When weird may actually make sense.
Read Time: 7 minutes
Two of my interests are brain science and theoretical physics. Allow me to clarify so I don’t mislead – by “interests” I mean, in regard to the former I have a rudimentary understanding of the science of perception and I also watch a lot of Through the Wormhole and How the Universe Works. The closest I came to taking quantum mechanics classes in college was watching six hours of a Scott Bakula marathon on TNT while skipping class. I am nonetheless today fascinated with both of these subjects.
So recently as I was driving in to the office, I was especially enthralled by this story I heard via the BBC World Service. Researchers had applied a scientific method in attempting to measure the feasibility and legitimacy of after-death experience. The results, I thought, were quite shocking. Of the people they were able to effectively track (i.e. those who were brought back after death), almost half were able to speak to an “after death” memory or experience. This in and of itself wasn’t what was shocking. For nearly a century most scientists have theorized that the process of dying produces chemical reactions and involuntary coping mechanisms in the brain that result in a comforting, sometimes euphoric mental experience as our consciousness passes into oblivion. This was proposed as a self-construct that evolved within the whole of our species and thus the commonalities of these experiences were explained.
However, the findings of the research group from the UK suggest something different. While the sample size was small (I mean, you’re basically pulling from people who have come back from being dead, so I think we can cut them a little slack) some surprising and seemingly measurable results were achieved. The group found that some individuals were able to recall specific environmental details that happened while they were certifiably clinically dead. One of the subjects was actually able to precisely recall auditory cues that were only issued after body and brain activity ceased.
As a person of faith I do believe in life after death. But I must say this is nonetheless an amazing empirical measurement. Thinking like a scientist, how in the world can we explain this?
It just so happens that I ran across a TED talk by philosopher David Chalmers some weeks ago. He begins the talk discussing the construct of consciousness in abstract but about half way through he really gets into what I think is a truly revolutionary idea on the subject – that consciousness is an elemental force. Or perhaps more accurately, that consciousness exists at an elemental level.
Students of quantum physics will be familiar with the cognitive parable of Schrodinger’s Cat. The theory says that if a cat is placed inside a box and no one can make any observations in regard to the cat – whether or not it is moving, breathing, it’s circulatory system is working, etc. – we cannot make a definitive statement on the status of the cat…. if it is living or dead. Or more preciously, since we can’t observe whether the cat is alive or dead, it is both alive and dead at the same time. The moment that the lid is lifted from the box and the cat is able to be observed, the fact that the cat can be observed effects it’s status. The cat is, at that point, either living or dead, but it’s state is defined and effected by the fact that it is observed.
I know. You’re saying the same thing I did for a long time. This is ridiculous. Whether or not I can observe a cat in a box has absolutely no effect on whether it is alive or dead. It exists independent from any observation, right? Anything else is nothing more than gobbledygook spoken by university professors trying to confuse their way into a grant.However, the study from the UK group has me thinking about this differently. For the first time, I may be able to grasp the concept of Schrodinger’s Cat existing in multiple states and relate this to how our consciousness can exist independent of our corporeal selves.
...Stay with me here.
First, I ask that we suspend our common-sense conclusion that the Schrodinger’s Cat parable is nonsense. Let’s accept that’s it’s true and see what happens. The quantum physicists tell us that, mathematically speaking, the equations work to prove the theory at the quantum level. And by quantum level, we mean small. Smaller-than-atom small. Fundamental particle small. So let’s accept that at the smallest of the small – the elemental level – observation of particles can change/define their nature and position. Observation basically changes their behavior. Now the big question: doesn’t it stand to reason that if observation of something changes its behavior, then can’t we conclude the thing being observed must be aware such observation has occurred in order to make the change? In other words, the observation isn’t just a one way street. To complete the process of observation, there must realization on the part of the observee. Essentially the same logic that reasons when tree falls with nothing to hear (observe), then it makes no sound. If there is no awareness of observation, then no observation occurs.
Think about this: When we as self-conscious beings know that we are being observed, does it not alter the way that we act? Even those of us who say we do the same when we’re being watched as when we’re not, aren’t we active in ensuring that we act the same way? That is an effect on behavior, and it occurs because we are conscious of the external observation at an auto-reflective level.
