Consciousness and Downward Causation

For many people, the phenomenon of consciousness is the best evidence we have that there must be something important missing in our basic physical description of the world. According to this worry, a bunch of atoms and particles, mindlessly obeying the laws of physics, can’t actually experience the way a conscious creature does. There’s no such thing as “what it is to be like” a collection of purely physical atoms; it would lack qualia, the irreducibly subjective components of our experience of the world. One argument for this conclusion is that we can conceive of collections of atoms that behave physically in exactly the same way as ordinary humans, but don’t have those inner experiences — philosophical zombies. (If you think about it carefully, I would claim, you would realize that zombies are harder to conceive of than you might originally have guessed — but that’s an argument for another time.)

The folks who find this line of reasoning compelling are not necessarily traditional Cartesian dualists who think that there is an immaterial soul distinct from the body. On the contrary, they often appreciate the arguments against “substance dualism,” and have a high degree of respect for the laws of physics (which don’t seem to need or provide evidence for any non-physical influences on our atoms). But still, they insist, there’s no way to just throw a bunch of mindless physical matter together and expect it to experience true consciousness.

People who want to dance this tricky two-step — respect for the laws of physics, but an insistence that consciousness can’t reduce to the physical — are forced to face up to a certain problem, which we might call the causal box argument. It goes like this. (Feel free to replace “physical particles” with “quantum fields” if you want to be fastidious.)

  1. Consciousness cannot be accounted for by physical particles obeying mindless equations.
  2. Human beings seem to be made up — even if not exclusively — of physical particles.
  3. To the best of our knowledge, those particles obey mindless equations, without exception.
  4. Therefore, consciousness does not exist.

Nobody actually believes this argument, let us hasten to add — they typically just deny one of the premises.

But there is a tiny sliver of wiggle room that might allow us to salvage something special about consciousness without giving up on the laws of physics — the concept of downward causation. Here we’re invoking the idea that there are different levels at which we can describe reality, as I discussed in The Big Picture at great length. We say that “higher” (more coarse-grained) levels are emergent, but that word means different things to different people. So-called “weak” emergence just says the obvious thing, that higher-level notions like the fluidity or solidity of a material substance emerge out of the properties of its microscopic constituents. In principle, if not in practice, the microscopic description is absolutely complete and comprehensive. A “strong” form of emergence would suggest that something truly new comes into being at the higher levels, something that just isn’t there in the microscopic description.

Downward causation is one manifestation of this strong-emergentist attitude. It’s the idea that what happens at lower levels can be directly influenced (causally acted upon) by what is happening at the higher levels. The idea, in other words, that you can’t really understand the microscopic behavior without knowing something about the macroscopic.

There is no reason to think that anything like downward causation really happens in the world, at least not down to the level of particles and forces. While I was writing The Big Picture, I grumbled on Twitter about how people kept talking about it but how I didn’t want to discuss it in the book; naturally, I was hectored into writing something about it.

But you can see why the concept of downward causation might be attractive to someone who doesn’t think that consciousness can be accounted for by the fields and equations of the Core Theory. Sure, the idea would be, maybe electrons and nuclei act according to the laws of physics, but those laws need to include feedback from higher levels onto that microscopic behavior — including whether or not those particles are part of a conscious creature. In that way, consciousness can play a decisive, causal role in the universe, without actually violating any physical laws.

One person who thinks that way is John Searle, the extremely distinguished philosopher from Berkeley (and originator of the Chinese Room argument). I recently received an email from Henrik Røed Sherling, who took a class with Searle and came across this very issue. He sent me this email, which he was kind enough to allow me to reproduce here:

Hi Professor Carroll,

I read your book and was at the same time awestruck and angered, because I thought your entire section on the mind was both well-written and awfully wrong — until I started thinking about it, that is. Now I genuinely don’t know what to think anymore, but I’m trying to work through it by writing a paper on the topic.

I took Philosophy of Mind with John Searle last semester at UC Berkeley. He convinced me of a lot of ideas of which your book has now disabused me. But despite your occasionally effective jabs at Searle, you never explicitly refute his own theory of the mind, Biological Naturalism. I want to do that, using an argument from your book, but I first need to make sure that I properly understand it.

