## Wednesday, March 11, 2015

### Consciousness: is there a mystery to be solved?

The Preposterous Universe has promoted an old interview with Ed Witten about consciousness. I think that I agree with Witten's points but I also tend to agree with Edward Measure's feeling that much of the mystery is overhyped and filled with anthropocentric nonsense.

OK, so what is consciousness and should we explain it?

Don't get me wrong, the very existence of consciousness is fascinating and I have spent lots of hours or days by thinking – and perhaps meditating – about this issue (mostly when I was 10 or so). The world could work just like the world around us but if there were no consciousness, like mine, the world would behave exactly as if it didn't exist at all. No one would know about the complicated dynamics or really "feel" how amazing it is. So there seems to be something "extra" added on top of the physical laws, I used to emphasize.

These days, I would emphasize that one must carefully avoid some obvious traps when we want to discuss consciousness in an intelligent way. First, we should separate the "technical knowledge" about the working of the brain etc. from the spiritual dimension.

I have effectively said that we must separate the "brain" from the "soul" and you could interpret it by suggesting that souls are flying away from our bodies and they live their independent lives. Well, I don't really want to claim those things. Souls and consciousness depend on something we call a material carrier, something that can be accessed by natural science. But we still feel that there's something else on top of it that science hasn't explained.

What are these layers?

Well, we believe that most of our consciousness – and thinking – takes place in the brain which is a piece of meat inside our heads.

(If you're not a regular TRF reader, I must also tell you that the head is the ball sitting on your neck. A ball is anything resembling the object that the girlfriend killer Oscar Pistorius and the famous Czech entrepreneur, gangster, and fugitive Radovan Krejčíř use to play soccer in their South African VIP prison. Radovan has clearly won the match.)

The brain contains neurons that communicate by some electric impulses and at some vague level, it operates as a computer. There are lots of important differences between the human brain and the silicon-based, von-Neumann-architecture-designed computer. Neuroscience studies lots of these things and is improving our collective knowledge and understanding of these mechanisms. We also understand something – and hopefully a growing something – about the way how the brains evolved during evolution, and so on.

For our brain to be as impressive as it is, it has to contain some memory, CPU units able to calculate and evaluate the information, and it has to be connected to some senses that collect the information in the real world as well as things like muscles that allow the brain to influence the environment. Those features make it analogous to an electronic device. Unlike a typical computer program, our brain doesn't seem to be fully deterministic. The very fact that we don't know in advance "what the brain can do and how" is naturally linked to the human brain's creativity.

But the neural networks may be emulated and experts are increasingly understanding this "special kind of a device" just like others are understanding the inner workings of devices we have constructed.

In principle, all this wisdom may be reduced to the fundamental laws of physics. The laws of quantum mechanics – and QED, the Standard Model, or string theory – apply not only to one elementary particle or one atom or one molecule. They apply to any bound state. We may calculate the probability that a particular object prepared in some initial state will do something or something else in the final state, and so on.

In principle, we may use quantum mechanics to calculate that someone will say something, e.g. "wow, I am conscious". We may use it to calculate his level of hormones and because we know how hormones influence our feelings, we may extrapolate this relationship and guess what the other people are probably feeling right now.

But there still seems to be a mysterious, probably permanently inaccessible layer of mystery.

We're not really sure whether they feel the same thing as we do. We're not sure whether they're feeling anything at all. We're not sure who or what has any consciousness at all. And what the boundary between the consciousness and the rest is. And we don't know why "we" – and every reader could apply "I" individualistically to herself – are aware of anything at all. Critics of science love to say – and we tend to agree – that science is too weak to answer such questions.

Well, we add that it may look like a weakness but the science's avoidance of similar hopeless questions is actually a part of its strength! Scientific research (at least that of good scientists) is focusing on questions that are sufficiently ambitious but also sufficiently down-to-Earth so that the goal to crack the mystery isn't hopeless. There is an optimal point in between and various people are erring on both sides. (I think that the previous sentences are almost exact quotes by Andy Strominger but I believe I said the same things before I heard them, too.)

OK, let's try to answer questions such as "who is conscious and who is not".

First, I know that I have consciousness even though you may think (if you're a "solipsist") that I and all other people are just dull robots without any soul. You are only sure about your own consciousness. Do I think that others have consciousness as well? Well, I would carefully say that I think that the perspective in which they do have it is perfectly sensible scientifically (but it isn't necessarily the only scientifically solid way to approach these matters). The reason is evolution – common ancestry etc. We are qualitatively the same "gadgets" so if I know that I am conscious, of course that I should admit that others are self-aware, too. The differences between me (read it as your name, if you wish) and others are not so dramatic.

Many questions about the soul and consciousness may be murky but there's a lot of science that is not murky and biology and evolution belongs to this solid science. If you believe the idea that you are qualitatively different than everyone else – so that one has to assume that no one else may have consciousness, no one else may describe Nature from the same subjective viewpoint as you do – then you contradict some of the basic pillars of this hard science.

However, I am not saying that you may "directly verify" that others have consciousness. You are only verifying the things that even deterministic robots are able to do. This doesn't really prove that other people "feel" something in the same way as you do. At the same moment, I must emphasize that quantum mechanics is really supposed to be used in the subjective way – the observer (the user of quantum mechanics) views himself as the only conscious entity and everything else is the "external world" that evolves according to the basic equations of quantum mechanics and that may be measured. The probabilities of different outcomes may be predicted. However, this subjective character of the physical description of Nature effectively disappears when we get at a certain macroscopic level.

Fine, do the other people have exactly the same feelings when they're exposed to the same stimuli and the same idea?

The answer is almost certainly that the feelings can't be the same. Take the eyes. You look at the blue-violet shirt on the photograph and you have certain feelings. You were trained to say that the two colors are "blue" and "violet". Other people who were also trained say the same two words, if they're serious, or the analogous words in other languages.

But can't other people see the left photograph exactly in the way in which you see the right one, and vice versa (I originally wanted the cyclic permutation of the red-green-blue channels but the negation is good enough)? A different person may actually see "brown and green" instead of "blue and violet". But he has learned to use the word "blue and violet" for these "brown and green" feelings, so he ends up saying things that suggest that the two of you are feeling the same thing when they look at the photograph. But maybe you are seeing something completely different.

By design, I have talked about the "truly spiritual" layer of the perceptions that will always be inaccessible to experimental tests. If I conjecture that someone has totally different feelings than you do but all the feelings are permuted and reparameterized when you want to listen to the person or observe him in any other way, well, then the conjecture can't really be falsified.

Maybe it's unnatural to say that other people see "light as dark" and "dark as light" and in many similar situations, one may cut this "people perceive things differently" idea by Occam's razor. But I am pretty sure that this idea that can't really be falsified – that different brains are feeling and doing completely different things when they are exposed to the same stimuli or before they end up with the same result of a calculation – is actually true for a majority of the stimuli and thinking. Different people are almost certainly organizing the visual and other perceptions and ideas in different ways. Sometimes the differences are modest, sometimes they are huge, but they are never zero. As Feynman has said, people are also doing very different things in their brain when they calculate something or answer a question and a special big layer of our brains translates the idiosyncratic methods to whatever may be communicated to others.

I began to converge to the questions "what it looks like" and "what the people will tell you" which are a part of science or physics, as I have said. My main point is still the same: If you dismiss these questions as technicalities that are not too spiritual, well, then you have drawn a clear boundary and the "important, spiritual aspects of consciousness" are exactly those that science simply cannot access, by definition!

Fine. Let's admit that just like you have consciousness, you should admit that other men and perhaps women, chimps, and other mammals are conscious as well (feminists will surely forgive my ordering of the agents which wasn't supposed to convey an idea). To claim otherwise really means to deny evolution. Squirrels may have poorer memory and abstract skills, ability to compute and generalize ideas etc., but this inferiority may be classified as "just another technicality".

When it comes to the truly metaphysical, qualitative aspects of consciousness, squirrels simply have to be analogous to humans because all of us have common ancestors, too (and we're composed of similar and similarly interconnected cells). To claim that squirrels aren't conscious means to deny evolution and most of biology, too. There just can't be a truly metaphysical difference between squirrels and humans.

We shouldn't stop with squirrels. Biology teaches us that there's nothing metaphysically different about mammals and there is nothing God-like about our common ancestors (including Jesus Christ if he or He existed, sorry), either. Birds or dinosaurs have to be self-aware, too. They don't know how to manipulate with the information they are aware of too well but in principle, they must enjoy the analogous spiritual dimensions of consciousness as we do. They really feel well during a nice sunny day, too.

Needless to say, it doesn't end up with animals. Bacteria, plants, or fungi can't be too different. And the same comment must apply to "not living" objects because they don't differ "metaphysically" from the organisms, either. So they must have the same potential to be aware of any information that is available to them.

Two months ago, after an interactive black hole talk in Prague, I made similar points and discussed the extreme case of the conscious hydrogen atom. She is peacefully sitting in space with the electron in a state of motion. She must be aware of the good feeling of sitting in the $$1s$$ ground state, right? When a photon hits her electron, the electron may get excited and she feels some pain or arousal – unfortunately, there is no fully accurate noun in English to describe the feelings of a hydrogen atom (because not too many atoms speak English as their mother tongue) – associated with the $$2s$$ or $$2p$$ state.

Well, one must be careful here (and almost everywhere). The hydrogen atom is tiny and quantum mechanical effects are maximally strong here. You can't assume that the hydrogen atom has sharp feelings about its state – because it can't really measure itself all the time. To measure an object or an observable and to convert the measurement to classical information, you need a macroscopic number of degrees of freedom that allow the nearly classical copying of the information and decoherence.

