Monday, May 05, 2014

Consciousness and Physics from Scratch

Brain in a squeezed state [Source]
Max Tegmark’s claim that we are all mathematical structures taught me an important lesson: Do not take photos of yourself within 5 minutes of waking up. Since he has influenced my thinking so thoroughly, his newest paper on the physical basis of consciousness was mandatory reading.

Titled “Consciousness as a state of matter”, the paper scores at 30 pages in 10 pt font. The argument has some gaps that are filled with conjectures, but it is an interesting attempt to quantify and formalize the slippery notion of consciousness. I’ll not claim I understood it all, but my below summary should convey the general idea.

The title of Tegmark’s paper is somewhat misleading because except for the rather vague introduction, the idea that consciousness is a “state of matter” is not rigorously pursued. In fact the original title “Space, consciousness and the quantum factorization problem” would have been much more informative if less catchy. I recommend that before you upload your LaTeX file to the arXiv you remove all comments, including discarded title options.

Tegmark’s paper actually tackles two different problems. One is the question what properties a conscious system has and how to formalize them. The other is the question of how to identify macroscopic and mostly classical objects from a fundamental Hamiltonian and wavefunction that describes presumably everything. At least that is my reading of what Tegmark calls the “physics-from-scratch problem” though this left me to wonder where the rest of the mathematical universe has gone. Maybe I should have taken the blue pill.

So let us look at the question of consciousness first.
    1. Consciousness
Tegmark builds on defining qualities for consciousness suggested by Giulio Tononi (never heard of him) according to which a conscious system needs to be able to a) store large amounts of information, and b) the information must be “integrated into a unified whole”. I’ll add my comments later, let me just say that though I don’t think these are very useful criteria, at least they are criteria. He later adds three more criteria c) dynamics (time-dependence), d) independence (dynamics is dominated by ‘forces from within’) and e) utility (records mainly information that is useful for it). The latter inches quite close to adaptive systems.

Tegmark then goes on to express the two criteria of information and integration in mathematical form and tries to derive conclusions about the conscious system from this. The approach that he uses is that he assumes the system is fundamentally a quantum system described by a Hamiltonian and a density matrix, and he performs various operations on the Hamiltonian that are supposed to bring it into a form where it is an ‘integrated whole’. For this, he essentially looks for a minimum of shared information between two subsystems under arbitrary unitary transformations. These subsystems are not local in any way, they are generic divisions of the Hilbert space.

He finds that arbitrary unitary transformations can dramatically lower the integrated information in a quantum system, basically by reducing entanglement between any two subsystems. Tegmarks uses a particular conjecture about the eigenvalues of the density matrix to make this point, and while the details may depend on this conjecture I don’t think this will be news for the folks in quantum information. It is basically the idea that Verlinde and Verlinde used in their solution to the firewall paradox, the same idea that I later used in my paper, that unitary operations can ‘disentangle’ subsystems. Tegmark concludes then that we have an “integration paradox […] No matter how large a quantum system we create, its state can never contain more than about a quarter of a bit of integrated information.”

A quarter of a bit is not much and if you can still follow my elaboration it’s probably not enough to explain your brain’s workings, so the criterion of integration does not seem particularly useful. Tegmark thus goes on to amend it by taking into account dynamics, ie the requirement to process information.

Comments: I don’t find it very plausible to require that the degree of integration a system possesses must be found by minimizing over all unitary transformations. Tegmark only acts with these transformation on the density matrix, so I am not sure whether the transformation is supposed to be an actual operation or whether it also should act on the Hamiltonian. In the latter case doing the transformation wouldn’t make a difference to observables, so why look for the minimum? Tegmark unfortunately doesn’t discuss observables at all. In the former case, if the unitary transformation is an actual change to the system then I think one should consider these different systems and again I don’t see why one should look for the minimum.

In any case, let us go on to the next point then, taking into account the dynamics. For this Tegmark now aims at finding a basis in the Hilbert space that minimizes the interaction terms in the Hamiltonian, thus maximizing what he calls separability. This leads to the second topic of the paper.

    2. Physics from Scratch
Tegmark interprets the “physics-from-scratch problem” as the question how to identify subsystems of the whole Hilbert space that can be separated as well as possible. These subsystems I believe are eventually supposed to give rise to the neatly separated (and almost classical) objects we experience, not to mention our own brains. He thus sets out to find a basis in which the interaction Hamiltonian between subspaces is minimized.

After another conjecture, this time about the energy eigenvalues of the Hamiltonian, he however finds that the minimal interaction Hamiltonian will always commute with the Hamiltonian of the subsystem, so there isn’t only little energy exchange, but actually none which then creates another paradox: “If we decompose our universe into maximally independent objects, then all change grinds to a halt.” This he finds does not describe reality and concludes “We have tried to understand the emergence of our observed semiclassical world, with its hierarchy of moving objects, by decomposing the world into maximally independent parts, but our attempts have failed dismally, producing merely a timeless world reminiscent of heat death.”

Then he goes on to weaken these requirements.

Comments: Recall that in Tegmark’s reading the physics-from-scratch problem includes the emergence of space and time. If that is so, I know neither what time nor what energy is supposed to mean and I have no clue how to interpret the equations. That there are unitary transformations which lead to a seemingly “timeless” picture is clear because one can shuffle the time-evolution from the wave-function into the operators. That of course does not affect observables, which brings me back to my earlier remark that it doesn’t seem very useful to try to quantify operators when no attention is paid to their expectation values.

Before reading Tegmark’s paper, I would have envisioned the physics-from-scratch procedure as follows. First you need to identify space and time from your Hamiltonian. Space and time are roughly the degrees of freedom that make the rest look as local as possible. Once you have that, you should be able to write down the Hamiltonian in a series of local, or almost local, operators of various dimensions. You need to define a vacuum state, then you can start building your Fock space. The rest is basically effective field theory. That, needless to say, is all “in principle”, not that anybody could do this in practice.

Just why the world we observe contains large things that are almost classical is probably not a question we can answer by looking at the properties of Hilbert-space decompositions in general, but it depends on the specific Hamiltonian. If we didn’t have confinement and if we didn’t have gravity our universe might just be a quantum soup.

