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What consciousness is and where it emanates from is one of the biggest questions being tackled by the physicists, cognitive scientists, and neuroscientists across the globe. Although, great minds have been searching for the answers since the dawn of speculation. Today, there is a fairly new scientific concept called Panpsychism that says that the universe could be capable of consciousness. Some even believe this proto-consciousness field theory has the potential to replace the theory of dark matter.
Supporters Of This Theory
Gregory Matloff and Bernard Haisch
The main supporter is Gregory Matloff, a physicist at New York City College of Technology who published a paper in the Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research about how the entire cosmos could actually be self-aware. He observed some stars moving quicker than others in a seemingly conscious trajectory path. In his research he states:
“Stars do not possess neurons or tubules, but the spectral signatures of cooler stars such as the Sun reveal the presence of simple molecules…Surprisingly, there is observational evidence that cooler stars move somewhat faster around the galactic center than their hotter sisters. This velocity difference, called Parenago’s Discontinuity…It is therefore not impossible that panpsychism can emerge from philosophy to become a subdivision of observational astrophysics.”
Then there’s the unorthodox German theoretical physicist Bernard Haisch who in 2006 suggested that consciousness is produced and transmitted through the quantum vacuum, or empty space. Any system that has sufficient complexity and creates a certain level of energy, could generate or broadcast consciousness.
When Dr. Matloff found out about Haisch and his views he immediately got in touch with him and proposed an observational study to test it. Together they examined Parenago’s Discontinuity – the observation that cooler stars, like our own sun, revolve around the center of the Milky Way faster than hotter ones. It was this collaborative study that lead to Matloff’s research paper.
Their observational data shows a reliable pattern anywhere Parenago’s Discontinuity is witnessed. The pattern reveals that these cooler stars move faster than their hotter sisters due to “the emission of a uni-directional jet.” It makes sense to assume that this could be an instance of the star consciously manipulating itself, in order to gain speed. His argument against the current scientific view (that this occurrence is a result of gas clouds affecting the stars) is as follows:
“If it were a matter of interacting with gas clouds, as is the current theory, each cloud should have a different chemical makeup, and so cause the star to operate differently. So why do all of them act in exactly the same way?”
Allen Institute for Brain Science’s Christof Koch says that the only theory we have to date about consciousness is: it’s a level of awareness about one’s self and the world. The reason biological organisms are conscious is because when they approach a new situation, they are able to change their behavior in order to navigate it or in order to hinder a bad situation.
He is currently attempting to measure different organisms levels of consciousness. One such experiment involves wiring the brains of two mice together to see if information flows between the two the same way a fused, integrated system would. Koch argues:
“The only dominant theory we have of consciousness says that it is associated with complexity — with a system’s ability to act upon its own state and determine its own fate. Theory states that it could go down to very simple systems. In principle, some purely physical systems that are not biological or organic may also be conscious.”
U.K. physicist Sir Roger Penrose is famous for linking consciousness with some of the research going on in quantum mechanics. He proposed (back in the 80’s) that consciousness is present at the quantum level and resides in the synapses of the brain. His views proclaim that:
“The laws of physics produce complex systems, and these complex systems lead to consciousness, which then produces mathematics, which can then encode in a succinct and inspiring way the very underlying laws of physics that gave rise to it.”
Prevailing Theories About Consciousness
Consciousness emanates from matter and can be fully explained by the firing of neurons inside the brain. Therefore, without a brain, consciousness doesn’t exist at all.
Consciousness is separate from matter. This theory is strongly connected to religion or spirituality. It states that consciousness is another aspect of the individual; spiritually speaking, it is the soul.
Everything, the entire universe down to each atom in it, is inhabited by consciousness. This theory is also connected to spirituality. It is similar to what Hindus and Buddhists believe – that we are all a part of a tremendous universal Godhead and that consciousness is the only thing that exists.
For example, there is a famous teaching from the Zen koan that says:
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
What this means is that everything we experience is filtered through and interpreted by our mind and so without it, the universe does not exist at all. In other words, we must realize that everything in the universe is not real unless there is some sort of consciousness observing it. In physics, this sort of thinking is a prevailing theory that there is some kind of proto-consciousness field – an ever-present consciousness in everything, thus making things real. Could it be that all of reality is just a simulation?
According to late scientist and philosopher John Archibald Wheeler, the man famous for coining the term “black hole,” the fact that particles don’t have a definite shape or specific location until they are observed or measured (as states quantum mechanics) could be a form of proto-consciousness at play.
He believed that every single piece of matter contains a bit of consciousness which it absorbs from this proto-consciousness field. Furthermore, a human observer is key to this process. Nothing exists unless some form of consciousness is there to apprehend it. He called this theory the “participatory anthropic principle.”
“We are participators in bringing into being not only the near and here but the far away and long ago.” – Wheeler
Integrated Information Theory
According to neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, consciousness is a manifestation with a real, physical location, somewhere in the universe that just hasn’t been found yet. This idea he proposed, called “integrated information theory,” is a slightly different take on panpsychism. One could say, this place where consciousness resides is like a heavenly body that radiates out consciousness the same way our sun radiates light and heat.
Dr. Tononi was also the one who put forth a metric unit (called phi) for measuring how much consciousness a thing has. Phi is translated into “how much control a being can enact over itself or objects around it.” Some people assume that intelligence and consciousness are one in the same but his theory separates the two. For example, artificial intelligence has no will of it’s own but it is very intelligent.
Consciousness may be nothing more than the firing of neurons in the brain…but it could also be a distinct entity that permeates every speck of matter in the universe. This is the big question which has yet to be answered – “What is consciousness?” Could it be that human minds are just tiny components of a much greater cosmic brain?