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Thread: Is Roger Penrose's: Quantum Consciousness a (good) scientific theory?

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    Is Roger Penrose's: Quantum Consciousness a (good) scientific theory?

    I have been listening to a few of Roger Penrose's interviews/lectures.
    He is obviously an incredibly intelligent person..... but I don't understand how or even why he has developed this odd theory.

    It seems to me that he feels:
    a) consciousness cannot be replicated by a (classical) computer / universal turing machine.
    b) therefore something else must be happening that is odd
    c) quantum mechanics is odd- therefore it's probably what is directly responsible for consciousness

    and since there are small structures inside of neurons, which could be affected by quantum mechanics... this provides a mechanism.

    Am i missing something? (I'm sure I am missing a lot!)
    The more I read about it- the more math/physics is rqd and the less I can judge as to whether it's all just 'quantum woo'.
    How does Godel's incompleteness theorem come into Penrose's argument? That there are things which are true, but cannot be proven?
    Could someone explain in (plainish) English for me?
    I believe he had an argument with Douglas Hoftstaedter: "Douglas believes that certain large numbers are conscious" (i'm paraphrasing)... can someone explain this?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orMtwOz6Db0


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orches...tive_reduction
    Last edited by plant; 2020-May-04 at 02:44 AM.
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    I have been listening to a few of Roger Penrose's interviews/lectures.
    He is obviously an incredibly intelligent person..... but I don't understand how or even why he has developed this odd theory.

    It seems to me that he feels:
    a) consciousness cannot be replicated by a (classical) computer / universal turing machine.
    b) therefore something else must be happening that is odd
    c) quantum mechanics is odd- therefore it's probably what is directly responsible for consciousness
    a) isn’t established so the rest doesn’t follow. There’s a lot we don’t understand about the brain yet, but we do know that it is incredibly complex structurally. We will need to learn a lot more about the brain before we can come to any conclusion about this. I have also read there is no good evidence that neurological function works on a quantum level.

    I read another physicist’s comment long ago (don’t recall the name) that said, roughly, “Consciousness seems mysterious and quantum physics seems mysterious so there is a temptation to say they are linked, or even that one causes the other, but there is no reason to assume that, and the claim doesn’t help to advance scientific understanding.”

    "The problem with quotes on the Internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity." Abraham Lincoln

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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    I have been listening to a few of Roger Penrose's interviews/lectures.
    He is obviously an incredibly intelligent person..... but I don't understand how or even why he has developed this odd theory.

    It seems to me that he feels:
    a) consciousness cannot be replicated by a (classical) computer / universal turing machine.
    b) therefore something else must be happening that is odd
    c) quantum mechanics is odd- therefore it's probably what is directly responsible for consciousness

    and since there are small structures inside of neurons, which could be affected by quantum mechanics... this provides a mechanism.

    Am i missing something? (I'm sure I am missing a lot!)
    The more I read about it- the more math/physics is rqd and the less I can judge as to whether it's all just 'quantum woo'.
    How does Godel's incompleteness theorem come into Penrose's argument? That there are things which are true, but cannot be proven?
    Could someone explain in (plainish) English for me?
    I believe he had an argument with Douglas Hoftstaedter: "Douglas believes that certain large numbers are conscious" (i'm paraphrasing)... can someone explain this?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orMtwOz6Db0


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orches...tive_reduction
    It’s an hypothesis, and a good hypothesis is one which makes testable predictions. Penrose is a mathematition and he and other mathematicians Find The idea of universal Consciousness logical. It’s the cover story in this week New Scientist. It seems to me to be closer to an interpretation than a predictive hypothesis but that may be just as interesting. The maths might be esoteric but Quantum Mechanics is not easy to wrestle with either.!
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    By the way Godel shows we cannot have a fully internally consistent maths model. Not anything about “truth” outside of maths truths.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    What Godel did was to construct a self-referential mathematical "sentence" (GF), using the axioms (F) of (I think) Peano arithmetic. The sentence in effect said, "This sentence is true if and only if it is not provable in F." Logically, then, we're driven to believe that the sentence is true but unprovable, because if it were false it would be provable, which is logically impossible.
    So he showed that for any consistent and sufficiently complex mathematics, it's possible to construct true statements that cannot be proved within the system. Penrose, and some others like Rucker and Hofstadter, take the fact that we can understand this sort of truth to be evidence that the human mind operates at a fundamentally non-algorithmic, non-deterministic level. Penrose reached for quantum mechanics as a way of imbuing the brain with this supposedly intuitively necessary mechanism.
    Stuart Hameroff then suggested to Penrose that the neural microtubules were the right size and in the right location to produce some sort of QM influence on neural firing. The pair of them worked up Orchestrated Objective Reduction as a proposed origin of consciousness, linked to Penrose's Objective Collapse interpretation of QM.

