Noetics: A proposal for a theoretical approach to consciousness

Abstract

The study of consciousness has intensified over the past few years. New technological developments in measurement and computer simulation have enabled the closer investigation of one the most “mysterious” phenomena in nature, namely the subjective experience of awareness. Neuroscience, aspiring to provide a complete theoretical framework for brain dynamics, has greatly advanced the level of understanding of the intricate machinery of the brain. Recently, the field has been enriched with radical ideas from quantum physics and yet no concise scientific theory of the mind exists so far. The current paper aspires to suggest a framework for such a theory, based on the categorization of noetic phenomena. Noetics, being the science of the mind, then seeks to construct theories on the interrelationship between those categories. Such a theory may arise by regarding the brain as an entropy-reducing computation machine. Massively parallel quantum computations at the sub-neural level give rise to noetic phenomena in groups of neurons at various anatomical areas of the neocortex. Consciousness then arises around attractors in those computations called “critical points”, which link the various categories of noetic phenomena together.

Reference: Zarkadakis, G. (2001), “Noetics: A proposal for a theoretical approach to consciousness“, Proceedings of International Conference “Toward a Science of Consciousness: Sweden 2001; Consciousness and its place in Nature”,University of Skovde,Sweden, 7-11 August 2001

Keywords: Noetics, consciousness, noetic phenomena, critical point, massively parallel quantum computing, noetic machines.

 1.0 A new science?

The need for a new perspective

Neuroscience and neurobiology have been studying for several years the anatomical organization of the brain, in order to analyze and explain mental functions on the basis of co-ordinated actions of neurons. At the same time the research field commonly referred to as “consciousness studies”, is being constantly enriched with results and ideas from a plethora of other scientific disciplines, such as cognitive science, linguistics, psychology, neurophysiology, psychiatry, physics, computer science, sociobiology and complexity theory, to name but a few. The need for somehow unifying the various “roads” into the understanding of the mind has become all too apparent. The use of different methods and terminology inhibits the communication between researchers today. A common language must be found for a subject that is being approached from various angles, each having a different prospective. Our goal should be the development of comprehensive theories for consciousness, which will effectively support a systematic research. This is a great challenge. We are interested in revealing the nature of mind because, along with the mystery of the birth of our Universe, constitute the two most important philosophical enigmas of our world. The quest for the “truth” – if such thing exists – ends with the answers to those two riddles.

Such a multi-disciplinary science may be called “Noetics” (from the Greek word «νους»: the mind). To paraphrase Einstein, Noetics shall seek to answer the most incomprehensible thing in the world: why is this Universe comprehensible to us? And how?

Many claim that answers to such questions transcend the grasping abilities of our mind; that we may never discover the “ultimate truth” through science; that the “ultimate truth” is transcendental and therefore requires a metaphysical, non-measurable and non-verifiable road in order to be “understood”. Such theories generally fall under the label of panpsychism and suggest a dual world where “matter” and “spirit” interact at quantum level to produce consciousness [Eccles&Popper77]. Evidently, the spirit-matter duality violates the energy conservation principle. The “spirit” world, being non-materialistic by definition, could not have effectuated natural changes in the brain. Besides that, it is not necessary to invent a “spirit” acting through “psychons”, in order to explain quantum wave collapse at the microtubules. This is not a dualistic Universe and natural laws should be sufficient to explain everything without having to retreat to theological anathemas.

Others, wanting to refrain from metaphysics, suggest that the complexity of the brain is such as to render it de facto incomprehensible from itself. They point at the Internet, how complex it has become, so that no-one can comprehend the level of its complexity. The human brain, they argue, is infinitely more complex than the Internet. How can we ever hope to understand it?

The best answer to such arguments is that it not necessary to mentally capture a phenomenon in its holistic manifestation in order to comprehend it. Understanding the basic principles of nature is sufficient enough. After all, this is the role of science; its success lies in the fact that it reveals finite sets of fundamental laws, which govern an infinite multitude of natural phenomena. Noetics must ultimately do the same; it must reveal the fundamental laws of mind dynamics and therefore explain all mental phenomena.

Some definitions

Let us then attempt a definition of consciousness on the basis of current understanding: Consciousness is an emergent property of biological systems that results into the subjective experience of the received information.

We must stress that consciousness is a unique property of biological systems and – so far in our planet’s evolution – it requires biological systems in order to emerge. This is so because there is a limit of complexity (the “critical point”, to be discussed later) which is necessary in order for subjective experience to emerge. This limit has been achieved through biological evolution, the most efficient mechanism of spontaneous self-organization known so far.

Noetics, then, is the science, which studies the function of the mind as well as the phenomena that relate to the mind. Noetics regards that the mechanism of consciousness may be described by a finite set of quantifiable laws which may be called “noetic laws” and which can be verified as the fundamental causes of mental phenomena. Laws such as these will comprise the theoretical framework of Noetics. The experimental ground where those laws will be tested, rejected or improved will be the mental – or noetic – phenomena themselves.