Searle says this of consciousness: it is caused by neuronal processes and realized in neuronal systems, but is not ontologically reducible to these; consciousness is not just a word we have for something else that is more fundamental. He uses the following analogy to visualize his description: consciousness is to the mind like fluidity is to water. It’s a higher-level feature caused by lower-level features and realized in a system of said lower-level features. Of course, for his version of consciousness to escape the charge of epiphenomenalism, he needs the higher-level feature in this analogy to act causally on the lower-level features — he needs downward causation. In typical fashion he says that “no one in their right mind” can say that solidity does not act causally when a hammer strikes a nail, but it appears to me that this is what you are saying.

So to my questions. Is it right to say that your argument against the existence of downward causation boils down to the incompatible vocabularies of lower-level and higher-level theories? I.e. that there is no such thing as a gluon in Fluid Dynamics, nor anything such as a fluid in the Standard Model, so a cause in one theory cannot have an effect in the other simply because causes and effects are different things in the different theories; gluons don’t affect fluidity, temperaturs and pressures do; fluids don’t affect gluons, quarks and fields do. If I have understood you right, then there couldn’t be any upward causation either. In which case Searle’s theory is not only epiphenomenal, it’s plain inaccurate from the get-go; he wants consciousness to both be a higher-level feature of neuronal processes and to be caused by them. Did I get this right?

Best regards,
Henrik Røed Sherling

Here was my reply:

Dear Henrik–

Thanks for writing. Genuinely not knowing what to think is always an acceptable stance!

I think your summary of my views are pretty accurate. As I say on p. 375, poetic naturalists tend not to be impressed by downward causation, but not by upward causation either! At least, not if your theory of each individual level is complete and consistent.

Part of the issue is, as often happens, an inconsistent use of a natural-language word, in this case “cause.” The kinds of dynamical, explain-this-occurrence causes that we’re talking about here are a different beast than inter-level implications (that one might be tempted to sloppily refer to as “causes”). Features of a lower level, like conservation of energy, can certainly imply or entail features of higher-level descriptions; and indeed the converse is also possible. But saying that such implications are “causes” is to mean something completely different than when we say “swinging my elbow caused the glass of wine to fall to the floor.”

So, I like to think I’m in my right mind, and I’m happy to admit that solidity acts causally when a hammer strikes a nail. But I don’t describe that nail as a collection of particles obeying the Core Theory *and* additionally as a solid object that a hammer can hit; we should use one language or the other. At the level of elementary particles, there’s no such concept as “solidity,” and it doesn’t act causally.

To be perfectly careful — all this is how we currently see things according to modern physics. An electron responds to the other fields precisely at its location, in quantitatively well-understood ways that make no reference to whether it’s in a nail, in a brain, or in interstellar space. We can of course imagine that this understanding is wrong, and that future investigations will reveal the electron really does care about those things. That would be the greatest discovery in physics since quantum mechanics itself, perhaps of all time; but I’m not holding my breath.

I really do think that enormous confusion is caused in many areas — not just consciousness, but free will and even more purely physical phenomena — by the simple mistake of starting sentences in one language or layer of description (“I thought about summoning up the will power to resist that extra slice of pizza…”) but then ending them in a completely different vocabulary (“… but my atoms obeyed the laws of the Standard Model, so what could I do?”) The dynamical rules of the Core Theory aren’t just vague suggestions; they are absolutely precise statements about how the quantum fields making up you and me behave under any circumstances (within the “everyday life” domain of validity). And those rules say that the behavior of, say, an electron is determined by the local values of other quantum fields at the position of the electron — and by nothing else. (That’s “locality” or “microcausality” in quantum field theory.) In particular, as long as the quantum fields at the precise position of the electron are the same, the larger context in which it is embedded is utterly irrelevant.

It’s possible that the real world is different, and there is such inter-level feedback. That’s an experimentally testable question! As I mentioned to Henrik, it would be the greatest scientific discovery of our lifetimes. And there’s basically no evidence that it’s true. But it’s possible.

So I don’t think downward causation is of any help to attempts to free the phenomenon of consciousness from arising in a completely conventional way from the collective behavior of microscopic physical constituents of matter. We’re allowed to talk about consciousness as a real, causally efficacious phenomenon — as long as we stick to the appropriate human-scale level of description. But electrons get along just fine without it.