    So basically it's a Philosophy Of Mind concept based on an interpretation of QM, dressed up as a scientific theory.

    There are philosophical and mathematical arguments with Penrose's interpretation of Godel, philosophical arguments with his idea that QM provides a route to explaining our conception of "free will", physical arguments that the microtubules cannot retain coherence for the timescale characteristic of neural firing or cognition, and unaddressed biology in the awkward fact that microtubules are not restricted to neurons but are pretty much universal cellular structures.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    some others like Rucker and Hofstadter, take the fact that we can understand this sort of truth to be evidence that the human mind operates at a fundamentally non-algorithmic, non-deterministic level.
    I may be wrong, it is a long time since I read any of his work, but I thought Hofstadter was more on the side of "there is no evidence that we can intuitively know things to be true that are not provable" and so there is no reason to think that the brain has any computing power beyond Church-Turing computability. (I may be misremembering or he may have changed his views later or ... Mandela Effect?)

    Penrose reached for quantum mechanics as a way of imbuing the brain with this supposedly intuitively necessary mechanism.
    Wouldn't this imply that quantum computers could compute things that a Turing machine can't which, as far as I know, is not claimed for any sort of quantum computer.

    and unaddressed biology in the awkward fact that microtubules are not restricted to neurons but are pretty much universal cellular structures.
    I guess that would be popular with the "everything is conscious" crowd.

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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    a) consciousness cannot be replicated by a (classical) computer / universal turing machine.
    Obviously we don't yet know either way but:

    I have never heard a convincing argument in favour of this point of view. It seems to always come down to "but it must be true".

    On the other hand, I have heard plenty of quite persuasive arguments that there is no reason a computer couldn't do it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    I may be wrong, it is a long time since I read any of his work, but I thought Hofstadter was more on the side of "there is no evidence that we can intuitively know things to be true that are not provable" and so there is no reason to think that the brain has any computing power beyond Church-Turing computability. (I may be misremembering or he may have changed his views later or ... Mandela Effect?)
    I may be misrepresenting his thoughts, but he draws a tight analogy between Godel's Incompleteness Theorems and the origins of consciousness, both of which he characterizes as being "strange loops"--systems that manipulate their own rules and symbols in order to extract meaning that is not accessible via the rules and symbols themselves.

    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Wouldn't this imply that quantum computers could compute things that a Turing machine can't which, as far as I know, is not claimed for any sort of quantum computer.
    Well, Penrose is operating beyond conventional quantum mechanics.
    “What I’m saying—and this is my leap of imagination which people boggle at—I’m saying what’s going on in the brain must be taking advantage not just of quantum mechanics, but where it goes wrong,” he said. “It’s where quantum mechanics needs to be superseded.” So we need a new science that doesn’t yet exist? “That’s right. Exactly.”
    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I may be misrepresenting his thoughts, but he draws a tight analogy between Godel's Incompleteness Theorems and the origins of consciousness, both of which he characterizes as being "strange loops"--systems that manipulate their own rules and symbols in order to extract meaning that is not accessible via the rules and symbols themselves.
    That sounds familiar. I thought the point he was trying to make was to counter the naive argument that "a computer can never do anything original because it is just following the programmer's instructions". But with genetic algorithms and, even more so, neural networks it can be extremely hard to understand how the program reached the result it did.

    Of course we may just think we are seeing that something is "obviously true" even if we can't prove it. A neural network can identify a photograph of an aeroplane as a kitten with just as much confidence as people have in their common sense.

