This is a continuation of a previous post you can read here.
I wrote this a few years ago.
My ideas have developed since then, but it shows how I got to the ideas I now hold as meaningful and of value to me, so I’m sharing this so that later, when I post about my current thinking, things will hopefully make more sense.
Also, I have deadlines I need to meet this week, and I’m a little pressed for time. 🙂
The Arrow of Time:
I agree with my no-free-will friend Tricia when she tells me that time only appears to us to move in one direction because that’s how we’ve evolved to perceive reality. But I don’t think that means we have no free will.
Time can’t have a direction because it doesn’t move forward or backward. It doesn’t move at all. In the same way that space doesn’t move in either direction, it simply exists in all directions.
For the sake of argument, I’ll agree that we do, physically, move through space, I don’t know what it really means to say that we physically move through time. I don’t think we can move through time. Only our consciousness can. If the past, present and future all exist simultaneously, existing in all directions at once, like space, and our conscious experience takes us from one time-frame to the next (as nicely explained by Brian Greene in the NOVA video – tee hee!) then this again seems to give some kind of special role to consciousness.
In the ‘part 1’ section, when I talked about time slowing for you, relative to me, we don’t expect your conscious experience to feel the slowing. Your conscious experience would be the same, regardless of how fast/slow your clock is ticking relative to mine. So to me that suggests that consciousness is somehow separable from the rate at which we pass through time-frames. Intense fear/crises can make your experience of time change so that a few seconds feel like minutes, and the number of changes you experience help to determine how you experience the passage of time, how many frames you move through.
So if consciousness is separable from time and space, it seems to me that it’s the only thing that has the power to change/move. Time and space are existing in a static sense, and our conscious experience flows through the ‘now’ slices, creating the sense that time/space move around us, or that our bodies move through them, but that would have to be an illusion. There can be no movement through space if time is static, only the probability of finding yourself at a given position in space at a given time. That would also explain why/how electrons leap from one orbital to another without moving through the space between them. At time-frame 1.1 the position in space is A. At time-frame 1.2 the position in space is B. But there’s no need for an explanation of how the electron moved through space because it didn’t.
However, change is how we measure/detect/define/experience movement through time. But it now seems then that only our consciousness can detect change or effect it (because the non-conscious Geiger-counter can be in a super-position state of having both detected a particle and not having done so, having no particle present to detect).
Maybe our consciousness takes up more than one time-frame at once. So we take up a few, with awareness of everything happening in those few, but we filter it, due to adaptive evolution, to experience it as a progression, a narrative arc, one moment at a time, even though we have access to the information in all of those few frames at once. But if there’s survival-relevant content in any of those few frames, our filter lets that through, gives it enough prominence to be processed out of sequence in sufficient detail to affect our autonomic nervous system (hence pre-target-presentation pupil-dilation).
Personally, I really do believe that the only way probabilities collapse into realities is by being observed. But if they’re “observed” by non-conscious detectors (ex. Photon hits gold molecule and is ‘detected’, collapsing into a reality as the gold molecule absorbs or deflects it) then the detector joins the superposition state (both absorbing and deflecting the photon). Do we join the superposition state of observing the absorption and the deflection? Maybe, until our consciousness does its thing and we end up with one observation that we’re consciously aware of.
That lets me entertain the idea that conscious detection/measurement/observation causes probabilities to collapse to more ordered realities. That argues for increased order, no? From multiple paths down to one taken path?
In a singularity, well, things can’t exist in spaces that are smaller than their wavelengths (so says wiki), right? So what’s going on in a singularity? I don’t know. But I’m beginning to worry that without consciousness, the singularity would also find itself in some bizarre superposition state. Having…um, “exploded” as the Big Bang, and not having done so. But that’s FAR too crazy for me. Even with wine. Maybe with butterscotch martinis, though… Hard to say.
So, entropy: Consciousness overcomes it, no? Consciousness, as observer/detector, out of which emerges the experience of forward movement through time, also creates order from disorder, collapsing multiple possible paths down to one taken path, for itself. Maybe not actually changing the construct, but changing the streams it moves through, and in that way generating a higher-order of meaning and a sense of causality. This WOULD be causality. Because even though you’re not changing anything in any stream of past-present-future, your movement from one future-path to a different one, gives you a sense of having made a change in the future frame, when in fact, you only changed which future frame your consciousness travels through, but that is a kind of causality, isn’t it? Because you’re still, in a way, shaping your reality. Shaping the reality you experience, without having to disturb anything in the space-time construct.
