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Modern neuroscience and pharmacology has made it clear that the mind originates from the brain. No theory of physics can be complete unless it accounts for consciousness as a fundamental property arising from matter. Is there any place for consciousness in present models of physics, e.g. the Standard Model?

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closed as off-topic by ACuriousMind, Steeven, John Rennie, Mike, jinawee Jun 14 '16 at 16:54

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  • "We deal with mainstream physics here. Questions about the general correctness of unpublished personal theories are off topic, although specific questions evaluating new theories in the context of established science are usually allowed. For more information, see Is non mainstream physics appropriate for this site?." – ACuriousMind, Steeven, Mike, jinawee
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    $\begingroup$ No, current mainstream theories have nothing to say about that. $\endgroup$ – Yvan Velenik Jun 14 '16 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ "No theory of physics can be complete unless it accounts for consciousness as a fundamental property arising from matter." - citation needed. $\endgroup$ – mbeckish Jun 14 '16 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ No citation is needed. A complete theory would explain all phenomena. A theory that cannot account for consciousness couldn't be called complete $\endgroup$ – innisfree Jun 14 '16 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ Physics does not yet describe the rise and fall of musical trends in nightclubs, so it seems it will not be complete anytime soon. $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Jun 14 '16 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ @StéphaneRollandin But such a phenomenon could, in principle, be reduced to our understanding of science. We can't say the same of consciousness. $\endgroup$ – lemon Jun 14 '16 at 13:10
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The goal of fundamental physics, such as the Standard Model, is somewhat reductionist: we're trying to understand the world by studying the most elementary building blocks and their interactions.

You appear to object that this approach may struggle explain more complicated emergent phenomena and experiences, such as consciousness. Certainly, it would be extremely difficult to understand most large systems, let alone a brain, in terms of their most fundamental building blocks, like quarks and electrons.

I'm not sure, though, that just because such calculations are intractable, it implies that the theory is incomplete. Rather, it suggests that it makes more sense to study phenomena with objects and quantities appropriate to that energy or length scale. For the brain that might be neurons and synapses, rather than electrons and quarks.

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    $\begingroup$ As another example, no-one is going to complain that physics can't be complete unless the most fundamental physics equations can be used to explain the evolution of the giant redwood tree (which doesn't involve any consciousness and presumably is ultimately a purely physical process). Fundamental physics is the wrong level to try and explain such things. Whether consciousness needs some extra magic beyond 'mere' physics is only a question if explanations at a more appropriate level of abstraction are impossible. Starting at the physical level as an explanation is completely backwards. $\endgroup$ – PhillS Jun 14 '16 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ We have good reason to believe that large, complicated physical processes (e.g. biological systems) can, in principle, be reduced to fundamental physics. However, we have no basis for such confidence when it comes to consciousness. So I think, at this point, we can regard the standard model as being incomplete with respect to it. $\endgroup$ – lemon Jun 14 '16 at 14:47
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Is there any place for consciousness in present models of physics, e.g. the Standard Model?

Searle says: probably. Penrose says: not in its present form. Chalmers and Tononi say: no, never. Dennet says: what consciousness?


To elaborate, here is a brief summary of modern thinking regarding how consciousness fits into the material world (as interpreted by me):

Dan Dennett regards consciousness as just a very powerful illusion that essentially requires no scientific explanation because it's not scientifically observable. He therefore dismisses the very existence of the hard problem of consciousness.

John Searle strongly disagrees with Dennett, arguing that consciousness is a part of reality, while maintaining that it can nevertheless be understood in terms of material processes. He compares consciousness to any other biological process, like digestion or photosynthesis.

David Chalmers argues that consciousness cannot be explained in terms of the material world; that even if you had complete knowledge of brain structure (at any scale) you would not be able to predict the emergence, or comprehend the nature, of qualia. Instead, he postulates that science will need to expand its axioms, possibly to include consciousness as some sort of fundamental unit of existence.

Giulio Tononi agrees with Chalmers and has attempted to put this idea on a scientific footing in his IIT, a theory for which Max Tegmark is a fan.

Roger Penrose suspects that consciousness can be explained in terms of the material world but that it is non-computable and will require a quantum theory of gravity to be understood.

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The question is very relevant today because of the recent advances in artificial intelligence. Various authors claim different numbers, but it is highly likely that we will have robots by 2030 with an intelligence superior to ours, if the estimates of computational power of the human brain are correct. And of course the question remains if these machines will be conscious or not.

What follows is my personal view which is line with one of the lines mentioned by lemon in his excellent answer:

As some of the comments and answers mentioned, this has nothing to to with standard model, the standard model is the minimal description from which you should be able to calculate all the other properties of the universe, including emergent ones. The only one that will remain beyond explanation is the issue of consciousness, if by consciousness you refer to the concept of qualia. Qualia is entirely subjective, say, what is the difference between our perception of blue as opposed to yellow? nobody has yet been able to imagine an experiment that can tell if your perception of yellow is like my perception of blue and viceverza. And it is my position that this will remain so forever. If your position is other than Dennett's (that consciousness does not exist and is just an illusion) we must accept that consciousness is just an emergent property that not only cannot be explained, but not even described. I see it as basic element of our universe, that emerges under unknown circumstances, does not influence any behavior, and thus will always escape any experimental measure.

NOTE: above I have assumed as (perhaps) most philosophers that qualia does not influence behaviour, any other aspects of our behaviors that are usually put in the same bag of consciousness, such as self awareness, are measurable and have a mechanistic explanation in terms of computational processes.

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  • $\begingroup$ "The only one that will remain beyond explanation is the issue of consciousness" - while I personally share this view (most of the time), you can't claim it to be a fact... $\endgroup$ – lemon Jun 14 '16 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne I believe we are using different definitions of consciousness, the one I am talking about is unrelated to ethic or moral, is related to qualia. $\endgroup$ – Wolphram jonny Jun 14 '16 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne it sad that you seem not to understand the subject at all $\endgroup$ – Wolphram jonny Jun 14 '16 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne plus you always hide behind you nasty comments and never bother to give answers, that is an easy way not to be exposed, right? $\endgroup$ – Wolphram jonny Jun 14 '16 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne I'm unclear, do you regard qualia as illogical/unempirical? $\endgroup$ – lemon Jun 14 '16 at 21:03

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