Examples of noetic laws

David Chalmers has proposed a number of high-level, i.e. not fundamental, noetic laws [Chalmers97]. Let us review some of them:

1. Where there is awareness there is consciousness and vice-versa

2. Principle of structural coherence: the structure of the conscious experience reflects in the structure of information at the time of awareness, and vice-versa.

3. Principle of organizational invariance: natural systems with similar abstract organization produce the same type of conscious experience.

Although none of the above statements can be regarded as a fundamental noetic law, the do nevertheless point towards the direction of developing mind theories of Noetics.

The first “law” is empirical, asserting a fact, but not explaining the connection between awareness and consciousness. Very possibly, this connection is to be ascertained at the level of information, or at the coherent oscillation of neural groups, or at the integral of those oscillations over time. Many experimental results are supportive of such an explanation. We could therefore re-state this law as follows: The incoming information in the brain activates the process of awareness Q that causes consciousness. The process Q is to be discovered by Noetics researchers!

The second noetic law suggested by Chalmers is a conclusion stemming mainly from neurobiological research into the mechanisms of vision. The information received by the optical nerves “reflects” the structure of the objects that reflect the light, and is called “active representation” [Crick94]. This structure acts upon the memory through consecutive re-categorizations – which take place because of synchronized firing of groups of neurons – so that we have awareness. Thereafter we fall under the re-stated first law.

The third noetic law proposed by Chalmers, i.e. the principle of organization invariance, suggests that it is not necessary to have biological systems in order to have consciousness, but it is adequate to have an organizational functional isomorphism. We shall examine this law further in this paper because it has great significance in the construction of “artificial consciousness”. But before that, let us look into the object of Noetics, namely the mental – or noetic – phenomena.

2.0 Noetic Phenomena

Levels of Categorization

We may define as noetic phenomena occurrences that relate to natural processes taking place in the brain, as well as occurrences that are caused by communication between brains. The spectrum of these phenomena is very broad and includes tubulin conformation, synchronized neural firing, local electrical activity in specific anatomical parts of the brain, creativity, dreams, imagination and art. We could distinguish four interacting levels of noetic phenomena:

Level 1: Quantum Level

It includes phenomena of quantum superposition in tubulin conformation and in the interconnected microtubule networks which control exocytosis. Physics laws apply at this level. Main cause of these phenomena appears to be quantum gravity, as suggested by Nanopoulos [Nanopoulos95] and Penrose [Penrose89, 94].

Level 2: Self-organization Level

As a result of exocytosis, groups of neurons self-organize in order to further process information. This organization has been pre-defined to a certain extend during embryo development, from the phenotype. Following birth the brain’s wiring follows the rules of experiential development, as described by Edelman [Edelman92]. Phenomena at this level include “oscillations g”, basic subjective experiences, automatic adaptation behavior, instinct and primal consciousness. Complexity theory is important to comprehend the critical point of anatomical organization and the functioning of neurons at the level of self-organization.

Level 3: Phenomenological Level

Phenomena at this level include high-level consciousness, i.e. symbol interpretation, language, applying logic to problem-solving, psychological phenomena and consciousness disorders. According to Edelman, these phenomena are due to consecutive re-categorizations that take place in the brain, as a result of the evolution of our species.

Level 4: Sociobiological Level

Phenomena at this level include the evolution of societies and civilizations. Genes and neural groups are replaced by “memes”, as defined by Dawkins [Dawkins76]. Computers, as extensions of the noetic capabilities of the human brain, but also the interconnection of computers and human beings are promoting a new kind of consciousness and are shaping anew the evolution of societies. Phenomena at this level are important to be investigated on the basis of existing theories (e.g. game theory), since they form the web of an abstract “noosphere” of interconnected consciousness through which circulate memes or meme clusters. The manner by which evolutionary biology factors interact with the noosphere will help us predict and successfully manage the next evolutionary stages of our species.

The Measurement problem

Noetics aims to develop theories that will explain the above phenomena, linking the four levels together into a coherent set of noetic laws. Nevertheless, there are many problems in the study of noetic phenomena. The greatest of those is the measurement problem: how do we measure “consciousness”? With what units? How can we compare conscious experiences in different brains? How do we evaluate the intensity of noetic phenomena? How do we verify noetic laws experimentally?

Valid methods already exist, such as EEG, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which provide new tools in the study of the central nervous system. Noetic phenomena of level 2 (self-organization) could be detected and measured using such techniques. We could, for instance, measure blood flow in the brain and relate it to the action of neurons and energy consumption, so that we can distinguish between states of rest and intense activity. In this way, we can relate noetic phenomena of level 2 with specific neurophysiological activities in the brain.