I still think that it's fair to say that even the hydrogen atom has consciousness. The inability to quickly decohere and convert the quantum bits to classical bits may be interpreted as the hydrogen atom's being drunk. The information that she is aware of may be inaccurate, resembling the hallucinations that people may have when they are drunk or high. When the hydrogen atom re-interferes and requires us to retroactively state that some "weak" measurement of the intermediate state couldn't have been right, it's just a proof for the hydrogen atom that she suffered from a hallucination. The more macroscopic and solid an observer is, the more capable of avoiding such hallucinations he becomes.

To combine this discussion about consciousness with the foundations of quantum mechanics is a lot of fun. Also, I need to point out that it's ironic that so many people have a problem with the insight that quantum mechanics calculates its predictions that are meant to be evaluated by conscious observers; and so many people – sometimes the same people – also feel anxious about the fact that science can't address consciousness. As far as I can say, these two problems don't quite cancel but within quantum mechanics, they reduce just to one assumption. Quantum mechanics surely needs observers who subjectively divide everything into their perceptions and the external world. Everyone who agrees that consciousness exists (because he has it) should also agree that its existence is an uncontroversial assumption. It is not absurd for quantum mechanics to use conscious observers as the final arbiters of measurements – after all, many of us do know that the consciousness does exist so the assumption that it does shouldn't be assaulted or humiliated. Measurements that are subjectively perceived at the end weren't needed to formulate the classical laws but these perceptions do exist and newer, quantum laws simply do require these perceptions for the laws to be properly formulated. These sentences always tend to sound more spiritual or religious than they should be but it's true that while classical physics described how "things objectively are at every moment of time", quantum mechanics probabilistically predicts "what an observer who uses the theory will perceive only when he actually does", while this new framework of physics is claiming that the "objective information" before the subjective measurement (or perception) is non-existent or ill-defined or scientifically meaningless.

But even if we forget about the consciousness of microscopic objects, we face the question whether computers or cars are self-aware. Well, my answer is that they must also be considered self-aware. They're just unable to feel and manipulate with lots of information, or at least they don't know how to do so "freely" in a way that makes the final decisions rather uncertain at the beginning. And that is why their consciousness feels much less "rich" than ours. But in principle, it's there as well. A microprocessor is aware of the numbers stored in its registers and other things. There is no metaphysical, truly qualitative gap between living organisms and inanimate objects.

I've said that most of the time, we define the "truly deep and spiritual aspects of consciousness" as those that can be seen to be inaccessible to science, pretty much by definition. Some people may view it as a limitation of science; others may view it as a strength of science – the ability to focus on meaningful questions. Some of the oldest questions about consciousness will be inaccessible to science forever – and it's no reason for science or scientists to be ashamed.

But there's a complementary way to argue that the claims that "science is limited because it can't address consciousness" are irrational. When one tries to discuss these matters and e.g. analyze the evidence for or against the question whether the hydrogen atom is conscious, the people who love to talk about consciousness start to behave as if you have said a heresy. The hydrogen atom isn't even alive, so it can't be conscious, you often hear, not to mention lots of similar claims.

But what's the evidence that an object that is not alive in the usual sense can't be conscious? If one wants to discuss questions rationally, one must avoid these old religious dogmas, stereotypes, and superstitions – e.g. that the soul is particularly connected with something that resembles a human. In science, one can only believe some claim if there is some actual evidence and the habit of people to link consciousness with humans contains zero evidence. If you want to address a question really rationally and scientifically, you must be ready that some of your unproven assumptions will be shown to be false (sharply or at least by a body of inconclusive evidence).

Even though I have said that I agree that there's some level of consciousness that lies beneath all the structure that may be analyzed scientifically, I would probably never try to enter "research" into these matters (beyond the comments in this blog post) because 1) I don't think that the people who are obsessed with the concept of consciousness are acting or thinking rationally or honestly, in the scientific sense, and they would appreciate some important realizations even if one managed to find them, and 2) I really feel that the "bare spiritual consciousness" has no structure or patterns and it is only the structure or patterns that deserve our (or my) scientific brains' CPU time.

Consciousness in the deepest spiritual sense "exists" but that's everything one can say and one should say about it! The fascinating spiritual dimension of consciousness should be lived rather than studied.

And that's the memo.

1. I don't quite understand why you're so sure you're conscious. After all, you could very well be a delusional zombie. I mean, I'm not even sure if I'm conscious.

Panpsychism is hardly the only reasonable alternative. An alternative competing hypothesis might be only information which survives until the end of time can be conscious. Then, it's possible for Alice to be conscious if her memories are preserved till the end of time, but for Bob to lack consciousness if his memories aren't saved permanently. That's the case even if both of them are made up of the same kind of biological matter. Ditto for squirrels and hydrogen atoms.

And how can a hydrogen atom conclude "she" was hallucinating if she can't even remember her hallucinations?

And as for inverted qualia, it probably only makes sense if we can compare the qualia of two different people operationally. This might require both of them to merge their consciousness in their future. Then, whether their qualia are the same or inverted might depend upon the choice of encoding in the future during the time of merging.

2. kashyap vasavadaMar 11, 2015, 5:07:00 PM

Very interesting blog Lubos! The statement "QM needs conscious observers" had a problem that quantum mechanical processes went on for millions and perhaps billions of years before conscious observers like humans came along. But if every atom (may be every particle) is conscious in some sense, this difficulty is removed. I am happy to note that according to Hindu philosophy, every particle is conscious!!

3. Thanks, Kashyap, but no. The individual particle really doesn't measure the observables, as I pointed out.

The measurement only takes place when an actual observer perceives it. The 14 billion years of evolution before I (or another observer using QM) observe the state of the Universe must be described as the standard evolution to the generic quantum superpositions of (generally) macroscopically different states, like Schrödinger's cat, like always in quantum mechanics if we want to be completely exact about all conceivable interference-like observations.

You clearly can't live with the fact that despite its longevity, the Universe can't be exactly described classically but you are completely wrong.

4. I am conscious because I feel that I am. While I fully realize that I can't prove this fact to anyone else, it doesn't change anything about my subjective certainty. Your doubts about your own consciousness sound bizarre to me.

5. QM says there is no singular existence absent observation. That a singular universe existed without observation is addressed by Sales & Marketing (and employee expense chits, themselves indeterminate).

6. You can say that nonliving things are the same as living ones metaphysically--if you ignore all previous meanings of the words life, death, metaphysics, etc. and indeed the very purpose for having such words. You usually seem to take the position that physicists should eschew philosophy, which is probably a good idea.

7. the brain-sensory system is a pattern recognizer - and not a computer in any useful sense, and Hydrogen atoms are not pattern recognizers, and there is a lot more going on than electrical signals, and most cells have nothing to do with this kind of pattern recognition either. It is interesting that we visually organize the world in a 3d algebraically sensible way, rather than transforming it into some weird abstract 'space', tho color is pretty abstract map from energy of photons, and not like a fourier transform - but with 3 rhodopsin molecules in retinal cells. Amazing how all this stuff works together.

8. Hi Quantum. Consciousness is not an easy concept to describe as it's inherently subjective, but it's more or less the quality of "perception", "experience", or having "awareness" of your current mental state, (the "contents of consciousness" etc).

I'm sorry to inform you that if you're not sure that you are conscious, then you most probably aren't.

It's something where simply you either have it or you don't. If you have it it's the most obvious fact accessible to you and you can't really sensibly question it. In your case you are, it appears, what is known as a "Philosophical Zombie".

As automaton with no interiority, I know you can't actually feel bad about this, but for the sake of the well-being of the conscious peers with whom you interact, I will offer some words of encouragement!

Don't appear to feel bad about your condition! Many persons diagnosed as philosophical zombies go on to lead perfectly apparently-happy productive non-lives, and you are in good company. Neuroscientist Daniel Dennet and fellow not-sufferer has written a great book "Consciousness Explained" to help you come to terms with your condition.

Perhaps you can find a support group in your area.

Good Luck, Liam

9. "and any information about the universe only becomes well defined after it is measured" (with respect to you, and if decoherence is strong it may keep its "identity" into the future)

"and the billions of years of observables before observers were watching were in principle ill-defined, indeed"
However:
"There can't be any sharp boundary between observers and non-observers" quote from "Quantum physics doesn't depend on definitions of observers"

Things are still ill-defined and probabilistic today and "before" some observer interacts with something this something does not have properties with respect to him/her/it, because no correlations have yet been created between this "new observer" and the "something"

As you emphasize even our perceptions haven't totally decohered so are not infinitely precisely classical facts, but we still have our perceptions, we still experience stuff.

Its interesting how you discuss the hydrogen atom and a car as having consciousness. I don't object to this, but the thing is - of course - a hydrogen is something we see as an (quantum) object and a car also. But the car is not really a separate thing from the ground it sits on, there is no reason to give it an "identity". I might as well choose the car plus some of the garden and the house., I might as well choose a molecule as an atom, the entire earth, the solar system, the galaxy, or the entire universe. We have integrated within our "human" consciousness multiple experiences originating from different parts of our brain, but we are clearly distinct from other humans consciousness; they don't "live in us". Well our brain is interconnected and "communicates and interacts" with itself, and the memory is important for the integrated experience. Well yes, but we interact with other people too, become correlated with them and our surroundings, but they are clearly also distinct from our consciousness. On the level of humans we can count and get a number for conscious human beings. Fundamentally, there seems to be no way to "count" conscious "identities", just like "there can't be a sharp line between observers and non-observers". The power of an observer seemingly lies in its ability to grab itself and distinguish itself from the rest, other subjects aren't part of it. It has an identity, its own life. This ability of the consciousness to be integrated, extensive and diffuse but distinct and independent is interesting and a little puzzling.

