This note is about PC — phenomenal consciousness — and three camps who talk about it:
(PC-)Anti-Materialists, Anti-PC-Materialists, PC-Materialists
- PC-Anti-Materialists, or just Anti-Materialists, or Dualists: PC requires immateriality. (I suppose there could be Anti-PC-Anti-Materialists. Who are they?)
- Anti-PC-Materialists: PC doesn’t exist. (Some philosophers and neurobiologists say this.)
- PC-Materialists: PC exists and “Real” Materialism incorporates PC.
Basic argument: There is no reason to reject materialism: Everything that is real is material. We accept that phenomenal consciousness is real. Real materialism thus includes phenomenal consciousness.
But at what level (and to what degree) does PC (or proto-PC) appear?
· molecular ?
The molecular (chemical) level is perhaps the most promising fundamental level for protophenomenal matter. The References at the end of this Note provide some options.
Almost certainly wrong (or insufficient) approaches to PC — those that do not involve chemistry — are information-theoretic (integrated information theory) and network-dynamic (dynamical patterns of “neural network” activity).
Materialism — and the definition of matter — has changed over the centuries. Quantum mechanics provided perhaps the most recent revolutionary change. (Time will tell if change in its defintion could occur in incorporating dark matter and dark energy.) Why can’t incorporating PC also lead to a change in the definition of matter? Just as QM was a “special sauce” that updated Materialism, PC could as well. Matter is not a fixed-Platonic form — its definition is updated as more is learned about it — as any good scientific process would do.
But there is a mathematical language — several dialects (e.g. Hilbert Space, Matrix Mechanics, Path Integral) of mathematical language, in fact — to express QM.
A language for PC could be a synthetic bio-cellular-phenomenal language (BCPL)* that requires a synthetic compiler (as in biocompiler/bioprinter) to produce a living, material output.
Here is the difference:
One can translate a mathematical dialect of QM into a library of code written in some (conventional) programming language, and a program Q built from that library could be run as as a simulation on a (conventional) computer.
Suppose there is a library of code written in BCPL, and P is a program built from that library. That program could only be “run” as the output of a synthetic compiler, not as a simulation on a (conventional) computer** — because (conventional) computers cannot (fully) experience anything! The synthetic output of P, however, would be phenomenally conscious (at whatever level).
(Suppose we had a physics “TOE” – a complete theory of physics – one that unified all the usual forces – etc. It still could be that there are laws governing chemistry that are in addition to the TOE of physics. A bigger TOE would be needed to include these additional laws. [Wikipedia: Philosophy_of_chemistry – Can chemistry, in fact, be reduced to physics as has been assumed by many, or are there inexplicable gaps? Some authors, for example, Roald Hoffmann, have recently suggested that a number of difficulties exist in the reductionist program with concepts like aromaticity, pH, reactivity, nucleophilicity, for example. The noted philosopher of science, Karl Popper, among others, predicted as much.] [SEP: chemistry – Given that quantum mechanics cannot tell us why a given collection of atoms will adopt one molecular structure (and set of chemical properties) or the other, Hendry argues that chemical properties cannot be recovered from quantum mechanical properties.] Proposal: Try to write a compiler C2Q that [realistically] compiles a program c in computational chemistry into a program q in purely quantum language, and a decompiler Q2C that reverse compiles q into a program c’, c’ ~ c. Cf. arxiv.org:1301.0002.)
In the chain QM → Chemistry → Biology → PC, the chain from QM to PC is problematic (raising the prospect of quantum consciousness). The possibility that there are new principles (strong upward emergence | downward causation) of nature at the chemical level in addition to those at the quantum level would provide a path forward.
* Not to be confused with the historical BCPL [Wikipedia
** One can write Sim(P) for the simulation of P on a (conventional) computer, Syn(P) for the synthetic compiler output. Syn(P) has true experientiality; Sim(P) doesn’t. Thus there is the dichotomy of a program Q for which Sim(Q) is “sufficient” (does not “require” a synthetic or matter compiler) and a program P for which Sim(P) is not “sufficient”; only Syn(P) is.
Understanding the biology behind consciousness (or self-awareness) is considered by some to be the final frontier of science.
– Why we need to figure out a theory of consciousness
(This Note appeared in The Pandeist Daily, Saturday, Jun. 16, 2018.)