Presentation at Sydney’s ANZURA Conference, 1997
(From Innerface 4.6 – Nov/Dec 1997)
Consciousness is important because its study has become the focal point for an interdisciplinary co-operation that is slowly undermining determinism and materialism in our society. Hence the more we know about the basics of the evidence for and against the alternative philosophies, so do we increase our potential to contribute to the renaissance of true religion.
In recent years, concepts of quantum physics that have long been paradoxical and contrary to the expectations from both classical physics and determinist philosophy, have begun to be appreciated by many whose interests are in other disciplines.
The experimental and theoretical results of quantum physicists have now demonstrated that there is much more to our universe than a simple, pre-ordained dance of the molecules. In fact, much of what goes on at base levels is probabilistic rather than being predictable and pre-determined.
For many years now, deterministic materialism has been the dominant philosophy shaping attitudes in the Western world. Its basic logic is that things happen because they cannot do otherwise–and whatever happens does so because of the past events that predetermine which dance of the molecules must unfold.
According to the determinists, the universe originated with a random fluctuation in the primordial vacuum, a Big Bang. All that now is, exists because of a cause-effect evolutionary progression of exploding matter and energy.
Determinist logic assumes that life is inevitable,–a spontaneous consequence in any universe where conditions are suitable. Having made the start, natural processes unerringly lead to the emergence of intelligent life forms.
Determinism insists that mind, free will, and consciousness, while being naturally emerging phenomena, nevertheless arise from the self-delusions of hopeful souls. The determinist world has neither room for God, nor for purpose.
Since the early part of this century, researchers in that branch of physics known as quantum mechanics have been discovering phenomena that do not fit a materialist-determinist interpretation of their experimental findings. Among these discoveries are the dual, wave-particle nature of the atom and its sub-components, the probabilistic nature of quantum events, the superpositioning of alternative outcomes to a potential event, the ‘collapse’ of all but one superposition by an observer, the non-local, instantaneous and space independent communication of closely correlated particles–and many others.
One intensively-investigated phenomenon is the fact that a single photon or electron, when presented with two pathways (such as via two slits or a split beam device) will take both pathways to a target, provided only that no attempt is made to determine which pathway it takes. By taking both paths, the particles are enabled to ‘interfere’ with themselves and exhibit wave-like properties. But when an observer acquires knowledge of a pathway, the photons, electrons, or atoms promptly behave purely as particles.
This strange reluctance of a particle to have its pathway revealed does not appear to be due to any physical effect on the particle by the instrumentation used during the attempt to observe it–as shown in work described below.
A smart ghost
Independent work by Pritchard and co-workers, or Chiao and his group, describes incredibly elaborate schemes attempting to gain knowledge of pathways in two-slit types of experiment without disturbing the wave-like performance of a particle–but all to no avail1. On every occasion the ‘ghost in the machine’ has been able to out-think its opponents.
An experiment by Chiao et al. is illustrative. A polarizer was placed in one of two pathways to an interference detector so as to attach a label to any photon that proceeded along that pathway. Doing so immediately collapsed the interference phenomenon that heralded wave behaviour.
While leaving the polarizer at the same location, two more were added further along the pathways, one in front of each interference detector. This action meant that the observers lost the knowledge of the pathway they had previously gained by labelling photons proceeding along one path. The consequence was the prompt restoration of the interference phenomenon, this being signalled by the re-emergence of wave-like behaviour of the photons at the detector system.
An even more elaborate system was then set up by Chiao’s group by substituting beam splitting polarizers for those in front of the detectors. The time of arrival and the polarization of all photons reaching the detectors was automatically recorded and stored in a computer. Subsequent examination of the data showed that, for similarly polarized photons, interference patterns persisted–but only when the path of individual photons remained unknown.
The Central Order of Things
When this kind of evidence is combined with that from other kinds of experiments on quantum phenomena (such as the apparent communication between correlated photons and electrons that occurs independently of space and time, or that described in the July/August issue of Innerface on electron spin), many researchers are led to believe that there is some kind of intelligent agency operating in a dimension outside of space-time that somehow participates in upholding the rules of quantum physics.
Two of the originators of quantum theory, Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli (both Nobel Prize winners), gave this controlling agency the name, the “Central Order of Things” and expressed their belief that its existence could not be doubted.3 Others call it “Universal Consciousness” or the “Ground of All Being4.”
