This may look like a philosophical question, but I'm looking for physical explanations (if there's any), that's is why I'm asking it here.

What is the ability of thinking? We are all creatures consist of flesh and bones. Our brains are also nothing but flesh and water? Why are we thinking? What happens to this thinking power when we die? How and why does it disappear? Does it really disappear, or go to somewhere else in a sense we don't know and understand yet?

We observe that, different creatures have different capabilities of thinking. The creature which has the most advanced thinking ability is human. Besides human cats can think up to some degree; they know how to hunt, they decide where to hide and where to find food from. Ants think too, even if it is weaker then cats can do; they find food and quickly run away when you try to pick one of them from floor with your hand, because they sense danger and decide to escape from there. Cells can also think in some sense, but it is much less capable that we don't even call it "thinking". Most living creature sense themselves as separate being.

What happens if we stop the time, we compile and exact verbatim copy of a normal human being, then start the flow of time once again? Would the second copy think too as the original one? Or would the second copy start his life in vegetative state? Or would it just be a stack of dead flesh?

How does physics explain this? Is there any particle that causes us to think? One century ago, we didn't even dream that this many sub atomic particles existed. Can the ability of thinking be a cause of some unknown physical particle of a flow of vector field (like electromagnetic field) which hasn't been discovered yet? Do you expect that in the future some scientist(s) would discover this mystery? Is there any research going on this? What do we know about "thinking" today?

(Note: There wasn't appropriate tags for my question. I would appreciate if another user with higher reputation could add some tags for this question and remove this note.)

  • $\begingroup$ This questions has many issues. Firstly, there are really >10 questions. Then questions like "Does it really disappear, or go to somewhere else in a sense we don't know and understand yet?" can have no answer. Then there are many claims, as well as ambigous staterments like "One century ago, we didn't even dream that this many sub atomic particles existed.". There is of course lots and lots of reaearch regarding that question, from biology, specifically biology of the brain, philosophy, theory of computation, especially A.I. research. You should make the question answerable, to get something. $\endgroup$ – Nikolaj-K May 27 '12 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ Physics alone will probably never give an explanation of why we are able to think. There is the subdiscipline of neurophysics (i.e. the study/modelling of neurons/neural networks in the brain). There are already semi-realistic models for the behaviour of individual neurons and there are methods of simulating networks of those. This is however a far way from understanding how cognitive functions arise from "similiar" networks in the brain. In other words up to now there is some model of the "hardware" but almost no understanding how those lead to cognitive functions. $\endgroup$ – orbifold May 27 '12 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ There isn't a physical explanation of the self. Much ink is spilt on the matter but it all comes down to some people thinking that there is a ghost in the machine and some insisting that the machine is what does the thinking. Just asking for "a physical explanation" doesn't change that. $\endgroup$ – dmckee May 27 '12 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee The reason that YOU are not able to explain a matter by scientific methods does not mean that that matter is not scientific. History is full of struggles against people who claimed that science is not capable of explaining elements of this Universe; and you closing this question by the reason of finding it off-topic shows that this struggle is still going on. $\endgroup$ – hkBattousai May 27 '12 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ This is a philosophy question, but I hesitate to send you to the philosophy site, because your question will be handled roughly there, and you won't get an honest answer. The answer is that there is something called "computation" that has nothing to do with physics, and it implementable in various physical systems (RNA, silicon, protein chemistry, etc), and when Turing complete computation occurs, there is "thinking". The degree of thinking is by the complexity of the computation and how it interacts with the outside world, and this belongs on cognitive sciece or philosophy. $\endgroup$ – Ron Maimon May 27 '12 at 22:52

There are many good books on this topic. Here are two of the best which is a good place to start if you want to seriously begin to understand the topic.

The first is by one of the world's greatest theoretical physicists, Roger Penrose who has written extensively about consciousness: http://www.amazon.com/Large-Small-Human-Mind-Canto/dp/0521785723/ref=pd_sim_b_12

The other is by probably the best professional expositor of the philosophical meaning of our modern understanding of biology and evolution, Daniel Dennett: http://www.amazon.com/Consciousness-Explained-Daniel-C-Dennett/dp/0316180661


  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for your book suggestions. Those books are exactly about what I asked in my question. I looked at the table of contents of the books; both are very good. I will try to purchase them. $\endgroup$ – hkBattousai May 27 '12 at 15:02

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