QR6.4 Discussion Questions

The following questions are addressed in this chapter. They are better discussed in a group to allow a variety of opinions to emerge. The relevant section link is given after each question:
1. What part of you experiences your life? (6.1.1)
2. Does anyone you know deny that they observe and experience the physical world? (6.1.2)
3. To which Chalmers consciousness category does quantum realism belong? (6.1.3)
4. Is physical realism a realistic theory of what physical particles actually do? (6.1.4)
5. If quantum reality constantly creates the physical world as a virtual reality, what does the physical world cause? (6.1.5)
6. Why can’t text programs process picture files and vice-versa? (6.1.6)
7. What is the problem with theories that say something is caused by the mind? (6.1.7)
8. What is the difference between quantum realism and panpsychism, that all matter is conscious? (6.1.8)
9. How does growing an information processor differ from building one? (6.2.1)
10. What does split-brain research suggest about what controls the brain? (6.2.2)
11. What does the spinning ballerina illusion tell us about visual processing? (6.2.3)
12. Did evolution build three brains one after the other, each making the last obsolete? (6.2.4)
13. Why is the evolutionary “old” cerebellum still state-of-the-art? (6.2.5)
14. What are emotions and why were they important in brain evolution? (6.2.6)
15. Why was the intellect the last part of the brain to evolve and is the last to mature? (6.2.7)
16. Why does the brain have three centers of feedback control not just one? (6.2.8)
17. What is the effect of cutting the nerves that connect the hemispheres? (6.2.9)
18. What allows a photon received by a photosynthetic bacteria to explore many paths to an energy conversion center, not just one? (6.3.1)
19. What causes the molecules in a cell to vibrate in synchrony? (6.3.2)
20. How do nerve dendrites check they are receiving error-free data? (6.3.3)
21. What causes brain waves? (6.3.4)
22. What neurological process is consciousness now believed to derive from? (6.3.5)
23. What consciousness properties are explained if it comes from the electromagnetic field? (6.3.6)
24. How do entangled entities share information? (6.3.7)
25. Why does consciousness take time to arise? (6.3.8)
26. When different images are presented to each eye, why do we see only one image? (6.3.9)
27. Why is what you see always a choice? (6.3.10)
28. What would happen if silicon chips replaced all the nerves in the brain? (6.3.11)
29. If the brain’s electromagnetic field generates consciousness, where is it located? (6.3.12)
30. If the body has about 30 trillion cells, can we know what they are conscious of? (6.3.13)
31. If some of the consciousness gains of the universe are retained when it dies, what does that mean for us as individuals who will also one day die? (6.3.14)

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Next

QR6.3.14 Is Consciousness Conserved?

Virtual realities exist to benefit their observers not themselves. The aim of a Civilization game isn’t to conquer a virtual world nor is that of a Warcraft game to conquer the orcs. These games exist to benefit the players and the game results just help that. If our virtual universe also exists to benefit the observer, then the evolution of consciousness fits the bill, but why then isn’t it full of conscious beings like us?

To think this way is to underestimate the scale of it all. We couldn’t evolve until life did and life couldn’t evolve until matter did, so developing sentient life is a long process. In the billions of years before life appeared, consciousness had to increase from the quantum ground up just as water molecules coalesce into drops that eventually become a lake. When stars fuse atoms into higher elements, consciousness increases no less than when life evolves. Our galaxy is estimated to contain at least 100 billion planets and there are at least two trillion galaxies in the universe, so what happened on earth is probably happening elsewhere but we are more likely to find single-celled life than aliens. From there, it’s just a matter of time but our search for sentient life assumes it has technology, which we have only had for a few thousand years, which is just a blink in galaxy time. Chances are that each galaxy may be lucky to have one sentient life-form at a time, let alone one with star-gazing technology.

We are at best an experiment of consciousness and at worst, about to die out. Maybe we are too smart for our own good. Regardless, the universe will carry on increasing consciousness. It took maybe six million years for a chimp-like ancestor to become human, so if we fail, something else will arise in what is, for the universe, not even a heartbeat.

A universe that began must one day end, so will the consciousness gains of billions of years of evolution be lost then? Given the cost of creating and sustaining a universe as big as ours for so long, it is likely that some consciousness gains are conserved. If the physical world is “empty” of any substantial existence, being merely a view, the ceaseless activity we see going on all around us must have a consciousness gain that persists after it ends, just as the benefits of a computer virtual reality remain with the player after the experience ends.

For millennia mankind has wondered whether any part of us survives the death of the body? When a body dies, it dissolves back into nature at the atomic scale, so when the brain dies, does our consciousness also dissolve? If quantum reality never stops, it may do but coherence gains may also continue in the quantum bulk. Quantum reality continues regardless of physical events so who can say that coherence can’t do the same? Why would a universe maintained at great cost evolve consciousness gains that it can’t accommodate? It is more likely that the quantum coherence achieved carries on in some form.

Studying reality by the front-door of observation can take this line of thought no further but it seems that the end of science leads to the beginning of religion, as there have always been those who studied reality by the back-door of self-observation. That religion can be used for political control is well documented but equally every religion has had mystics, seers and sages who aimed to understand reality not control others. To understand a thing better it pays to refer to those with first-hand experience of it. The next chapter reviews the reports of those who studied themselves not things, to see what they say about the nature of consciousness.