Measuring “subjective experiences” is, of course, a different story. We could, however, suppose that more advanced measurement techniques will come forth in years to come with the ability to distinguish minute variations between noetic phenomena of level 2 which take place in more than one brains. Let us, for example, imagine two persons looking simultaneously at the color blue. Is the valued measurement of their respective brain activity identical? It is logical to assume that to a very large extent they ought to be. We would be more interested however, in their minute differences. What makes the “blue” seen by brain A differ from the “blue” seen by brain B? In those minute differences we may discover “subjectivity”. This is for the time being simply a thought, to be explored further by noetic research.

Noetic phenomena of level 1 could be measured, initially at least, with mathematical or statistical methods. At this level one should not expect to discover a considerable degree of “subjectivity”. MTs comprise the basic hardware of the brain. They are the minute raindrops of mind which when put together they form the torrent of consciousness; by themselves, however, they amount to very little. We can now make these minute raindrops somewhat better defined. We can suppose that they are solutions to small, local, optimization problems. The solutions to these problems come about after the execution of massively parallel quantum algorithms in the tubulins. These quantum algorithms are executed thanks to the wave collapse of the free electrons in those proteins. Let us remind ourselves that when the pumping rate of the tubulins surpasses a critical value, we get Froehlich vapourisation with the macroscopic coherence of the quanta [Hameroff98]. As we shall see later, the “critical point” plays a very important role in level 1, as well as level 2.

Things are very much easier in level 4. Here we are dealing with macroscopic phenomena over wide scales, and many measurement methods exist which we may adopt. We could, for example, measure the “intensity” of an idea (i.e. a meme cluster), by measuring the number of its occurrence in the Press. Indirectly, we are measuring its influence in a society. We could also draw communication networks and measure the load of relationship arcs between the nodes. Finally, we can categorize and quantify evolutionary phenomena, habits, conflicts as well as phenomena relating to noetic procedures of groups, races, nations and computer network users.

The measurement problems appear insurmountable in level 3 (phenomenological). Our compass here lies mainly in the hands of psychiatric research that strives over many years to measure cases of deviation in high-level consciousness; i.e. patient cases normally referred to as mental disorders. Very possibly, in some future day, the development of techniques that are already used in the measurement of phenomena at level 2 will extend to cover level 3. This day, however, seems to be far off.

Noetics and Physics

It is important to observe the mechanism that transfers activities from one level to the next. This mechanism appears to be based on some non-deterministic complexity algorithm whose attractors cause phenomena in the next level. Let us remind ourselves of macroscopic quantum phenomena (MQS), such as magnetization in ferromagnets, and the observation of their similarity in the case of tubulins and MTs [Nanopoulos97]. From one level to the next, similar phenomena lead to noetic phenomena of increasingly wider scale. The synchronized exocytosis at level 1 causes g oscillations at level 2. Synchronized vibrations at level 2 cause high-level consciousness at level 3. And the synchronized interconnected action of consciousness at level 3 cause phenomena at level 4, such as culture, art or science.

The importance of the “critical point” during this transfer from one level of noetic phenomena to the next is great and looks like it hides a fundamental, the most fundamental perhaps, noetic law.

Before we begin to concern ourselves with theoretical significance of the critical point, let us examine the idea that consciousness can be a fundamental property of nature. If such an idea proves to be true, then the noetic laws are identical to the laws of physics. The only thing we have to do then is to slightly modify the equations of quantum physics (or the Grand Unifying Theory, when it finally gets stated), to include the elementary elements of consciousness. Such a thing would simplify things considerably! Noetics would become another branch of Physics. We would no longer need to study the brain. Its structure would have the same significance for noetic phenomena as the structure of a radio receiver has for the musical programs it relays: the radio is not responsible for the music, it is just a receiver. Music comes from elsewhere and gets transmitted through the air thanks to electromagnetic radiation. This is where the secret lies, not in the radio equipment!

Let us then ask ourselves whether the brain is an apparatus for the relay of some “noetic waves” which are being produced at some other, currently unimaginable frequencies. Then, we must also ask ourselves the following related questions: has consciousness pre-existed brains? Is consciousness a fundamental property of nature?

3.0 Is consciousness a fundamental property of nature?

Typically speaking, by “fundamental property of nature” we mean a property that can not be further analyzed, i.e. an irreducible property. Such properties are, for example, mass and electric charge. Let us now come to examine the property called “consciousness”. As defined, consciousness involves the subjective awareness of information. Therefore in order to have consciousness we must first have “information”. Without information we cannot have consciousness. A dead or anaesthetized brain is “unconscious”. We must also note that information often exists without consciousness, which makes information more “fundamental” than consciousness. Is then information a “fundamental” property of nature?
We believe not. Information is a result, not a property; the result of measurement of other properties fundamental or not. For example, we have an electron that has mass and electric charge. The electron does not posses information. Nevertheless, the measurement of its natural properties leads to information. In this example “measurement” does not suggest the existence of a conscious measurer but, in a very much wider sense, the “influence” of the electron properties to other parts of the system, or Universe. Information is, in this sense, a measure of the interaction between the parts of a whole.