    I ... I don't even know what to say about that quote.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Penrose, and some others like Rucker and Hofstadter, take the fact that we can understand this sort of truth to be evidence that the human mind operates at a fundamentally non-algorithmic, non-deterministic level. Penrose reached for quantum mechanics as a way of imbuing the brain with this supposedly intuitively necessary mechanism.
    Except people believe all sorts of nonsensical things and harbor more kinds of misunderstandings than you could possibly list, and there are many well-known cognitive shortcuts that humans use because they work well enough. That people believe something or think they understand something is not evidence that they have computational capabilities beyond those of computers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cjameshuff View Post
    Except people believe all sorts of nonsensical things and harbor more kinds of misunderstandings than you could possibly list, and there are many well-known cognitive shortcuts that humans use because they work well enough. That people believe something or think they understand something is not evidence that they have computational capabilities beyond those of computers.
    No argument here. One of the great skills of very clever people is coming up with complicated justifications for ideas that appeal to them on a fundamentally emotional level.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    It seems to me that he feels:
    a) consciousness cannot be replicated by a (classical) computer / universal turing machine.
    b) therefore something else must be happening that is odd
    c) quantum mechanics is odd- therefore it's probably what is directly responsible for consciousness
    He does not base his ideas on matching two odd things, it's much more than that. Rather, he is saying that he does not think physical systems that are completely regulated via the laws of physics we have currently formulated can produce consciousness. He thinks that consciousness involves complexity and self-reference, two aspects that are intentionally avoided in physics. The basic problem is that physics is built to simplify and isolate, that's it's raison d'etre, whereas consciousness is built (it seems to Penrose) on complexity and interconnectedness. He just doesn't think we are doing physics right if our goal is to understand consciousness, and indeed one might say that modern physics is essentially the story of how a complex system (a brain coupled to some rather technical observing apparatus) couples to much simpler ones. That statement is reminiscent of Bohr's view of quantum mechanics, that it is not about quantum systems themselves but rather about how we can bring them into the sphere of our classical ways of interacting, except that Penrose adds to that the idea that at some point our classical ways of understanding might emerge from processes that cannot be described classically also.

    I don't think Penrose would call it a "theory," it's more like possible guidelines for how to revolutionize physics to make it more conducive for application to consciousness. He is on pretty solid foundation, in the sense that it is a matter of historical fact that physics was never built to describe anything nearly as complex as consciousness, it was always built to describe simple systems, or when applied to complex systems, to throw out the vast majority of what is happening in those systems in order to isolate a few simple key principles (a la thermodynamics). Hence it stands to reason that there are types of questions we might wish to ask about complex systems that physics is not built to accomodate.
    ...and since there are small structures inside of neurons, which could be affected by quantum mechanics... this provides a mechanism.
    Whether or not what Penrose is after requires going to the quantum level is not at all clear. Even macro systems have always been addressed in physics by using the tools of simplification and reductionism. Simplification means you don't try to predict most of what is happening in the complex system, you satisfy yourself with bulk averages that can be described by a few simple parameters (like talking about the density and temperature of a gas, something a physicist does so automatically it is easy to forget that the air around us can do anything else or have any other properties). Reductionism means you look at the whole as a sum of parts, and don't look for emergent behaviors that only become possible via the interactions within the whole. In the case of gases, for example, the physicist will look at things that one particle can do (like move in a straight line or bounce off a wall), then what two particles will do (like bounce off each other), and that's really about it-- after that the physicist can only do bulk averages that throw away a vast amount of information, hoping that nothing important is lost.

    Another thing that physics does is draw a sharp line between the observer and the observed. Systems never observe themselves in physics, so there is never anything self-referential in the step that brings a physical system out of its own separate existence and into something that fits into the observables of physics.

    Penrose thinks that when you put all those pieces together in that way, you lose the ability to understand or describe consciousness. Where quantum mechanics informs what we might be losing there is that quantum mechanics does two things that never happened in classical physics-- it allows for multiple particle systems to exhibit behaviors that are fundamentally different from the sum of parts, and it allows for a stage of indeterminism that fits between the physical system and the outcomes of observations done on it. The fundamentally different behavior about multiple particle systems, discovered in quantum mechanics and never dreamed of classical systems, includes the Pauli exclusion principle applied to indistinguishable fermions like the electrons in our brains. That principle puts the lie to the very concept of a single particle description, by which I mean that no system of multiple particles can be expressed as a set of single particle descriptions, instead there is only the single description of the entire system at once. We routinely get away with ignoring this fact, and talk about "the electron that is in a hydrogen atom" and so on, but that's only because we are not interested in the holistic behavior, not because there isn't holistic behavior. Also, quantum mechanical descriptions allow for, and in special circumstances require, the "spooky action at a distance" of entanglement. Penrose thinks the self-referential elements of consciousness might echo this type of situation, not necessarily that the Pauli exclusion principle or entangled Bell states explain consciousness, but rather, the kinds of things we discovered we need in quantum mechanics were things we never dreamed of in the prior reductionist physics.

