Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum Is the universe a "living system"? Reply To: Is the universe a "living system"?

Ed Lantz

<p>Ursula, thanks for passing along the critique of your neuroscientist colleague. However it doesn’t seem fair to have him/her critiquing from the sidelines anonymously.  I’d like to directly address your friend. Can you get him/her to join our thread, perhaps? Otherwise it is a “hit-and-run” conversation. Anyway, I’ll clarify some nuances of my perspective a bit more.</p><p> </p><p>I am not a neuroscientist either and I’m sure it grates on them when people engage in “armchair neuroscience.”  Believe me I know, quantum physics is one of the most misappropriated fields in all the sciences! </p><p> </p><p>As mentioned, neuroscientists have yet to crack the brain’s neural coding (which seems to be a mixture of analog and digital-like processes) so they have not been able to observe the fine informational details of the mind through instrumentation. Granted, we’ve learned a lot from perceptual tests and neuroinformatic techniques allowing us to infer computational models for brain functions, and neuroimaging techniques that allow us to localize many of these functions in specific regions of the brain. However these are very blunt instruments of observation. There is not currently a means of imaging or decoding our actual thoughts and mental processes.</p><p> </p><p>However we can directly observe personal thoughts and mental processes – our consciousness – through subjective introspection. This is the “informational domain” of consciousness that I’m referring to. We optimize the clarity of these observations when we polish the lens of contemplation. I tend to call this study “phenomenology” in the positive sense of the term.  In my opinion, if we are to truly study and understand consciousness, we need to include the phenomenological domain as a valid window of scientific observation. Neuroimaging studies of meditators and Buddhist monks are revealing useful information about brain function, for instance, because they can invoke and sustain a variety of unique brain states while their brains are being imaged for neural correlates. </p><p> </p><p> </p><p>My issue is this. I cannot ignore numerous personal phenomenological (subjective) experiences that have led me to conclude that there is much that neuroscience does not yet understand about consciousness – things that are perfectly obvious to those who are skilled in the contemplative arts. I’m referring to a wide range of phenomena and experiences – lucid dreams, access to lower level processes in the brain, anomalous information transfer and such. I have no religious or spiritual agenda to push here and am not blinded by emotions as your colleague suggests.  I am a curious rational scientific/creative thinker who is seeking to understand the universe, and am taking in the totality of my experiences and training – including subjective experiences – and trying to make sense of it all.</p><p> </p><p>My background and continued research in quantum physics leads me to suspect that quantum information science is going to play heavy in neuroscience and, specifically, consciousness research. I also have a neuroscientist friend who I’ve had deep conversations with, and have been told that I am spot on with my inquiries. However when speaking him I am very careful how I contextualize and frame my statements. My comments on this forum were not aimed towards neuroscientists :-)</p><p> </p><p>I’ve engaged in over 15 years of self-guided consciousness research including published studies and personal subjective experiences. My working hypothesis has speculative elements (which is why it is called a hypothesis), but I’m building arguments based on a large volume of data – too much data to share here. The point is that my thinking is not as shallow or speculative as is being assumed by your colleague. </p><p> </p><p>I do not subscribe to dualism. My brain/computer analogy was intended to point out that there are two domains of study here – one is the physical domain, the “hardware” and “firmware” of the brain, the neuro-biological computational “circuits” that support brain function. The other domain is the fine-grained informational domain of the brain – the brain’s “software” – which I refer to as an “informational domain” for lack of a better term. I am making the point that “brain vs mind” is no more dualistic than “computer vs software.” I’m sure there is a better way to frame this without resorting to the “hardware/software” analogy…</p><p> </p><p>In any case, your neuroscientist friend pushed the computer analogy farther than I had intended with his (astute) comments about software code being mechanistic in nature. Your colleague also overstates that I am making “claims of consciousness pervading the cosmos in the quantum foam with brains serving as I/O devices” when I am actually stating potential ramifications of my working hypothesis (I am not making claims because there is insufficient evidence to do so). He/she misinterprets my arguments as being in favor of dualism and underestimates the amount of research that has led me into this line of thinking, casually attributing my thinking to “missteps of logic” due to strong emotions. </p><p> </p><p>I’ve said nothing about “uploading” of consciousness into machines because we currently know so little about consciousness and neural coding that, in my opinion, there is insufficient data to make any sort of definitive statements about how human and machine intelligence might merge in the future.  I will say that our smart phones are already serving as brain prosthetics and, if the trend continues, “hands free” nanotech brain interfaces cannot be far away.</p><p> </p><p>I’m not yet attempting to “explain” consciousness (that is your friend’s job). I am providing alternative framing and suggesting methods of conducting consciousness research that may yield greater understanding of consciousness. I have some very specific ideas for experimental work in the field that combine quantum information science and neuroscience (which are beyond the scope of this conversation).</p><p> </p><p>Consider this: Biological organisms are made out of atoms and complex molecules that work in concert to form living entities – bounded autonomous agents, as your colleague might say – that interact, survive, reproduce and have active agency in the physical domain. What is slowly being revealed in quantum physics is that there is also a quantum computational/informational domain that pervades the universe. We can show how information moves about in natural ways using matter and even the vacuum as a substrate. Like matter, this information cannot be created or destroyed. Nor can it be hidden or contained, even in a black hole. Information is “boiling” off of us at all times into the environment through a process called decoherence.