After reading Tegmark’s paper, I am even more convinced that locality is a key requirement for the physics-from-scratch problem. Tegmark has some comments on this towards the end of the paper, but believes this requirement to be in conflict with the idea that space-time is emergent. I don’t think so, I think locality is what identifies space-time. Given that the objects that Tegmark wants to identify in the physics-from-scratch procedure are in practice very localized, I’d have expected this to be paid more attention to.
    3. Summary
Having said that I don’t think Tegmark’s is a promising approach to the physics-from-scratch problem, let me come back to the topic of consciousness and the main premise that consciousness has to fulfill the above listed five criteria.

To begin with, these criteria I think are in the best case necessary but not sufficient criteria that you may want to look for in some system.

The problem is that “consciousness” is not in and by itself a thing, and it isn’t a state of something either. Consciousness is a noun that is shorthand for a verb much like, for example, the word “leadership”. Leadership isn’t a thing and it isn’t a property, it’s a relation. It’s somebody leading somebody. Consciousness too isn’t a thing, it’s a relation. It’s A being consciously aware of B. (Depending on whether you also want self-awareness B can be identical to A.) We call A conscious if we have evidence it is aware of many B’s. Just how many B’s you want is pretty arbitrary, I think it’s a sliding scale (just think about anesthesia or sleepwalking) and there is no sharp line where something becomes conscious.

Having said that, while I think Tegmark’s paper has some flaws, it is interesting and it provides a mathematical basis for further investigation. With some refinements of the criteria he has applied this can become a very fruitful approach to the physical basis of consciousness. All over the world neuroscientists are presently trying to build and program artificial brains. I am sure this mathematical approach with the possibility of quantification will one day become highly relevant to the study of artificial intelligence. It is a very courageous paper that pushes the boundaries of our knowledge and I hope that it will be influential. I really want to understand consciousness better, and for me the only proper way of understanding is by way of maths.

So what did I learn from this paper? I learned that you should not read papers about the physical basis of consciousness within five minutes of waking up. You might spend the rest of the day staring at your hand, in amazement of the fact that you have a hand, two of them even, and are able to stare, not to mention being able to think about staring. If you’ve stopped staring at your hand, let me know what you think about Tegmark’s idea.


  1. "Since he has influenced my thinking so thoroughly"

    In what respects? I thought you often disagreed with him. (Of course, this doesn't mean that he hasn't influenced you.)

  2. Consciousness as "physics-from-scratch?" Better-defined problems solved poorly,

    von Neumann, Mozart, "Amazing Grace" Hopper, Picasso; Bletchley Park. 700,000 Los Angeles pupils' average tested 83-86 IQ; idiots versus idiot-savants, eidetic memory. Human consciousness is a folded thick linen dinner napkin of white matter. "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter," yet said napkin is mostly water, grease, ancillary metabolism, and plumbing.

    Bumblebees exploit loopholes (wing topography and warping, top-stroke slapping). Phone exchanges and the Internet do not awaken because they are error-corrected. The solution to consciousness will be intrinsically sloppy (thermal jingle-jangle?). In silico AI's first words to its in vivo creator: "You were wrong."

  3. Phillip,

    That was a sarcastic comment following the previous sentence about not taking photos etc etc.

  4. Tegmark does a really nice job, in his book especially, demonstrating that mathematical structures exist although they lack intrinsic existence, his examples make this very clear; however, he fails to extend this to his external reality which is a natural extension and an implication of his argument. If external reality has intrinsic existence, what is it? You can describe water with liquid, steam, or ice but none of these captures the intrinsic existence of water. Can you say that the intrinsic existence of water is that which maintains through phase transition? Well, the chemical composition of water maintains but is it the intrinsic existence of water? It certainly doesn’t capture the “essence” of water. And what about hydrogen and oxygen, do they have intrinsic existence . . ?

    The point is this, if the ERH implies the MUH and mathematical structures lack intrinsic existence then external reality lacks intrinsic existence, and with this I concur. But doesn’t this obviously imply that consciousness is somehow fundamental to external reality? Shouldn’t the title of his little paper be, “Matter as a State of Consciousness?” I mean, doesn’t integrated information imply intelligent awareness – consciousness? Certainly it does or it wouldn’t be one of Tononi’s requirements. And doesn’t the Universe at large represent integrated information? If not then external reality is naught but a construct in human minds . . .

    Perhaps I misunderstood Tegmark but under his MUH and Mathematical Multiverse does not our Universe have initial and final conditions from the croaking frog perspective? I mean is it not dynamic? Unless I’m in a deep meditative state, it certainly seems to be from this frog’s perspective. I thought it was only from the soaring eagle perspective that the whole shebang is just one static structure of relations – the ALL is One or The Sound of One Hand Clapping perspective.

    “I really want to understand consciousness better, and for me the only proper way of understanding is by way of maths.”

    Sometimes your blog posts contradict one another. If you really want to understand consciousness better, meditate on the sound made by one hand clapping . . .

  5. Clap one hand before a microphone, record the output, play it back. The tip of whip has no conundrum, nor does the single hand - Reynolds number. Vortex shedding makes all the difference in skyscraper design - for folks downwind.

    Chip design is performed by chips. The first AI will do a much different job on the second. (Cf: The Cybernetic Samurai, Victor Milán.) "Better" is subjective.

  6. IMHO Tegmark has a great talent for demonstrating where our current math and physics falls flat. Although he may not look at it that way.

    He is boldly going where others have gone before but still many fear to tread (Penrose comes to mind). So this in itself is a good thing. The question to what extend QM may factor into neural processes deserves some attention.

  7. /*IMHO Tegmark has a great talent for demonstrating where our current math and physics falls flat. Although he may not look at it that way.*/

    This is exactly my private experience too. Although Max is not even remotely brilliant and sharp like L. Motl in this extent. Some of Tegmark ideas occasionally still have some connection to reality.

  8. I think locality is what identifies space-time

    Yes, yes, yes!

  9. I think locality is what identifies space-time

    Yes, yes, yes!

    IMO the gradient is what identifies the space-time. Water surface is an example of local space-time.

