The French philosopher Rene Descartes originated the famous Latin phrase “Cognito, ergo sum” which translated into English means “I think, therefore I am”, in reference to the existence of thought by a thinking entity. Is Consciousness merely a state of being aware of the existence of oneself and the external world? The philosopher David Chalmers coined the phrase ‘The hard problem of consciousness’.

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Materialism asserts that matter is the fundamental substance of nature, and so consciousness is an emergent phenomena of those material interactions and does exist independent of the material form. Consciousness emerges as the complexity of the computations performed by the cerebral neurons. However, idealism asserts that the reality that we know is fundamentally a mental construction or immaterial.

One of the most interesting ideas being proposed currently is the Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR) theory of Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff who combine ideas from quantum information theory and neuroscience to suggest that consciousness may be non-computable quantum processing performed by qubits on a cellular microtubule sub-neuron level. They argue that conventional processing capacity of the human brain asserts that there are around a billion neurons, each with 5,000 connections processing at 100 Hz which gives a potential of 10 to the 16 processing operations per second per brain. Instead, the Orch OR theory proposes there are an additional 10 billion processing operations within a neuron itself (inside the microtubule) giving rise to a more complex potential of 10 to the 26 processing operations per second per brain. They argue that whilst future super computers may achieve a computation capacity approaching the human brain, they will not have understanding.

The Interstellar Research Centre is interested in all models that explain human consciousness, or indeed consciousness of any form. Currently we are exploring the different models of human consciousness to come to a new understanding for its nature and source, and in particular we are examining an idea for a form of universal consciousness which borrow some of the ideas from alternative philosophies.

References:

  1. R. Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of seeking Truth in the Sciences, 1637.

  2. D Chalmers, Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2(3), pp.200-219, 1995.

  3. S Hameroff, R Penrose, Reply to Seven Commentaries on ‘Consciousness in the Universe: Review of the ‘Orch OR’ Theory, Physics of Life Reviews, 11, 94-100, 2014.

  4. R Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind, Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics, Oxford Landmark Science, 2016.

  5. R Penrose, S Hameroff et al., Consciousness and the Universe: Quantum Physics, Evolution, Brain & Mind, Science Publishers, 2017.

    1. D C Dennett, Consciousness Explained, Penquin Science, 1993.