“Understanding the ‘Consciousness’ Literature.”

Understanding the ‘Consciousness’ Literature.

To know something supposes an act of the understanding, i.e., when we experience an object or event and then are able to distinguish it. 





          The physical brain and the metaphysical mind are so inexorably intertwined one with the other in their functionality that they become an inseparable hybrid unit. What we know about the brain is the result of direct observations, simulations in the laboratory or metaphysical logic inferences therefrom, especially when dealing with relevant aspects beyond the materiality of the physical brain or when the complexity resides outside the limited resolution of the brain’s own sensory or computational capacities. Consequently, whatever perspective we wish to examine about the mind must always keep the brain, however indirectly, in proper focus lest we end up in a fantasy-land dissertation / explanation or a poetic exercise. All multidisciplinary narratives carry along the lingo typical of their individual discipline components. Consciousness is no exception.

From the very outset we should distinguish between the explanation of the philosopher and the description of the practicing scientist. It is much easier to make credible ‘descriptions’ of observables from a science-based knowledge of brain function than to ‘explain’ the brain from a philosophy-based analysis of the mind, especially so when the philosopher is unfamiliar with the brain. Both approaches are ultimately inference-based and the analyst needs to have some basic familiarity with the most complete and fundamental theory of matter that of course includes brain matter, i.e., quantum theory. As it turns out, theoretical physicists are in reality natural philosophers, less concerned –in consciousness studies- with descriptions than with explanations, for the obvious reasons attending any study of complexity. It is always preferable –because of credibility- to discuss the intangible mind from the perspective of empirical facts about the brain than the reverse; but it should be clear that this is only a pedagogical convenience and not an absolute necessity. That being the case, it behooves students of consciousness to familiarize themselves with the lingo of complexity studies, Wittgenstein’s warnings about language semantics and a working knowledge of quantum theory and logic. In the interest of brevity we will be selective in the choice of examples to illustrate the point.



          Even among prominent neuroscientists we often find a clear category confusion between an epistemological explanation and an ontological description, like we say “confusing the (epistemological) map with the (ontological) territory.”. This is especially so among practicing physicists and engineers whose formative training emphasized, as it should have, on the practical solution of problems with a focus on pragmatism (science philosophers in ‘akadummy’ retire early. J) What that kind of formal training didn’t emphasize was that ALL science is essentially, inherently subjective because WE humans are the observers of the “objective” reality and cannot dissociate one from the other, a direct consequence of the hybrid nature of existential reality. Consequently our observations and conclusions are as good as the resolution capacity of our sensory receptors and the resolution of our brain combinatorial capacity to permute, combine, sort, etc. brain representations of the observable data; very limited indeed when compared to sense resolution in other biological species and machine digital computation. To this species limitation we add our inborn curiosity about our origins and destiny that forces us to intuit that there IS a reality out there beyond those limits of resolution and we naturally extend our conclusions beyond the material reality of the observed empirical phenomenology; enter metaphysics as a sine qua non component of the physical structure of reality. Many practicing scientists, not so much in denial as not being properly educated, would even deny the relevance of metaphysics to their disciplines!

To make sense of the consciousness literature one must therefore be very attentive to the implied epistemological assumptions when taken as facts, the implied level of organization (conscious, subconscious, unconscious, etc.) and often the neuro-physiological level of description and/or explanation (cellular, molecular, atomic, etc.).

Once a consciousness student realizes that brain matter is subject to the same quantum influences as any matter anywhere else in the material world, the obvious focus would have to be, inevitably, ultimately to describe or explain how may that non-physical mind be causally efficient in driving the physical brain into adaptive motor responses, if at all. This constitutes the very basis for the claimed existence of a human ‘free will’ in what seems to be a perfectly deterministic world, even when the behavior of empirical macro objects and events are more often than not statistically determined. At the Planck level of organization (also called the microphysics level) the indeterminism of individual quantum events is likewise constrained by statistical laws. The new frontier in consciousness research unavoidably would have to focus on this level of organization when exploring how quantum field theory may mediate as a possible special ‘semantic glue’ bridging the physical world determinism we witness, the epistemic interpretations we offer to describe / explain them and conscious free will that participated (or not) in shaping it; as we have discussed in a previous paper on a hybrid concept of existential reality, see also Stapp. In this investigative effort we must be especially aware of the exclusive use of quantum theory interpretations of consciousness as pure metaphor by some proponents who spend no effort to define e.g., how the mental discernment that we experience (preceding the execution of ‘free will’) can be analyzed in terms of its quantum equivalent in entanglement, superposition, collapse or complementariness as it happens in other specific empirical situations, e.g., Froehlich’s non-linear coupling of biomolecular dipoles in the microwave region (see below for some other brief examples). It is also important to ascertain what resources (mathematical, experimental, first person narratives, etc.) do published accounts use to view any alleged quantum correlation –observed or inferred- between mind and brain.