    Regarding the consciousness, it's the dimensionality of this gradient, which determines, how the intelligent and consciousness object is. It's the measure of the ability to follow this gradient according to principle of least action across high-dimensional space-time. The dull particles can follow only the Hamiltonian flow and geodesics of four-dimensional space-time, but these smarter ones involve future and past in their decisions. When we're walking across tropical forest or city, we must do many decisions around our path: such a path may appear seemingly random curved but it gets optimized with respect to multiple targets and criterions.

  10. If "by Giulio Tononi (never heard of him)" and "I really want to understand consciousness better, and for me the only proper way of understanding is by way of maths"
    ... then maybe is a good idea to read the papers of Tononi, because his theory is probably the most math containing theory of consciousness (or at least the only attempt to quantify the things).
    I reccomend to start with:
    but there is much more:

  11. From what I can tell from trying to read the pdf on a small smart phone screen Tegmark ends his contemplations at the place he views his half hand clapping.
    Penrose in his quantanglement hears for hands clapping.
    Neither one truly understands four space or that the other is not wrong.
    The issue here is not some "perceptionium-computonium" duality as the usual hints of the how or why of consciousness. It is more fundamental, metaphysical even, the why of the universe rather than it nothingness.
    If we are in a sense machines we are self correcting machines thus the fractal reading of DNA and its use to answer how chaos relates to quantum theory. A higher Zeno Paradox in support of pure uncertainty is an astute term (perceptonium is a down right ugly word not even neutral like gluon).
    But in the search for answers the questions are problems generated as if a swan song cleaver and well illustrated to hide what are really contradictions.
    Error correction can show from a few simple beginnings we can trust by mathematical induction our digital modeling far beyond our machine 's ability to trust computer simulations.
    A quasifinite universe finds us in observational middle scales as quasi locality. I see no contradictions in Sabine 's scientific phenomenology but as there are lesser models and logic has the same "mathematical structures here considered it follows that one would see it so.
    It is hard to walk a tightrope keeping self referential balance when advocates of icons, gods, and devils conspire to shake the ground of higher time.
    But what do I know.? A for effort Tegmark and stringers all integrating the unreachable unknown. Still, beyond the 120 elements do you really want the Nobel Prize for discovering "Horsescheisonium " named after you?

    Meanwhile if we can store the simple measure of a mole in stacked graphite and 3D print it how much of what of thought or information might that store? In the simple count of atoms ee may access the endless music of the spheres.

  12. Interesting paper. It seems more plausible consciousness is better described in terms of tachyonic matter. Tachyon condensation, in this context, provides the bridge from the non-local into the local. More work on closed string tachyon condensation is needed.

  13. Does he make any predictions ?

    "The whole purpose of physics is to find a number, with decimal points, etc! Otherwise you haven't done anything." - Richard Feynman -

  14. Markus,
    Let our machines just shut up.and calculate for us then. I just read in 2014. Mathematicians make six figures, more than statisticians.
    Every once in awhile someone posts something like the idea of god or the equivalent is declared something like Energy.
    If you asked me today to give such a terse reply. I would say Gravity.
    So is it mathematics, moving decimals and inflation?
    But let us not discourage such worship for it is needed and like mana from Heaven to true believers it pays well evidently.

  15. Wes,

    "Intrinsic existence" is an entirely superfluous requirement to explain our experience. I agree with Max that for all we presently know our reality might just be math rather than just being described by math. Regarding the timelessness, time is subjective. There's no problem to define a mathematical structure that has an evolution with some parameter that you can call time if you want, or to define a manifold with Lorentzian signature etc. Best,


    PS: I contradict myself constantly, but I am not sure in this case which contradiction you are referring to.

  16. MarkusM,

    Not yet, but I can see that this might in principle be possible. You could for example try to measure brain activity and record at which point a patient wakes up from anesthesia, then see if it matches with such a quantification. Or you could test if all conscious creatures that we know actually show the properties that are supposedly necessary for being conscious according to this model. Or you could use the model to create an artificially conscious intelligence. Best,


  17. Henning,

    I agree with you but I want to add that much of it is not so much lack of courage but lack of funding. It is hard if not impossible to get funding for projects like this and it's a shame because, as you say, I think that's what will eventually advance science. Best,


  18. t-rex,

    Thanks for the references. I wish I had the time to look at this, but presently have to many other things to do, things that pay the rent if you see what I mean. Maybe I'll have time in the summer break, I'll definitely put it on the reading list :) Best,


  19. "...let me know what you think about Tegmark’s idea"

    I think it's pseudoscience trash.

    "I agree with Max that for all we presently know our reality might just be math"

    LOL. No it isn't. That's pseudoscience trash too.

    "much of it is not so much lack of courage but lack of funding"

    Well I suppose you could always try sucking up to Tegmark. He's Scientific Director at FXQi. They give out grants.

  20. Hello all ... First, I think it's worthwhile as a matter of principle to try and understand conscious awareness and how it fits in with knowledge of math and physics. However, I have developed an argument that the fundamental basis of conscious awareness - which is the basic sense of existing rather than any *specific* content - cannot be had by purely computational "minds." (Right, I wouldn't call it a "proof" since it's hard to be formal at this level - might as well try to prove or disprove Tegmark's MUH itself, which is relevant to my point ...) This is a foundational matter and does not depend on details of AI theory, exactly how a mechanistic/deterministic brain might work, or just exactly what kind of physics underlies our universe.

    My basic point (as well as a defense of effective "free will" - aside from ultimate metaphysical "interpretation" of such notions) can be found at my own FQXi essay, Flashlights, Mirrors, Real Brains and Willpower .... A brief summary: formal computations utilize and represent "math", and therefore cannot reach beyond their own ideals to detect or appreciate there being a "real world" that is considered more real or differently real than the Platonic world of forms imagined as the Ultimate Ensemble in the MUH.

    Ironically, an AI mind can't be a true materialist, there is no way for it to represent the difference between a video-game "logical space" and a purported material instantiation that is more than that (as we *intuit* our world to be!) If you don't accept MUH and do believe that you "just know" that we really exist in a way transcending being a mathematical model, then your brain cannot be just a computational system. Ironic, isn't it? And even if you aren't convinced, it should be food for thought. Cheers.