I do think it’s possible that my friend Tricia is wrong in saying that few physicists believe that consciousness plays any role in collapses of wave functions. I read the book “Quantum Enigma” by two physicists who explain that it’s not that physicists don’t think consciousness plays a role, it’s more that they don’t want it to, and so they ignore that aspect of it, and carry on with the equations. The authors talk about the “Copenhagen interpretation”, which basically says, from what I understand, that for all practical purposes we can think of the ‘observer’ as a Geiger counter (ignoring that it too can enter into a superposition state with what it is meant to detect) instead of a conscious observer and the calculations will obviously be unaffected and that allows us to hold on to our worldview. Use quantum physics equations for microscopic things and classical physics for macroscopic things and things will work out well enough overall. But it’s not an explanation or description. It’s just a way of ignoring the problem.
I’ve read Carpenter’s article and need to think about it some more. I briefly looked for responses to it in the literature but didn’t see anything.
But what about the many-worlds theory?
From what I gather, and agree with, the problem with the many-worlds theory is that it fails to explain or predict precisely when the branching-off of a new reality occurs, allowing the observation of a specific value for a property, or what it really means to say that branching has occurred. That the type of measurement affects the outcome also isn’t addressed by this theory. How does the type of measurement lead us to the matching outcome reality? Why don’t we ever find ourselves, our conscious selves, in the reality where the outcome doesn’t match the measurement choice? And what available “space” does the newly created reality-branch take up? I’m not terribly fond of this idea as an explanation or even a sufficient description of what might be going on. (Looking only at the ‘newly-created universes for each choice/measurement’ theories.) But I guess what I’m proposing is similar in that there’s an infinite number (for all intents and purposes) of realities that exist, that our consciousness moves through. I just think it’s not the reality that’s splitting/branching, but rather our consciousness moving through different frames/streams/layers/what-have-you.
My friend Tricia suggests the past doesn’t determine the future if everything just is. But there are measurable relationships between events/measurements that we see as past-future. Even if these are in actuality side-by-side rather than behind-ahead, it still leaves us having to explain why these relationships exist, why they create outcomes we deem to be meaningfully related.
Also, I don’t like the “hidden variables” approach because it seems to me to be saying “It’s MAGIC! Or may as well be because we have absolutely no idea so we’ll just sweep it all under the rug and call it something else to sound more science-y”. Tee hee! We do the same in psychology. When we can’t explain how information can be processed prior to reaching the appropriate processing centers, we shout “Mirror Neurons!!!” at the top of our voices, as if that explains how a stimulus-input can be processed by one neuron for instrumentality, consequences, name-sound homonyms, synonyms, antonyms, scent-association and related linguistic associations with those scents, all before the input reaches neuron-groupings that are supposed to be responsible for these various attributions. We say, “Oh, it’s the mirror-neuron that fires” and that supposedly explains a process of matching what’s observed or heard with a database of previous experiences indexed by every single possible attribute…. in the moment it takes to be subliminally primed. It makes me giggle. Or cry from an overwhelming sense of defeat and disillusionment with the state in which the ‘pursuit of knowledge and truth’ now finds itself. Depending on the day.
I’m not really sure how I define consciousness. Are neurons and the associated quantum events required (microtubules and stuffs, is the latest that’s been bandied about by the more legitimate researchers), or can any complex system that transmits electrochemical information within itself, storing and manipulating it, do? Most (all?) of my profs in Utrecht believed that consciousness is just a funny thing the human brain happens to do, a kind of unnecessary excretion of sorts, as it goes about its survival functions. Strong epiphenomenalism. They believe our body goes through its motions, reacting to stimuli, with no need for an agentic awareness. I’ve come to find that an obscene perspective, for reasons I don’t quite understand yet. It’s a visceral response but I’ve been doing a lot of exploring and researching and I’m finding strong support for my initial instinct.
These days, maybe more often than not, I think maybe I’m a solipsist, and if the tree falls and I’m not there to see it, then it doesn’t make a sound because without me there to witness it, it doesn’t even exist.