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421 Responses to Consciousness and Downward Causation

  1. John Merryman says:

    Ben,

    Your assumption is that the laws of physics must be deterministic and therefore events which have not yet occurred must be pre-determined, but what if nature is probabilistic? What if there is some inherent grey area?
    We realize that since this process results in singular outcomes, not multiple realities, that the future will be singular as well, but what actually creates this process of determination?
    We think of time as this narrative vector from a determined past to an undetermined future, yet the basic reality is that change turns future into past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns. So it is this process of probable coalescing into actual and receding into residual.

    As you say, we are the center of our own point of view and construct our understanding of reality around it. A big part of that view is our narrative experience of a sequence of events, but that too is not fundamental, rather an effect of our process of experience. We are a multitude of points of view, each as our own sequence of events. Which we then distill into a collective story, called history.

  2. Ben Goren says:

    Paul Pelosi:

    I would be interested to hear Prof Carroll’s view of emergent phenomena. Is just saying ’emergence’ some kind of cop out? Is it a scientific variant of ‘God of the gaps’?, i.e., emergence did it.

    Sean discusses this extensively in The Big Picture. In his presentation, it is closely related to the concept of an effective theory. I like to use the Ideal Gas Laws as an example. It doesn’t matter if the system in question is the air you’re breathing, a tin can filled with BBs in vacuum outside the ISS, or a computer simulation of either; you’ll be able to express the system in terms of the product of the pressure and volume being equal to the product of the number of particles, the temperature, and a constant.

    I would go further and suggest that emergence is a different way of looking at entropy. The Ideal Gas Law emerges from the underlying Newtonian behavior of the individual particles because there are large numbers of microstates with indistinguishable macrostates, and we can effectively describe the behavior of those macrostates in simple terms. That’s a restatement of the very original definition of entropy…and the same pattern would seem to hold in any other emergent system as well. Chemistry emerges from atomic physics because it doesn’t matter which hydrogen atoms you mix with which oxygen atoms; they all behave the same way: different microstates effectively behaving the same macroscopically, or a condition of low entropy.

    Cheers,

    b&

  3. Lord says:

    I would agree there isn’t an independent higher level that operates on lower levels but that is both the product of the lower level and a description of the result. It is like discussing the waves on the ocean even though it is all water. The waves are the water, not distinct from it, but often a more useful for discussing behavior. Until we can explain consciousness, these arguments will always exist and while saying it is a product of this lower level, this isn’t much of an explanation, it how it is effected, progresses, and affected that is important. In this, speaking about a higher level is just a shortcut for speaking about the complex interplay occurring at the lower level. Quantum collapse is not downward causation but self causation that can cause the delicately balanced to chaotically break in the waves of our consciousness.

  4. Ben Goren says:

    John Merryman:

    Your assumption is that the laws of physics must be deterministic and therefore events which have not yet occurred must be pre-determined, but what if nature is probabilistic?

    Sean covers this, too, in The Big Picture. Certainly with his favorite interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, Everettian Many-Worlds, nature is emphatically deterministic. There is no good reason to conclude anything other than full determinism. And, even if probabilism is the answer, what willfulness or freedom is there in a toss of the dice?

    We think of time as this narrative vector from a determined past to an undetermined future, yet the basic reality is that change turns future into past.

    This is another specialty of Sean’s. Microscopically, time is symmetric and reversible. Ever since Laplace, it’s been clear that, given any particular instant in time, the whole rest of time can, in principle, be extrapolated in both directions. Yet, macroscopically, time has an arrow — and that arrow is an artifact of our proximity to a condition of extraordinarily low entropy: the Big Bang. Just as there’s no “up” nor “down” in physics yet we have them here on Earth, with “down” pointing to the Earth’s center, there’s no future nor past in physics, but we can point to the past as the direction of the Big Bang.

    If you want a more thorough explanation, start with Sean’s book — and accompany it with his many YouTube videos on the entropic arrow of time.

    Cheers,

    b&

  5. Abalieno says:

    Ben:

    The first thing to gain is an acknowledgement that we are not special within the Universe, any more than the Earth was at its center before Copernicus. Rather, we’re merely at the center of our own self-centering maps of the Universe — which, of course, explains our illusions of specialness. Our mental lives really are souped-up versions of what happens in thermostats and airliner autopilots, like it or not.

    I agree with you but thermostats don’t self-observe, so they don’t build an inner image of themselves and the world that effectively creates a “double” (so a factual dualism).

    The dualistic perspective is what creates a perception of Free Will and that distinguishes between self and everything else. It’s only an information horizon. Limited information accessible by a system. From the outside all this is “explained away”, because if you take the point of view external to the system of reality then everything is deterministic. You can see all the information, the system is closed, and so predictable.