  21. "PS: I contradict myself constantly, but I am not sure in this case which contradiction you are referring to."

    Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

    I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

    Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
    Who wishes to walk with me?

    Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

    Read the entire poem!

  22. Bee,

    thanks, this made me skim through the paper, but I am not impressed at all.
    What worries me for instance is that he can not even explain memory:
    "This leaves us with an integration paradox:
    why does the information content of our conscious experience appear to be vastly larger than 37 bits? We found that generalizing these results to quantum information exacerbated this integration paradox, allowing no more than about a quarter of a bit of integrated information. ... This strongly implies that the integration principle must be supplemented by at least one additional principle."

    This problem and others have already been addressed/solved quite some time ago by the "Dissipative Brain Model" due to Vitiello and others.
    The additional principles come from QFT.

  23. Markus,

    We should be careful how some concept looks so much like another concept when in fact it is just s different interpretation of the same mathematics.
    I did not read how Tegmark derived 37. But I understand it from my take on information maths.
    25 and 37 represent a beginning and a termination in DNA mirrored over the main matrix diagonal
    Beneath 25 we have standard model physics thus the Higgs
    Outside of local evolving physics one might conclude some form of consciousness could begin. Or there is only something conformal or octonian complex between them.
    If we made an artificial brain fine enough would it not be a human brain? But there is a little leeway, without deeper math or physics we might think the project successful and closed if we actually in close SUSY cosmologies made an orangutang brain with Downs syndrome.
    After all the Cray supercomputer was said to have the brain power of a mouse.
    One principle needed is a better clarification of what is fixed or moving. Then what can be factored into partitions continuously or digitally. The other is the philosophic nature of between or the same - as Sabine's (minimal) distinction of self aware. She faces all these issues and applies them.For in the physics as beginning-between-ending systems this is embedded in the indifferent background. I would be surprised if beyond 37 bits we could transmit a signal of thought unless it is in a sense already both places.
    But really these deep questions can influence and disorient us awhile - if we are making progress.

  24. Life sciences agree.
    Metabolism, growth, reproduction.

    What are they all missing?

    Hint: This is what mechanics do.
    Like the ones maintaining the mechanics of the quantum.

    What do mechanics actually do?
    They repair what is broken.

    (Can you see the theoretical physicists imagination running wild with the answer to the question above? OMG! Symmetry!
    Broken!! The sky is falling, the sky is falling!)

    Of the four items mentioned maintenance is the most important.

    After all, the other three are useless without maintenance.

    Consciousness for dummies:

    "Scientists discover that DNA damage occurs as part of normal brain activity"

    Stop mystifying consciousness, memory and learning.

    This is simply the physics of damage and repair at the molar scale.

    You can start at that scale because no theoretical physicist disagrees with the mechanics at that scale.

    Now you can dive from that diving board. I have no idea if the Hamiltonian provides water for such dives.

  25. The question of the limits of science is not a question that can be decided through scientific investigation. Same goes for math. Such questions are philosophical questions. And there can be no doubt that both science and math have limits. Because if they didn't, then the propositions stated above would be wrong, wouldn't they?

  26. Thought it might help.

  27. MarkusM,

    Well, there is 20 pages left after the paragraph you quote in which he is explaining how this problem might be solved. In any case, as I wrote above, I don't think that's the way to solve it, but I like the general approach. See, the point is that at least it is something that one can work with an improve upon whereas most elaborations on consciousness are just a slippery verbal mess. Best,


  28. I should make it clear that I am.asking a mathematics and physics question. The biology of living systems is a model close to us to ponder as an example that may point to better general principles that are more foundational as to the question how any unity in mathematical physics works at all.

    This seems a little clearer when framed in terms of information (and meaning) questions. So as physics quantum concepts have a place in expanding our imaginations scientifically in intent.

    The example is that relation we imagine of Einsteins static universe and DeSitter 's as if superimposed. But one can be imagined as of general physical coordinates and the other as indeffinite independent abstract as a background.

    Godel 's Platonic spinning universe with the virial spiraling as instability and time travel back around 37° or so would make dark fluid descriptions redundant or irrelavant, the quantum cat 0 dead or 1 alive or any other way we interpret these binary values of the possible and probable as it both.

    What does a symmetric (at some point of chiral asymmetry indistinguishible) push back against, nothing or some idea of substance?

    Principle stated better: A sequence of information as binary may not match another such sequence interpreted as coordinates describing concrete of abstract space (the Now problem comes to mind) with or without limits in a more (shall we say non linear) foundational space. Or for that matter Machian ideas or minimum action over self correction mechanical real or complex higher dimensional finite spheres.

    11 x 11 = 121 or do we mean 2 x 2 =4?
    How can we say let alone predict a codon initiator is labeled number 25 in a general Eddington like space of 64 or 256 as they map in operations reading a shifting code where any codon may br privileged as an indeffinite center?

  29. Bee,
    "Well, there is 20 pages left after the paragraph you quote"
    No, there's 4 pages left + appendix.

    "whereas most elaborations on consciousness are just a slippery verbal mess".
    Indeed, but IMO Tegmark is somewhere in between the verbal mess and the dissipative brain model, I mentioned, e.g.
    (which is the only sound physical model of the brain I've come across yet).


  31. Just for the record, I just read physics stuff only as a hobby, I’ve studied philosophy, so please take it in that context. I have started reading the paper during the weekend, and your article gave me a better head-start.
    On the Tononi criteria: a) does not need to store. That would mean that if conscious, I am aware of all information I had access to. That is too hard of a requirement. It needs only access, and not all, but some information. e) utility: again, requirement too restrictive. If I am aware that a student ate ham and eggs in Tokyo, that would mean I am not conscious? That word ’mainly’ ruins the criteria anyway.
    For it to be a ’quantum system’: just because it sounds more profound, doesn’t mean it has to. Requirement too restrictive, to the point of absolute impossibility. I am conscious, therefore I live on ¼ bits of info? Look at my arguing, there is more to that than ¼ bits.
    Subsystems: ok, well, these exists, luckily. However, separation of subsystems mustn’t be structural, but in terms of direction of information flow and that’s all I guess. Consciousness, independently of all definitions – IS a subjective state. Subjective states are subjective because the way ’it feels like’ is different depending of direction of information flow. It is always the system that is modified by new information that is conscious, ergo consciousness arises only when information is changed in a system. This change IS the subjective feeling – but I guess at this point I am alone with this view, mainly because this view would admit that a single electron must have its own version of consciousness, but how that feels like, we may never know.