Recent literature has speculated on how may quantum field theory be consistent with a human free will. Physical determinism and conscious free will -and their consequent existential implications therein generated- have important sociodynamic questions that remain un-answered. To follow this interesting debate we need to evaluate the resources offered to back up any claim about the alleged correlations between the empirical measurements and the deductive conclusions. For example we need to examine how close this mind-body relationship is, is it assumed, inferred, observed or measured with instruments? Is the brain considered identical with the mind(monism), similar or separate entities (dualism)? We say that there is a natural supervenience of the mind with the brain. Notice immediately that a supervenient correlation implies a dependence relation between the properties or facts about the mind and properties and facts about the brain, correlation being a descriptive term with empirical relevance. Notice also however that causation, so important in the empirical sciences, is simply a relationship between a cause and an effect (or result) whether an event, object or state. Sandwiched between the causal agent and the result there may be a third hidden entity that both share simultaneously without any causal interaction being involved. An explanation is only an epistemological / theoretical attempt to find meanings (practical or not) in the observed and described correlations. Causations are essentially unidirectional and not always reversible correlations (except in recursive cyclings) between two or more systems involved. To illustrate physical causation we usually speak of the four fundamental kinds of (electromagnetic, weak, strong and gravitational) interactions which just explain the empirical correlations that are observed in physical systems. Notice that even an accurate description of an observable object or event (an observed / measured ‘how’) is NOT necessarily conditioned to result from a direct causal relationship (usually an inferred explanation), not to mention the ‘why’ of the object/event presence (usually justified in the theological domain).

If and when we speak of a strong or absolute reduction of mind events, where claims are made that all conscious states and properties can be formally reduced to the material domain (materialism) and specifically to physics (physicalism), we mean we have approximated the dependence further with a resulting formula, symbol or algorithm, what is termed a ‘logical supervenience’, a rare situation indeed sometimes seen in e.g., geometry. Without such proof any claims of ‘reduction’ (horse blinder approach) means that knowledge of the brain alone is necessary and sufficient to understand the mental domain, e.g., cognition. When limits to a reduction are recognized we speak of ‘weaker’ reductions; like when describing the empirical fact that the visual cortex V1 increases its glucose uptake when some object is flashed into the retina of a subject -as indicated by a PET scan- This does not establish an unequivocal causal relationship and never explains the why. Physicists describe the ‘how’ while metaphysicists explain the ‘why’ as noted above. There may be natural, repeatable, falsifiable and observable facts in a correlation but this does NOT establish a logical supervenience. See Chalmer’s “The Conscious Mind”. Tree apples always fall to the ground and the mind may consistently ‘cause’ an observed brain response but that does not imply necessarily an interactivity that can be empirically measured and described, let alone logically explained, e.g., what is life, gravitation, the mind? Anyone thinking that DNA can explain life,….. better think about it again.. J The complexity of describing how a physical brain may interact with a non-physical mind brings into the scene the monistic approach, as we mentioned above, which considers the knowledge of the brain as necessary and sufficient to understand the mind states for them considered as ‘epiphenomena’. The eliminative materialism of the Churchlands is an extreme monistic approach that wouldn’t even consider the mind-brain correlations as existing.

