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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2011 > Oct > Oct 4

Re: D'oh! Light Speed Threshold Broken?

From: Michael Tarbell <mtarbell.nul>
Date: Mon, 03 Oct 2011 15:08:15 -0600
Archived: Tue, 04 Oct 2011 09:57:43 -0400
Subject: Re: D'oh! Light Speed Threshold Broken?

>From: Gerald O'Connell <goc.nul>
>To: post.nul
>Date: Sun, 2 Oct 2011 02:19:17 +0100
>Subject: Re: D'oh! Light Speed Threshold Broken?

>>From: Michael Tarbell <mtarbell.nul>
>>To: post.nul
>>Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2011 14:22:44 -0600
>>Subject: Re: D'oh! Light Speed Threshold Broken?

>>I really should know better than to step into this.

>There are much worse threads on the list to step into!

Well, maybe. Shirley MacLaine is kicking our butt. But as
always, a pleasure to chat with both you and Martin.

>>>>...suppose that the edifice
>>>>has to be rebuilt with the abandonment of one key assumption,
>>>>and suppose that assumption were to be the (very) deeply
>>>>embedded one that the mass/energy equivalence exhausts all
>>>>existential categories? In other words, neutrinos can exceed the
>>>>speed of light in a vacuum because they are neither mass nor
>>>>energy, but a third type of thing. The fact that they appear to
>>>>have a tiny mass may turn out to be a by-product of some over-
>>>>arching truth about the nature of things that we just aren't
>>>>onto yet.

>>Of course, we already know of at least one 'third thing', namely
>>consciousness itself, about which the current body of physics is
>>utterly silent. As far as is apparent now, neither requires the
>>other. So, there are certainly 'third things' out there, and no
>>reason in principle not to incorporate them into a hypothesis.

>Sorry Michael, but I'm unable to let this one fly by without
>stating a personal view. First off I'm not sure that it's right
>to say that physics is silent on the issue of consciousness.
>There's plenty of academic work going on around the issue of
>quantum effects in brain functioning. Eminent
>physicist/mathematician Roger Penrose has written at length on
>the question of consciousness:

_Physicists_ are by no means silent on the issue of
consciousness. I am familiar with Penrose's work on this topic,
and have referenced The Emperor's New Mind in previous
discussions here about artificial intelligence. There is
unquestionably ongoing discussion, and even rudimentary
experimental investigation, of a physics-based theory of
consciousness. In my opinion, none of it yet constitutes, or
even indicates the possibility of, a derivation or explanation
of consciousness via physics.

When I say that physics is silent on the issue of consciousness,
I mean that, as far as is evident now, physics is neither
necessary nor sufficient to account for it. Perhaps it cannot do
so even in principle, i.e., consciousness may well be,
literally, metaphysical... that is, an evident truth that cannot
be demonstrated as such using the formal systems with which we
codify physics.

>My own take on this issue is a little different. I don't accept
>that consciousness is in any way a 'third thing', or, indeed,
>anything in any way outside the categories of matter and energy.

Then I'm surprised that you would even propose the possibility
of a "third type of thing" to address such a relatively mundane
observation as superluminal neutrinos, but would reject it
outright in the case of consciousness, which would seem to be a
profoundly more mysterious phenomenon.

>I think the key concept here is that of complexity. It is well
>established now, both empirically and theoretically, that we
>inhabit a universe where infinite complexity can arise naturally
>from  extremely simple starting conditions. This seems to apply
>from the microscopic to the macroscopic and to depend upon
>physical interactions that often can be expressed in very simple
>mathematical terms, even though their outcomes defy
>computational description. In this sense, these simple
>mathematical relationships act as a kind of 'motor' for the
>shape of existence itself as they generate the complexity that
>constitutes our perceived empirical reality.

So far so good.

>In such a universe it is possible to envisage a spectrum along
>which complex molecules, life-forms, sentience, intelligence and
>consciousness can all be placed in a progressive hierarchy of
>increasingly complex self-organisation. Moreover, the dividing
>lines between the points along that spectrum as I have
>identified them are extremely blurred, enabling smooth
>transitions as complexity increases.

Here you've inserted "sentience" and "consciousness" into your
spectrum of complexity with no obvious justification. There is
no dispute that profoundly complex behavior can arise in systems
based on simple rules, and some (e.g., cellular automata)
display activity that is life-like. But I see no reason why such
systems cannot become arbitrarily complex without becoming
sentient (as opposed to _behaving_ as though sentient, which, as
Penrose observes, is not the same thing), and indeed, it's not
clear at all how they could.

>The corollary to this is that there is nothing really 'special'
>or 'different' to consciousness as we experience it. It just
>feels that way to us because we are locked into it existentially
>and cannot function or exist outside it. According a special
>status to consciousness is really nothing more than the ultimate
>anthropocentric conceit. If 'minds' still seem somehow
>mysterious to us, that says more about our understanding of
>complexity at our end of its spectrum than it does about the
>actual apparatus that we must inevitably use to grasp that
>complexity in all its ramifications.

I can't agree that "according a special status to consciousness"
amounts to anything like "anthropocentric conceit". Indeed, I
would contend that the "special" (perhaps metaphysical) nature
of consciousness argues for it being a property of the universe
itself, rather than of the human species. I.e., the whole thing
is sentient, not just (if even) us individually.

>My excuse for this deviation from the more usual quotidian
>subject matter of the list? If I'm right, then we shouldn't be
>at all surprised to find that there are many other
>consciousnesses (and types of consciousness) in our universe
>apart from our own, nor should we be surprised if there are
>categories of complexity along the spectrum that
>far outstrip our own.

Agreed, and a well-crafted excuse for this thread! Which I now
abandon to the more philosophically adept who may still be



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