10. It is possible to lose the feeling of identity, I have tried it personally. It was as if the consciousness "flowed" into a vast "space", and it became much bigger. Suddenly there is just an experience of much more and stronger consciousness, even though the thinking sort of vanishes (at least the normal thinking) Here is a lecture from a woman having had a stroke who describe her experience of a vastly different mental state, indeed a hyper-conscious state where it feels like it flows into the surroundings. Because of these experiences I tend to think a part of the brain spends quite some effort trying to limit consciousness, thereby making focus possible or at least more likely.

http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight?language=en

11. Dear Michael, a hydrogen atom and a car are objects, but from the scientific viewpoint, so is a cell or a human being. There is obviously no scientifically justifiable difference between living-like or human-like objects and other objects. The difference between them is just in the functionality and complexity of the design.

One may also attribute collective consciousness to a nation, society, mankind, or the Earth - Gaia. All these concepts have some problems and the "shared consciousness" becomes a sleigh-of-hand if the information etc. can't be effectively shared within the "composite object".

But of course that at a fundamental level, one must allow such "collective consciousness". After all, a human being is a society of many cells that cooperate. Each cell is a small version of an animal - after all, there are many unicellular organisms - but nevertheless, they are able to team up and create a multi-cellular body that has a higher level of consciousness which is shared.

The idea that one may "count souls" - in the sense that one human is one soul - is purely anthropocentric and depends on very special properties of humans (or other, similar multicellular organisms) which don't exist in general.

After all, there are lots of marginal cases when things become hard. Does a pregnant woman with the embryo has one consciousness or two, what about various kinds of Siamese twins, and various multicellular organisms where the cells only cooperate loosely, like a Candida biofilm? ;-)

Every situation like that demands a completely new discussion from scratch. It's silly to imagine that the laws of Nature are compatible with some childish counting of souls in the most general state of the Hilbert space of the Standard Model or string theory using integers.

People and their souls may only be counted in integers if things are very simple, normalized, and the people are effectively approximate copies of the same thing fitting certain highly constraining limits what is allowed and what is not. But for any sufficiently more general setup, the counting of souls is bound to break down.

12. Seems that You are more or less sympathetic to panpsychism. Are You familiar with the Integrated Information theory of consciousness of Giulio Tononi and opinion about it?

13. Right, these are fun feelings and each of us may feel such things.

And the words aren't quite enough to describe what we feel.

However, what *is* possible is to approximate these feelings - like your soul's being diluted in the Milky Way - by some healthy feelings that actually occur in more meaningful situations.

The aspects of the spiritual perception exist regardless of the ideas about a "soul flowing in the Universe" and they may perhaps be parameterized in a more sensible way.

Of course that once the feelings are described in a sufficiently well-defined if not quantitative way, the mystery largely evaporates.

For example, there are the fun reports what people whose brains are penetrated by high-energy particle beams feel. Some amazing flash that may also be compared to some of the spiritual or religious experiences.

Of course that if one describes the feeling in terms of legends about tunnels with a Jesus Christ at the end and things like that, it sounds more touching, poetic, and mysterious. But it may be the very same feeling as a 50 GeV proton penetrating through (and ionizing) the middle of your brain, or some part of it.

The latter sounds less poetic but the feeling associated with it is real - perhaps more real than the religious experiences - and some of these experiences should be identified with those that were linked to spiritual or religious events because the brain physically underwent the same or equivalent stimulation.

I want to emphasize that much of the mystery and poetry about these words exists because people hype it and deliberately use loaded language to create these feelings - they are so cool. But in principle, one might parameterize various feelings by things like the energy of the equivalent protons that shoot through the brain, plus the location, among other things. ;-)

There are lots of other examples. Love is a cool thing one must live through and feel. I can't understate how powerful feeling it is.

Alternatively, I may also point out that love is the compound with the chemical formula

C8H11NO2+C10H12N2O+C43H66N12O12S2

dopamine, seratonin, oxytocin.

Some people dislike this description because it makes it less love-ful. But it is actually a much more accurate description of love than anything they have ever offered! ;-) And it may be measured and verified etc.

14. The fact that "conscious observers" can't be counted in general was my point!

15. I've forgotten when and whether I have ever heard of panpsychism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panpsychism

but the page above says that it goes back to Thales, Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz and became mainstream in the 1970s, and the description seems OK. I have no problem with these general theses although there are usually devils in the detail and overgeneralization of similar philosophies.

16. Excellent, sorry that I have the feeling that your point was the opposite one.

17. Thanks for your interesting comment! Yes, the very fact that the rate of consciousness seems to slow down to near zero when we're really sleeping - the brain is in a power-saving mode - is a top reason why one should take seriously Tononi's meme (in a comment above) that the amount of consciousness is effectively linked to the amount of information in bits that is evaluated in a certain way.

No mental activity per second means no consciousness.

Your descriptions of the feelings after the injury etc. are cute. Would you agree that you added some poetic license? But more generally, I do agree that the feelings could literally be compared to feelings in other circumstances, like in the Mississippi river you mentioned. From a purely scientific viewpoint, it should be possible to see that the conditions affecting the nerves and the brain are very similar in the two situations, so whatever one feels should be similar, too.

18. It's deep and cool. Pattern recognition is a part of our mental processes - but it's the "computerized" part. Do computers or computers programs that are great in pattern recognition enjoy more "consciousness" than others? Are the pattern-recognizing programs competing at Kaggle.com more similar to the human soul than other programs?

19. For me, consciousness is related to evolution, a level. The degree of perception, reaction, ability to change environment, communicate and socialize have all evolved over time.

In the beginning Inanimate objects could react but not consciously. That is until THE ONE did evolve (poof) in to a simple soup/cell. At that moment consciousness was born and here we are today. Enlightened, superior, resonate.....waiting

20. As a regular TRF reader, it is my duty to inform you a that a nobel prize winner mentioned your name in an answer in Physics SE twice :) .

http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/18586/deterministic-quantum-mechanics/

The question is 3 years old but the answer is new.

21. Well I have this rough and probably very incomplete definition of consciousness - it is a property of a system that can process information, build an internal model of itself and its environment (self-awareness) and its past (memory) and based on this model can make inferences about the future. Admittedly the last property isn't important because for example an artificial neural network can achieve the same. But I believe that the capacity of maintaining an internal model of ourselves is central to the concept of consciousness. And based on this there is no reason why this should lie beyond the scope of scientific analysis. It could perhaps even be modeled mathematically.

22. OT (though this could be seen as the consciousness summit). The other day I stumbled upon this flowchart of Theoretical Physics. Of course I get lost in many branches, but appears quite legitimate, and I'm sure TRF community can enjoy/criticize it better than anyone.

http://i.imgur.com/1VCq16Z.png

23. Thanks for the answer. My curiosity is real. The lecture of the woman is interesting exactly because she doesn't use a religious language, is a brain-scientist, but the experience still transformed her perspective. Before having had a "very different" experience one (I) sort of suppose that something so different can't be experienced, but it can, and it does change perspective. I think the connection to the religious stuff for some people comes *after* the foreign experiences, when their memories and the propaganda they have been submitted to as children kick in and attach a story. In my experience a "meditative" mental state is the farthest away from religion of all mental states, because it doesn't *care* about some contrived histories, it is much more of a disconnect from the normal needs for "stories".

I don't know if you want to blame me with the last part that I am not curious. I have taken a course in neurophysics, is that not curiosity? The sharing of experiences, such as the woman does, is because of the belief that the change in perspective such experiences can give can might bring something valuable. There is nothing anti-science about this sharing.

24. The resolution is not so good.

25. been at least 15 years since I looked at "massively parallel neural network" stuff - and it has been exploding since then. But i think consciousness is a lot more subtle than any of these programs - which can barely recognize handwriting. Thanks for the link to Kaggle, but I think brain pattern recognition really is a lot deeper than anything they are talking about. We can abstract some interesting and salient features of interest, but cells are amazingly subtle building blocks, so I never bought the idea that one can incrementally replace neurons with circuits, to end up with a totally artificial kind of intelligence.

26. Blue Brain Project

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Brain_Project

27. I see it perfectly, try it from my blog post that include references:

28. Dear Lubos,
nice article. I agree with most of what you write. A couple of remarks:
1. For exactly the evolutionary reasons you mention I am pretty sure that your feeling of red color is similar to mine. A green stop sign would just feel very wrong.
2. I think your willingness to assign consciousness to non-living objects such as stones or even atoms is way to generous and in a way trivializing the miracle. For the chimp I hardly have doubts, but for lower developed life forms my doubts are quickly rising. The key to consciousness should be our insanely complex brain.
3. The best chance to learn more about consciousness should be to build conscious machines. Maybe we would not even recognize it because it is too different from ours, but if we do, it will be amazing, almost like meeting aliens.

29. I'm tired of checking to see/feel colors differently (slight daltonism). There are many mixed colors that look different to me.

And in the general population, as the case that famous blue-gold/black-blue dress a few days ago in newspapers and social networks.

In sections 2 and 3 I am more in agreement.

30. There was a discussion about Tononi's theory in Scott Aaronson's blog with Scott demonstrating that, according to the theory, CD ROM is conscious.