          An epiphenomenal mental state is not to be confused with an emergent state in that the latter does not predicate its existence exclusively on that of the brain substrate and may have an independent origin (dualism). Contemporary dualism is a modified version of the classical Cartesianism that viewed reality as consisting of 2 disparate ‘parts’, a type of ‘substance’ dualism in the form of a thinking mind and extended matter. To escape the characterization of the mind as either a ‘part’, substance or ‘being’ some prefer to speak of a ‘functional’ dualism. In our own biopsychosocial (bps) model of consciousness we have adopted by reference the Kantian version of dualism as modified to accommodate a neutral ‘psychophysical’ interface where quantum theory may play a substantial role in explaining their natural supervenience in terms of a hybrid reality unit. In it we find empirical sense phenomena and the subsequent transcendental noumena which the brain elaborates when representing and understanding empirical phenomena. There are various types of dualism, e.g., in Chalmer’s psychophysical model where information plays a dominant role corresponding to our modified view of Kant’s model. The CTMU model of Langan banks heavily on a universal syntax information model. The hybrid model of reality gives birth to an interesting paradox for the ingrained physicalist who must swallow hard the fact that quantum theory is the most successful model of matter based mostly on axiom-based mathematical logic inferences (explicate, first person account domain) about our limited empirical observations (implicate, third person account domain)!

Is quantum theory science or philosophy?? Only the open-minded knows better than excluding the metaphysical domain from science and, at the same time accepts the fact about his sensory and brain-computational limitations. Metaphysics is NOT dead! This should never be construed as an exhortation to abandon the laboratory where science is born, just the opposite, to talk about consciousness requires being familiar with the physical brain substrate wherein ‘resides’ the elusive mind and the metaphysical logic to extend the comprehension of that being observed and / or computed.

To illustrate the possible practical importance of the preceding argument we will briefly consider a model that describes the transition from the continuously evolving Schrödinger wave function quantum state to a discontinuous ‘eigenstate’ b of the measured observable B, i.e., the reduction or ‘collapse’ of a reversible state (wave function) à irreversible state (eigenstate) with defined probabilities (of future outcomes). This is an example of how an instant conscious volitional mental act (of choice) can be framed into the mathematical “projection postulate” of von Neumann when the brain mediates the position between the observer and the observed, i.e., between the sense-phenomenal event and the effector response formulation by the observer from available alternatives as we discussed in a previous paper. How these claims may be rooted on measured observables Stapp, Beck and Eccles elaborate on how the measurable macro level quantum uncertainties originating during pre-synaptic / post-synaptic information transfer at neuronal synapses (conformational macromolecular changes in ion channels, neurotransmitter exocytosis, etc.) can be amplified (phase, resonant, amplitude, spin coupling) to generate measurable entanglements of brain activity (EEG, MEG). The volitional conscious event is a post discernment choice among the probable alternatives. As discussed elsewhere, we believe that the complex act of integrating all relevant factors (biological, psychic and social) and their re-segregation into neuronal assemblies of possible alternatives of choice is done unconsciously, the conscious act been relegated to choosing for the alternative most compatible with a positive emotional qualia (happiness, relaxation, euphoria, etc.), i.e., each potential event has an associated qualia experience or intrinsic actuality that becomes its recognized label at the moment of choosing (actualizing a probable state co-generates the qualia experience); we called it ‘proximate causation’. This neuronal-based mental state arguably would qualify as ontological in nature which justifies the characterization of its reality as ‘hybrid’ in nature. It is this ‘intrinsic actuality’ that Stapp argues as ‘ontic’ as opposed to ‘epistemic’ in nature. This way the integration / synchronization of the neuronal synaptic events in the assemblies become the neural correlate of ‘unconscious’ events at the discernment stage prior to the conscious superposition that precedes the collapse of the associated wave function, as explained, where the probability of a potential act is now materialized. To the trained neurophysiologist there is no mystery in the common place observation of how both inherited and acquired bps factors influence the plasticity of neuronal networks connectivities at unconscious levels in the form of complex physiological reflexes triggered into conscious reality by just willing its occurrence…or inhibition (act against self preservation). Once a sense-phenomenal event activates a relevant neuronal assembly, the attending bio-molecular synaptic events, among other things, induce a symmetry breakdown and propagation over the brain of the bosonic modes thereby generated (mesons, photons). The dynamically ordered / correlated states produced in the neuronal networks represent the entanglement or coherent state that precedes the collapse (choice).