    Also, the indeterminism required by quantum mechanics is another avenue for potentially getting at consciousness, in the sense that in the past, physics was framed as deterministic, by which I mean, the exact state of any system and its environment suffices to know the exact future of that system. In classical mechanics, we knew that exact knowledge is impossible, so instead we imagine a ball of uncertainty that in some sense surrounds our knowledge of any system, and this ball of uncertainty can grow with time, making predictions difficult but still (in principle) possible by simply reducing that uncertainty, or limiting the elapsed time. All that is completely thrown away in quantum mechanics, because if you prepare an electron (pretending for a moment that electrons have individual descriptions in our usual reductionist fashion) in a spin "up" state, you have complete uncertainty about what it's spin will be if you next measure it in the horizontal direction. You cannot reduce that uncertainty by making the original spin up more certain, the complete unpredictability does not stem from any initial uncertainty, in the quantum mechanical description. So this is another way that self-referential elements could have agency of some kind-- if you combine correlations between particles that require a holistic description with the fundamental indeterminism of outcomes prior to the observations being made, you have a means whereby a system as complicated as a brain might be able to access new behaviors.

    So it's not so much that quantum mechanics can explain consciousness, or that it is equally odd as consciousness, it is simply that quantum mechanics opens a numbers of windows in something that we used to think was a wall. Penrose thinks that consciousness can be seen only through those windows, but what it looks like is not so easy to say. Since Penrose is a brilliant mathematician, he thinks the description will be profoundly mathematical. It is possible that he is being an optimist-- it might be that we have built physics so that we can do it, and if that means losing the description of consciousness, it might be as said by Lyall Watson, that "If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.” But the physicist must always give it their best shot, and that's all Penrose is doing, even if he knows he is a long way from an actual theory.
    How does Godel's incompleteness theorem come into Penrose's argument? That there are things which are true, but cannot be proven?
    It is typical to quote the theorem as meaning this, in regard to basic first-order arithmetic of natural numbers, but to say so actually requires the assumption that the axioms of said arithmetic are not internally inconsistent, i.e., contradictory to each other. The Godel proof is that either the axioms are inconsistent, or there exist true statements about that arithmetic that cannot be proved by those axioms. So there is no point in trying to find a finite set of axioms that can prove all truisms about positive integers (not to mention real numbers), because success would mean the axioms can prove anything, including things that are false.
    It's been awhile since I read either Emperor's New Mind or Chaos, but I believe the connection is that it is the self-referential character of the Godel statement that is essential in proving the limitations of arithmetical axioms, so maybe self-referential elements of physical systems can break through limitations that prevent us from understanding consciousness. When we introspect about our own consciousness, it seems like being aware of our own thoughts is part of our ability to think. Noam Chomsky thinks that the ability to manipulate meaning and language are essential to higher thought, so that also has a self-referential flavor, where a mind comes up with words that represent meanings, and in pondering about what kinds of meanings would be useful to create words for, the mind expands its ability to form new concepts. That's like self-referencing the meanings of the words. Indeed, many people think dictionaries give the meanings of words, but actually it only connects meanings of words-- all meanings in dictionaries are self referential, so you take meanings you have already mastered and combine and manipulate them in a self-referential way to form new meanings and the need for new words to express various nuances that emerge from that process. It's hard to imagine anything more nuanced than consciousness!
    Last edited by Ken G; 2020-May-05 at 03:07 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    One of the great skills of very clever people is coming up with complicated justifications for ideas that appeal to them on a fundamentally emotional level.
    I'd be banned if I said that about an epidemiologist!