  32. further on, discerning between 'normal' matter and 'conscious' matter seems to me like a false dichotomy and most likely will only lead to much weeping and gnashing of teeth, not else, ever.

  33. MarkusM,

    “This problem and others have already been addressed/solved quite some time ago by the "Dissipative Brain Model" due to Vitiello and others.”

    It was a pleasure to read a bit about this approach. I came across a review article – “Softening the “Crystal Scaffold” for Life’s Emergence”— that, in addition to a detailed sketch of the physics, puts the endeavor in a broader context:

    “Traditionally complex biosystems are dealt with either thermodynamic or causal-dynamical approaches. Now, while holistic approaches like the former miss out on microscopic details in their search for global principles, reductionist ones like the latter lose sight of holistic features like coherence. Furthermore, features like coherence demand a knowledge of the underlying manifolds of the interactions, that is, the structure of the space in which the components are interacting. Although causal-dynamical approaches can provide such a description, too much “reductionism” associated with them interferes with a holistic formulation; in contrast, thermodynamics is way too macroscopic for adequate descriptions of underlying interacting fields. In this context, quantum electrodynamics (QED)—the acknowledged “Queen” of all quantum field theories (QFTs)—has a natural in-built holistic feature without losing out on causality which is needed to address hierarchical description all the way from microscopic to macroscopic domains.”


  34. How many no go theorems do you need?

    The Chinese version of blind man's buff refers to the tagged 'It' as lìng dài 令代, literally "to bid to take the place of".

  35. This seems an almost sterile approach. I see no utility in a metric that delivers a bit count of consciousness. How are you going to adequately draw the system boundary when there may be live linkage with a surrounding environment, much bigger than our braincase?

    It is interesting to find in your comments Bee, that it is not an easy proposition to draw out some semblance of semi-classical objects from the math of the Hamiltonian.

    Does the physics of consciousness have any parallels with the classical physics of countercurrent exchange?

    “The maximum amount of heat or mass transfer that can be obtained is higher with countercurrent than co-current (parallel) exchange because countercurrent maintains a slowly declining difference or gradient (usually temperature or concentration difference). In concurrent exchange the initial gradient is higher but falls off quickly, leading to wasted potential. ……With cocurrent or parallel exchange the heated and cooled fluids can only approach one another. The result is that countercurrent exchange can achieve a greater amount of heat or mass transfer than parallel under otherwise similar conditions.”
    (Read “energy or information” for “heat or mass”)

    With consciousness in particular and perhaps nature in general, is there NECESSARILY a point at which you must leave math behind and make do with apprehension?


  36. Don,
    States that alternate a flow and counterflow may tell us something of direction or conservation of energy and entropy.
    So that point is the singularity as modeled in a big bang.
    Beginnings and endings.
    If we can reach it as the question "Is there a last infinity.
    Does consciousness begin before the big bang of a physical universe seems a conclusion some think implied in the question.
    So does any of the way we use the term Omega Point describe consciousness near or now, local and remote.?
    I imagine we sense consciousness is involved, unlike machines presently, by our seeing a higher dimensional picture, thus a structural mirror of but a quarter bit neededed to define minimal energies to understand without more bits to program a computer to see globally other solutions.
    Consider the fox, chicken, and corn problem. A combinational topology two ways a ferryman must juggle them back and forth with one of the three in the boat with him so they do not eat each other. Is the ferryman not an assumption of consciousness in this picture or just a higher concentration of space or matter?
    To solve a Rubik's cube local gains of order have to be sacrificed on the way to general order (and BTW nonstandard consistent but chaotic solutions no one I know of has discovered save implicitly) .
    If a frog captures a moving fly that takes about 5000 bits of program. Is it aware of what it is doing or like pebbles of the right size thrown into the air the bats falling with them can be fooled.?

  37. Edgar,
    Perhaps you are driving a Porsche and I am stuck in a gravel truck.
    I have a hard time keeping up with your narrative, making the corners.
    Now, if we both spoke math……

  38. How new are mathematical models of consciousness?

  39. "... in Tegmark's reading the physics-from-scratch problem includes the emergence of space and time." Does the emergence of space and time depend upon basic properties of the monster group? In order to answer the preceding question, I believe it is mandatory to realize a basic fact:
    On the basis of overwhelming empirical evidence, Milgrom is the Kepler of contemporary cosmology. If researchers on the foundations of quantum theory fail to understand that Milgrom's acceleration law is approximately correct, then they are likely to produce incorrect models of quantum reality.

  40. Don,
    I was remiss in not mentioning how much I enjoyed your thoughts. There was another long post that did not get thru which really said nothing new I assume you would already understand as we are born with a sense of space relations and close DNA so there is s math we share as a language if say all is mathematics.
    I thought I kept it simple but perhaps it is quite alien as if to ask can we have more than 8 artificial bases of DNA.
    I did compare the idea of counter currents I liked best in your post so did add an original idea based on an overlooked helical structure now that I can cite it as a concrete example. I am doing experiments on this human scale level Still, like you it is a recreational hobby of which I feel for those stressed in such formal work who cannot spare the time to think about the joy and paradox of awareness on the journey.

    A lot has to be done. I see that Sabine's concerns do indeed, as she says, fits together in her head. It should be thought that she is a level a little higher in theory than most think they understand.
    BTW. I am a good driver but do not drive so yesterday I finally caught on to the bus route schedule making it an invariant graph when I thought to do it.

    Some of us are Ford Pintos and some are Mercedes.

    As we ride the time and light we can see connections machines can miss over more than one solution. The fox chicken and corn problem and the ferryman with one in his boat to cross a river many times that they do not eat each other. Consciousness is at least topology on this minimum level or why we ferrymen in the equation imagine it so acknowledging we assumed him in the model. Best, thanks.

  41. This comment has been removed by the author.

  42. "Shut up and calculate" is insufficient.
    Is Consciousness Computable?