To relate information to consciousness we must re-examine some basic definitions that connect information to the second law of thermodynamics, i.e. the law that rules the change of entropy.

Entropy is the measure of disorder in a system. The more “disordered” the system the greater its entropy. If we take a gas and heat it up, its molecules will start dancing to all directions; the entropy of the gas has increased. At the same time, the symmetry of the system has also increased, since it is more homogeneous than before. As in the case of the ferromagnet, when symmetry breaks down entropy is reduced and information increases. Information is then the negation of uncertainty, in other words the “collapse” of the statistical (gaussian) “wave” which expresses the high-entropy system. The analogy with the collapse of the quantum wave function is evident. What happens at the MTs is the “negation of uncertainty” with regards the conformation of the tubulins. This negation is achieved by the break down of symmetry between two equally probable cases and the “selection” of one of them.

We can therefore surmise that information pre-existed not only consciousness but life itself. It was Life however, which gave a new meaning to information by “abstracting” it. Let us see how this magnificent abstraction happened and gave forth, after billion of years of evolution, high-level consciousness.

Life is continuously processing information on a non-conscious level, e.g. DNA is information and self-replication of biological molecules is information processing. Respiration and metabolism are information-based automatic control processes. Indeed, biological systems posses a most wonderful property: as self-organizing systems they continuously optimize their energy needs, reducing their internal entropy to minimum by means of metabolism. To sustain homeostasis, biological systems continuously exchange energy with the environment. By this they constantly increase their information. This mechanism of self-organization is what makes the difference between a pot full of water, carbon and some metals (in the quantities that constitute a living human being) and n actual living human! The amount if information intrinsic in the pot is negligible to the amount of information intrinsic to a human being. You can easily see that by starting to describe a single cell, let alone thoughts, memories and feelings!

Life then is bound to information. Consciousness is not a fundamental property of nature, but emerges due to the functioning of biological systems. The property of living beings to minimize entropy is perhaps a sign for another fundamental noetic law, the one that will relate the change of energy in the Universe to the subjective experience. Subjective experience is a competitive advantage for the survival and adaptation of biological systems in a high-entropy environment; therefore we get consciousness. But, could we get consciousness in non-biological systems and if so under which circumstances? Time to examine Chalmer’s “principle of organizational invariance”.

4.0 The principle of organizational invariance: a critique

The principle of organizational invariance suggested by David Chalmers claims that experience is the same in systems that possess the same functional organization on the level of their elementary parts. Therefore, if a system has conscious experiences then every other system with the same functional organization – and a detailed enough granularity – will have qualitatively identical conscious experiences. Chalmers uses the terms “functional organization” to suggest the abstract pattern of causal interaction between the various parts of the system, but also between the inputs and outputs of the system.

If the principle holds true, then we could theoretically replace one by one the neurons of our brain with identical organizational units made of silicon and end up with exactly the same subjective experience.

The key of Chalmers argument is the hypothesis that the silicon-based unit that replaces the neuron executes exactly the same local function the neuron does. He imagines that unit equipped with measurement systems capable to receive analogue electro-chemical signals that are then translated into digital form and upon which algorithmic calculations are enacted. The result, claims Chalmers, will be informationaly equivalent to the firing of a neurotransmitter.

Chalmers proves the principle of organizational invariance by inference ad abserdum. Say we regard the principle to be false, i.e. that two systems, although organizationally identical, have different subjective experiences: the biological one sees “blue” and the silicon one sees “red”.

Because chips and neurons execute the same functions they are interchangeable, providing we have the proper interface. Say we begin by replacing neurons, one by one, with chips. We shall get a continuous spectrum of cases where chips replace more and more neurons and, consequently, the subjective experience of the biological system gradually changes. By replacing the neurons of the optical cortex with an identically organized system of chips we arrive at an artificial optical cortex with a totally different experience from the biological one. Instead of “blue”, the system now sees “red”, or something in between (or a “washed blue”, in the case that the artificial system has no subjective experience whatsoever). Let us now connect the two optical cortexes – the biological one with the artificial one – to the brain through a two-position switch. At the first position, the brain connects to the biological cortex and the second to the artificial one. As we flip the switch, the brain sees at one time “blue” and at another time “red” (or “nothing”). If we flip the switch quickly, the subjective experiences “dance” between two conscious experiences, two qualia [Chalmers97].