Now back to the quantum level. Again, accepting that the math does indeed work and that response applicable to complex human social activity is a common trait in some form across creation all the way down to photons, would it not then be logical to conclude that when elemental particles change due to being observed it is so because they are aware of being observed?
Is it not logical to then conclude that elemental particles have…. awareness? Or more precisely, that awareness exists at an elemental level?
That, in an oddly, near-incomprehensible-physics kind of way, seems to make some kind of crazy sense. Sub-atomic particles possess awareness. But does this awareness exist as an independent construct of the particle and then becomes more sophisticated as we move up the evolutionary ladder? Perhaps. This would follow the accepted model of the evolution of the species, only in terms of consciousness rather than physical ability and mental function. Evolutionary awareness. Perhaps this is true. And if it ends here, the theory is still radical.
However, I would propose a further application that would explain why dead patients can recall environmental surroundings when deceased. If the most elemental consciousness is linked specifically to elements, then once the element ceases to exist, so would it’s associated consciousness. Even walking consciousness back to the fundamental quantum mechanics, it would seem that when the physical dies, so does the consciousness. Death. It stands to reason that when the element “dies,” any degree of consciousness dies with it. Finally we are able to get down to the death of consciousness.
Not so fast, my friend.
This assumes that the particle and its creative force are one in the same, or at least the latter spawns the former. But what, I ask, if the consciousness is not part of the particle, but rather a covalent bond with it? If that’s the case, it seems one would not necessarily die as the other changes, right? So maybe the function of consciousness is something even deeper than an aspect of quantum elements. Consider:Most physicists now except the existence of four fundamental universal forces:
- strong nuclear
- weak nuclear
These, by their very definition, are THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL forces of physics which enact on all other particles to eventually create complex organizations and systems. However, observation and advanced experimentation has determined that even these forces interact among each other via still other particles: Gluons, Gravitons, and Bosons. And yes, the math tells us that these particles cannot be defined until observed. Thus, observation effects their action. Thus the conclusion is these particles, at an extra sub-atomic level, are yet still aware they are being observed. Amazing. Where does it end?
Efforts by CERN have indicated that the long supposed but never confirmed Higgs Boson has now been detected. Let’s assume they’re right and it has. “The Higgs” is the most elemental particle in the Higgs Field. The Higgs Field is the space through which other particles move and depending on their path may take on more or less mass. Basically, the Higgs Field defines the mass of a particle, which ultimately defines the particle all the way down its course to becoming a more sophisticated atomic structure.At the same time the Higgs Boson is the particle which creates the Higgs Field – think of it as the individual drops of water that collectively form a lake through which objects much navigate.The problem was, for many years the existence of the Higgs was nothing more than a theory. No science existed to prove or disprove it as a real force.
Recently, through the LHC at CERN, scientists believe they have gathered data to confirm the existence of the Higgs Boson. This confirmation has come via the technical ability to finally observe and measure smaller activity within the Higgs Field.Again, these elusive “god particles” have been observed. The quantum math still applies. Higgs are observed, which means means Higgs are defined/changed. By our logic of consciousness, then some degree of consciousness must exist at this very tiny level of sub-sub-atomic activity.This Higgs is supposed to be the answer…the smallest particle. The key to the “theory of everything.”. True or not, this is doesn’t effectively explain – accepting the truth of quantum mechanics – that observation alters/changes the position of any of these particles.
My Elemental Idea
It seems to be that consciousness itself is not something that exists within these particles, but rather is an independent force that attaches to particles and entities at various intensities depending on the complexity of entity. Therefore consciousness itself seems to be an external force that forms a bond with other forces and particles. In fact, I believe there is reason to believe that Consciousness is the fundamental force by which all others find means of bonds and symbiosis. Basically, Consciousness IS the fundamental element. It is the reason all particles change when observed. Naturally as this migrates up into more complex cellular organisms you eventually reach mankind, who is both observant enough to understand the concept but still subject to the elemental law.
To put it plainly, I believe that life – human life included – begins with consciousness. The science and theory seems to back this up, at least to me.
If that’s true, and we know that the sum total of matter/energy in the universe is constant, (i.e. particles and forces aren’t ‘destroyed’), doesn’t it stand to reason that consciousness is just as eternal?The nature of this consciousness is a debate left up to philosophers and theologians. I, naturally, have my own opinions. Being a lay fan of the cognitive and physical sciences however, I enjoy the possibility of the two being fundamentally intertwined.