31. Curiously in many of these states time seems to pass slowly, seems to have spent hours, when on the clock only spend minutes. (LSD, etc. www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=2c-t%202cb%20%22time%20dilation%22

32. Most of our brain is doing unconscious tasks.

Assuming everything has consciousness, that part of our brain would have consciousness of his unconsciousness:)

33. t'Hooft is really weird these days. Hawking is no better. Is it normal for aging physicists? Or is, after the decades of doing "shut up and calculate", only polite to let the old guys wildly speculate, for a change?!

34. kashyap vasavadaMar 12, 2015, 2:27:00 AM

Thanks Lubos for clarification. Sorry for the misunderstanding.Of course, I did not imply that in absence of human observers, quantum mechanics may not work! With so much evidence in favor of it, one has to be insane to say that QM is not correct. (I think, I am not insane!!). I understand that you want to distinguish between conscious human observers who act as classical systems and can make measurements and hydrogen atoms, although conscious in some sense, but which cannot make measurements. This is fine with me. A minor point may be : Suppose a physicist programs a lab computer to do QM expt. tomorrow morning and unfortunately passes away tonight due to heart attack. His consciousness will be gone when the expt starts, is finished and interpreted by his colleagues. This may be similar to Wigner's friend paradox and some resolution of it.
Another point, as to the statement
"one must avoid these old religious dogmas, stereotypes, and superstitions – e.g. that the soul
is particularly connected with something that resembles a human."

As before, I have to emphasize that this criticism applies to Abrahamic religions only and not to the non-Abrahamic eastern religions.

35. YES! Indeed very different, have you tried being in such states too? Do you also feel your consciousness expands?

36. I don't know about that atom being happy in the ground state, in any stretch of imagination or terminology.

I distinguish three levels:

1) to be
2) to be and to be alive
3) to be, to be alive and to be self-aware (at various levels of self-awareness)

If we agree that we are not conscious/aware when in deep sleep or under anesthesia, what if we 'unconsciously' scratch a wound in that deep sleep and it starts bleeding? The blood will coagulate, so some part of the body, is in a way, aware if itself and working to prevent further damage.

Some plants will react in the similar way, if you cut a piece of its stem or root.

So is any kind of reaction the sign of some kind of awareness? Like atom's excited electron spontaneously (but really consciously, at some level) goes back to the ground state? Or did excited state electron had some conversation with vacuum fluctuations which prompted it to decay?
Please, please, excited electron, you are hurting the neighborhood, excited as you are, could you please calm down?

Well then , the scattering is also some kind of sign of awareness: GFY, you are too close for comfort, intruding into my personal space!

I am surprised when I see that some people don't regard plants as living beings, I think that 'meat chauvinism' (artificial can't never be equal to what evolved naturally) is too chauvinistic, but the above strikes me as silly.

37. That is not the aspect of consciousness that is the difficult to explain part. An animal that does not have the mental capability to be aware of itself might still perceive pain, hunger, etc. It is the sensation itself, as distinct from the information that the sensation conveys, that is the core of consciousness.

38. No poetic license taken. Seriously.

As for the rest, how should I know? I'm thinking that if certain potentials exist in our brain, they might all go off when the brain disintegrates, which might feel like a comment on the way you have lived. But, then, maybe we just go out like a match.

When we need sleep people sometimes refer to it as recharging out batteries. So whatever consciousness is, it consumes energy if that analogy is right.

We also sometimes speak of the field of consciousness, which suggests that where ever or what ever it is it is not a point particle. OTH, can't a single point particle be influenced by the some total of all the forces around acting upon it?

No need to respond to these remarks. I am completely in the dark.

39. Plants are alive, but can they feel? That is the question.

40. Nice chart, Eclectikus. I'm looking for the "you are here" mark.

41. I think their psychology is that QG is hard and there seem to be no solution in sight, so they figure that maybe some foundation will help. Also, you get the impression that it is less mathematical and more brain power based. You get wisdom in old age, but it does have its nuisances.

42. It is just a wiki follow me click.

44. kashyap vasavadaMar 12, 2015, 3:54:00 AM

Yes in a way! There was a PBS Nova program which described research which pointed to the following. Plants compete with each other for sun light. They die when poisoned. Their dying emotional pain has been measured. Some of them take care of their offsprings by sacrificing their own food supply. There is some research that they like to be touched! I do not remember many details. But in spite of lack of central nervous system, plants do have feelings.

45. A paper that deserves to be read by anyone interested in better understanding how the mind couples to humans neural circuitry: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0049360

46. I'll probably be accused of anthropomorphism, but I think you dismiss too cavalierly the difference between life and non life. I obviously understand that the fundamental laws and objects are the same, yet I would argue nearly everyone has a sense that life and inanimate objects are different, and we really can't say how. With the exception of viruses and prions, nearly everyone can tell "alive" from "not alive". There is something about life that is mysterious, and maybe we'll solve it and maybe we won't.
I also have a serious scientific question. I've read this blog for years, but maybe I misunderstood something fundamental. I thought you always argued that decoherence explains macroscopic phenomena, and that a conscious observer is not technically required, which is why the mumbo-jumbo mystical interpretations of QM are wrong. Let me use an example: a prokaryotic photosynthetic bacteria is happily floating in the primitive ocean, and a photon from the sun hits it's proto-chlorophyll and a bunch of chemical reactions ensue and CO2 and H2O are turned into glucose. The entire process is, of course, quantum mechanical, but it ended up in a fixed macroscopic state without a "conscious" observer or any "observer" making a measurement. What am I missing?

Lastly, for a whole lot of fun and great, if sci-fi, answers to all of these questions, read the "Hyperion" and "Endymion" series by Dan Simmons. It's awesome.

47. Thanks, oceanographer, for referencing Tononi. Judging by his manifesto he seems to be on to something. Here is an interesting YouTube in which he is featured:

48. "The fascinating spiritual dimension of consciousness should be lived rather than studied." also sounds pretty cheesy to me.

Like a statement from some lumpenproletariat artist, drunken Greek Zorba, Hare Krishna babblemouth and Herman Hesse pearlmaster story combined.

Even worse, like those Facebook feel goody, hundreds of thousands if morons shares about goody goody things in life and we should all be oh so thankful, live life, don't over analyze, blah, blah. Btw, here's a picture of my cat.

49. Well, the lumpenproletariat artists may be wrong and cheesy most of the time but I think that if some of them would say that to spend years by analyzing the very existence of consciousness means to overstudy things - and I haven't heard any artists who would be this smart, apologies to those I know LOL - she would be right, I think. Science can only meaningfully study and meaningfully invest a long time by studying issues that have some structure, some information waiting to be organized, and this ain't the case of the basic question "why there is consciousness".

50. Yes, Andy, I accuse you of anthropomorphism.

There can't be any fundamental sharp boundary separating life and non-life. The former gradually arose from the latter and the boundaries will always remain fuzzy. Every object and everyone is alive to some extent and a non-living object to another. Viruses that you mention are just one line of attack to show that to imagine a fundamental metaphysical boundary between life and non-life is a medieval superstition analogous to phlogiston, the material carrying heat (there was actually a similar pseudoscientific theory about the compound of life but I forgot its name). One may think about the totally different "life forms" that exist elsewhere.

Biologists often teach that there are 8 or so defining processes of life - eating, metabolizing, excreting, breathing, moving, growing, reproducing, and responding to external stimuli. Except that at least some of them may clearly be replaced by something totally different without crippling the remaining amazing functions (lungs and ass may be replaced by some technology etc.). So it's like a guy in the 1950s who defines a computer by something that has electron tubes, and so on. Obviously, they were replaced by transistors and those are printed in a few nanometer circuits today.

Similarly, the biologists are just describing some features what they happen to see on Earth 13.8 billion years after the Big Bang but the idea that those things are fundamental has absolutely no justification.

I totally disagree with blanket statements such as "there is something special about life that is mysterious". There are many amazing things about life and we already understand lots of them if not almost all of them. To clump all of them into a category and moreover calling this category "mysterious" is pretty much a denial of all of life sciences.

51. You may distinguish as many levels as you want but it doesn't mean that your arbitrary, artificial, ad hoc separation to boxes plays any role in Nature. Nature obviously doesn't allow any of these boundaries between the boxes to be sharp.

52. Exactly, if I understand well. Big parts of our bodies are totally analogous to potatoes.

And yes, it's important to be more accurate with the definitions when one is serious. Obviously, if someone interprets the word "consciousness" as "consciousness" of another person combined with some particular set of mental functions, he will make different conclusions about "who has consciousness".

53. Dear Mikael,

1. I found Fer137's reply to your point 1 important. The idea that people view colors differently isn't just some far-fetched speculation. Color-blinded people clearly see colors differently, and they may still learn to distinguish some traffic lights.

You have overinterpreted my comments about evolution. I argued that evolution proves that if one animal has consciousness - the qualitative yes/no answer, something that puts one to an "elite group of souls", so do others.

But I surely didn't argue that the details about the perceptions are the same. Quite on the contrary, they differ greatly. The color-blinded people have been mentioned, but even animals that are "healthy" see different colors because they have different cells in the eye. Read something about how dogs see colors

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/200810/can-dogs-see-colors

or something like that. There are tons of such things on the Internet. So your idea that everyone has the same feelings when exposed to same stimuli - e.g. colors - is clearly wrong because even the eyes are different. But this is the trivial part of the problem. The real problem is that if the basic cells used in the eyes and the nerves and the brain are pretty much the same, whether they feel equally. This is harder to answer, and perhaps can't be answered at all because the word "equally" can't be defined operationally.