    But seriously, a way to frame Penrose's perspective that would not trigger so many people's "woo" meters is to come at the question as asking, what are the limitations of physics as it is currently constructed, rather than how can we explain consciousness. Some people think there is nothing in particular to understand with consciousness, and others think physics is already constructed to do everything, so it is not clear which is the best approach to take to avoid triggering these different types. But if we are dealing with someone who thinks there is nothing much to explain with consciousness, but is open to the idea that physics might be incomplete, the key question to ask is where to look for the next big discovery, the place where physics as we currently know it cannot successfully go. That's always an important question to a physicist, and consciousness is a logical place to look, because of its apparent self-referential qualities, possibly involved with the question of a system that observes itself, rather than the usual breakdown observer/system that current physics still uses.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2020-May-05 at 02:50 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    I'd be banned if I said that about an epidemiologist!
    I can't comment on that, but I think it's generally a mistake to ascribe motives, conscious or unconscious, to specific people in the absence of formal psychological testing.

    I was making a general point about strategies to resolve cognitive dissonance, in response to cjameshuff's general point about cognitive shortcuts. There's a sizeable literature supporting that general point.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Physics is not the right tool for investigating consciousness. Consciousness, as we know it so far in our history, is a phenomenon that arises from biological systems. Specifically, nervous systems. Sure, physics underlies all of the branches of science, but for all the reasons Ken wrote about it isn't a good tool to use in this case. Living things are too messy for physics. But there are branches of science that specialize in studying such messy things. Fields typically involved in cognitive research include anthropology, biology, computer science, psychology, mathematics, neuroscience, and more. Not so much physics though. Perhaps in collaboration to help understand some aspects of the research at the smallest scales, but asking more of physics would be to misuse it.

    I think it is premature to suppose that because we do not yet have an understanding of consciousness that there must be some as of yet undiscovered fundamental physics that is necessary to understand it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Darrell View Post
    Physics is not the right tool for investigating consciousness. Consciousness, as we know it so far in our history, is a phenomenon that arises from biological systems. Specifically, nervous systems. Sure, physics underlies all of the branches of science, but for all the reasons Ken wrote about it isn't a good tool to use in this case. Living things are too messy for physics. But there are branches of science that specialize in studying such messy things. Fields typically involved in cognitive research include anthropology, biology, computer science, psychology, mathematics, neuroscience, and more. Not so much physics though. Perhaps in collaboration to help understand some aspects of the research at the smallest scales, but asking more of physics would be to misuse it.

    I think it is premature to suppose that because we do not yet have an understanding of consciousness that there must be some as of yet undiscovered fundamental physics that is necessary to understand it.
    Maybe physics is the right tool to investigate what physics calls consciousness. It is not just regarding two hard problems as related by being hard to understand. The progress of quantum experiments has led to a problem in a model to progress in interpretation of, for example, entanglement. And it is not just Penrose. If an interaction is not random, but a mini jostling which extends outwards, you might say the interaction is conscious of the environment, neither random nor deterministic, but a bit of each. Currently there is no cosmic equivalent to memory as we know it. But a quantum interaction may have memory Of past and future! Exciting times for physics audiences, I think.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by Darrell View Post
    Living things are too messy for physics.
    And yet, physics is what gives rise to life. Without the study of physics we can't understand how life works.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biophysics
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    And yet, physics is what gives rise to life. Without the study of physics we can't understand how life works.
    Physics was invented by humans .. otherwise we couldn't study it nor understand its conclusions .. and human life was around well before physics ever was.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Selfsim View Post
    Physics was invented by humans .. otherwise we couldn't study it nor understand its conclusions .. and human life was around well before physics ever was.
    OK, so I should have said, the physical processes studied by the science of physics give rise to life.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    OK, so I should have said, the physical processes studied by the science of physics give rise to life.
    I agree.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darrell View Post
    "Sure, physics underlies all of the branches of science, . . ."

    "Not so much physics though. Perhaps in collaboration to help understand some aspects of the research at the smallest scales, but asking more of physics would be to misuse it."

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    "Not so much physics though. Perhaps in collaboration to help understand some aspects of the research at the smallest scales, but asking more of physics would be to misuse it."
    This is the part I disagree with. Biology is complex and as you said, messy. That's no reason not to examine and learn about the physical aspects of it.

    I do agree that it's not something to simplistically apply, as the OP hypothesis does. We don't know enough yet about the processes of the human brain. But that is reason to increase the study of neural physics, not to dismiss it.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    I'm not sure we disagree at all. To clarify, I don't disagree with any of your last comment. Except that dismiss part. I was being critical of Ken's, and Penrose's, take on this but I didn't dismiss physics. I admitted it was a necessary and useful collaborator in cognitive research.

