(An Argument for what could be called "Balancism")
By David M. Petersen
New - must read: New Consciousness Notes
I believe that consciousness is "physical" structure that doesn't reduce to the brain, which itself is physical biological structure, so in reality consciousness is actually physical conscious structure. I also want to say that I believe this for larger philosophical reasons, and leave it at that. I will walk the reader step by step through a logical argument for this belief and try to describe it as best I can. I will also try to show how this point of view is moving towards the solution to the mind-matter problem in philosophy. In other words, the Materialists and the Dualists are both right in the ways outlined in this paper, and the Eliminativists are wrong.
To begin with, it is necessary to point out the fact that physicists seem to be in full agreement that all the positive energy in the universe is exactly balanced by all the negative energy in the universe. In other words, our universe gives every indication of being a physical energy system that is extremely balanced no matter which way you "slice it," so to speak. There are exactly as many positive particles as negative particles (Weinberg 97); the energy between mass gravity is equal for all objects (Hawking 129). It is well known that the overall charge of the atom equals zero, the same for the molecule, etc. Now, I'm sure the reader will agree that the atom, for example, is as physical as something can get, and yet it is essentially just a structure around nothing! Therefore, the word "physical" is just an expression (or should be) describing balanced existence around nothing. I believe that consciousness is also physical in this exact same way but does not reduce to the brain (Eliminativism is wrong).
I think the reader will agree that structure in the universe proceeds thusly: the big bang, quantum systems, atoms, molecules, matter (stars, planets), and biology (cells, bodies, brains). I think that consciousness (mind) is merely the next step in this physical structure chain. I think that it can be shown that all of this structure is created by, or at least has a relationship to, positive and negative "energies" around nothing. Briefly, as far as the big bang, physicists believe that the very early universe was inflationary and was in a state where it had enough energy to make a large amount of positive and negative particles out of nothing (Hawking 129). Quantum systems, namely quarks, are also positively and negatively charged particles and make up the larger particles like electrons and protons. In the case of the atom, it is well known that the nucleus of an atom is neutral, the electrons are negatively charged and the protons are positively charged, and the reason that the particular atom is stable is that it is perfectly balanced around nothing. Molecules are just more complex balanced structures made up of atoms. Matter, such as stars and planets, etc., actually obey an exact balanced relationship between their mass and gravity, in fact they cancel perfectly (Hawking 129). Lastly, in the case of biology, or cells, bodies and brains, I point the reader to the work of Chris G. Langton. In a nutshell, he has shown that life is most successful in and also constantly riding on what he calls the "edge of chaos." In other words life exists in between a constant balance between order and chaos. Too much order the organism cannot survive, too much chaos is equally destructive (Langton 02). While this is an admittedly more abstract relationship around zero, one can try to make it more concrete. For example, it seems to me that an organism must consume enough organic material to both maintain its body and have enough energy to survive and reproduce, and according to the above argument there is an optimal point where its body and survival needs and its actual intake balance to zero. Too much intake, the organism becomes fat (unhealthy) and slow (easy prey), too little and it dies of starvation. Therefore, I believe that biology is also a fundamental type of (more complex) structure around zero.
In light of these progressively stacked and balanced structures I think the phenomenon of consciousness is ultimately another, newer type of balanced structure around nothing within our universe. To support this I want to point out the agreed upon fact that as the universe cools and expands its energy becomes more complex by going through what physicists have called phase transitions. A good example of these is the phase transition that resulted in the separation of the weak and electromagnetic forces in the early universe. These types of phase transitions display behavior they call "breaking symmetry" which results in more complexity (Weinberg 142-144). In fact Langton's work referenced above is based on the idea that biology itself happens in a phase transition. So in effect, I am proposing that there has been a further kind of phase transition from biology to consciousness. This transition clearly starts with mammals, because they have emotions (this is how you can have such an empathetic relationship with your dog). In other words, reptiles are not conscious, mammals are beginning to be conscious, and humans are more conscious because they have a forebrain.
So, to me, to say that consciousness reduces to the brain (Eliminativism) is a very incomplete idea, because it is like saying that biology merely reduces to inanimate matter, or that inanimate matter merely reduces to molecules. Consciousness is not going to reside in any previously existing system like quantum mechanics or electromagnetism. I believe that consciousness vibrates or resonates somehow into existence from the brain into its own physical existence, which is comprised of balanced positive and negative energies around nothing, and these opposing positive and negative "energies" are one's actual experiences. An individual's conscious experiences, positive or negative, are therefore just a more finely evolved type of structure than had existed before the phenomenon of consciousness, and they balance with the entire universe as a whole. And so, it follows then that your awareness is actually an internal view of an external existing structure that is not your brain. Of course there will always be neurological correlates for every conscious state; consciousness is dependent on the brain (neurological studies are obviously a good place to start understanding consciousness), but again, I believe Eliminativism fails because of the above arguments. So, delving into the analytical philosophical vernacular for a moment, I think it is clear that the brain supervenes upon consciousness exactly in the way that molecules supervene upon biology. This is potentially the solution to the mind-matter problem. Dualists are correct that the phenomenon of consciousness is fundamentally different from "biology" (brains) as we know it, and the Materialists are correct in that consciousness is "constructed" the same way all other structure in the universe is constructed. Eliminativists are just wrong, sorry (or they are correct for reptiles!) I also believe that your experiences are balanced around zero in four dimensions, but that is the subject for a different essay.
Hopefully I have shown the way towards the idea that consciousness is actually physical structure that doesn't reduce to the brain, which itself is physical biological structure, so consciousness is therefore physical conscious structure. Again, this is potentially the solution to the mind-matter problem. The Materialists and the Dualists are both right in the ways outlined in this paper, and the Eliminativists are wrong. We all experience the internal existence of consciousness every day; the next question is how to measure the external existence of consciousness. I doubt this will be possible with any existing measurement technology.
Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. New York: Bantam, 1988.
Weinberg, Steven. The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. New York: BasicBooks, 1993.
Langton, Chris G. Computation at the Edge of Chaos: Phase Transitions and Emergent Computation. North Holland. Physica D42. 12-37. 1990.
More on Consciousness:
New - must read: New Consciousness Notes
Consciousness around zero
The likely evolutionary path of the human race:
The future of Man
The 21st century needs its own philosophy; here it is:
My entire body of work is archived Here forever, (http://wayback.archive.org/web/*/
http://philosophy.dmpetersen.net) except for some documents in my storage space.