  43. Uncle Al
    For me your link returned a 404 page, "Sorry, but nothing exists here."

    Is that an existential complaint?


  44. Edgar,

    Multiple universes or no, there is some truth in the notion that we each inhabit our own quite particular universe.

    Despite the normative influence of a common physical world, we come at things along our own paths, make our own connections and have our own quiver of metaphors.

    Not surprising then that when the rubber meets the road, when we try to communicate, we find ourselves driving on gravel, not having traction and have trouble negotiating the turns of someone else’s well traveled road.


  45. “In concurrent exchange the initial gradient is higher but falls off quickly, leading to wasted potential.”

    I wonder if a physicist could tease from this a general principle, one with broader application.

    Something like the rationale that since nature takes the path of least energy, there must be something fundamentally “countercurrent” in its dynamics.


  46. This comment has been removed by the author.

  47. @Don Foster There's your error! Include the "d" at the end,
    Is Consciousness Computable?

  48. Don,
    Perhaps in the compressed universal bilaterally symmetric form we can distinguish memory as subjective or objective time while mirroring the roles of long term or short term memory.
    Time would have a local fulcrum where we could imagine variations on QM and the relativities.
    This is where out concrete wheels hit our system of rubber highways and abstractly it is no joke which side of our minimally defined consiciousness is three things taken distinctly 4 at a time.
    Or nature supplied a wavy fluid sea roadway for traction on what seems a continuity of grainy pebbles (calculi).

    The principle as perhaps just a question realized at some indefinite extent of reduced or emerged seas of singularity is: Symmetry breaking is not clearly a causation nor is caused in abstract directions but is countable and measurable to wide spans and depths.

    Is there a magic bullet mechanism that distinguishes such timelike reading of the genomes.? That determines them once nature stumbles down from some initial state to a set path of many? Does consciousness emerge or in this absurd way compliment the physical form as if a given?

    And yes this applies to the Monster group of maximum symmetry which also in this sense is a minimal one.

    I recall vividly as a child of maybe or. inner child scientist being quite annoyed a spinning ball on a string would not indefinitely go both ways or that no matter how much I turned the propeller to have more flight time on my rubber band airplane, spirals over spirals before the rubber band would break. The cuckoo clock ran pretty well wntil you had to lift the weights again by gravity. But the old toroidal magnet that would space out ball bearings near its center top, clearly there seemed to be a difference in the strength of its north and south poles.

  49. @Uncle Al

    That is interesting.
    Perhaps I should not dismiss things without really understanding them.

    I tend to view information metrics with reserve, see them as something akin to a bomb calorimeter. They give you a “calorie count”, but may miss the essence.

    And I am adjusting to the term “integrated.” Perhaps that is the better word. I would use the “relational,” but that leaves out the notion of wholeness. There is also the question of proper boundaries if consciousness is mediated within a field dynamic.

    More generally, consciousness is inherently a traveler. Its ultimate measure occurs continuously at its interface with some partially known terrain. Does that work for you at all?

  50. Don
    in terms of simple counting the metaphor of consciousness as a traveler brings to mind the distinction in scholastic theology between soul.and spirit - a distinction of such ghostly things long forgotten.
    I modestly suggest the relations of our 3+1 simplex and 2+2 4D formulism is a physical parallel to this metaphor of distinction. So where is the essence lost of potentials?
    Hiding extra dimensions as internal and unfolding in emergence, say 6D compactification confuses the metaphors in orthogonal space. Of 4x4 matrix elements which six are dynamic and which ten considered at rest or the situation mirrored beyond the dive into a lesser model of Hamiltonian seas.

    We can influence the positive of quantum probabilities as at least technical physics if not a more theoretical understanding.

    But with three things, as in how we may interpret null parts and neutral currents it is 50/50 how stable chaos is in the outcome., such as with questions of proof of Bell 's theorem.

  51. Consciousness is a subjective phenomenon. Brain scientists are just starting to get a handle on it. It is apparently associated with a particular region of the brain, controls the integration of thought from different regions of the brain and corresponds in some way to attention and experience. Going from there to quantum entanglement seems like an awful mystical jump to me.

    For one thing, we know the brain thinks, but that some thoughts are experienced consciously while others are not. Try to remember some obscure fact from the past. You'll sense your neurons "recruiting". You may remember the answer as a result of this mental action. You may not. On the other hand, you may remember it a day or two later when it "just comes to you". What was the difference between that conscious recollection and that unconscious recollection? Don't say it flows from Bell's Theorem. It may, but we don't know that.

    Right now, we're still stuck at having to take each other at our word as to whether we are conscious or not. Sleep scientists always describe level one sleep as being the sleep state where your significant other asks if you were sleeping and you say no. Even our experiences and sensations are surprisingly limited. There really is such a thing as blind sight, and we are just starting to get a handle on how it works.

    Our ignorance sucks if you are a diabetes patient trying to get some sleep and someone has to wake you every hour or two to make sure you haven't drifted into a coma. I imagine once we have some routine procedure for tracking medical consciousness, we might start addressing such age old questions such as whether dogs are conscious. If they could, we'd have to believe them, right. (As for cats, that's another matter.)

  52. Bee, this maybe too personal of a question, but do you think you are watching the "emergence" or "growth" of consciousnesses in observing your children grow up? I ask this since my only experience with this is thinking of myself as I grew up as a child. Such as what are my first memories? When did I become aware of myself?

  53. Sabine, I just clicked on your discussion on Tegmark.Oct. 11, 2007.
    A lot of good comments there.

    It seems so long ago.

    How do you mean the term stress in your gravity modelling issues?

    An article in the science magizines reports we forget childhood memories because new ones change or replace them. They may be harder to access but are they really lost?

    @Uncle Al. I thought you would be more interested in my take on chirality.

    I think we should work out the physics and mathematical models before we can describe these level n ideas of universe. Reading the blog of seven years ago was like viewing an earlier memory stumbling into an alternate universe. Is it not said it takes ten years to master an area of knowledge and develop it? I suppose I could comment on that post in the past rather than say future ones. These abstract questions have a way of becoming concrete math and physics ones.

