In future research, scientists will try to show that the universe has consciousness. Yes really. Regardless of the outcome, we will soon learn more about what it means to be aware and what objects around us might have their own mind. In this article, we will try to answer “is the universe conscious?” if yes, then why so?
What will it mean for the way we treat objects and the world around us? To know that we must understand what is consciousness.
What Is Consciousness? What does It Actually Mean?
However, trying to define consciousness leaves many more questions than answers. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, consciousness is “the normal mental condition of the waking state of humans, characterized by the experience of perceptions, thoughts, feelings, awareness of the external world and, often, in humans (but not necessarily in other animals) self-consciousness. ‘
Scientists just don’t have a unified theory of what it is. Nor do we know where it comes from or what it is made of.
However, one knowledge gap is that we cannot exhaustively say that other organisms, and even inanimate objects, have no consciousness. Humans relate to animals, and we can imagine that dogs and cats have a certain awareness because we see their facial expressions and how they seem to make decisions. But just because we don’t “identify” with rocks, the ocean, or the night sky doesn’t mean that these things have no consciousness.
This is where a philosophical stance called panpsychism comes into play, writes David Crookes of All About Space :
“This asserts that consciousness is inherent in even the smallest pieces of matter, an idea that suggests that the fundamental building blocks of reality have conscious experience. Fundamentally, it implies that consciousness can be found throughout the universe. ‘
David Crookes of All About Space
It is also where physics comes into the picture. Some scientists have postulated that what we think of as consciousness is made up of microscale quantum physics events and other “spooky actions at a distance,” somehow hovering inside our brains and generating conscious thoughts.
The Enigma Of Free Will
One of the leading minds in physics, 2020 Nobel laureate and black hole pioneer Roger Penrose, has written extensively on quantum mechanics as a suspect vehicle of consciousness. In 1989, he wrote a book called The Emperor’s New Mind, in which he stated that “human consciousness is not algorithmic and is a product of quantum effects.”
Let’s quickly analyze that statement. What does it mean for human consciousness to be “algorithmic”? Well, an algorithm is simply a series of predictable steps to reach a result, and in the study of philosophy, this idea plays an important role in questions of free will versus determinism.
Are our brains simply developing mathematical processes that can be summarized in advance? Or is something wild going on that allows us true free will – that is, the ability to make significantly different decisions that affect our lives?
Within philosophy itself, the study of free will dates back at least centuries. But the overlap with physics is much more recent. And what Penrose claimed in his book is that consciousness is not strictly causal because, at the slightest level, it is a product of unpredictable quantum phenomena that do not conform to classical physics.
So where does all that background information leave us? If you are confused about this, you are not alone. But these questions are essential for people studying philosophy and science because the answers could change the way we understand the entire universe around us. Whether or not humans have free will has huge moral implications, for example. How do you punish criminals who could never have done otherwise?
Study Of Consciousness As A Quantum Effect
In physics, scientists could learn key things from a study of consciousness as a quantum effect. This is where we meet today’s researchers: Johannes Kleiner, a mathematician and theoretical physicist at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, and Sean Tull, a mathematician at the University of Oxford.
Kleiner and Tull are following Penrose’s lead, both in their 1989 book and in a 2014 article, where they detail their belief that micro-processes in our brains can be used to model things about the entire universe. The resulting theory is called Integrated Information Theory (IIT) and it is an abstract and “highly mathematical” form of the philosophy that we have been reviewing.
In IIT, awareness is everywhere, but it accumulates in places where it is needed to help tie different related systems together. This means that the human body is packed with a ton of systems that need to be interrelated, so there is a lot of consciousness (or phi, as the amount is known in IIT) that can be calculated. Think of all the parts of the brain that work together to, for example, form an image and feel, for example, the memory of an orange in your mind.
What is revolutionary in IIT is not related to the human brain – it is that consciousness is not biological at all – but it is simply this value, phi, that can be calculated if you know a lot about the complexity of what you are studying.
If your brain has almost innumerable interrelated systems, then the entire universe must have virtually infinite ones. And if that’s where consciousness accumulates, then the universe must have a lot of phi …
Hey, we warned you this was going to get weird.
“The theory is a very complicated algorithm that, when applied to a detailed mathematical description of a physical system, provides information about whether or not the system is aware, and what it is aware of,” said Kleiner. “If there are a couple of isolated particles floating somewhere in space, they will have some rudimentary form of consciousness if they interact in the right way.”
Kleiner and Tull are working to turn IIT into this complex mathematical algorithm, setting the standard that can then be used to examine how conscious things operate.
Consider the classic philosophical comment, “I think, therefore I am,” and imagine two geniuses turning that into a workable formula where you substitute in a hundred different numerical values and end with your specific answer: “I am.”
The next step is to actually do the math and then deal with the moral implications of a hypothetically conscious universe.
After understanding the above concepts, what do you conclude? is the universe conscious? Leave us your comments below.