    But you CAN’T do that, because you cannot be outside the system observing it.

    If you are a system within THAT system, then you can’t ever access the totality of the information. It’s a bit like Godel paradox: you cannot close a system while you are an observer inside it, because you can’t build a system that can completely account for itself. Observation is an operation that can never be complete (see the Laws of Form of the recently passed Spencer Brown). So Free Will is relative to a perspective, that becomes true to the fact of limited information.

    It’s a weak version of Free Will, but one that has a practical and pragmatic use. Theoretically, no, Free Will is an illusion. But only to an observer that is positioned outside our reality, and assuming this reality is closed and finite. But practically we observe from the inside, as part of the system. Our accessible information will always be a partiality, and so our limited perspective is what enforces a form of Free Will: not being able to know everything, we have to make choices based on our limited knowledge.

  6. Ab says:

    Ben:

    The first thing to gain is an acknowledgement that we are not special within the Universe, any more than the Earth was at its center before Copernicus. Rather, we’re merely at the center of our own self-centering maps of the Universe — which, of course, explains our illusions of specialness. Our mental lives really are souped-up versions of what happens in thermostats and airliner autopilots, like it or not.

    I agree with you but thermostats don’t self-observe, so they don’t build an inner image of themselves and the world that effectively creates a “double” (so a factual dualism).

    The dualistic perspective is what creates a perception of Free Will and that distinguishes between self and everything else. It’s only an information horizon. Limited information accessible by a system. From the outside all this is “explained away”, because if you take the point of view external to the system of reality then everything is deterministic. You can see all the information, the system is closed, and so predictable.

    But you CAN’T do that, because you cannot be outside the system observing it.

    If you are a system within THAT system, then you can’t ever access the totality of the information. It’s a bit like Godel paradox: you cannot close a system while you are an observer inside it, because you can’t build a system that can completely account for itself. Observation is an operation that can never be complete (see the Laws of Form of the recently passed Spencer Brown). So Free Will is relative to a perspective, that becomes true to the fact of limited information.

    It’s a weak version of Free Will, but one that has a practical and pragmatic use. Theoretically, no, Free Will is an illusion. But only to an observer that is positioned outside our reality, and assuming this reality is closed and finite. But practically we observe from the inside, as part of the system. Our accessible information will always be a partiality, and so our limited perspective is what enforces a form of Free Will: not being able to know everything, we have to make choices based on our limited knowledge.

  7. omaclaren says:

    I recently started reading Searle’s ‘The rediscovery of the mind’. The arguments are subtler than I expected from reading e.g. Dennett’s accounts of Searle, and I wonder if your description accurately captures his account. I haven’t quite figured out my own understanding of his argument yet so I’m unsure. It would be interesting if you could somehow get him to respond to you here (or elsewhere).

  8. Daniel Hawkley says:

    What if the probability of nothing has always been zero, and has never been a point? then nothing would remain predictable (at any point, as between exclusive observations).
    That is: if we start with the future, as “priority”: we start before “nothing” and before “the past”, does that change what we experience (as predicted and observed)?
    I’m confident that the future creates the past … primarily because what we observe happened in the past, not the future.

  9. Reginald Selkirk says:

    2. Human beings seem to be made up — even if not exclusively — of physical particles.

    I think James Cross is on the right track. What about bird brains, and dolphin brains, and chimpanzee brains? Human exceptionalism is a problem in understanding consciousness. It borders on creationist thought. Considering humans in isolation rather than in an evolutionary context discards a great deal of what we know about consciousness.

  10. Paul Pelosi says:

    Even if the future is probabalistic, an event in the present must still have been determined by an event (also probabalistic) in the past. Thus the natural world is still deterministic.

    This is getting round to the issue of free will. I think I have free will, certainly behave as if I do, but cannot account for it scientifically. Thus the problem. It seems to me that the exercise of free will is never truly arbitrary, and thus never truly free. There is always a reason for one choice or the other even though the reason may be subliminal.

    My chess opponent before a game always offers me the choice of left or right hidden hands containing respectively a black and white piece. I think I choose the one hand or the other through the exercise of free will, but perhaps subliminal (i.e. already present and active) reasons drive my choice (for example right handed people invariably choosing a right hand, and such like). I cannot think for the moment of an example of the exercise of free will that cannot be put down to the guiding force of subliminal reason.