2. Your (and my) doubts about consciousness of lower forms may be rising, and correspondingly, the complexity of the mental functions connected to the consciousness is decreasing. But if we ask a yes/no question, if there's at least some consciousness, the answer must be yes because the conciousness can't suddenly and abruptly drop to zero when we discuss dogs or something like that. It's just the mental functions that are gradually getting weaker (and not always, but I don't want to insert an off-topic paragraph about chimps and other animals who are smarter than 30% of TRF readers and sometimes writers LOL).

3. I don't think that you will learn about consciousness from machines - or what they say. Consciousness, at least the mysterious part, is the part that can't be measured. A machine may say the same thing as a human but it doesn't mean that it feels the same. For example, a tape recorder probably doesn't. ;-)

54. Gerard is kind. "Einstein on one side, Motl on the other." Great to see that Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, Pauli, Jordan, Born et al. have been replaced by someone more modern. ;-)

55. Yep, I assume that the same chart made by you and by, say, Smolin, would have many relevant differences ;-)

The million dollars question is, who has the time to spend several hours, if no days, doing this thing?.

Also, a cool initiative would be redesign this graph, collaboratively, by using interactive graphics (via CSS, HTML5, etc...), could be a interesting educative tool.

56. It seems that TRF lives on the bottom right quarter ;-)

Thank you, Lukelea, is too humble to call it "Science Blog". I'll settle if it's deemed a good educational or informative blog on Science.

57. Well I have done some extensive research into this matter so I will now share my results with you! Just kidding, I was only daydreaming occasionally, like (almost) everybody else. But one thing seems beyond doubt: consciousness is the product of brain activity ("what the brain does"), as deep (dreamless) sleep shows. Brains are the products of evolution, so consciousness is most likely too! Unless it is some kind of side effect of say brain complexity, that kicks in beyond some threshold - but I doubt that. I believe that consciousness is some kind of survival and gene-propagation tool, as it is important factor in environment evaluation. It is obviously very useful, to have a central point that can distinguish ME vs. NOT-ME and "ask": what is in it for ME? Is this good for ME? Is this dangerous for ME? Does it feel good to ME? Impersonal automata are probably not as good in asking (and answering) these questions. And most likely (hypothetical) agents without emotions are not very good too. My guess: consciousness without emotions is not possible, as they may be unseparably intertwined. Now, in living nature there is rarely a discontinuity, or rather these are arbitrary: you for instance cannot say when, during the evolution of humans, the animal stopped to be the "chimp-like ancestor" and started to be "human". 2 mil years ago? 500k years ago? 100k? 50k? Makes no sense to ask, as there is no sharp boundary. In a similar fashion I believe that as you go back in time through the line of (for simplicity) human ancestors, you are at some point starting to get gradually less and less conscience and suddenly you have none. This would be around the point where evolution "invented" consciousness. Beyond (going back in time) you would be getting close to zero. At the very least, I believe, the first self-replicating molecule had zero conscience. And most likely all the brainless creatures that followed too.

58. Panpsychism is an integral part of neuroscientist Steven Lehars approach to modeling the subjective perceptuel space we all inhabit and which he argues is curved, leading him to non euclidian geometry. Instead of starting out with the research articles try the fun 5 minute toy epistemology of conscious experience for a beautiful but in some respects disturbing perspective:
http://cns-alumni.bu.edu/~slehar/epist/epist.html

59. Our CPU
brain is possibly not working on its own if we have to deal with one or more
mirror symmetric- instant entangled- anti-copy universes far away.
The key lies perhaps in a famous B.Libet experiment extension.

Benjamin Libet measured the so called electric Readiness Potential (RP) time to perform
a volitional act, in the brains of his students and the time of conscious
awareness (TCA) of that act, which appeared to come 500 m.sec behind the RP. The
“volitional act” was in principle based on the free choice to press an electric
bell button. The results of this experiment gives still an ongoing debate in
the broad layers of the scientific community, because the results are still
(also in recent experiments) in firm contrast with the expected idea of Free
Will and causality. However I would propose the absurd but constructive
possibility that we are not alone for decision making in a multiverse as an
at least one instant entangled anti-copy person living inside a Charge and
Parity symmetric copy Universe. In that case we could construct a causal
explanation for Libet’s strange results. New statistical difference research on
RPI and RPII of repeated Libet experiments described here could support these
ideas. Wikipedia says: “Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible
citizens participate equally”. Free will in a multiverse seems to be based on:
all entangled copy persons living in all CP symmetric copy universes, have the
same possibility to Veto an act and participate equally.

See: Democratic Free Will in the instant Entangled Multiverse.
http://vixra.org/pdf/1401.0071v2.pdf

60. I think consciousness as in awareness is not a big deal, as in kicking a rock, the rock will be aware and tries to escape. However, the more puzzling aspect is free will. Are we responsible for the chemical reaction which we are?

62. I don't know, I think we can approach consciousness with science... Well I'm hopeful we can anyway.

You might have a look at Guenter Albrecht-Buehler's papers on cell intelligence... Indicating a processing, sensory and organising capability/role for the cell centriole.

You might also look at simple early single and multi-cellular centriole containing organisms such as Trichoplax Adhaerens, which don't contain any neurons at all. Yet these neuron-less organisms demonstrate memory, organisation, problem solving. Indeed slime mould even shows an interesting ability to predict periodic events [1].

There are lots of studies showing interesting things going on with these tubular protein structures, like the cell centriole.

I guess I'm just trying to point out that it almost seems that organisms which navigate space-time need centrioles, where as higher plants (flowering plants etc), which don't have centrioles just sit there looking pretty.

Hugely speculative... But It does make me wonder whether the centrioles twin tubular protein structures (and other micro tubular protein structures like cilia etc) particular their architecture, might eventually have some correlation with how we experience space-time.

[1] Saigusa, Tetsu; Tero, Atsushi; Nakagaki, Toshiyuki; Kuramoto, Yoshiki (2008). "Amoebae Anticipate Periodic Events". Physical Review Letters 100 (1): 018101.

63. Is double counting permitted in your panpsychist philosophy? There are plenty of hydrogen atoms in your brain. Do they have separate consciousness, or are they part of your consciousness?

I take it you're a quantum panpsychist sympathetic to Integrated Information Theory. How do you generalize this theory from classical to quantum systems?

I hope you can clarify the following matter. It appears you believe memory is totally unnecessary for consciousness. Am I correct, judging from your comment on "drunk" hydrogen atoms?

But in that case, can quantum events unhappen when the conscious observer "forgets" about the observed event?

64. I read a stupid piece on free will yesterday that basically concluded that since we don't truly have it, nobody is responsible for their actions and so all of humanity should be subjected to control for the "good" of humanity. Since "freedom" is an illusion. People really get screwed up on this free will stuff. I don't truly believe in free will, but I would never want to live as if I didn't believe in it, so I leave it at that.

65. My theory is that the dictum "quantity is a quality of its own" is true in consciousness. The brain has a kind of vast computing power and organic operating system that can take advantage of it, probably one day computers will achieve that vast power, but the accidental "design" aspects that created consciousness may elude us for much longer. How do you recreate by study that which was discovered by nature by accident; by billions and billions of trial and error experiments which cannot now be known?

66. which don't have centrioles just sit there looking pretty

I skeptically read about "plant consciousness" and there is some interesting stuff there. Not saying plants can "think," but they do seem to respond to their environment even beyond such things as bending towards sunlight.

67. The mathematical formalism is indeed not mature, but seems that they are working o that. The general principles seems correct, the formalism may be different. The criticism of Aaronson is based on formalism rather than principles and he states that: "it unavoidably predicts vast amounts of consciousness in
physical systems that no sane person would regard as
particularly “conscious” at all"
Very strange argument- the "sane" person will usualy hold one or another nonsensus to be the truth ...

68. Actually, Dennett points out very clearly there's no evidence for qualia coming from neuroscience or "heterophenomenology". If qualia exists, it has to have some other origin.

69. To me, consciousness is not worth bothering much about - it is just a particular pattern of neural interactivity in a basically quantum-weird (and reasonably well understood to have evolved and how it functions) brainspacetime.

I think we should (instead) start bothering about (and pay much more attention to) what makes us/how we become SELECTIVELY UNCONSCIOUS and depleted and deformed in respect of the scope and form of the psychomotor output of our individual actention selection (and/or serving) systems.

70. IMHO, we
material humans live in one of an even number of CPT symmetrical copy universes
however, then we need an instant correlation medium between these universes to
synchronize all wavefunction collapses and even our conscious decisions. Thus,
we need an INSTANT timeless Broglie Bohm pilot wave. Then Schrödinger’s Cat and
correlated anti-material Copy Cats, are alive or dead in all universes at the
same time and God plays dice in an even number of correlated universes.

See:
Instant Broglie- Bohm Pilot Waves, the Origin of all Entanglement Effects in the Lab
and Wavefunction Collapses in our Universe…
http://vixra.org/pdf/1210.0177v1.pdf

71. That's a nicely said point why it doesn't make sense to overstudy the very existence of the consciousness - it's an irreducible concept of a sort that simply can't be decomposed to any simpler pieces. Only if there's some structure to decompose, types of sensations etc. etc., they may be decomposed and this decomposition may be studied. But the very proposition "consciousness exists" is an axiom and it makes no sense to look for "deeper wisdoms" underlying it.

