A new theory of consciousness.
Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is it a conscious rat? A bat? A cockroach? A bacteria? An electron?
These questions are all aspects of the ancient "mind-body problem," which has withstood a generally satisfactory conclusion for thousands of years.
The mind-body problem saw a major change in the last two decades and is generally now referred to as the "hard problem" of consciousness (usually capitalized today), after the philosopher of New York University David Chalmers coined this term in a classic 1995 paper and his 1996 book, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.
Fast-forward to the current era and we can ask ourselves now: Did hippies really solve this problem? My colleague Jonathan Schooler (University of California, Santa Barbara) and I think so, with the radical intuition that it's all about vibes… man. Over the past decade, we have developed a "theory of resonance of consciousness" that suggests that resonance, another word for synchronized vibrations, is at the heart of not just human consciousness but physical reality in general.
So how did the hippies know, right? Well, we agree that vibrations, resonance, are the key mechanism behind human consciousness, as well as animal consciousness in general. And, as I will discuss later, they are the basic mechanism for all physical interactions to occur.
All things in our universe are constantly in motion, vibrating. Even objects that appear stationary are in fact vibrating, oscillating, resonating, at various frequencies. Resonance is a type of movement, characterized by the oscillation between two states. And ultimately, all matter is just vibrations from various underlying fields.
An interesting phenomenon occurs when different vibrating things / processes come together: often after a while they will start vibrating together at the same frequency. They are "in sync", sometimes in ways that can seem mysterious. This is described today as the phenomenon of spontaneous self-organization.
Examination of this phenomenon leads to potentially profound insights into the nature of consciousness and the universe in general.
ALL THINGS RESOUND AT CERTAIN FREQUENCIES
Stephen Strogatz provides several examples from physics, biology, chemistry, and neuroscience to illustrate what he calls “synchronization” (synchrony) in his 2003 eponymous book, including:
- Fireflies of certain species begin to light their little fires in sync in large firefly gatherings, in ways that can be difficult to explain according to traditional approaches.
- Large-scale neuron activation can occur in human brains at specific frequencies, and mammalian consciousness is believed to be commonly associated with various types of neuronal synchrony.
- Lasers are produced when photons of the same power and frequency are emitted together.
- The moon's rotation is exactly in sync with its orbit around the Earth, so we always see the same face.
Resonance is a truly universal phenomenon and is at the heart of what can sometimes seem like mysterious tendencies toward self-organization.
Pascal Fries, a German neurophysiologist at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute, has explored in much-cited work over the past two decades, the ways in which various electrical patterns, specifically gamma, theta, and beta waves, work together in the brain to produce the various types of human consciousness.
These names refer to the speed of electrical oscillations in the different regions of the brain, measured by the electrodes placed on the outside of the skull. Gamma waves are typically defined as 30 to 90 cycles per second (hertz), theta as a rate of 4 to 7 hz, and beta as 12.5 to 30 hz. These are not hard cuttings, they are rules of thumb, and they vary somewhat in different species.
So theta and beta are significantly slower than gamma waves. But all three work together to produce, or at least facilitate (the exact relationship between the brain's electrical patterns and consciousness is still under discussion), various types of human consciousness.
Fries calls his concept "communication by coherence" or CTC. It's all about neural timing. Synchronization, in terms of shared electrical oscillation rates, allows for fluid communication between neurons and groups of neurons. Without coherence (synchronization), inputs reach random phases of the neurons' excitability cycle and are ineffective, or at least much less effective, in communication (Fries, 2015).
Our theory of resonance of consciousness builds on the work of Fries and many others, in a broader approach that can help explain not only human and mammalian consciousness, but consciousness in general. We also speculate metaphysically about the nature of consciousness as a more general phenomenon of all matter.
ARE ALL THINGS AT LEAST A LITTLE AWARE?
Based on the observed behavior of the entities around us, from electrons to atoms to molecules, to bacteria, paramecia, mice, bats, rats, etc., all things can be seen as at least a little conscious. This sounds strange at first glance, but "panpsychism," the view that all matter has some consciousness associated with it, is an increasingly accepted position regarding the nature of consciousness.
The panpsychist argues that consciousness (subjectivity) did not arise; rather, it is always associated with matter, and vice versa (they are two sides of the same coin), but the idea of mind associated with most matter in our universe is very simple. An electron or an atom, for example, enjoys only a small amount of consciousness. But as matter becomes "more complex", the mind becomes complex and vice versa.
Biological organisms have taken advantage of faster information exchange through various biophysical pathways, including electrical and electrochemical pathways. These faster information flows allow for more large-scale levels of awareness than would occur in similar-scale structures, such as rocks or a pile of sand, simply because there is significantly greater connectivity and therefore more "ongoing". in biological structures than in a rock or a pile of sand. Boulders and sand piles have only thermal pathways with a very limited bandwidth.
Boulders and piles of sand are "simple aggregates" or just collections of more rudimentary conscious entities (probably only at the atomic or molecular level), rather than combinations of microconscious entities being combined into a higher level macroconscious entity, which It is the seal of biological life.
Consequently, the type of communication between resonant structures is key for consciousness to expand beyond the rudimentary type of consciousness that we expect to occur in more basic physical structures.
The central thesis of our approach is this: the particular links that allow macro-consciousness to occur result from a shared resonance among many micro-conscious constituents. The speed of the resonant waves that are present is the limiting factor that determines the size of each conscious entity.
As a shared resonance expands to more and more constituents, the particular conscious entity becomes larger and more complex. Thus, the shared resonance in a human brain that achieves gamma synchrony, for example, includes a much larger number of neurons and neural connections than the case of beta or theta rhythms alone.
They are resonant structures all the way down and up.
Our theory of resonance of consciousness attempts to provide a unified framework that includes neuroscience and the study of human consciousness, but also more fundamental questions from neurobiology and biophysics. Get to the heart of the differences that matter when it comes to consciousness and the evolution of physical systems.
It's about vibrations, but it's also about the kind of vibrations and, most importantly, shared vibrations.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it ... man.
AUTHOR: Tam Hunt
Original article (in English)
Tam Hunt is an attorney practicing (renewable energy law and policy) by day and night, an academic (affiliated with the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara) in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of biology and philosophy of physics.