  11. Patrice Ayme says:

    We know already enough to be sure that Quantum Physics is the core of biology, evolutionary or not. The Quantum is literally the Deus Ex Machina of the biological machine (it is also the Deus In Machina). This was famously demonstrated at Berkeley with the chlorophyll molecule, the efficiency of which depends upon the nonlocality of the Quantum. Thus the Quantum’s weirdest property, nonlocality, is crucial to life.

    If the Quantum’s weirdest property is necessary for life, why would not it be so for consciousness?

    It is also known that the human eye can perceive just one photon. In the latest version of that experiment, in 2016, volunteers detected 51% of single photons. This means that the human eye is not just a Quantum device, but a very efficient one.

    If the Quantum is involved into all sufficiently refined biological processes, assuredly consciousness is a Quantum phenomenon. However, then the question of the “completeness” of Quantum theory becomes front and central. Assuredly, if Quantum theory is incomplete, or “Many-worlds”, our theory of consciousness can only be “incomplete”, or “Many-Worlds”.

    The problem of the foundation of consciousness is thus entangled with the problem of the foundations beyond the existing Quantum physics. The latter being incomplete, so can only be the former.

  12. Paul Pelosi says:

    @Ben Goren, September 8, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Ben,
    I think we have a slightly different take on emergence. Emergence to me is a property of the whole which the components making up the whole do not have as components. Moreover, the components interact in a way that cannot be predicted. Conversely, the emergent property of the whole cannot be reduced to component behaviour. Since conscioueness is (I presume) an emergent property of large and complex brains, no amount of dissassembly of the brain with a view to examining neural behaviour will answer the mystery. All that can be said is that at some point when the brain has reached the critical size and complexity (in the human brain at about 18 months after birth) consciousness emerges – whatever consciousness is in an objective sense.

    I don’t mean emergence in the sense of gold at the Olympics being an emergent property of atoms and molecules making up bones and muscles. Gold at the Olympics can be reduced to atoms and molecules making up bones and muscles by scientific reductionism and deduction. There is a causal pathway that can be established. In emergent phenomena no such causal pathway can be established.

  13. Haruki Chou says:

    What puzzles me about consciousness is this: Why do I inhabit this body and not another one?
    I assume each human body is a physical construct which behaves ‘intelligently’ as if having a ‘consciousness’.
    Why do I fell the consciousness of one such body, but not of any other one?
    Why do I see through my eyes, but not through anyone else eyes?

  14. Paul Pelosi says:

    @James Cross, September 8, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    “Have you ever had a child?”

    No.

    “And what about bird brains.”

    Birds have tiny brains. They have not reached the size and complexity necessary for the emergence of consciousness. The pigeons on my lawn are the stupidest creatures I have ever encountered. I scatter bread for them and they fly away. Ducks, oddly enough, walk towards me, evidently anticipating food. Crows do aerial combat with buzzards, deliberately presenting themselves as targets in order to lead the buzzards away from the crow’s nesting area. How stupid is that? But perhaps it is evidence of altruistic behaviour, and in a reptile at that.

  15. Paul Pelosi says:

    @Haruki Chou, September 8, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    “What puzzles me about consciousness is this: Why do I inhabit this body and not another one?”
    ‘You’ don’t inhabit anything. ‘You’ are your body and brain.

    “I assume each human body is a physical construct which behaves ‘intelligently’ as if having a ‘consciousness’. Why do I fell the consciousness of one such body, but not of any other one?”

    Because consciousness is a property of your brain and not, as far as you are concerned, of anyone else’s.

    “Why do I see through my eyes, but not through anyone else eyes?”

    Because your eyes are connected to your brain and not anyone else’s.

  16. Neil says:

    I think when computing science develops to the point that we can program some form of consciousness or self-awareness into a computing device, we will know what consciousness is. Or will it be the other way around?

  17. Ben Goren says:

    Abalieno:

    Our accessible information will always be a partiality, and so our limited perspective is what enforces a form of Free Will: not being able to know everything, we have to make choices based on our limited knowledge.

    But that’s just an expression of ignorance, not of liberty, and says nothing whatsoever about the constraints (or lack thereof) on human choices and their nature. And I’ve never even heard the most apologetic of dualistic theists insist that Free Will is only associated with omniscience.