As would be expected, there are those who attempt to avoid the implications of an outside ‘intelligence.’ One proposal is that the environment plays a role that is not simply random noise but is an apparatus that acts as a constant monitor5. But such a proposal appears to introduce other difficulties–who designed and built the apparatus, who keeps the records, who ensures that it operates consistently, and how is it that this ‘environment’ is clever enough to outwit some of our smartest experimentalists? Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between views at the extremities.
One of the extreme views allows that Universal Consciousness is the major player. In this scheme the consciousness of an observer is one with Universal Consciousness (monistic idealism). A semi-materialist view renames universal consciousness as simply a destabilizing environment. This latter view appears to sweep too much out of sight.
The work that appears to have finally tilted the balance in favour of the bizarre findings of quantum physics and against the determinism of classical physics was done by Alaine Aspect6 whose experiments tested proposals of Irish physicist, John Bell.
Bell developed a statistical procedure for investigating whether any form of local signaling (“local” means within our space and time) could account for communication between closely correlated quantum particles separated in space. For such to occur within the bounds set by classical physics and relativity, any signal would need to proceed at the speed of light or less (if a signal travels faster than light, the rules require that time would travel backwards and hence give rise to anomalies like signals arriving before they left).
Aspect was not the first to demonstrate that the communication phenomenon between correlated quantum particles must be instantaneous and independent of space-time, but his work was perhaps more elegant than others and certainly caught the attention of the media.
Consciousness recognized as real
The publicity engendered by Aspect’s work did a lot to disenthrone determinism. One consequence is that researchers with an interest in subjects such as human consciousness, free will, and self awareness may now have an opportunity to pursue those interests without being derided as ‘unscientific’ by their determinist colleagues.
Recently there has been an explosion in the number of papers being published on the topic of consciousness. As with any relatively new field, there are problems of semantics.
Arthur J. Deikman from the University of California believes that there is an “I” which is the same as our awareness or consciousness, and which needs to be differentiated from other aspects of the physical person and the mental contents that form the self. He says that most discussions of consciousness confuse the “I” and the “self,” and that our experience is fundamentally dualistic–but not the dualism of mind and matter. Rather it is that of the “I” and that which is observed, of consciousness and the content of consciousness.
On building an Android
Another way of drawing attention to this dualism is to imagine that inside our heads there is a television set that takes all the signals arriving from our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, pain, etc., and integrates them into an overall picture from which any requisite action could be taken. This is the kind of system that might be required in order to build an “android”–a computer that simulates the appearance and behaviour of a human being. But if this is a realistic model, we are left with a question–who or what is watching the TV.
Who am I???
According to some, consciousness is identical with the core “I” of subjectivity, it is the observer and not the observed, it is that which is aware, but it is not the content of awareness, it is the one that feels emotions but it is neither the emotions or the feelings.
There is another view of consciousness that includes what has been said in the previous paragraph but goes further. Given the name “monistic idealism,” it sees all consciousness as one, a universal consciousness that is the source, substance, and upholder of all that is4.
When delving into the ‘consciousness’ literature, we need to remember there are considerable divergences in the meaning of the word and that many tend to confuse the content of consciousness with consciousness itself.
Some quantum physicists perceive a “universal consciousness” as the explanation of many of the hard problems of quantum physics. Since this universal consciousness is primary and is the source of space, time, energy, matter, life, mind and whatever else there is, it must also exist beyond space and time. This kind of hypothesis can account for the problems posed by non-locality, superpositioning, and so forth, but also appears to be untestable.
The concept of universal consciousness would also account for the photon, electron, or atom that takes all possible paths to wherever it might be going. Presumably this consciousness is the upholder of the rules that prevent the human observer from knowing which path a particle takes if its wave-like properties are to be maintained.
Getting down to tin tacks
Is there any way that the idea of a universal consciousness can be demonstrated empirically? The abstract of a paper by Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose8 commences with:
“What is consciousness? Some philosophers have contended that ‘qualia’ or an experiential medium from which consciousness is derived exists as a fundamental component of reality. Whitehead, for example, described the universe as being comprised of ‘occasions of experience.’ To examine this possibility scientifically, the very nature of physical reality must be re-examined. We must come to terms with the physics of space time as described by Einstein’s general relativity–and its relation to the fundamental theory of matter as described by quantum theory.”