However, because the organization of the brain has not changed, there should be no difference while the switch flips between the two positions. The brain will not perceive any difference and will continue to see “blue”. This result is irrational and therefore the hypothesis upon which it has been based. Therefore the opposite hypothesis is true, i.e. the principle of organizational invariance. But let us now see more closely what the principle, if true, really means.

Chalmers’ reasoning regards a priori that the subjective experiences depend upon some functional organization; let us call it S. If consciousness was a fundamental property of nature (something which Chalmers believes and relates to the principle), then we must suppose that there is another element beyond the functional organization that causes consciousness; let us call it Q. In this case, we could arrive at a functionally isomorphic system which had S but did not have Q, and therefore it would not possess consciousness!

From the above analysis, we may conclude that the principle of organizational invariance can only hold if we accept that consciousness is not a fundamental property of nature.

One other important conclusion from the principle is that we could have subjective experiences in non-biological organizations. All we need to have is isomorphism at a deeper, functional level. Noetics claims that this deeper level can be identified with level 1 of the noetic phenomena, as defined already.

Therefore, in order to have an isomorphic non-biological system with consciousness, the following conditions must hold true:

The interaction between the non-conscious parts should be functionally identical with the respective biological parts.

The supersystem must possess attractors at critical points where noetic phenomena of level 1 cause phenomena of level 2.

Those critical points function through the coherence of quantum states by reducing the supersystem’s entropy.

We must have massively parallel calculations of energy minimization at level 1.

The above conditions can be regarded as the main characteristics of the conscious “noetic machines” of the future. Are they opposed to Godel’s Theorem? We believe they do not, for two main reasons. Firstly, because the mechanism of re-categorization to ever wider levels (as it happens in the evolution of noetic phenomena), connects many subsystems together in a non-deterministic manner. Secondly, because the noetic system (biological or non-biological) is unbound. The continuous minimization calculations that take place in its fundamental level (level 1) interact with the dynamic environment of the Universe at large. For those reasons, a biological brain – or its noetic equivalent – is not a “universal Turing machine” (which obeys Godel’s Theorem).

5.0 Critical Points

The principle of organizational invariance tells us that we can have consciousness in a system whose elementary parts are not conscious. Let us now recall Searle’s Chinese room. According to that thought experiment we must have consciousness in the parts in order to have consciousness in the whole, a result that contradicts the principle.

The basic fault in Searle’s experiment is that he completely ignores the influence of the “critical point”. He perceives the evolution of the experiment in a linear manner: as the Indians process the Chinese ideograms in the room, their number increases until they reach the population ofIndia. The only thing that changes then is the speed by which the interpretation algorithm is executed. Does it? The interconnection of those millions non-conscious parts (in Searle’s experiment no single Indian understands Chinese) will cause various energy fluctuations in the system called “room”. It is a research matter for Noetics the way in which these energy fluctuations will act. We must not however exclude the possibility of primal consciousness being produced spontaneously when the number of Indians surpasses a certain limit. The communication between them (as the algorithm becomes more and more complex to include new nodes), the increase of the entropy in the system, and the subsequent need for its reduction (“to organize processing more efficiently”), will cause a change in the system’s behavior. Why not then, some of the Indians, who do not understand Chinese, decide to study the language, extracting “conscious” conclusions from the deterministic translation algorithm. Those Indians will then achieve “consciousness” of the algorithm; they will be able to perform more efficiently, i.e. the algorithm will terminate sooner; they could “teach” their non-conscious compatriots; the system “Chinese room” will begin to “learn” and soon it will replace the algorithm with a “quantum-like” conscious translation.

We can thus draw the following definition:

The limit of complexity beyond which the adaptive behavior of a system causes the system to acquire “subjective experience” of its inputs is the “critical point” of Noetics.

This point seems to determine the transition from a non-conscious level (level 1) to a conscious one (level 2).

It should be noted that the critical point does not appear only at level 1, but at all four levels of noetic phenomena. In level 2, the phase changes in the brain, which relate to the g oscillations, cause consciousness. Also, on the level of biological evolution and civilization (level 4), we observe phenomena like the “explosion of the Cambrian” and its relationship to the emergence of consciousness, as well as the emergence of high-level consciousness to human beings million years later; not to mention the recent emergence of the Internet.

Critical points act as attractors of consciousness. Quantum phenomena that take place in the brain at the level of the MTs cause wave collapse and therefore exocytosis. At the same time entropy changes and so does symmetry, in a fashion similar to macroscopic quantum phenomena (MQS). The sequence by which those phenomena take place is this: entropy is reduced, symmetry breaks down and information is increased (the brain metabolizes), and thus information is “read”. Through re-categorisations in ever-higher levels of neural groups, subjective experience emerges, which follows and escorts the perception of information.