</p><p> </p><p>Most physicists believe that these informational processes are purely random and have nothing to do with the unfoldment of life or the functioning of biological organisms much less consciousness. While we can show that informational transport and interactions are taking place in nature, the math of quantum physics is stochastic – that is, our wavefunctions only describe statistical probabilities. The math says nothing about actualities, and cannot comment on the vast “hidden” information within Hilbert Space – unless, of course, we carefully prepare that information as with a quantum computer. In a lab environment we can track quantum information, teleport it, compute with it and more. We can even transport images using entangled particles (http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/semiconductors/devices/quantum-entanglement-camera). But otherwise this information is perfectly random, right?</p><p> </p><p>I think not.</p><p> </p><p>If we released a massive amount of hydrogen gas into space, it would seem perfectly reasonable to predict that this gas would randomly disperse or settle into a quiescent state. Even if we knew everything there was to know about the nature of hydrogen atoms, it would be difficult (and even unreasonable) to predict star formation, the creation of heavier elements including carbon, planetary formation and the eventual emergence of life. Nature is not quiescent! The universe is full of active and orderly systems ranging from the macroscopic (planetary systems, galaxies, superclusters of galaxies) to the microscopic – and us. Basic matter, although (seemingly) governed by very simple atomic rules, has bifurcated into a myriad of forms including bounded autonomous chemical agents known as biological life.</p><p> </p><p>So why would we expect this quantum informational domain to be any different? We’ve identified a wide range of informational elements (particles, virtual particles and quasiparticles) and interactions (entanglement, decoherence, quantum computation, squeezed states and more). We know that “quiescent matter” (and even empty space) is boiling with information and has vast computational capacity. Based on what we know about nature, I’d say it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that natural quantum informational processes are random or formless. If we could image this domain in detail, I expect we would see that the universe is full of active informational structures and systems ranging from the macroscopic to the microscopic – perhaps even bounded autonomous “informational” agents – that may interact with (but are not necessarily dependent upon) physical forms, biological systems or such.</p><p> </p><p>So within this contextual framing, here is a (very general) working hypotheses: An essential portion of our consciousness exists within, or accesses, the quantum informational domain – the non-local informational/computational nexus created through natural quantum interactions. </p><p> </p><p>This simple premise results in the following predictions:</p><p> </p><p>1) Cessation of primary brain activity will not necessarily result in a cessation of consciousness. Sensory/motor functions will of cease but some portion of the mind can continue to exist and navigate within the vast quantum informational domain. Whether or not consciousness could survive death of the body remains to be seen and depends on what portion of our consciousness is supported by our physical form.</p><p>References:</p><p>“Near-Death Experiences: 
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife” by Eben Alexander, M.D. – http://amzn.com/1451695195 , also: </p><p>“AWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study”</p><p>http://www.resuscitationjournal.com/article/S0300-9572(14)00739-4/abstract</p><p>”Characteristics of Near-Death Experiences Memories as Compared to Real and Imagined Events Memories”</p><p>http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0057620 </p><p>”Near death, explained”</p><p>http://www.salon.com/2012/04/21/near_death_explained/ </p><p> </p><p>2) Because of the nonlocal nature of quantum information, to the extent that the brain is able to access quantum information, we would expect to see cases of anomalous mental information transfer (i.e. telepathy, reincarnation memories, remote viewing, etc.).</p><p>References:</p><p>“Psychic Phenomena: 
The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities” by Russel Targ, PhD – http://amzn.com/0835608840,</p><p>“The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena” by Dean Radin, PhD – http://amzn.com/0061778990,</p><p>“Reincarnation: 
Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives” 
by Jim B. Tucker, M.D. – http://amzn.com/1250005841)</p><p> </p><p>3. Because quantum particles in the future can entangle with particles in the past, we would also expect to see anomalous mental information transfer backwards in time – i.e. precognition.</p><p>References:</p><p>”Feeling the Future: A Meta-analysis of 90 Experiments on the Anomalous Anticipation of Random Future Events”</p><p> http://dbem.ws/FF%20Meta-analysis%206.2.pdf</p><p> </p><p> </p><p>4. Intense phenomenologial experiences of “oneness with the universe” and other experiences associated with mystical states of consciousness seem hyperreal because they ARE real. These states are direct observations of the vast quantum informational domain. </p><p>References:</p><p>”Mystical Experience Among Tibetan Buddhists: The Common Core Thesis Revisited”</p><p>http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2011.01570.x/abstract</p><p> </p><p>This is not a “consciousness seems mysteriously counterintuitive, quantum processes seem mysteriously counterintuitive, therefore they must be related” argument. As the above above references show (and there are many, many more where that came from), there is an abundance of unexplained experimental, anecdotal and phenomenological data collected by reputable scientists and researchers that are inconsistent with standard theories but easily explained by the quantum consciousness hypothesis. This is ultimately a testable (or falsifiable) hypothesis and a worthy field of study that deserves attention.</p><p> </p>