Whence Consciousness?

Do Subatomic Particles Have Free Will?

Seems to me a more satisfying hypothesis of where consciousness comes from. Better than the currently fashionable thinking that it is an epiphenomenon arising from highly complex interactions between neurons, which for me is deeply unsatisfying, mere hand-waving, not better than an appeal to magic. Sure, a highly complex neural network might result in behavior that simulates consciousness, might even pass the Turing Test, but I doubt that the resulting system would actually be conscious. I think it would instead be a Philosophical Zombie.

Boiling water will spontaneously form ordered columns moving up and down, from bottom to surface and back. This is a classic example of self-organization, where something new arises spontaneously from the collective actions of a group of simple units. But does this mean that if we boil the water in a special way (e.g., boil it at superheated temperatures, or boil it for a very long time, or boil it very quickly) or boil special water (heavy water?), then the water will spontaneously develop consciousness? Sure, it’s possible, but I doubt it.

Maybe I am too dour and skeptical and should just buy into the neural network hypothesis?

Addendum (6/29/09): Conway’s Proof Of The Free Will Theorem: “If there exist experimenters with (some) free will, then elementary particles also have (some) free will.” The Free Will Theorem (PDF file); see also The Strong Free Will Theorem (PDF file). Via MetaFilter. Apparently, the term “free will” may be too politically charged for some: “If you don’t like the term Free Will, call it Free Whim – this is the Free Whim Theorem”.

I am currently reading a 1989 paper by Colin McGinn entitled Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem? (Mind, New Series, Vol. 98, No. 391 (Jul., 1989), pp. 349-366). In the second footnote, Dr. McGinn writes:

I would also classify panpsychism as a constructive solution, since it attempts to explain consciousness in terms of properties of the brain that are as natural as consciousness itself. Attributing specks of proto-consciousness to the constituents of matter is not supernatural in the way postulating immaterial substances or divine interventions is; it is merely extravagant. I shall here be assuming that panpsychism, like all other extant constructive solutions, is inadequate as an answer to the mind-body problem — as (of course) are the supernatural ‘solutions’. I am speaking to those who still feel perplexed (almost everyone, I would think, at least in their heart).

The term panpsychism is new to me. But it sounds akin to what Conway and Kochen claim to have proven. I wonder whether Dr. McGinn is still alive, and knows about Conway and Kochen’s work. Hmm, Wikipedia says that Dr. McGinn accepted a position at the University of Miami in 2006.


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