72. Totally agreed. I made the same point without realizing that Scott falls into the same trap.

If we want to study the "distribution of consciousness" and similar things rationally or scientifically, it's because we don't really know the answers.

And indeed, we don't know them from direct observations. We don't see whether CD-ROM has consciousness. So people's prejudices about that are totally irrelevant and someone's defense of one opinion or another by saying that the holder of the opinion is "sane" is clearly not a sufficient argument in one way or another.

A sane person without evidence may be right but it's at least equally likely that he is wrong.

73. Well consciousness is one of the most interesting phenomena that was not cracked by science yet - in fact, still seems to be, if anything, far from it. Thinking about it further, and putting aside evolution etc, the following I believe to be true:
1. consciousness is a product of brain activity
2. the core and probably only relevant part of brain activity is a changing pattern of electric charges (yes there are the chemicals etc, but they seem only to be there to modify the electric pattern)
3. therefore consciousness is most likely a certain way how changes propagate in a pattern of electric charge
4. this validates to some extent the tongue in cheek Lumo's description of conscious hydrogen atom
5. on a second thought, there is probably some threshold complexity and other qualities of the pattern and the way it changes that are needed for consciousness to emerge
6. math will be needed to describe the pattern and maybe explain some of it's qualities
7. hell, math again! Can it be a coincidence? I think not!

74. Ok, that may well be, but "qualia" *do* in fact exist, there's no "if" about it. I experience them directly, (it's the only un-mediated and completely certain empirical knowledge I have), and I don't need to argue about it - there simply isn't a case to answer.

Where I take issue with Dennet is that he can't account for what's referred to as the "hard problem of consciousness", so in the tradition of a good post-modern analytic philosopher he waves his hands and declares the concept to be intrinsically "incoherent" and the question "dissolved" and ends with the claim that consciousness is "explained" because he has shown that no such thing in fact "exists".

It's basically pure sophistry - a dirty rhetorical trick that can be applied to any concept the philosopher wants to eradicate from his ontology.

Nice, but consciousness does in fact exist. To call consciousness an "illusion" is in fact absurdly circular, as the very concept of illusion presupposes the existence of a consciousness to perceive that said "illusion" in the first place.

It's not that he has explained consciousness by demonstrating it's non-existence, it's merely that he can't as he claims explain it, which should be nothing to be ashamed of.

You'll find me firmly in the David Chalmers camp along with the others who take a broadly speaking pan-psychist perspective such as Luboš above.

At least we don't deny the difficulty of the problem, and attempt to give an extremely tentative/speculative account that doesn't rely on some kind of vitalism or substance dualism or anything outside the framework of modern physics. (Leibniz's "Monads" are my favourite and most fun historical attempt to address these questions :) )

It only strengthens the case for some kind of pan-psychist position that quantum mechanics does away with pure object-first classical realism, (though I tend to shy away from ill-defined hype about Quantum Consciousness etc.)

75. I have hard time believing in it also. Take this example, suppose I was born with Lubos genes, had the same doctor taking me out i.e. the same environment. A laser copy of Lubos, I will be screaming at Smolin right now, not that I personally like Smolin's "time in a bottle" fantasy. That means genes plus environment produces the same end product. Of course, proving that is hard.

76. You know, I just read a book on a flight called "Ideas that must die" or something like that. It was a collection of essays by noted intellectuals and some others. What amazed me was how often scientists seemed to be motivated by the idea of destruction of religion. As if that is a scientific goal. Why would a scientist care what somebody who believes in Beard Sky God thinks enough to have it affect his work?

Like people who think we need to look on the other side of the Big Bang, partially motivated by the desire to stamp out an foundation for the idea of God.

I am an atheist myself, but isn't speculating about what came before the Big Bang just another kind of fairy tale religion?

77. Squirrels despite having a common ancestor are very different in many way (brain size, tails, standing on two feet etc.) so to conclude that they have consciousness is an assumption not based on actual science and won't be till we know where consciousness actually comes from.
Squirrels have front paws but don't have writing so your comparison falls flat in many areas.
Also, your entire argument about two people agreeing that light is dark even if one sees dark is false and lack foundation. Measure distance or weight. Are you saying that every physicist might see a different atomic weight for a hydrogen atom but somehow agree that it's one? Please apply Occam Razor here. They see one or dark or blue because that's what they actually see or calculated.

78. That applies only to one part of what consciousness is. Just like the electron we can investigate what other atoms might have it, how it is attached or detached to an atom and also how it behaves and what properties it has.
So you may not be able to say exactly what it's made of but you can still research where it is and isn't. And to do that you first need to identify how and when it appears.

79. If there is no free will then every possible action already exists and every future already exists. That in itself is a very strong argument that free will does in fact exist.

80. It will become real when we start doing more brain augmentation using electronics or bio-engineering. Is conscious experience being lost when that happens or does consciousness expand with it?

81. I agree with what you say, jon. Pain strikes me as the most primitive form of consciousness. I can still remember stepping on a blue man-of-war jellyfish when I was two years old walking on the beach, and boy did it sting! And I think it would have stung as much if it were pitch dark and I had no idea where I was or what happened. Maybe we should talk about the "problem of pain" instead of the "problem of consciousness" to avoid unnecessary complications.

82. A quibble, Kashyap, but there is nothing about human souls in the Patriarchal narratives, which is where the Hebraic idea of God is presented. Instead it is all about flourishing (or perishing) in this world depending on how you and your descendants behave. I think the idea of immortal souls and the importance of life after death came in with Christianity, by which time it was pretty clear that there was no justice in this world no matter how you behaved. See here for some historical details: https://sites.google.com/site/thetorahandthewestbank/

83. I once forgot who I was for a few moments. It was a beautiful experience. Or maybe it was the remembering.

84. Here is an interesting drug experiment carried out at Stanford, I think, by the U.S. government. Anyway from housewife to flower child in a single afternoon:

85. A joke? Did you see her lecture? Its well worth it.

86. She has clearly lost coherence. Seeing molecules in the air, yeah right, she is just hallucinating and based on what she says, there clearly seems to be no increased depth or strength in her experience of consciousness. Experiencing strong colors and having enhanced or confused sense perceptions is not at all what I was talking about. I am talking about a state in which your conscious experience is more vast and stronger than normally, but there is no interest in sense perceptions in the state. There is "room" for more but not really a desire to fill it. No emotional states can really capture one and dominate, because now such feelings only fills up a tiny part of the awareness, so there is no reason to follow them. They might appear a bit external, no longer so central and wonder for their justification for dominance will probably occur. Learned social rules will lose their power, which is one reason perspective can radically change. I don't want to write anymore because it seems you are just ridiculing it.

87. kashyap vasavadaMar 13, 2015, 2:32:00 AM

OK! I will take your word on distinction in concepts among Abrahamic religions. My point was that Hinduism from the first day proclaimed that Brahman =reality=consciousness is present in every particle of the universe! Loosely speaking this means "soul". This is why the word "manifestation" instead of "creation" is used in Hindu scriptures. There was nothing to create! Every thing was there in the beginning and everything will be there at the end! Only the forms are different!

88. Sorry, it is you who fails to apply Occam's razor. You are hypothesizing or inventing silly laws that the metaphysical functioning of someone's mind is completely different if the brain size is smaller than XY or if he likes to crack nuts or if it has front paws.

So one would need entirely different "neurosciences" for humans and for squirrels, and probably for everyone else.

Such superstitions have been identified as myths by science and the probability that they will ever return in the form of new scientific theories is virtually zero.

Occam's razor obviously means that the human and squirrels' bodies are in principle the same thing when it comes to all fundamental or qualitative issues and they only differ by technicalities and quantitative parameters.

89. mammals dream...who's having the dream?

90. Hello Lubos, Well one thing that makes me struggle with the idea that some form of consciousness could attributed to non-living things is that our consciousness cannot be attributed to a single atom or a single neuron or even a single system of particles, as i understand the elementary particles constituting our brains are always different ,so what is the physical system that you could attribute you consciousness to.

91. Apologies, I don't understand the question, maybe someone else does and has an interesting answer, too.

92. kashyap vasavadaMar 13, 2015, 1:28:00 PM

Interesting comment Tony! I wish I was as weird as t'Hooft , of course, with nobel prize!!

93. Podstatu vedomia nie je možné pochopiť bez poznania dialektického Princípu Jednoty, ktorý som objavil a na jeho základe vybudoval aj úplne nové základy teoretickej fyziky ako v oblasti časticovej fyziky tak aj kozmológie - viď. môj článok
http://www.lifeenergyscience.it/english/2014-eng-1-01.pdf
kde okrem svojich objavov podrobujem podrobnej analýze hlbokú krízu v súčasnej teoretickej fyzike. Práve som dokončil svoj prvý filozofický traktát "Čo je pravda?", kde z hľadiska filozofie zovšeobecňujem svoj objav Princípu Jednoty. Ak máte záujem, môžem Vám ho poslať. Moja adresa: pekohut@gmail.com

94. Dear Lubos, I've been mulling over your statement that "There can't be any fundamental sharp boundary separating life and non-life." You mention eight characteristics that we often associate with living things. But only two of them -- metabolism and reproduction -- are both necessary and sufficient to distinguish a living thing, or so I have read, and it certainly makes sense, to me at least. What I am wondering is, don't these two criteria in combination define a pretty sharp boundary?

You mention viruses, which certainly reproduce, but don't have metabolism (unless you want to call hitching on to the chemical processes of another, preexisting living thing, metabolism). And I suppose there are plenty of examples of what might be described as "metabolism" without reproduction. But the two together, especially when it comes to understanding the earliest origins of life -- don't they define a pretty sharp boundary?