    To try and clarify my view, the disciplines of biology, chemistry (and more) and physics all study the same thing, they just study it at different levels. Sure, there is plenty to learn about human brain function at the level that physics (the discipline) works at and what's learned at that level will be key. But that's just the underlying parts of the puzzle. There will be much more work to do by disciplines that look at higher level phenomena like chemistry, biology, etc. A successful model of human brain function will be comprised of many pieces from many disciplines, including pieces from physics, but it won't be constructed by physics.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Rather, he is saying that he does not think physical systems that are completely regulated via the laws of physics we have currently formulated can produce consciousness.
    Which is purely a statement of belief. (Justified by some extremely complex post-hoc reasons.)

    He thinks that consciousness involves complexity and self-reference, two aspects that are intentionally avoided in physics.
    But exist in vast amounts in the structure of the brain.

    But seriously, a way to frame Penrose's perspective that would not trigger so many people
    "triggered"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Darrell View Post
    I'm not sure we disagree at all. To clarify, I don't disagree with any of your last comment. Except that dismiss part. I was being critical of Ken's, and Penrose's, take on this but I didn't dismiss physics. I admitted it was a necessary and useful collaborator in cognitive research.

    To try and clarify my view, the disciplines of biology, chemistry (and more) and physics all study the same thing, they just study it at different levels. Sure, there is plenty to learn about human brain function at the level that physics (the discipline) works at and what's learned at that level will be key. But that's just the underlying parts of the puzzle. There will be much more work to do by disciplines that look at higher level phenomena like chemistry, biology, etc. A successful model of human brain function will be comprised of many pieces from many disciplines, including pieces from physics, but it won't be constructed by physics.
    Understood, and mostly agreed.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I can't comment on that, but I think it's generally a mistake to ascribe motives, conscious or unconscious, to specific people in the absence of formal psychological testing.

    I was making a general point about strategies to resolve cognitive dissonance, in response to cjameshuff's general point about cognitive shortcuts.
    I'm not following the logic. If you are saying that it is fine to make generalizations about intelligent people, but not apply those generalizations to individuals, then I don't see why your comment was relevant to a thread specifically about Roger Penrose. If you are instead saying it is fine to draw conclusions about how individuals deal with cognitive dissonance, but not about their motives, then I'm missing the distinction you make there.
    There's a sizeable literature supporting that general point.
    Yet that literature addresses neither of the questions I just posed, so is not relevant to the problem with the logic here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Darrell View Post
    I think it is premature to suppose that because we do not yet have an understanding of consciousness that there must be some as of yet undiscovered fundamental physics that is necessary to understand it.
    The issue is what is the purpose of the "supposition." If one is trying to assert it as a truth, that's not a good place for suppositions, that requires strong evidence. But if one is simply trying to find inspiration to discover the next big thing, like a search for sunken treasure that might or might not be there, then one uses supposition as a motivator to engage in the enterprise.

  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Which is purely a statement of belief. (Justified by some extremely complex post-hoc reasons.)
    Yes, it is the kind of statement that must start with something like "in my opinion" or "for my money," not intended to be a statement for others to take as fact without evidence. I suspect Penrose is generally pretty careful to preface his claims about consciousness with clarifications like that, it's not like he's explaining Newton's laws.
    But exist in vast amounts in the structure of the brain.
    That's Penrose's point, yes.
    "triggered"
    By that I mean, generates a negative reaction without necessarily knowing the fully story behind what he is saying. I see it a lot when consciousness comes up, but of course we all do it all the time, we are human and we react to things. You might say I am triggered when I see philosophies around consciousness triggering someone else! But yes, it's likely that neither physics nor mathematics are going to "explain" consciousness, any more than we could "explain" a house, but rather, they may provide key insights, like the principle of an arch, etc.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2020-May-07 at 02:48 AM.