    @Don I mixed something up hard to scroll. You did not say physics was but a hobby as for me.
    Counter currents should be considered in spinning objects as well as part of the deeper picture. Equivalent in a sense to intrinsic rectitude or curvature.

    While we can imagine a Higgs hat as a minimum but not zero state the XY Lorentz symmetry does not hold in general chirality that motion anywhere along the circle doesn't matter. There can be intrinsic symmetry breaking in the manifolds of "subspace".

    In projective fields hexagons may overlap, now it is reported we find cracks.

    I do not consider myself a Platonist, nor Coxeter either from a more general view.

  54. Jerry,

    It's an interesting question, I don't think it's very personal. I believe consciousness starts before birth. I don't think you need long-term memory to be conscious. As to self-awareness, I don't know. Many people argue self-awareness starts when children pass the mirror-test (around 9-12 months or so), but I'm not sure that's a good criterion. As to childhood amnesia, there's much discussion in the literature as to its origin. One theory is that long-term memory requires some command of language, so memory and speech develops together. But it's not my field, so not sure how established this theory is. Best,


  55. I'm not sure what you mean by childhood amnesia. Do you mean the fact that many people can't remember the first years of their lives? I distinctly remember things when I was two, and clearly remember my third birthday (when I invited Santa Claus---my birthday is in December---and he came; he came in a car since, as my mother explained, there was no snow; I still remember the car and have no idea who was in the suit). I'm pretty sure I remember something which happened when I was 1. We moved house when I was 3, so it is clear if I know where something happened I know when it happened, at least roughly. I've met people who can't even remember when they started school. Always these are people who lived in the same house from birth until adulthood. They might remember early things, but because there is no easy way to distinguish them, it all melts together.

  56. Zephir,
    Lubos Motl compared to Tegmark?
    You should read LM 's posts and conclusions on other people's original work more carefully. He obviously has come around to these higher duality gravity ideas. Beyond simple quadratic space of hyperboids of straight lines as one or two sheets and perhaps wider spaces Hamiltonian.
    The elaborate building of models to save face in what is the age old matter or mind as fundamental is missing something that on each side sees the other as mysterious.
    In this world I am quite stumped on how it looks more and more like I envisioned it early on as if I posted in the future or somehow when one of us imagines a model that our shared path in a sort of super awareness. It is not enough to say space does not expand by merely saying time as perhaps illusion slows down.
    So Lubos if you are reading this from stealth, that is my memo.

  57. Perhaps my earliest memory in time surrounded by palm trees and the hot Miami sun was when I was told to think about what I would say to Aunt Ruby when I presented her a red rose. I forget the words, much like recalling s dream into our Now.
    The metaphor of the mouths of wormholes with bridges of entanglement as self awareness is about all we can say scientifically about gravity for now.

  58. "Regarding the timelessness, time is subjective."
    The concept of "subjective" might have 2 different ontological foundations. There might be 2 basic ontologies for subjective experience of time (Bohr versus Einstein):
    (1) Alice and Bob's actions and temporal experiences occur according to semi-random laws and irreducible quantum incompleteness.
    (2) Alice and Bob's actions and temporal experiences occur according to superdeterminism.

  59. “This leaves us with an integration paradox: why does the information content of our conscious experience appear to be vastly larger than 37 bits?” asks Tegmark. Consciousness as a State of Matter

    If your a materialist measurement counter then think about this. If consciousness is not computable then what shall one do? Just saying.

    DNA and Memory- Harvard cracks DNA storage, crams 700 terabytes of data into a single gram. The holographic importance of the image in the DNA?

    Californian and Israeli researchers have created a biological computer — a machine made from biological molecules — that has successfully decoded two images stored and encrypted within DNA. Biological computer can decrypt images stored in DNA

  60. My Dear Mr. Plato,

    It has been known for quite some time that by using the DNA logic intrinsic to that scale and number of atoms we can fit a supercomputer in s water drop. The measure with chain replication sorting out abstract distances between centered nodes much like Inca knots in a set of strings and measuring distance from the ends of any two of them.

    What does that link actually add to the method and what might we conclude?

    That a strand is like s string with more than zero volume where we choose between CD or tape digital formats and analog ultimately the same thing but external to such thickness?

    We know internally bases influence each other on the atomic level as if hidden influences. Are we to conclude a strand of DNA is full of programmable dreams the stuff perhaps of pure or emergent consciousness regardless of space and time? That by manipulation the outside arrangement we have mechanical access thus can influence them? All then reduced to matterial at these scales of concrete or abstract uncertainties?

    Like a bit of a self designing circuit a part dedicated for an antenna and one that works without the need for clocks the strand is a magical antenna where cells in coherence can exchange thoughts? Or just complexity where we as self aware enjoy playing Tetris with our own or other minds?

    A strand is an antenna but it does not have to be a distant choice between these extremes. There is a higher view between singularity as something or the nothingness, the indeffinite absolute. The quanta and the gravity.

    A higher sense where chirality plays its role in direction and constrained local reading of such evolving structures or ideas, deeper relations of what we mean by symmetry or its breaking.

    I put a simple drawing on my Facebook status with minimal dots, curves and lines. A signal flag yet not s formula (an social media is a heck of a place to post s thesis) for all the Unified Physicists on board.
    We like the songbirds reported lose our way in the city radio smog if not grounded following the iron whiskers in our beaks.

  61. At the threshold of hearing the human ear can detect a pressure gradient in which the air particles are displaced by only one-billionth of a centimeter.

    This is a very subtle impulse, yet its consequence may be far less subtle if it is a whispered word, a woman’s voice, a breathy, “Yes!”

    A dispassionate look would reveal that the pivot here, and with consciousness in general, is the capacity for the recognition of a sensory impulse and it’s meaning.


    The Online Etymological Dictionary notes that in the case of the prefix “re” it is, "impossible to attempt a complete record of all the forms resulting from its use," and adds, "The number of these is practically infinite..." (kindly please, no mathematician’s quibble here)

    This is surely a tenuous argument, but how does the possibility of “re” arise in our physics? In the grand, gaseous expansion of our beginnings how do we arrive at the recognition of a whispered, “Yes?”