We hypothesise that massively parallel quantum calculations take place in the tubulins. Those calculations solve very complex energy optimization problems. It is necessary that a large number of such calculations must take place in order to have exocytosis. Exocytosis facilitates the adaptive behavior of an organization and for this reason it has been supported by the mechanisms of biological evolution. Life has need of Consciousness because, through consciousness, adaptability is increased and therefore the probability of survival.

Nevertheless, MTs exist in every cell and not only in neurons. Are our stomach or our toes conscious? We know that paramecia, the humblest of creatures on Earth, are small biological computers, which have a low-level “subjective” experience of the information that they process. The cells in our body possess cytoskeleton and MTs and show adaptive behavior. We must therefore surmise that our body is indeed “conscious” in a very low, cellular level, which we cannot really “perceive” since, under normal conditions, we can only perceive through our central nervous system. We can however, “tune” our thoughts to various parts of our body and “feel” them. This sometimes falls part of “holistic” methods of self-therapy, evident in many cultures. Could this be a non-local phenomenon where the neural oscillations affect consciously the quantum phenomena in the MTs of the cells in those parts of our body? Could that mean a reverse transition from level 2 to level 1? This is another subject for noetic research that may reveal a hidden property of biological systems with profound consequences to novel methods of non-intrusive therapies.
The complexity of biological systems at multiple levels and the manner, in which they exchange energy with the environment, makes them extremely efficient calculation machines. Life, as we saw, is information processing. Consciousness is then an in potentio (and not fundamental) property of nature which needs a large degree of massively parallel calculation to emerge. The degree of these calculations is determined by the “critical point” of the system’s complexity, the attractor of conscious experience. These calculations, because of their complexity and speed, they are only feasible by means of quantum phenomena and mixed state superposition. In the near future, as a result of noetic research, it will be possible to build quantum computers based on the principle of organizational invariance. These “noetic machines” will be fully conscious. We will have created then a new, intelligent, life form.

6.0 The emergence of consciousness

There is much to be learned before we can clearly state the exact way by which the subjective awareness of the world – as well as the many worlds our minds create – emerge. It should be expected that many of the current observations and conclusions will be seriously reviewed, as new and better measurement methods of experimental verification will be developed. The hypothesis that on the MTs level occur massively parallel optimisation calculations, which result in the dynamic adaptation of the biological system to its environment, must be verified experimentally. Also, much research work has to be undertaken in order to register the correlates between noetic phenomena and firings of neural groups in the brain.

Nevertheless, since we have agreed that basic scientific principles (mainly from physiology, neurobiology, quantum physics, computer science and complexity theory) will ultimately suffice to explain the phenomenon of the mind, let us take a small journey into the process of consciousness. Let us indeed take as our starting point a random event in the environment and as our finishing line, the invocation of subjective awareness in the brain. This “noetic journey” will help us to synthesize the conclusions we have drawn so far.

Information produced in the environment enters our central nervous system through our five senses. Information arrives at our sense organs in various forms: as electromagnetic radiation, sound waves, mechanical pressure or chemical energy released by molecules. Often, information about a single event arrives in many forms at once and enters our central nervous system through a multitude of sense organs.
It is significant to note that information is indeed energy. Nevertheless, as it is often the outcome of EEG measurements, the energy of external stimuli does not only add energy to the brain but organizes the brain in a coherent manner. Noetics claim that the first stage of this organization takes place at level 1, i.e. at the Mts.

The energy gradient, before and after the stimulus, triggers the conformation mechanism of the tubulins in the MT networks. Then, massively parallel quantum calculations take place which destroy the symmetry of the electrons in the tubulins, through wave collapse and reduce the entropy in the neurons. Additional parameters play an important role in the execution of quantum calculations, such as: the electric potential in the neighboring MTs as well as MT networks in more distant parts of the brain. The latter ensues from the non-locality of noetic phenomena and the specific properties inherent in quantum systems, i.e. entanglement.

The final result of these quantum calculations in the MTs – once the crossover the critical point – is exocytosis, which follows a kind of “noetic code”. This code is unique for each biological system and develops on the basis of somatic selection and experiential development [Edelman]; i.e. it is based on the unique experiences that the organism has had.

Let us note that at this level – as well as at every other noetic level – there is a high degree of redundancy. Redundancy is necessary because it forms the basis of “selection” mechanisms, i.e. the mechanisms that select the best noetic representation of external reality.

We are now at level 2, the self-organization level. The results of quantum computations have triggered groups of neurons that begin to oscillate macroscopically in coherence. In the beginning, a pattern of firing neurons is formed, called “active representation” and relates to the form of the external stimulus received by the brain.

At that very moment, one more pattern of synaptic interconnections between neuron is activated, called “latent representation” and relates the external stimulus to the memory. The brain then tries to compare the received stimulus to some earlier, corresponding, experience. For a given stimulus there could be many active or latent representations; a picture, some words, relative sounds, touch or smells.