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    I would say that consciousness is an 'emergent phenomenon' of neuronal tissue... like a bee-hive emerges from 'dumb' bees, whose behavior emerges from gene+ environment, whose behavior emerges from protein folding etc. all the way down to physics.
    Can one can describe systems without necessarily requiring an understanding of the deeper layers?
    Does one necessarily need a complete understanding of physics to understand consciousness, economics etc.
    Sure these complex emergent 'things' require feedback loops but I don't see that looking at the deepest layers for a clue to the mystery of consciousness is anything more than a (testable?) preference e.g. if a software-based (non-neuronal) strange attractor passed the Turing test... that wouldn't mean that human consciousness didn't have some extra/different microtubule/QM stuff going on.
    Part of the problem is that I don't think we even have a definition of 'consciousness'- unlike a beehive which is obvious..... and we don't have any way of knowing if a simulation is conscious or just a 'zombie' with no internal qualia. I don't think even in principle we can know this?.. making it a non-scientific question i suppose.
    Last edited by plant; 2020-May-07 at 06:50 AM.
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3dZl3yfGpc

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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    I would say that consciousness is an 'emergent phenomenon' of neuronal tissue... like a bee-hive emerges from 'dumb' bees, whose behavior emerges from gene+ environment, whose behavior emerges from protein folding etc. all the way down to physics.
    This is what is called the "materialistic" perspective. Physics used to have a highly materialistic underpinning, whereby it was viewed that if you simply knew what the substances were doing, then that was literally all that was happening. One can add the reductionist perspective, and one gets that if you just knew what all the particles were doing individually, then that was everything. To hold this, you would normally have to also introduce a background spacetime, and not count that as itself part of the materials moving through said spacetime. If you add to that Newtonian action at a distance, you had classical physics circa 1800, and it seemed very powerful-- like maybe that was absolutely everything. But then Faraday started experimenting on electromagnetic fields, and we had to say that you needed to know both what the particles were doing, and the fields-- because even though particles give rise to fields (circa 1900), fields have their own evolutionary equations, meaning that they take on a life of their own and you can remove all the particles and the fields would continue to behave according to their own rules. So with the importance of fields, materialism had to expand to include these new and rather ephemeral and wavelike "substances", while the spacetime was still just taken for granted as being in the background, a constraint that has no place at the table of the dynamics and other active phenomena. But if if by "tissue",one is talking about both the particles and the fields present in said tissue, then it's still a materialistic approach-- circa 1900.

    Then comes general relativity, and suddenly the spacetime is itself a dynamical player. Is that part of the tissue now? And after that, quantum field theory comes along and all (except the spacetime again) is wavefunction, instead of all is material. In this picture, we don't say that waves and fields emerge from particles, we say that particles are manifestations of the field behaviors. One might say that particles are emergent phenomena from the mathematics of the wavefunctions, and further, that material is itself the emergent phenomenon. After all, a wavefunction is about as ephemeral and immaterial of a "thing" as you can imagine, and it may (if one is willing to entertain that possibility, though this requires forgetting that physics has never been complete) be the "thing" that is all that is happening. So if you say that "neural tissue" is its wavefunction, and its material attributes emerge from the way that wavefunction evolves and interacts with measuring apparatus, then you might say consciousness emerges from said tissue, along with all the other attributes of the tissue like its color and mass and fields and so on. But you still have the pesky spacetime, is that also emergent from the tissue, or is it some kind of separate entity? It can also evolve, after all, given GR. Of course we normally think of the spacetime of a brain to be a completely passive structure against which neural activity plays out, but that's exactly what Penrose questions-- he doesn't just think QM plays a role in the mind, but GR as well.

    And then comes the most important issue that Penrose is driving at-- what if the wavefunction is incomplete, just as physics has always been in the past, then what do you say? We can't say the tissue emerges from the wavefunction if the wavefunction is missing something important, and we don't even say the wavefunction emerges from the tissue in current quantum mechanics, and we have no way to say what the spacetime is emerging from or if it has some dynamical agency in its own right, so we are left with no support for the claim that consciousness emerges from the tissue-- we simply cannot make the necessary connections to give those words meaning. Note this is not necessarily singling out consciousness, the same holds for any complex phenomenon (gravity, spacetime, etc.). Is gravity an emergent property of the interaction of mass/energy with spacetime, is mass/energy and spacetime emergent properties of gravity, or are our descriptions incomplete such that neither can be said to emerge from the other because something more is going on?