Just wondering.

95. The Hindus seem to have had the time scale right too!

96. No intention to ridicule, Michael. I just thought it was an interesting "change of consciousness." I happen to think that LSD was a very destructive drug in my generation. It was a kind of cultural solvent and opened the way to a lot of cultural non-sense -- multi-culturalism most notably -- as those who took it, including scores of Ivy League graduates, began there "long march through the institutions."

OTH, Francis Crick took it and, though he was very secretive about it, he seems to have suspected that it may have improved his "lateral" thinking. But he certainly didn't want to encourage others to take it, and rightly so.

97. But we have proof that brains do work differently for different species of mammals. Senses have different levels. Some use sonar and radar and others use highly developed smell.
From everything I've seen brains of different mammal species act and process information differently.
But my point was that humans being the same species would interpret things the same way. Occam's Razor in my post applied to your statement that two humans would see light and dark but call it light. I say they both see light.

98. And yet identical twins (genetically) have very different personalities and likes/dislikes.

99. kashyap vasavadaMar 13, 2015, 8:53:00 PM

yes and theory of evolution (in the sense that humans and animals are related) too!

100. Of Course

101. If one has a thought, it clearly involves many neurons to represent that thought, and countless electrons to represent the state of those neurons. Since the electrons are really in a superposition of all possibilities, where exactly is the thought bound to? We only perceive collapsed observations, so perhaps having a thought collapses the associated electrons. What then is the rule for which electrons collapse? But the big question is how can a thought be associated with the state of so many particles?

102. This is the best answer to the consciousness puzzle I ever heard (at least this is my interpretation of it):

Not long time people were asking analogous question about life. You are well aware of Golem story. Rabbi Loew made a clay figure and then he animated it using a shem. Here the shem serves a "magic sauce" that makes living things from anorganic material. When people were asking about the "nature of life" they were implicitly asking about the nature of the "magic sauce".

Now, we know that this misleading. There is not anything that special about living organisms. They are in a true sense just very sophisticated bio-chemical "machines". Currently, we understand that chemistry pretty well.

The point is that we call life is some level of sophistication of these "biochemical machines". It is in a true sense "emergent property" and also in some ways a human-made concept. (BTW But there is no point saying that a single hydrogen atom is "little bit alive".)

I think that consciousness is somewhat similar. It is probably some emergent property of our brains. Once we understand more about our brains we will have a better idea how to ask the right questions. And quite likely we will understand that our current ideas and questions about consciousness were hopelessly naive.

That said, it is indeed a fascinating topic.

103. Hi Lubos. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. It increases even more my respect for your viewpoints. Hermann Weyl talked a lot about consciousness too. He had very interesting ideas that are consistent with your own. In one essay he also suggested that subatomic particles have a type of life/consciousness like we do and saw the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics as supporting this view.

Regarding the mystery aspect, my favorite book says this (paraphrasing): It is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. It is a mystery, but it is not a problem because we are it.

Thank you, Sir.

Best,

Don

104. In the morning!

105. If you are interested, the main names in neuroscience who have tackled the topic: Wilder Penfield and Rodolfo Llinás. Both of these men have made important inroads in the link between the brain and consciousness. Giulio Tononi and associates is trying but he is not of the same stature as the former two. Penfield's evidence in particular is quite amazing and spectacular. If you do not know of it, but are interested in consciousness, he is the go-to guy.

Best,

Don

106. You sound like Leibniz now...monads and all! :)
-Don

107. Do you know anything about stroke injury? The link between consciousness and the brain has been studied in neurology for over 150 years. Broca was the father of it all. The short of it: when pieces of brain (specifically the cerebral cortex that mediates higher functions) die, those functions are lost, but consciousness remains. It also acts like an "oil slick" and fills in the cognitive holes. People with paralysis on one side of their body (hemi-neglect syndrome) will sometimes not recognize the inactive side of the body as their own.

However, if there is damage to the thalamus, consciousness can be lost altogether. People call this permanent coma. I mentioned Penfield above. He is the one that worked all this out, building on the work of a Huling Jackson.

Much is known about this kind of stuff already. Neurology (as opposed to neuroscience as a whole) has quite a large and interesting literature. Thanks, Don

108. Nice, did you feel you had an experience of a different kind of intelligence? Could you hold vastly more data than normally if you wanted to? Did it change your perspective on the "world"? Did everything associated with instincts and learned social rules dissolve? Were you much more present and in some sense wiling or more interested in honesty and direct connection here and now although feeling no need for it? Did you feel like your ego dissolved somewhat and also a feeling of a deeper appreciation for the multitude of different viewpoints/experiences of others, as if their realty were given as much weight as yours? If you saw the "lecture" by the woman did it "resonate" with you? Maybe too many questions based too much on my experiences, but I will appreciate any information.

109. Okay, apologies for misunderstanding you, Luke. I have not tried LSD myself so I can't add, but have tried having "transcendental" experiences, or whatever, I don't know what to call it. I have some confidence that there is(can be) great benefit to get from meditation. Our instincts and social rules may have their place, but seeing things without them - even if only temporarily - is important too, I think. It is frustrating to see the dysfunction in Buddhism where they claim to meditate a lot, and don't hesitate to
"claim" enlightenment, yet lots of abuse is taking place.
Sorry again for the misinterpretation of your intention.
I think meditation can vastly improve "awareness", and you can check out psychologytoday for interesting stuff on its positive effects, that are actually somewhat convincingly supported by at least some empirical evidence. I think it can be beneficial to try and "observe" your awareness/consciousness and try to make it stronger and stronger while closing down everything "else", don't be satisfied but want more. More and more. When it becomes overwhelming, say no, I still want more. You might experience some "shift".

Just as a side remark; I believe strongly that psychiatry (not psychology) is very destructive, and now medicate so frustratingly many children who have no "disorder" but are just in unhealthy environments, yet they are seen as the problem and given drugs to "fit in". Very wrong, very destructive and not based on proper research. So as you have become convinced that LSD was destructive I have become convinced that the pretty much forced drugs given to "dysfunctional" (in reality normal, but challenged by circumstances) children, is very very destructive, and deeply deeply immoral.

110. My current view is that consciousness is simply the quantum vibrations of microtubels inside neuron cells.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.plrev.2013.08.002

I'd hope that they also vibrate in our own personal dimention as well;-)

Can consciousness have a direction and a magnitude?
I believe mine does:-)

111. Sales & Marketing? Too funny, Uncle Al! You should be in stand-up.

112. "First, I know that I have consciousness even though you may think (if
you're a "solipsist") that I and all other people are just dull robots

Don't be so sure. Yes, introspection tells me I have consciousness, but introspection is notoriously unreliable! When tested against things that can actually be tested, it is often wrong. It tells me wrong things about how my visual system works (much closer to my own field), so why should I trust it about something as abstract as consciousness?

I sure seems like I am aware. I think I am, but I *would* think that even if I wasn't. It's hard to apply that logic to yourself, but you should.

Suppose there were no such thing as consciousness (or that everybody had it but me, inverse solipsism). Would I think I had it? In order to survive at all as a competitive/cooperative social animal, I would pretty much have to either think "yes", or at least pretend to even in my internal planning process.

So I agree that consciousness is not much of a mystery, but it is even less a mystery that you think. It is a matter of the cognitive architecture of social animals, and has virtually nothing to do with physics or quantum mechanics, beyond the trivial fact that animals are physical objects.

113. That you are aware is a self-evident fact, like knowing your experience of the color green although you can never explain this to someone who can't see. Your awareness is fundamentally the most central thing in your life, and although its strength fluctuates- Questioning its very existence is completely absurd. It doesn't matter that some automated calculations are inaccessible or decide stuff "before your higher self" does.

114. "Self evident" facts are just things you believe without any evidence, like the existence of God or the classical nature of the universe. Self evident facts have a long history of turning out to be false. Don't trust them too far.

It may be the most central thing in my life (I'm not sure it is), but that doesn't mean my awareness is anything more than a useful fiction. There is nothing absurd at all about the idea that it is nothing more.

Do I behave as if I believe that I (and others) have awareness, intentions, etc? Of course I do. I wouldn't last ten seconds on an American highway if I didn't.

115. Gary EhlenbergerMar 16, 2015, 9:01:00 PM

Very, very, nice story as well as many of the comment stories. I have enjoyed forming new neural connections from reading these stories. Interestingly or not: all of these stories can be found in the finite set of DIFFERENT images that any digital camera is capable of taking. An easy way to generate these is to write a short bit add program to generate all possible different binary representations for any given digital cameras pixel chip. This will take a very, very, long time for the output. Its surprising what you will find in this very finite, but large set, of different images. I call this set, pseudo infinity. Lubos, your in there doing many interesting things (anything that can be photographed with the digital camera).

116. So....hydrogen atom has a consicousness, so does an oxygen atom. What about O2? Does is have a consciousness or are there two consciousnesses? What about the larger molecules, how many consciousnesses? Is a cell conscious? Every time you add up things, more consciousnesses seem form just by adding things together. How else one can conclude that a human being is conscious? There seem to practically infinite number of of consciousnesses in human because you can regroup its subgroups in so many way. Why should anybody believe that your way to decide which subgroups consist a new consciousness is a real one. All this reasoning appears to be reduction ad absurdum, it makes no sense. On the hand this is to be expected. The whole idea that one could explain consciousness by using words is ridiculous. Math does no better. So I guess it is a mystery.

