Thursday, November 18, 2021

Other people's inner consciousness is scientifically meaningless for you

...but that doesn't mean that the laws of Nature may be applied without a conscious entity...

Feedly.com threw a text by Sean Carroll at me. He argued in favor of "physicalism" (we live in a P-world where everything follows from consciousness-independent, objectively applied laws of physics) and against "panpsychism" (we live in the Ψ-world where the existence and omnipresence of consciousness is essential for things to work).



Carroll claims that we must live in the P-world because he mentally lives in the world where physical phenomena are described by classical physics.

But as the letter Ψ (Psi) and its well-known affiliation with quantum mechanics makes more than clear, the correct laws of Nature have been known for 96 years to be quantum mechanical i.e. dependent on the observer's consciousness. For quantum mechanical laws to be applied, one needs to insert the information about the results of observations which may be translated to the initial state. For the results of the observations to be well-defined, the observations themselves must be well-defined and the choice "what has been observed" is clearly subjective i.e. dependent on the observer's subjective choices.



Carroll mentally lives before 1925 so he believes that the "Core Theory", the state-of-the-art theory of (almost?) everything, like string theory or the Standard Model, supports the P-world and physicalism. But it doesn't. It is a quantum mechanical theory which means that it totally assumes everything about the Ψ-world and panpsychism. The correct answer that "panpsychism was right" was made by some philosophers well before quantum mechanics. Before you demonstrate that the universal postulates of quantum mechanics hold, you can't quite establish this statement due to its philosophical character.

But even before QM, it was rather clear that panpsychism was needed in any scientific world view simply because there can't be any "metaphysically sharp" boundary between objects like humans that we consider conscious; and other objects. So some amount of the "consciousness substance" must be assigned to any object in Nature, otherwise we end up with a clearly scientifically ludicrous anthropocentric or anthropomorphic theory. Complex, organized structures such as human brains or computers may be very reliable in remembering or processing information; but the truly inner type of consciousness works even with amounts of information comparable to one nat which is why it cannot depend on the existence of very large or organized bound states. If you know that you have consciousness, the extrapolation of this insight to "other objects may have consciousness" is totally analogous to the extrapolation of biological properties of our bodies to those of other mammals' bodies: we're qualitatively similar and related by Darwin's evolution. The extrapolation of the "ability to have consciousness" to other objects is more far-reaching because it follows from physics which is more far-reaching in its ability to unify than biology, but otherwise the two cases are analogous.



OK, Carroll hasn't noticed that the current "Core Theory" is actually quantum mechanical and therefore needs conscious observers to be applied. Much of his article is a circular reasoning that basically says "everything in the world must be described by classical physics and everything must emerge from classical physics because if you assumed something else, then it would conflict with the fact that everything in the world must be described by classical physics or emerge from it". Nice! ;-)

But as the title indicates, he uses "zombies" in his argumentation. In these discussions, a "zombie" is a person who behaves exactly like a human being (including the expressions of emotions, and the talk about emotions and inner feelings and conscious experiences) but he actually doesn't have any truly inner conscious experience! Zombies may be used to argue in various ways and Carroll offers an argumentation with the opposite conclusion than the usual one.

OK, here I must emphasize something that he apparently agrees with although the agreement is not not complete because his choice of words is fishy, much like the things that he says immediately afterwards. The point is that you can't really distinguish zombies from real humans! By construction, zombies produce the same results of your measurements as real humans. Great. I think that he would agree with this neutral, careful, or minimal description of the situation. But his description is not quite neutral or careful or minimal:
The starting point of the zombie argument for physicalism is that, when we sit down to compare P-world and Ψ-world, we realize that the purported “consciousness” that is central to Ψ-world is playing no explanatory role whatsoever.
If I were overly tolerant or sloppy, I could say that it is exactly the same as "you cannot distinguish zombies from humans". But the problem is that it is not the same at all. Instead, the quote above implies that you can't distinguish zombies from humans but it also says that consciousness is useless in general. It is totally central in a quantum mechanical theory because the conscious observer's observations are totally needed to prepare the initial state and to verify that the final state is likely enough according to the quantum mechanical predictions. The conscious perceptions are needed to know how to collapse the wave function which is as important as the unitary evolution in between two perceptions or observations. So the quote above is actually much stronger than "zombies and humans cannot be distinguished by the observer's science": it also says that our world is governed by classical, i.e. observer-independent, physics. It is simply not true and all Carroll's would-be arguments are completely wrong and completely circular. Consciousness is needed for any prediction in any situation according to an actual "Core Theory" because the latter is quantum mechanical! He just adds the statement "our world is classical" to basically every correct statement which turns basically every statement he makes wrong.