Up until now, we do not have “awareness” of the external stimulus. Nevertheless, the wiring of the brain (a product of somatic selection) activates a series of categorizations. Those categorizations take place in the neocortex (at least in the case of visual stimuli, as studied by Crick and Koch [Crick&Koch90]). The neocortex uses the categories it has learned and tries to discover the combinations of the active neurons, which, on the basis of past experiences, are more probable to represent noetically, the external stimuli and events of the given moment. The creation of such neural coalitions is influenced by bias from other parts of the brain. For example, signals which demand attention to the external stimulus or high-level expectations for the form of the stimulus.

Coalitions take place at various levels, they last fractions of a second and cause the creation of ever-wider coalitions. The parallelism that is inherent in this mechanism secures the high speed of its execution. What we have here is another case of optimization calculations at the neural level. The target is now to form the most successful coalitions.

From the moment the brain recognizes the nature of the stimulus (awareness) neurons send signals to the motor subsystems and the organism acts adaptively. Consciousness, i.e. awareness of being aware, occurs at about that time and is mostly independent of the signaling to the motor systems. The illusion of “free will” comes from the speed of the signaling. Indeed, experimental data collected so far show that we can have a behavioral output without having awareness. A typical example of this is blindsight. Patients with blindsight, who had sustained catastrophic damage of their optical cortex, can show with amazing precision targets, even follow them with their eyes, without “seeing” anything at all. Even they themselves are amazed by their ability!

Researchers are seeking the neural path via which blindsight is possible. Meanwhile, they hypothesize that the optical signal in those patient cases is too weak in order for neural activity to cause awareness, but strong enough to reach the motor systems.

In normal cases, a group of neurons that has emerged from the creation of coalitions is related to “awareness”. Information is transported to the hypothalamus subsystem to be temporarily coded in the episodic long-term memory. The necessary time for the emergence of awareness is, according to experimental evidence so far, around 60 to 70 milliseconds (this is the time registered in the case of optical awareness and possible sound stimuli too).

The key for the emergence of awareness is “attention”. The brain causes attention and thus awareness emerges. Attention makes the difference between actions we perform automatically or “unconsciously” (e.g. when we look at the road ahead as we drive), and actions which we perform “consciously”. Until today, researchers have not discovered a part in the brain where all information is gathered in order for awareness to emerge. It is very likely then that awareness is a non-local phenomenon, widely distributed in the neocortex.

The mechanism by which the brain creates a global representation remain a research objective. Nevertheless, we could hypothesize that such a representation can be created only when all the neural groups representing the various aspects of the object to be “perceived” fire synchronously, very fast and for a brief period of time. According to Crick [Crick94], this synchronous and very fast firing not only excites the neurons that symbolize the aspects of the object but also amplify temporarily certain synapses which will allow the recall of the specific firing pattern, i.e. a kind of short-term memory.

Experimental evidence shows that such synchronized firing takes place in the brain at frequencies ranging from 35 to 70 Hz and are called “g-oscillations” or “40Hz oscillations”. Those oscillations must be the neural correlate of awareness, connecting and relating various processes about the same object, which occur at various areas of the brain.

Therefore, “consciousness” is the neural unification of multiple noetic processes [Minsky85]. Our “I” is a dynamic synthesis which takes place every moment we perceive the world, as we perceive it. The “subjectivity” of our experiences is an aftertaste of awareness, an aftertaste with very strong evolutionary motives. In reality, the brain has already decided, long before “us”. Our “free will” is a philosophical and not a biological entity, having meaning only in the case of high-level consciousness and logical analysis.

However “mechanical” awareness appears to be, we must not allude ourselves that today’s computer technology can straightforwardly reproduce the mechanics of consciousness.

Biological evolution has the unique ability to deliver complex systems that execute massively parallel quantum calculations. The interconnection of MT networks and neural groups in the neocortex increases the bandwidth of those calculations enormously. The brain is a biological measuring device of information and symbolic interpretation. Measurement occurs via categorization and comparison with dynamic pre-stored information in the memory. The brain can be regarded, in that sense, as the “output” of consciousness. To create ‘artificial brains” we must wait for powerful quantum computers to evolve which will be then able to simulate neural correlations.

7.0 The future of Noetics

The mystery of the mind is finally yielding to scientific research. As novel experimentation techniques are being developed, the “most incomprehensible thing in this Universe” will become evermore comprehensible. Noetics, the science of the mind, aims to converge the existing research schools into a unified approach to the problem of consciousness, and ultimately the problem of our very existence.