117. I guess you're correct - I don't quite get it. On the life debate, I'm not shortchanging anything. I'm quite well versed in molecular biology and biochemistry, and I agree it's great we understand the basic principles. However, I still think there is something special about life. Maybe it's just an emergent property, but I just had the experience of going to a close friends funeral, and, having had experience with other dead bodies, was reflecting on the fact that you can immediately tell a dead body from a live one. Something's gone. I won't pretend to know what it is, but it's gone.
As far as the second, I guess you're correct, I don't quite get it. If certain past events are necessary for a future event to occur (a first generation of stars was needed to create heavy elements in enough abundance to allow life on earth to evolve into creatures capable of observing those events and form theories about them) didn't those past events have to occur and be real? Chemical reactions are going on throughout the Universe even though we aren't observing them, aren't they? I guess I see why there are so many articles and arguments about the measurement problem.

118. Yet conscious observers making measurements are needed for reality and the universe sure seems anthropic. Intelligent design may be less probable than other hypotheses, but it seems it's not zero (I'm not talking about specifics of one religion).

119. Well, I may be retarded when it comes to theoretical physics, but I've lost track of the number of children's lives I've saved or improved, so I always have that :).

120. One more try:
I quote you from an earlier post (2011 sometime): "They can't see or don't want to see that the world is described by state
vectors that inevitably have a probabilistic interpretation, that
evolve according to linear equations and satisfy the superposition
principle, that all measurable properties of the physical systems are
described by linear Hermitian operators, and that probabilities are the
only predictable things that always arise from squared magnitudes of
some complex probability amplitudes."

This part I get (I think). I still don't get how events in the past that weren't observed by conscious observers that were necessary for those conscious observers to exist in the first place can be said not be real. Back to a chemical reaction example: Hydrogen and oxygen to water. A given reaction between 2 molecules may or may not have happened, but eventually you have enough water that you have an ocean and life evolves. The water surely existed before the creatures that evolved in it, didn't it?

121. Every conceptual feature of the hydrogen atom obviously applies to the oxygen atom or any other object.

It's breathtakingly, kindergarten-level childish to try to "count" consciousnesses in integers.

122. Whether water existed on a place of Earth 4 billion years ago or whether there were dinosaurs 70 million years ago are scientifically meaningful questions that are just like all other meaningful questions about the state of the world connected with the value of some observables - Hermitian operators - and these values (the answers) may only be considered well-defined by an observer once the observer actually observes them (or something that is provably determining their value, too).

Water is needed for dinosaurs but whether either of them existed at a given moment isn't a question that can be answered "objectively" or "without any observers". I have no clue what's so difficult for you about it.

123. I have a ton of evidence for my consciousness and some of its various manifestations, it is observed by me pretty much all the time. That is what evidence is. We must talk about different "things", this "discussion" makes no sense. By being the most central thing, I just mean that *everything* you experience only "lives" in you, because of your consciousness. Try and meditate and observe your own awareness, while trying to ban sense perceptions or simulated sense perceptions and feelings.

124. Well Lubos, i have to disagree strongly on this one. You like to use metaphysic and anthropocentrism a lot, but it actually sounds VERY anthropocentric your way to ascribe a human characteristic as is conciousness to plants, rocks, atoms and what not.

There's nothing metaphysical about it, it's just something we do and that can surely and will, in time, be understood.

If you ask me, it's not just a human thing, other vertebrates show weaker ways of consciousness, just like they show weaker ways of other things that have to do with higher brain functions. There's still nothing metaphysical or anthropocentric about that, it's just high school level scientific knowledge. Birds fly. Humans have conciousness. Fine, all hail evolution.

Maybe your concept of conciousness is just different, but i find nothing useful in a concept that would be appliable to all beings. "All that exist has consciousness" sounds a bit too much like "all that exists, exists" and that's one step too far into philosophical mumbo jumbo.

You shoud read about human/animal comparisons of cognitive development (and impairment), theory of mind, language and that kind of suff. Very interesting stuff, indeed.

125. Dear Leo, anthropocentrism *is* the human supremacy or the requirement to evaluate reality from a purely human perspective, or the desire to attribute humans with fundamentally different features and roles that no one else can have etc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocentrism

and because you clearly say the opposite about anthropocentrism, it follows that what you say is a pile of crap.

Maybe your concept of conciousness is just different, but i find nothing useful in a concept that would be appliable to all beings

That's OK, the concept of consciousness is not supposed to be "useful" and indeed, it is not useful.

Metaphysics is spelled and pronounced with an "s" at the end.

126. There are many ways of being irrational, one of them is participating in a rational conversation with the statement that violates the preconditions/rules of the rational conversation.
I find it irrational to use evolution as a presumption when the conclusion is that an hydrogen atom is conscious. The conclusion is a non sequitur.
So do you think that there are multiple consciousnesses? If what I stated was wrong, can you tell how do you count consciousnesses?
However, I don't necessarily disagree with the conclusion, I suppose it is possible that a hydrogen atom is conscious. But this case I think that the consciousness is not a property of the matter, it' s another way around: the matter is a property of the consciousness. The reason, why people don't usually see this, is that their obverservational data is biased/distorted, as they have only witnessed consciousness as a ramification of the matter.

127. Hi - I realise Im somewhat late to join this interesting discussion.
I agree there can be no scientific poof that others (people/animals) have consciousness but I think the biological reason for having it is to interpret the feelings and emotions of others ie read their consciousness and thereby be able to plan for their imminent behaviour, therefore if one were the only one with consciousness its function would be obsolete.

128. Precisely my point, Lubos. You evaluate reality from a human perspective when you argue that consciousness is a property that everything has.

But no. It's just something that the brain does, a tool of some kind for the animals that have a brain that is complex enough.

It's like saying that because we have blood flow, that would be a property of all things, even if they show it to some minor degree. Well, no. You have beings with blood that flows, others with blood that does not flow and others with no blood at all.

Consciousness is intriguing and paricularly hard to study. So what? That don't make it a property of everything nor a metaphysical or fundamental difference between humans and the rest of the universe.

It is indeed a useful concept that describes a very important part of how our brains operate, even if you don't like it ;)

129. No, unlike you, I haven't made a single claim and hasn't used a single assumption that would depend on the human perspective.

130. Funny that you keep reading things i do not write. To put it in terms you understand, to claim that rocks and atoms are conscious is to deny evolution and most of biology and i don't understand what is your psychological problem that there's nothing metaphysically different about consciousness.

There is actually quite a lot of information about how consciousness is generated, where it resides, the neural interactions required and so on. You may choose to read about it or stick with the sort of esoteric crap that everything in the universe is conscious, but at this point there's seems to be nothing we can keep arguing about.

It was a fun post to follow tough, i'd like to hear your take on free will some day.

131. Physical Consciousness in a Self-conscious Quantum Universe

Tony Bermanseder*

ABSTRACT

What is this thing called consciousness? Is it a thing created by the brain, which then in some mysterious manner relates to what sentient beings term mind or awareness or cognitive sensory perception or some other labels of individuated or culturally encompassed nomenclature? The holistic scientist knows that the many labelings can be rather confusing and so he/she chooses to call physical 'Consciousness' as something closely associated with the concept of energy. The concept of energy however relates to transformation of something, say in processes definable in ideas of motion, position, momentum and general dynamics. If the materialistic scientist now measures energy, this energy will somehow be engaged in a transmutational process. Otherwise, no motion would be possible. This essay is about first principles and causes which not only caused the universe of the relativity to manifest in energy but also allowed a form of angular acceleration or 'space-awareness' to give birth to the universal and ubiquitous physical consciousness itself.

Key Words: physical consciousness, self-conscious, spacetime, quantum universe
...

The 'Physical Consciousness' in the standard cosmology now crystallizes as being associated with biovital lifeforms, occupying space, and as evolving in the dynamics of (holographic) fractals of the encompassing 'consciousness envelope' aka the galactic cells of macroquantised entities. This biovitality is defined in a 'kernel consciousness' inherent in space itself via the string-coupled modalities; mimicking the overall expansion of the thermodynamic (and stochastic) universe. This process can be comprehensively described as the EVOLUTION of Core-Consciousness in its Spacial Occupancy.

The Definition of 'Life' must so fundamentally be based on the string coupling between the two modalities and as two modes of operation, which quantum relatively entangle the microquantum characterised by the 'wormhole core' as as function of the nuclear interaction scale (the classical electron radius Re is also the scale of the magneto-asymptotic confinement of gluons in the definition of the magnetocharges and so becomes the limiting quantum geometric template for the nuclear gauge interactions and the 'Higgs Bosonic' blueprint at the 3 Fermi scale).

'Life' then becomes the cosmo-evolutionary consequence of a quantum geometry defining the spacial configurations of the supermembranes as superstring couplings. This is why the most basic and primordial 'lifeforms' such as viruses, bacteris and fungi follow highly geometrized patterns in Platonic- and Archimedean solids, characterised by highly symmetrical arrangements of their molecular and atomic constituents. The most elementary 'life form' is the crystalline arrangements of the self-replicating pattern. This originally manifested in so called quasicrystals of fivefolded symmetry, such as can be observed in Shechtmanites and the Penrose tiling. The underpinning cosmology of the decoupling and breaking of the so termed Planck-Symmetry transformed the Planck-String into 5 classes of superstring; this 'breaking of unification' following a pentagonal supersymmetry at the core of all 'natural laws'. Many details can be found on this website for perusal and utility.

132. Yes, in most questions. (I'm not a native English speaker, to talk about this would be laborious:)