The unconscious integration of bps constitutive elements is guided by their survival value to the human species. This being said, is it still far-fetched to say that every conscious mental state has an associated physical counterpart in the form of the collapsed eigenstate. This idea may be too much for the physicalist mind set to stomach and we suspect that they fear that placing a hybrid entity / being between epistemology and ontology is mind-boggling, especially if reality ultimately should be reduced to a universal syntax, e.g., CTMU model. The alert reader will immediately notice the logical gymnastic effort to assign physicality to a mind / information entity to avoid the closure in the physical domain obstacle when describing its interaction with the physical brain.

A reciprocal, dynamic, causal and intentional interactivity between the physical brain and non-physical mind is more than anyone, except the intellectually daring, bargained for. In our opinion Freeman’s data on the olfactory system of rabbits –as discussed elsewhere- is convincing argumentation that quantum field theory and Beck’s stochastic resonance amplification can be literally applied to material brain states. By contrast, the Penrose-Hammerof model of consciousness is predicated upon a ‘postulated’ coherent entanglement of the ubiquitous tubulin molecule (changes in their conformational states in neuronal microtubules) caused to subsequently collapse under the influence of another ‘postulated’ gravitation-induced objective state reduction, the latter equated as a willed act of consciousness. This approach requires modifications of both quantum theory and general relativity to accommodate ‘quantum gravity’ and ignore the concept of time as we know it, and for now it won’t fly.

One very interesting leading-edge concept is slowly evolving about the role for the psycho-physical neutral interface as championed by Jung and Pauli. This approach gives ‘ontic’ physicality to information. However, it should be noted that this non-epistemological treatment of information is a significant departure from the familiar syntacto / semantic Shannon type information theory where recursive parsing among Chomskyan partition alternatives would become irrelevant.


Summary and Conclusions.


       Most practicing physicists and engineers approaching retirement age and whose formal training and current practice emphasized, as it should have, on the practical solution of problems with a focus on pragmatism experience conceptual difficulties in accepting the possibility that the ontic randomness of measured quantum events may well provide room for an analysis of mental causation, i.e., the possibility that conscious mental acts can influence brain behavior. They refuse to abandon the dogma of ‘closure in the physical domain’ notwithstanding the real challenge presented by a quantum theory operating at a Planck level of organization they can’t either see or measure directly a la Newton. Only mathematicians, ‘akadummys’ or HiQers have taken the painful task of being open-minded, revolutionary and willing to spend the time and effort to cross disciplines and learn their associated lingoes and other linguistic nuances, e.g., modal logic where a syllogism has three variations. It is not often that practicing scientists see a syllogism other than as an argument consisting of stated premises being followed of necessity by a conclusion that is different from the stated premises, if the premises (universal statements) are true (for all, some or one), the conclusion must also be true (categorical syllogism). But now, more often than not, in the hypothetical syllogism, both premises (wave or particle) and / or conclusions (probabilities) may be conditional, e.g., where Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies. More troublesome are the disjunctive syllogisms where the leading premise (e.g., behaves as a wave or a particle) may find the other premise denying one of the previous alternatives and the conclusion being the remaining alternative. Like it or not, the classical logic analysis based on Boolean Algebras has given way to quantum logic to accommodate mathematical representations of quantum mechanical, mind-boggling measurements (e.g., slit experiments) in the physics laboratory.