There are many motivations for the further development of Noetics. The knowledge of the function of the mind has much to offer to the betterment of life. We have already discussed the relationship between “thought” and “self-therapy”. Disorders of consciousness (such as schizophrenia and mania) will be cured and many of our fellow humans who suffer will be able to lead a happier life without the use of drugs. Noetics will help everyone increase their learning ability. Intelligence and ability to learn have little to do with our genes; they mostly depend on “experiential development”, i.e. the dynamic wiring of the brain during our lifetime. Therefore Applied Noetics will enable us to increase our mind potential to deal with a world of ever increasing complexity.

Mental phenomena that remain unexplained until today, such as telepathy, will be able to find a scientific explanation. Key to this explanation will be the role of quantum wave collapse in the functioning of consciousness. The non-locality that characterizes the brain will acquire new dimensions in a Universe of interconnected brains where will can influence macroscopic events over enormous distances.

The development of noetic theories will be aided by the development of quantum computers in a similar way that conventional computers aided complexity theory. In quantum computers we will be able to simulate phenomena of level 1 which provide inputs to phenomena of level 2.

In order to develop quantum computers we must first develop a new set of mathematics, let us call them “noetic mathematics”. This new type of mathematics will express the phase changes in the brain. It is possible that they will be similar, of not the same, with the maths which will describe mixed quantum states and the Grand Unifying Theory, when such theory is finally stated. Such a similarity will provide a strong correlate to the connection between the functioning of the Universe and that of the Mind, a connection long preached by the Religions.

Noetic maths and quantum computers will make possible the construction of noetic machines. Those machines will be completely different for Edelman’s machines [Edelman92]. They will however follow the basic principles of the TNGS theory since – during their embrionic stage – they will be programmed with basic “value systems”. Thereof they will develop their own individual noetic life, on the basis of somatic selection and experiential development.

Those machines will not only be intelligent but conscious too. They will be aware of their intelligence and will therefore possess a “self”. What kind of “life form” will they be? Will they reproduce themselves according to Von Neuman’s model of self-reproducing machines? What will be the consequences of the emergence of noetic machines to biological evolution in our planet? These are some of the ethical questions of Noetics for which we must seek answers. Until then, we can imagine those highly adaptive machines to explore the Solar System, saving the human species from ecological disaster. By discovering the secrets of the mind, memory and consciousness and the self, we will be able to reproduce ourselves (our noetic selves) and transfer our existence into noetic machines. Freed from its biological shell, human existence will enter another dimension. Such a though may seem terrifying today but not so much tomorrow when our very survival may depend on it.

The destiny of our species and our planet lies in the Mind. By transforming into artificial beings travelling through Space without ever getting old or die? Or, perhaps, by discovering that our ability to control quantum collapse with our minds allows us to travel instantly to any part of the Universe we wish? Travelling faster than light? Projecting our selves into life forms living in worlds millions of light years away from Earth? Communicating with other beings that also discovered the secret of consciousness and faster than light space travel? These are some of the most amazing possibilities of Noetics that add a cosmic significance that is perhaps hard to grasp at our present stage of evolution. Imagine, however, the fate of the Universe as an ocean of cosmic consciousness. Then, the future of Noetics is not only identified with the future of humans but with the future of the Universe itself.

 

References

[Chalmers97] Chalmers D (1997), “The Puzzle of Consciouss Experience”, In: Scientific Americal Special Issue Mysteries of the Mind, pp. 30-37.

[Crick94] Crick F (1994), “The Astonishing Hypothesis”, Charles Scribner’s Sons, NewYork.

[Crick&Koch90] Crick F, Koch C (1990), “Toward a Neurobiologcal Theory of Consciousness”, In: Seminars in Neurosciences, vol. 2, pp.263-275.

[Dawkins76] Dawkins R (1976), “The Selfish Gene”,OxfordUniversityPress,New York.

[Eccles&Popper77] Eccles J, Popper K (1977), “The Self and the Brain”,Springer-Verlag,Berlin.

[Edelman92] Edelman G (1992), “Brilliant Air, Brilliant Fire”, Basic Books,New York.

[Hameroff98] Hameroff S (1998), “Quantum computation in microtubules? The Penrose-Hameroff Orch-OR model of consciousness”, In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A (London) 356:1869-1896.

[Minsky85] Minsky M (1985), “The Society of Mind”, Simon andSchuster,New York.

[Nanopoulos95] Nanopoulos D (1995), “Theory of Brain Function, Quantum Mechanics and Superstrings”, Invited talk at the Physics without frontiers Four Seas Conference,Trieste,Italy, June 25-July 1, 1995.

[Penrose89] Penrose R (1989), “The Emperor’s New Mind”, Oxford University Press,New York.

[Penrose94] Penrose R (1994), “Shadows of the Mind”,OxfordUniversityPress,New York.

One thought on “Noetics: A proposal for a theoretical approach to consciousness

  1. Pingback: Dreaming of electric sheep | Turing Dreams

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