    But you CAN’T do that, because you cannot be outside the system observing it.

    Not in the strictest of Gödelian senses, no. But you are outside every other human system, and you can observe that everybody else is fully deterministic. At which point you should most reasonably conclude that you, too, fit the same pattern.

    Coel:

    I’m just a souped-up aircraft autopilot. I’m entirely comfortable with that and I like it that way.

    If there’s one thing generally agreed upon in discussions about “Free Will,” it’s that, whatever it is, it’s a property that explicitly distinguishes between humans and aircraft autopilots. So whatever phenomenon it is you’re thinking of when you use that term, real or not, it’s most emphatically not what everybody else is talking about.

    Patrice Ayme:

    The Quantum is literally the Deus Ex Machina of the biological machine (it is also the Deus In Machina). This was famously demonstrated at Berkeley with the chlorophyll molecule, the efficiency of which depends upon the nonlocality of the Quantum. Thus the Quantum’s weirdest property, nonlocality, is crucial to life.

    Eh, this is Deepak Chopra levels of woo. “Quantum” is not a synonym for “Magic.” Human brains are not quantum computers, and quantum computers don’t have magical powers of observation. The energy efficiency of chloroplasts is much like Mercury’s orbit: you can’t get a precise answer with Newton, but you can get close enough for pretty much any practical application. We already know far more than enough about Quantum Mechanics and human brains to know that the former is, within rounding, entirely irrelevant to the functioning of the latter.

    Paul Pelosi:

    In emergent phenomena no such causal pathway can be established.

    Then you are proposing what Sean calls a “zilbot” particle. You are suggesting that there is a way to move electrons (and things made of electrons) here on Earth that has not yet been discovered, yet experiments at the LHC (and elsewhere) have overwhelmingly ruled out any such possibility.

    Cheers,

    b&

  18. John Merryman says:

    Ben,
    To go back to my original point, how much freedom do we want, from our context. The important question is whether our state of consciousness, which is largely focused on defining and judging our environment, is essentially superfluous, or does it serve a real function of determining our best course of action. If it is unnecessary, nature and evolution certainly wasted a great deal of time and effort.

    As for whether time is symmetric, or asymmetric, yes a second is a second whichever way the act is measured. So if you think of time as this underlaying dimension we experience as duration, than it is pretty much irrelevant which way the action moves.
    Yet duration is the state of the present, as these events form and dissolve and what is actually being measured is the act itself. One of the most fundamental qualities of action is inertia and inertia means the act goes one way and not any other. That is why time is asymmetric. The earth turns one direction, not the other.
    What is actually being measured is frequency and that is why different clocks can run at the same rate and still remain in the same present state, because they are separate actions. A faster clock uses energy quicker, which is why the twin on the faster frame ages quicker.
    So time is an effect and measure of change, as temperature is an effect of level of activity, i.e. amplitude and frequency. Just that temperature is only foundational to our biological processes, not our conceptual ordering. Even when we dream, the mind builds narratives.

  19. Katrin Boeke-Purkis says:

    “Consciousness is to the mind like fluidity is to water” has a poetic rhetorical quality, however it is unequivocally ambiguous to the biophysicist….

  20. Ben Goren says:

    John Merryman:

    The important question is whether our state of consciousness, which is largely focused on defining and judging our environment, is essentially superfluous, or does it serve a real function of determining our best course of action.

    But why on Earth must evolutionary fitness be constrained to some philosophical and / or theological notion of freedom? Indeed, doesn’t it make far more sense that our perceptions and the means by which our brains modulate those perceptions into actions should be every bit as deterministic as the physics from which they’re built? What function do you envision from some super-physical non-determinism that would be selected for by Evolution?

    Even if you leave physics out of it…how is some behavior to be selected for if it’s not reliably repeatable? I mean, yes, the genetic mutations that Evolution selects from are as random as anything, but the selection process is the very epitome of deterministically stochastic processes. There’s got to be an inheritable, repeatable pattern for selection to operate on.

    And, indeed, our consciousnesses are largely predictable — as evidenced by the success of professions ranging from psychology to sociology to anthropology to political science to marketing. For that matter, the mere existence of such fields should long since have put paid to any notion of the reality of “Free Will,” however you might want to define it.