The authors go on to say that they consider that consciousness occurs if an appropriately organized system is able to develop and maintain quantum coherent superposition until a threshold related to quantum gravity is reached; the coherent system then self-reduces–a situation that introduces non-computability, an essential feature of consciousness.
The work of this group is much concerned with the kind of organization at the cellular level that could sustain a large, quantum coherent superposition. Their belief is that such a structure may be found among cytoskeletal microtubules that are found within the brain’s neurons. It would have properties similar in some ways to those that support superconductivity or superfluidity.
Readers should be aware that the people interested in these phenomena are not fringe dwellers but are some of the leading lights of the academic world.
Another quantum physicist, Amit Goswami4 considers that there must be some kind of quantum coherent system within the brain of the kind described by Hameroff and Penrose that would interact with what he terms the “universal consciousness”–of which human consciousness is really a component part. The interaction of the two mediates the ‘self-reduction of the coherent system’ and thereby brings the system into a state of reality as can be described by classical physics. This ‘self reduction’ is a special case of what is more commonly described as the collapse of the Schrodinger wave function.
What’s in TUB?
What has been described above is not too far from what can be discerned in The URANTIA Book if we identify the ‘Universal Consciousness’ of quantum physics as being an aspect of the Infinite Spirit with similarities to cosmic mind.
The URANTIA Book describes a hierarchical structure that has the Infinite Spirit at its apex. From there, ‘cosmic mind’ is routed to the seven Master Spirits who are at the focus of cosmic mind as it is distributed to the superuniverses.
Human mind is the endowment of the Universe Mother Spirit, both directly and via the seven Adjutant Mind Spirits.The Book tells us:
Consciousness, rests gently upon the electro-chemical mechanism below and delicately touches the spirit-morontia energy system above. Of neither of these two systems is the human being ever completely conscious in his mortal life; therefore must he work in mind of which he is conscious. [Paper 111:1.5, page 1216.8]
The physicists’ interest in consciousness is naturally biased towards that which can be observed and measured, whereas the emphasis in The URANTIA Book leans heavily towards relatedness to cosmic meanings and values. Also the physicist sees many aspects of mind as belonging to the material world described by classical physics and looks to ‘consciousness’ to find a link with the quantum world. The URANTIA Book is in partial agreement:
Mind, in functioning beings, is not separated from energy or spirit, or both. Mind is not inherent in energy; energy is receptive and responsive to mind; mind can be superimposed on energy, but consciousness is not inherent in the purely material level. [Paper 9:4.2, page 102.2]
The URANTIA Book also expresses views that have affinity with those of Arthur J. Deikman referred to earlier:
Self-consciousness implies the recognition of the reality of selves other than the conscious self and further implies that such awareness is mutual; that the self is known as it knows. [Paper 16:9.4, page 195.10]
From the point of view of religionists, the swing away from materialism and determinism that has been catalyzed by the mysteries of quantum physics is a welcome change, particularly as, at its forefront, are some of the outstanding intellects of the academic world.
A new day is dawning
More than sixty years ago the revelators of The URANTIA Book wrote:
At the time of writing the worst of the materialistic age is over; the day of a better understanding is beginning to dawn. The higher minds of the scientific world are no longer wholly materialistic in their philosophy, but the rank and file of the people still lean in that direction as a result of former teaching. [Paper 195:6.4, page 2076.9]
Today it is not only quantum physicists who have forsaken materialism and determinism. They have now been joined by philosophers, psychologists, neurophysiologists, biochemists, and many others. Surely a new day really has dawned.
Pritchard et al. in Scientific American 267 (1) 72 (1992)
Chiao et al in Scientific American 267 (1) 72 (1992)
3. Heisenberg, W. Positivism, Metaphysics and Religion in The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy & Mathematics (Ed. T. Ferris) (Little, Brown & Co., N.Y. (1991)
4. Goswami, A. The Self-Aware Universe (Simon and Schuster, NY) 1993
5. Zurek, W. Physics Today 44 (10) 36 (1991)
6. Aspect, A. et al. Physical Review Letters 49, 1804 (1982)
7, Deikman, A. J. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3 (4) 350 (1996)
8. Hameroff, S. and Penrose, R. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3 (1) 36. 1996