I don’t know. I haven’t thought enough about it yet, but at the moment, on the surface of it all, the idea of consciousness being related to the brain in a way analogous to the sounds coming from a radio… Something about that entertains and intrigues me. Except that the radio is also the source of the music (?), and the waves emitted are so weak that radios in the vicinity can’t tune in to the signal… The crucial point here: no post-public-peeing mind-swapping possibilities permitted (have you seen that terrible movie?)! (although sometimes when I wake up from vivid nightmares, I have moments, between waking and becoming fully aware of being awake and the memories being just a dream, when I believe that my consciousness was spending some time in the vicinity of one my parallel-world selves – here’s the incorporation of your many-worlds theory – and I worry about that version of me before drowning the dreams in a nice cup of coffee). But now I think it’s something else going on, something grander. But that’s best kept for a future post.
I’m loving the Free Will Theorem, in that I would happily attribute consciousness to elementary particles for the sake of argument, in order to defend that viewpoint. But, and I’m embarrassed to say this, all these little pieces of theories and information, given, admittedly, my presumably inadequate knowledge of math, physics, chem, neuropsych, etc., and my delight in connecting ideas in ways that may do little more than amuse me rather than depict realistic possibilities, seem to lead me to a feeling rather than a belief or consideration, that the substrate of our reality contains elements of what we recognize as consciousness, and these are in some way manifest in our own version of consciousness, and in any we might attribute to quantum particles. Or, that we simply exist as part of a computer simulation. Is that more likely? Maybe. Maybe we are biological machines, and the sensation of consciousness is just a funny but wholly superfluous consequence of the evolution of a forward-thinking creature. But doesn’t that put us back into the superposition-universe where everything is and is not, following all possible paths, in all possible positions, at all energy levels?
As for my desire to give in whole-heartedly to hedonism if there is no free will, I must admit I’ve not been terribly productive this week. Lazy-daisy!
In psych, no free will doesn’t mean everything is pre-determined, as much as it means that your responses to stimuli are outside of your conscious ability to control. So my eyes haphazardly moving across a field of view that included the container of bay leaves on my spice-rack earlier today must be why I’m craving Bailey’s and would be drinking some now if only the liquor store were closer. I no longer think my conscious experience is just a painful effect of evolutionary problems with uneven catch-up rates of development. That consciousness has developed beyond the capacities of the body to allow it fulfillment. That we’re just randomly occurring, poorly developed, little machines that have no hope for transcendence despite our yearning for it. That our lives are as meaningless as those of ants or fruit flies that live for no more than 24 hours. That awe and beauty and meaning are all… whimsical fantasies of an illusory by-product of a chaotic system that only appears to be somewhat self-organizing. I’ve seen too much that suggests otherwise.
I wouldn’t say I’m a dualist. If anything, I sometimes believe that the physical is an artifact of the mind’s information-processing. That all there can be is information and a self-organizing system, from which consciousness emerges, that is somehow tied to the process of creating, interpreting, encoding, and organizing this information. Because without that, information isn’t really information, is it? But I don’t know enough about self-organizing systems, and how they relate to information. I can’t quite recall it accurately, but there’s a religious proverb of some kind from somewhere that says something along the lines of reality being a manifestation of the deity’s desire to know itself. That’s what I think of, when I consider a substrate of reality as having something that we would loosely relate to consciousness, or when I read the theory that leads to an interpretation that quantum particles must have some kind of something that we can refer to as a kind of consciousness, due to our lack of a better framework of understanding of it all. Not that it makes me believe in religious ideas, rather, it makes me wonder about… other things. Anyway. I guess I need to think about what information is, its nature, and what it means to have information that is forever-undetected.
In a universe where the singularity failed to become a big bang, do mathematical truths still exist? Does pi have any meaning? Do the relationships it describes still exist as information? Or do we need the structure of the information to have something to which pi applies, for pi itself to be “information”.
Maybe my life is pretty empty at the moment, I guess, that these are the plans and goals I’m setting. I’m just desperately looking for some kind of foundation, some truth, something I can make sense of. I can’t bear to think about going back to the sham-science that is Research Psychology. They showed me how they tweak the data, the analyses, or the set-up, to get publishable results. I learned that what I believed in as a mechanism to establish truths about human behaviour and perception is mostly an ocean of deceit that yields very little truth, but it keeps people with big but fragile egos employed in well-paid, highly-respected, secure jobs for life. The price to get in is your integrity. So this attempt at figuring out what I believe about what’s real is quite important for me. Without it, I worry I’ll slide into a disaffected existence where I spend too much time alone, I forget to keep trying to be kinder, more compassionate, and I waste away my time reading fiction novels and watching stories on Netflix to distract me from the nihilism swallowing up our world. Also I sometimes feel that death is all around me and I kind of want to figure out what life is, what life is about, before it all comes to an end.