    This is not just idle wordplay, theoretical physicists with the goal of penetrating deeper wonder about the possibiity that "ER = EPR." That cryptic equation invokes two papers involving none other than Einstein (the "E"), both published in 1935, which seemed to have no connection since ER is the paper about Einstein-Rosen bridges connected to black holes (so is GR), and EPR is the paper about the "paradox" of entanglement (so is ordinary QM). But the equation ER=EPR encodes the suggestion that they may be profoundly related, that entangled particles might be connected by Einstein-Rosen bridges, and that these connections weave together not only all the material in the universe, but even spacetime itself. Then we would say that all is entanglement and Einstein-Rosen bridges, and material behavior, field behavior, and spacetime behavior are all themselves types of emergent phenomena. Where does that leave the connection between brain tissue and consciousness?
    Can one can describe systems without necessarily requiring an understanding of the deeper layers?
    Of course, not only can one do that, one must do that, as that is all one has at one's disposal. But there remains the question, if one's understanding is incomplete, how can one dig deeper?
    Sure these complex emergent 'things' require feedback loops but I don't see that looking at the deepest layers for a clue to the mystery of consciousness is anything more than a (testable?) preference e.g. if a software-based (non-neuronal) strange attractor passed the Turing test... that wouldn't mean that human consciousness didn't have some extra/different microtubule/QM stuff going on.
    The idea is to tell the difference between what some version of consciousness (say, neuronal) happens to be doing, and what is fundamental to the process itself. When we see a rock fall off a cliff, we say we have the phenomenon of gravity, which we unify with what the Moon is doing in the sky and what holds the Earth together. So we don't care about the detailed differences in those situations, we are looking for the unifying principle. The question is then, what are the unifying principles encountered with consciousness? If a computer can do it, then we know we needn't look at the details of what neurons do, but if it can't, then maybe we do. So Penrose is being consistent when he holds the opinion that we need to look at what neurons are doing from the perspective of both QM and GR, and when he says that he doesn't think computers can do it. As for Turing tests, remember that we use Turing tests as an attempt to create an operational definition of intelligence, because science requires operational definitions. But it doesn't mean that passing a Turing test is the same thing as being conscious-- it just means we haven't thought of a better way to tell. If there is no better way, and if the Turing test fails to capture the key essence of consciousness, then we are left with the unpleasant possibility that not only is consciousness outside of current physics, it might be outside of the scientific approach altogether. The scientist does not set out with the expectation to fail, but that doesn't mean they will succeed. Penrose is shooting for a middle ground where physics can give us insights into consciousness, but it will require new physics to do so, and that may mean replacing a Turing test with something more profoundly connected to those new insights.
    Part of the problem is that I don't think we even have a definition of 'consciousness'- unlike a beehive which is obvious..... and we don't have any way of knowing if a simulation is conscious or just a 'zombie' with no internal qualia. I don't think even in principle we can know this?.. making it a non-scientific question i suppose.
    Yes, that is very much the current problem-- before we can ask if our physics is enough to understand consciousness, or even if we need physics at all to do so, we first have to be able to define consciousness in a way that is accessible to science. A Turing test is a fairly rudimentary way to do that, it might not be enough to get at the notion of "qualia", which was the point of "Searles Chinese room." The idea there is basically that if you have a machine that is passing a Turing test, you could imagine inserting a conscious mind into the machine as one of its parts, but it is a purely mechanical part that only does some mundane manipulation that is essential for the function but doesn't involve that conscious mind in any understanding of what is happening. This is done to try and contrast the difference between when the conscious mind is an integral part of the process of consciousness that is being tested, versus being merely a mechanical cog that does not invoke any understanding. It takes the question, is understanding purely mechanical, or is it a ghost in the machine, and instead of trying to remove the "ghost" and see if it's still conscious, it adds another "ghost" and points out that it is possible to tell when that consciousness is not participating in the rest of the process in any important way. This doesn't really prove anything, it is more like a device to see that it is possible to have a consciousness in there but have it be disconnected from the scientifically accessible outputs being studied. So instead of asking, can we know if there is a consciousness inside a machine, it asks, how can we tell when the consciousness that is in there has anything to do with what the machine is doing. This is again the question of whether or not science loses something in the step of making the phenomenon accessible to science. There is a whole thread about this issue, which is fashionable on this forum to regard as outside of physics, but actually it is outside of modern physics like quantum mechanics is outside Newtonian.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2020-May-07 at 03:10 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    That's Penrose's point, yes.
    Of course it isn't. If it were, he would say: "look at the complexity of the interconnectedness and feedback between different levels of the brains functions; maybe that is how consciousness can arise in physical system".

    But no, he has to base it on some as-yet undiscovered quantum effects that the only assumes exist because it would support his beliefs.

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