose of , if not solve various problems. Such as Copernicus about the solar system. Or "Electricity" to explain lightning.
    About a Consciousness Field, it would dispose of questions about the "Afterlife" for instance. It would also make attempts to explain how the Brain creates Consciousness merely irrelevant. (In the same way that generators are not required to explain "creating" electricity. Speaking practically, they do. But we know , don't we , that they actually don't, as Physics.)