If you didn't have conscious experience of a result of a measurement, and it is indeed just your consciousness that matters, you couldn't pick the right initial wave function or the initial density matrix to make your quantum mechanical predictions. So with quantum mechanics in mind, the "irrelevance" indeed applies to the inner consciousness of other people (and all other objects) only, not to the observer's consciousness! But yes, in this limited sense, "zombies and humans cannot be distinguished".

We must be careful about reinterpretations of this assertion. While the statement that the "explanatory power of consciousness is useless everywhere in fundamental physics" is wrong because it's a brutally strengthened version of the correct statement, the same phrase "explanatory power", when applied to the other humans, is on the contrary too weak a concept to discuss the problem with the discrimination of zombies and humans (different from the observer). Before we talk about the "explanatory power", we should know where there are data to be explained! The real point is that because, by construction, we can't distinguish zombies from humans, there are no data that would tell us who is a zombie and who is a human. This is indeed a question that is totally inaccessible to the observer (in particular, you just can't empirically prove or disprove solipsism because the other people's inner consciousness is inaccessible to your apparatuses), and it is therefore a scientifically meaningless question! The very "data" that Carroll wants to talk about are scientifically meaningless because they cannot be measured in any way, so it is meaningless to talk about the "explanatory power" involving these non-existing data!
And that matter, within either P-world or Ψ-world, exactly obeys the equations of motion of the Core Theory. That theory, in turn, is causally closed: you tell me the initial conditions, there is an equation that unambiguously describes how the universe evolves forward in time.
No, for the 9,876th time. Since 1925, we knew that the correct theories are not classical. The wave function in quantum mechanics only evolves deterministically in between the measurements; but it is updated discontinuously at the moments of the measurements, according to the subjectively perceived outcomes of those measurements. These two types of evolution are equally critical for the actual "Core Theory" of 1925-2021 to work.
The fact that someone is conscious of some inner experience (falling in love, or having the feeling they are being watched) manifestly affects their behavior. So the consciousness of Ψ-world isn’t the consciousness I care about, and I might as well be a physicalist.
For the 9,877th time, he can only be a "physicalist" because he doesn't do science. If he were doing science, he would be abandoning theories that conflict with the observations. And because all classical i.e. P-world theories conflict with the observations, they are dead. In our sloppy language, we do often conflate the inner consciousness with the physical manifestations of emotions. But in principle, those can be separated and, within quantum mechanics, they actually are separated and must be separated because the separation of the conscious observations from the remaining phenomena must be inserted as input; while the physical manifestations of someone's emotions may be predicted by the quantum mechanical theory as a part of the output! "What goes inside and what comes outside" the calculation cannot really be interchanged in this case, at least if you insist on numerically precise predicctions. They are metaphysically different types of information within a quantum mechanical theory, so if you say that you won't ever care about their difference at all, it also means that you insist on denying quantum mechanics.

This constant denial of quantum mechanics is not the only problem with his "I might as well be a physicalist". If you read the text above and understood the definitions as well as the arguments, you already know that Sean Carroll isn't primarily a physicalist. What his assertions actually establish is that he is actually a zombie, according to these very exact definitions! He is denying his own consciousness and its role in reducing the wave function to particular eigenstates.

Well, more precisely, I previously said that you can't physically distinguish zombies from humans. My conclusion that "we could determine that Sean Carroll is a zombie" would contradict that. The more correct conclusion is that based on the definitions, arguments, established theories, and Carroll's statements, Carroll behaves exactly like you expect from a zombie: Sean Carroll is a simulation of a generic zombie (the zombies that exhibit the emotional behavior as well as admit the role of their consciousness in the reduction of the wave function are non-generic). But when biological objects behave as zombies, they can't really make the wave function collapse, they can't prepare the initial state, and they can't verify the laws of quantum mechanics. In this case, it is also correct to say that apparent zombies like Sean Carroll have no explanatory power and you are encouraged to ignore the gibberish that they write.

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