  62. /* ..Lubos Motl compared to Tegmark?.. */

    Max Tegmark has been a proponent of blind formal approach to physics ("Mathematical universe") for many years. If Motl doesn't value Tegmark very much, then just because he practicized this approach consequentially (now their roles exchanged, but this is a different story).

  63. Don, nice post.
    De Re Arithmetica.
    Re as a preposition. Concerning.

    Or is it also almost a prefix really technical or legal jargon otherwise avoided?

    If a map and grid have equal status Tegmark can conclude consciousness explained as a state of matter, literally a brain. Or perhaps some exotic fields.
    Yet is the language easy to see he uses and builds upon? Do we miss the concept that these abstract linear spaces can be in a more general sense compressed and curved?

    Do we recognize the cognition as prefix or preposition, near and ultimate as each here in better context become clear as in depth of questions re Sabine's concerns?

  64. Don,
    You remind me just how much these days science is close at the foundations to philosophy. Cognitive science and ancient questions.
    The universe as a more unified physics -not just the brain and DNA is plastic and adaptable. Yet why this particular path integrated over possible ones?
    I can quite imagine FQXi deciding, to reach the people a topic as science fiction to bridge to today's even greater abstractions. Such a Supersynchronicity
    Harder to reach is where the "re " comes in.Richard's paradox and memory. Who knows I might submit a story myself. It feels like I have a grasp on my consciousness and out shared cosmological questions as philosophy. Still, we stars imagine yet more.

  65. Phillip,

    Yes, that's what I mean. That's what it's called in the literature. Best,


  66. "Yes, that's what I mean. That's what it's called in the literature."

    This isn't my field, so I didn't recognize the term. Or, maybe I read about it as a child, but have since forgotten it. :-)

  67. Bee: The reason I asked about your children is that I believe that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon . When and how it emerges is to me an open question. I also find it fascinating and encouraging that someone like Max Tegmark is evolved in consciousness research. As you know that is not a research topic
    in most physics departments. I'm guessing it is probably a topic that only of tenured faculty member could work on publicly. However that would change if funding agencies approved of it as an area for study.

  68. " I also find it fascinating and encouraging that someone like Max Tegmark is evolved in consciousness research."

    Freudian slip of the year?

    Yes, it's probably something one can do as an employed physicist only when one has tenure. Even before he got tenure, Max did some crazy stuff, and many people warned him he was jeopardizing his career.

  69. Phillip: The use of the word evolved was completely unintended. I'm not good at spelling and proofreading and if spellchecker doesn't catch it I'm prone to make mistakes. I'm reading Tegmark's book "Our Mathematical Universe" and enjoying it even though I'm not a fan of the multiverse.

  70. Phillip: The use of the word evolved was completely unintended. I'm not good at spelling and proofreading and if spellchecker doesn't catch it I'm prone to make mistakes. I'm reading Tegmark's book "Our Mathematical Universe" and enjoying it even though I'm not a fan of the multiverse.

  71. Yes, I thought it might be just a typo, but it's still a good one. :-)

    I think Tegmark's book explains stuff well even if one doesn't buy his crazier ideas. He is also careful to point out what is mainstream, what is speculative, what is very speculative etc and, related to this, whether he is an outsider in this respect or not.

    There are some writers of popular-science books who don't point these things out, with the result that people who learn their science from their books get a distorted view of what is consensus.

  72. Tegmark claims functional quantum processes occur in the brain to support consciousness. Ironically, years ago he incorrectly claimed such processes (e.g. as proposed for microtubules by Sir Roger Penrose and me) were impossible because of rapid decoherence. His current paper is devoid of any biology, or rationale for consciousness. Sabine is right when she says ‘consciousness is not a thing.’ But it is (Penrose and I suggest) a process, a sequence of discrete quantum state reductions connecting brain microtubules to the structure of spacetime geometry.

    Here’s an abstract for an upcoming talk I’ll give at Oxford November 1. At the end are 2 references with links. The first is a review of our Orch OR theory from 2014, with critical comments from skeptics, and our replies. Also included is a reference suggesting anesthetic gas molecules selectively prevent consciousness by dampening terahertz oscillations in microtubule proteins. Penrose put consciousness into the universe.

    Stuart Hameroff

    Does consciousness depend on quantum brain biology?

    Stuart Hameroff MD
    Professor, Anesthesiology and Psychology,
    Director, Center for Consciousness Studies
    Banner-University Medical Center
    The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

    Efforts to understand consciousness have evolved in three directions: 1) Consciousness emerges from complex computation among ‘simple’ brain neurons, 2) Consciousness resonates in a multi-scale brain hierarchy extending inside neurons, more like music than computation, and 3) Consciousness depends on a fundamental property of the universe, e.g. in panpsychism, Eastern philosophy, and relativistic quantum physics. The Penrose-Hameroff ‘Orch OR’ theory spans these 3 approaches, ascribing consciousness to ‘orchestrated’ quantum computations in dendritic-somatic microtubules inside brain neurons (e.g. layer 5 cortical pyramidal cells). The quantum computations are proposed to ‘halt’ by Penrose objective reduction (‘OR’), a property of fundamental spacetime geometry and solution to the quantum ‘measurement problem’, selecting discrete moments of conscious experience and/or choice, and regulating membrane and synaptic functions. Some aspects of Orch OR have been verified, for example microtubules have been shown to have cascades of quantum resonances in terahertz, gigahertz, megahertz and kilohertz frequencies (which may extend to EEG in hertz). And anesthetic gases (which selectively erase consciousness) appear to act by dampening microtubule quantum terahertz oscillations. Orch OR also provides brain mechanisms for advances in artificial intelligence including back-propagation, and hidden layer convolutional networks (‘deep learning’). Orch OR has more explanatory power, experimental verification and practical implications (e.g. treatment of mental and cognitive disorders) than other theories of consciousness. References: 1) Craddock et al (2017) Anesthetic alterations of collective terahertz oscillations in tubulin correlate with clinical potency. Nature – Scientific Reports 7(1):9877. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-09992-7, 2) Hameroff S, Penrose R (2014) Consciousness in the universe: A review of the Orch OR theory. Phys Life Rev 11(1):39-78.


Comment moderation on this blog is turned on.
Submitted comments will only appear after manual approval, which can take up to 24 hours.