On Some Essential Requirements for a Fruitful Consciousness Research
AK Mukhopadhyay, 2014
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Absence of input of new ideas and paucity of relevant assumption, research question and hypothesis are the reasons why consciousness has not yet found its place in any of the algorithms of science. By weaving several novel ideas in series, in parallel and at multiple levels overarching several disciplines, a distinct roadmap has been drawn for a dispassionate consciousness research. Several workable propositions in the paper, interdisciplinary in its true sense, might lead to opening of multiple new doors of science.
One of the major leading causes of poor DALY (disability adjusted life-years) worldwide is mental illness. On the other side, one of the leading causes, which can change the civilization of humanity in general is the input from accomplished spiritual mystics. Both of the facts compel us to address aggressively the issue of consciousness and to respond comprehensively. The issue highlights the necessity for a fruitful consciousness research with theory, ethics, and aesthetics. However, the problem is where to start from and what should be the appropriate research question and research hypothesis?
Let us begin with the experience of singularity of consciousness. Consciousness has been said to be singular and, in fact, experientially it is singular. The plurality, as observed, is introduced by the presence of the mind and/or the brain! In other words, multiplicity begins with functioning of the mind/brain, through their expressive behavior and their difference with those of a fellow being. In absence of the mind or of the brain as a structure, as a process, as a functioning organ, or when one goes beyond the mind (supramental) or the brain (supracortical!) consciousness as a reality is one and is only one. Erwin Schrödinger is absolutely right here! Examine another experience; “awareness is one while perceptions are many”. Plurality here is because of informational conditioning of “self”. When the self is stripped off its conditioned properties, perception is awareness.
The whole universe, or multiple universe(s), and the system of multiple universe(s), the multiversity are often experienced as “consciousness and its contents”. What are those contents? Contents to start with, are mind, self, life as life-principle and information. All are non-local, meaning none of the four is irrevocably localized in space and time. With the help of mother mind, from information comes out form (space, time) and energy. Transformation of this information-based energy to matter (dark matter) occurs in nature beyond Planck’s scale of measurement while matter-to-energy transformation happens within Planck’s scale of nature. Space, time, energy, and matter are “local” and so also information when it is using the matter/energy or space/time as its vehicle. Consciousness, mind, self, life-principle, and information are non-observable influential(s) which influence the behavior at observable level within Planck’s scale of measurement (Mukhopadhyay, 2013).
We, the human being like any other life-form, stand at the “boundary” between nature beyond Planck’s scale of measurement and the nature which is within Planck’s scale. We, the human being probably as the highest kind of life-form can do science at the domain of nature within Planck’s scale of measurement and engage in abstraction of nature-consciousness from the domain beyond Planck’s scale. The so-called yoga, in this sense, is bringing abstraction into rationality and down into sensibility.
The issue is how with such consciousness one does science? How the absolutely abstract consciousness can be brought to scientific rationale and down to sensible measurable realm?
From the introductory paragraph, it is easy to get a glimpse of why consciousness is not yet brought in the algorithm of science? Science grows with new ideas, new assumptions, research questions and research hypotheses followed by testing of the hypothesis. Next follows generalization of the result into a theory and predictions from the theory. When prediction comes true, the results are further documented at observable and sensible level as real facts. For developing the realm of what is supposed to be a science of/for consciousness there is little input of new ideas, few relevant assumptions as required to begin with, paucity of appropriate research questions and there is only few workable research hypotheses. These preliminary requirements, which are essential for a dispassionate investigation, have been missing from the set agenda of consciousness research.
In consciousness research what is generally observed is an effort to connect consciousness directly with either “matter”, or neuron, from the standpoint of expertise and experience in respective discipline. For this reason, many researchers from the disciplines like quantum physics, cybernetics, chaos, linguistics, computer science and simulation, neurophysiology, artificial intelligence, and artificial life have recognized the possible role of consciousness in science, and build up respective limited capacity theory on the issue based on the explanatory gaps in their experimental observations and the ability of their imaginative faculty. Most of them have cashed on the explanatory power of their theory. What is missed is the assessment of the “theory’s predictive power”, if any. Also, although all of us do science as a conscious being, there is hardly any introspection on where does this consciousness can fit in any of the algorithms used in science? Nevertheless, by this mental leaning towards consciousness, many researchers have enriched their respective discipline and learned its intricate fencing and therefore, its explicit limit.