        Intoxicated by the symbolic celebration of the phenomenal successes of Newtonian mechanics where the classical dynamics of a particle position, momentum, energy, etc. nicely fit into a commutative type algebraic representation in Boolean algebra, the practicing physicists can’t easily conceive of a non-commutative, non-Boolean quantum logic to explain the elusive probabilistic behavior of particles in the atomic and subatomic Planck level of organization as manifested in the laboratory measurements of observables. As it turns out this approach is the best fit for explaining fundamental processes attending particle dynamics in the universe, notwithstanding the fact that this way the certainty becomes a probability and measurements seem uncertain and irreducible, like those complexities we find when analyzing life and consciousness, c’est la guerre about existential realism. The quantum analysis captures the ‘state’ during an instant measurement as represented by the time-dependent state function (state vector). The evolution of the ‘state’ as a function of time (based on observable measurements of position, momentum, energy, spin, etc., e.g., slit experiments) is described by the Schrödinger equation. For a given possible value of an observable, it can be calculated the probability of it becoming its true value if measured, see Born. As it happens, one can not simultaneously evaluate the linear acceleration of a particle in a given direction and also simultaneously ascertain its position in the same direction (Heisenberg uncertainty principle), thus we settle for characterizing the ‘state’ at an instant in time, an incomplete but realistic description of the real physical state ‘in se’. More uncanny has been the observation that two such systems can interact and then separate infinitely BUT remaining correlated (tangled, synchronized!), what we now call ‘non-locality’. This requires that alterations in one get transmitted to the next at speeds exceeding that of light itself!, just what we need to explain the speed of thought!!  This is another instance of our human species limitations to acquire knowledge about ‘things’ we can’t see or precise their location, especially as it moves at the speed of light or higher.

Our existential reality, at any level of human comprehension, is a ‘derivative reality’, one that is logically inferred from the ‘invisible original’ by a differential calculus of variations and also by deductive integration of their ‘invisible’ constitutive parts until both sensory and computational invisibilities acquire a ‘critical mass’ that makes their cognitive intuition at the conceptual and sense-phenomenal level possible. Thus there are things ‘in se’ (beyond our cognitive capacities) and things ‘derived’ both conceptually (by analysis) and empirically (by sense-phenomenal synthesis). Materialist scientists ignore these facts especially how human efforts to compensate for these inherited limitations have historically manifested in theologies. Rather than ignore the role they play in existential reality it would make sense to deal with something that just won’t go away, if history is a reliable witness. Like Will Durant said: “Those who ignore the lessons of history will be condemned to repeat it.”

This brief survey is an open invitation to studious scientists and materialist philosophers to seriously consider the possibility of naturalizing epistemology (see Quine) and considering existential reality as hybrid in nature…. Or should the foundations of quantum theory be reconsidered as no more than just information about the invisible reality ‘in se’?, (see Fuchs).


Dr. Angell O. de la Sierra, Esq. Deltona Lakes, Florida   Winter 2006




1. Beck, F. (2001). Quantum brain dynamics and consciousness. In The Physical Nature of Consciousness, ed. by P. van Locke, Benjamins, Amsterdam.


2. Beck, F., and Eccles, J. (1992). Quantum aspects of brain activity and the role of consciousness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.


 3. de la Sierra, A. (2006). The Possible Quantal Interface and the Hybrid Nature of Reality. Part I. Telicom Vol. XIX, No.1


3. de la Sierra, A. (2006). The Possible Quantal Interface and the Hybrid Nature of Reality. Part II. Exploring the Interface. In Press


4. Flohr, H. (2000). NMDA receptor-mediated computational processes and phenomenal consciousness. In Neural Correlates of Consciousness. Empirical and Conceptual Questions, ed. by T. Metzinger, MIT Press, Cambridge.


3. Fröhlich, H. (1968). Long range coherence and energy storage in biological systems. International Journal of Quantum Chemistry.


4. Fuchs, C.A. (2002). Quantum mechanics as quantum information. In Quantum Theory: Reconsideration of Foundations, Växjö University Press, Växjö.


5. Grush, R., and Churchland, P.S. (1995). Gaps in Penrose’s toilings. Journal of Consciousness Studies.


6. Hameroff, S.R., and Penrose, R. (1996). Conscious events as orchestrated spacetime selections. Journal of Consciousness Studies.


7. Jung, C.G., and Pauli, W. (1955). The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche. Pantheon, New York.


8. Neumann, J. von (1955). Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Princeton University Press, Princeton.


9. Penrose, R. (1994). Shadows of the Mind. Oxford University Press, Oxford.


10. Penrose, R., and Hameroff, S. (1995). Journal of Consciousness Studies.


11. Pessa, E., and Vitiello, G. (2003). Quantum noise, entanglement and chaos in the quantum field theory of mind/brain states. Mind and Matter.


12. Stapp, H.P. (1999). Attention, intention, and will in quantum physics. Journal of Consciousness Studies.



About Dr.d

See CV, family & publications at: http://delaSierra-Sheffer.net/
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