    Cheers,

    b&

  21. Patrice Ayme says:

    Ben Goren:
    You seem to confuse chloroplasts, one of three types of plastids, characterized by its high concentration of chlorophyll, and chlorophyll, a molecule. You may want to struggle out of mystical references by consulting first:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_biology

    However, that may be difficult for you to condescend to read that, as you think you already figured out the quantum computer, the human brain, and quantum mechanics, and found them to be totally distinct fields.
    http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2010/feb/04/quantum-mechanics-boosts-photosynthesis

    Let me also be in the painful position to inform you that Quantum effects probably enables DNA to evolve faster and smarter than classical mechanics would allow (as Lamarck had guessed!). Experiments in that field are underway. It has nothing to do with mysticism. Instead, it has to do with the best universities making research on the edge.

    Maybe the Royal Society, September 2016, can help you?
    https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/summer-science-exhibition/exhibits/quantum-secrets-photosynthesis/

    Learn that true thinkers are humble, yet, well-informed.
    Condolences,

  22. John Merryman says:

    Ben,

    I’m not arguing for “free will,” as I consider it something of an oxymoron, in the sense that the very function of our will is to determine.
    What I am saying is that our projection of the deterministic qualities of past events, onto future events, overlooks the actual process. Alan Watts had a useful analogy for this, in that the wake of the boat, its past, does not steer the direction of the boat. Rather the boat creates the wake. The past is prior configurations of the energy manifesting as the present, i.e. “conserved.” Yes, this energy is inertial and that energy directs the course of the action, but all action is not a single act. There is interaction of forces creating these configurations, we experience as events.
    We think of reality as fundamentally linear, as are the narrative events of our lives, but the larger reality is non-linear and there is no frame around all this inertial activity, so no theory or model, outside of a god, by which future actions can be known, not just predicted. Yes, much of the future can be predicted, but that is not the same as known and the more factors interacting, the less predictable it becomes.
    We confuse the linearity of time with causality, but causality is energy exchange, not simply sequence. Hitting a ball causes it to move, but today doesn’t cause tomorrow. Rather the sun shining on a spinning planet causes this effect. So often the energy output from one event isn’t necessarily the same energy input into the next in the sequence. Thus our perception of this effect called time is not fundamental. The balance associated with temperature and thermodynamic feedback loops is more elemental. One basic characteristic is between high pressure and low pressure systems. High pressure systems equate to causality, in that energy is being transferred from them, but it is the low pressure systems absorbing that energy, which help to give it form and direction. So we can predict the future by relating sources of energy, to their likely directions, based on the variability of the systems around them.
    So linearity is only one side, that of the action, not the other side, of the equal and opposite reaction.

  23. zarzuelazen says:

    Ben said:

    “…as evidenced by the success of professions ranging from psychology to sociology to anthropology to political science to marketing. ”

    (chuckles). These fields are not at all successful. In fact I would go so far as to suggest that they’re mostly full of …. 😉

    Treating people as if they were mechanical objects hasn’t worked at all in any of these fields. In fact for the most part it’s been outright disasterous. Communism was entirely based on the idea of people as mechanical objects that could be predicted and controlled. The practical results speak for themselves. The track-record of psychology is abysmal, and most of the theories that attempted to treat people as mechanical objects (for instance Freudian psychoanalysis), have been exposed as pseudoscience.

  24. Sidney Keith says:

    Does this question have anything to do with the many times in physics local phenomena seem to conspire to create global effects? For example, when a beam of light strikes a piece of glass at an angle, each part of the beam strikes the glass at a slightly different place, which bends the entire beam, and lo and behold! the beam bends in just the right way to produce the least action path through the glass. I’ve always marveled how this interplay of the local and the global, especially the overall conservation of energy and related effects, occurs throughout physics. Perhaps consciousness is another example of this more general type of top-down organization we see in the world.

  25. Abalieno says:

    I’m also with Ben with the concept of Freedom. At least the idea of Freedom MOST people have.

    I have a technical definition of it, but I don’t know if anyone would agree with that: given a closed system, and a fixed amount of information within that system, “Freedom” is the quality to create/insert new information that wasn’t previously there before.

    This is “technical” but corresponding to most people’s idea. Because it means a human brain has the possibility to impose a new state to a system that is otherwise considered deterministic. = New Information.

    For example those who believe in God believe also that they have a “soul”. That soul is in communion with their God and through that exclusive “channel” they also access new information, and can so create a new state in the world.

    So Freedom is simply new information that is injected into a system that is otherwise considered to be closed.