The effort to connect matter with consciousness based on the assumption that with the rules and principles of quantum physics, it is possible to explain everything and all about consciousness including its operation, constrains, and even its origin, has not overcome the problem of measurement. Similarly, the attempt to connect the theory of relativity with a limitless domain of nature has resulted in the problem of singularity and that for quantum field theory one is stuck with the problem of infinity. Another flaw in the approach to consciousness is to assume consciousness as only “neurocentric” and to connect the assembly of neurons in the brain with consciousness/conscious experience. This is supposedly based on the assumption that consciousness emerges either from extensive synaptic networking of information in a non-discrete (e.g., Dennett) or in a discrete (e.g., Crick, Edelman etc.) manner, or from the information hub at the microtubules (e.g., Hameroff, Penrose). In “neurocentric” consciousness research we are not able to penetrate the “hard problem” or qualia mechanics. In the context of science of information when we are yet to learn how to harness information from interstellar and intergalactic space, a proposition like consciousness could be a super-super-computer having super-super-mind like properties (e.g., Thomas Campbell, Daniel Dennett) is expected to yield little sensible progress towards consciousness. In absence of successful engineering of vacuum, the efforts like connecting complexity or “chaos” with “quantum”, quantum with “information” or phenomenology are unlikely to offer any road map towards a science of/for consciousness! The proposed connection between quantum gravity and consciousness has still not come out of the mystical shed! In fact, doable hypothesis on this issue is hardly seen which can practically farther consciousness research.
In the paragraphs that follow, we would try to formulate some research questions and research hypotheses based on some new ideas and assumptions, which appear at this stage as imagination and seem not even ‘sane’ by some of the conventional researchers.
The Tentative Scheme
While what is consciousness seems a philosophical problem, the questions like what does consciousness do and how does it do so remain important scientific issues. Not the ontological and the axiological aspects of consciousness but the epistemological and the phenomenal aspects of consciousness seem more amenable to scientific investigation. Consciousness as it seems is phenomenal consciousness while consciousness as it does is causal consciousness. In consciousness revolution, Roger Sperry (1987) observed a different form of non-eliminable causal determinism, which would be responsible for paradigm shift in several disciplines of science. Seeming consciousness is incomplete without causal consciousness and causal consciousness remains incomplete without axiological and ontological consciousness. Investigation of nature is prerogative of scientists and if consciousness also has a nature, (a great “if” indeed!), a great assumption to begin with, then science can certainly take up this challenge for making a science for (epistemic) consciousness and a science of (ontological) consciousness. Ontological consciousness hides behind the veil of its nature, the nature that is not necessarily confined to what is measurable within Planck’s scale. The idea of existence of nature outside Planck’s scale of measurement itself is a radical one, may be unpalatable to begin with, however seems refreshingly new for those looking forward to an opening. The vision of multiple universe(s) leads us to nature beyond Planck’s scale of measurement.
To work out the connection between consciousness and matter one requires inputs of new ideas and some solid assumptions to begin with. One of such assumptions is that in between matter and consciousness, the prominent milestone is that of mind. Consciousness-mind-matter is the route to travel whether one takes a top-down or a bottom-up approach. In the bottom-up approach this notion is reflected in Henry P. Stapp’s visionary statement in Quo Vadis Quantum Mechanics (2005), “What is the future of quantum theory? Where will it go from here? Quantum theory will go where it is most needed, which is into the effort to understand ourselves, and in particular the connection of our minds to our bodies”. Mind, consciousness and matter are categorically different. How this category difference originates remains an important research question!
Let us look into the further details in this assumption. For analysis of this assumption, the research question would be how matter and mind are connected? Not an easy nut that can be cracked! The research hypothesis to this effect is that the matter is connected to the mind through operation of information. Present day engineers are engaged in information technology and only very few scientists (e.g., Paul Davies, Millard Wohl) have been thinking on a probable science of information. The issue of connection between matter and mind can be addressed adequately having had more knowledge on information as “entity”, on its structure, geometry, and operation (Mukhopadhyay, 2013). This could be the beginning of hypothesis generation for consciousness research! In a similar vein, one might raise the research question how mind is connected with consciousness? The hypothesis, which can be put forward is that mind is connected with consciousness through operation of “life”, may be as we observe it as life-form, “living state of matter”, or as life-principle or, what Tibor Ganti (2003) calls “principles of life”! According to Schrodinger, “A living substance avoids passing to equilibrium. It feeds on negative entropy”. Manifest consciousness as could be observed by our limited capacity senses is seen only in which is recognized as alive. In the bottom-up approach, therefore, the artificial life seems more close to consciousness than artificial intelligent system. Also this closer proximity of “life” to consciousness is evident to a limited extent in the interlinked operation of informational molecules responsible for distributed consciousness within a living cell or how the cell membrane is connected with the genome through proteome-epigenome-genome spectrum (Chen et al., 2003)). The emergence and the surge of the paradigm, “Life style and Health” may be considered an indivisible part of consciousness revolution, where phenomena in life are used to connect the mind with consciousness to achieve coherence with the whole for prevention or cure of an illness or disease. On the darker side, the poverty-ridden life-conditions are associated with, in general, a poor quality of functioning of mind, which in such condition is having diminished cognitive ability. The poverty takes an unimaginably huge toll on the psychiatric health, costing nation’s human resources and productivity. Low and middle-income countries, according to World Health Organization’s report (retrieved from http://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/en/index.html) contribute about 75% of the global burden of all neuropsychiatric disorders. Strength of mind comes from life-principle. Therefore, it could be grossly stated that a better quality of “life” adds strength to the mind. Better “life”, in general, offers a healthier mind for the individual as well as for the mass.
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