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QR6.3.13 The Grand Evolution

The origin of the universe, life and consciousness are the three great mysteries of science. Quantum realism suggests they are related. Our universe began from a single event that cascaded to generate the highest frequency of light, some of which entangled into electron and quark matter that then evolved into the atoms of stars that made higher elements like carbon.

It then took the earth half a billion years to form atoms, molecules and macromolecules like DNA that led to life. The countless bacteria of the earth are simple cells that eat everything from rocks to plastic and without them, other life couldn’t exist, including us. About a billion years later, maybe in hydrothermal vents under the sea, two types of DNA fused into the complex cells that later formed plants and animals and eventually, human beings. The grand evolution is then that the evolution of matter and the evolution of life are one and the same universal process.

My body came from a single cell and simple bacteria evolved into us, so when did consciousness begin? We see ourselves as uniquely conscious but evolution doesn’t do unique. Growth and evolution are step-wise sequences so there is no line between us and them. Some say dogs are conscious and some say plants are too, but who thinks cells are conscious?

Figure 6.37 Trilobites observed!

It is unlikely that consciousness suddenly began at a past moment. If consciousness is the ability to observe and the physical world as a virtual reality only exists when observed, it must be that everything observes, so even the trilobites that filled the primeval seas observed something (Figure 6.37). One can scale the grand evolution of matter and life in terms of observation times as follows, starting with a photon:

Planck time is the shortest possible time in physics. An observation at this scale would occur more times a second than there have been seconds in the life of the universe. Planck time is taken to represent photon scale observations.

A yoctosecond (ys) is a trillion-trillionth of a second. A top quark’s lifetime is estimated at half a ys, boson lifetimes in ys and quark plasma light pulses are a few ys, so this timescale may represent basic matter observations.

A zeptosecond (zs) is a billion-trillionth of a second and the shortest time measured so far. Physicists estimate a few hundred zs for the two atoms of a hydrogen molecule to photoionize (Grundmann et al., 2020), so this timescale may represent atomic observations.

An attosecond (as) is a million-trillionth of a second. Ultrafast x-ray sources with as time resolution reveal bromine molecule vibronic structures (Kobayashi et al., 2020), so this timescale may represent molecular observations.

A femtosecond (fs) is a thousand-trillionth of a second or 0.000000000000001second. It is to a second as a second is to about 32 million years.High-energy fs scale X-rays that probe complex protein molecules in light harvesting bacteria respond to light in the order of one fs (Rathbone et al., 2018)p1433, so this timescale may represent macromolecule observations.

A picosecond (ps) is a trillionth of a second or a million-millionth of a second. Estimates of coherence times for cells range from 100fs to 1 (Rathbone et al., 2018) p1447, so this timescale may represent simple cell observations.

A nanosecond (ns) is a billionth of a second. A billion is a big number as it takes 95 years to count to a billion. Nanosecond pulsed electric fields elicit various responses in human and other cells (Koga et al., 2019), so this timescale may represent complex cell observations.

A microsecond (μs) is a millionth of a second. Bacteria existed three billion years ago but the leap to multi-cell life happened only 800 million years ago, when cells began to move ions across cell walls using ion channels that act in a few microseconds (Minor, 2010) p201, faster than any nerve, to let simple marine animals with no nerves move towards the algae they feed on (Smith et al., 2019). Microsecond pulsed electric fields are used in food production as mushrooms exposed to a ten μs electromagnetic burst can double their growth (Edwards, 2010), so this timescale may represent multicell observations.

A millisecond (ms) is a thousandth of a second. As animals grew larger, electrochemical nerves replaced chemical signals. Jellyfish nerves are all over their body but oysters have a neuroendocrine center (Liu et al., 2016), and the ten-thousand nerves of worms and slugs and the hundred-thousand nerves of crabs and insects form a chord. A honeybee with nearly a million nerves in a mm volume can fly, navigate and communicate where pollen is. These instinctive brains are fast, as an insect startle response can be less than 5ms (Sourakov, 2011) and a praying mantis can sense the vibrations of a bat attack and evade in 8ms (Triblehorn & Yager, 2005), so this timescale may represent instinctive neural observations.

A centisecond (cs) is a hundredth of a second. Frogs and reptiles evolved brains with tens of millions of nerves to process sense data from one nerve to the next. It takes at least a cs for a signal to travel a meter of nerve, so the response time for cerebellum-based one-center brains is in hundredths of a second. Tadpole startle responses occur within 1-2cs (Yamashita et al., 2000) and our blink responses take 3-4 cs, so this timescale may represent one-center brain observations.

A decisecond (ds) is a tenth of a second. Bird and small mammal brains are about ten times larger than same-size frogs or reptiles mainly due to midbrain and neocortex increases. If two-center mammal brains require thalamic coherence that takes two-tenths of a second to occur, the rat reaction time of about 2-3ds is expected (Blokland, 1998). In 100m races, elite sprinters take 1.2-1.6 tenths of a second to start moving (Tønnessen et al., 2013) and responses under a tenth of a second are a false start, so this timescale may represent two-center brain observations.

The speed of thought seems to be about a second. Lower brain parts respond faster but if brain-wide consciousness takes half-a-second or so, human thought will take longer. The speed of thought is hard to define as different brain parts have different timescales. Our brains blink in hundredths of a second and change highway lanes in tenths of a second, but it takes longer to do what humans do – think. For mental tasks, it takes about a second to mentally rotate an 80° shape (Harris et al., 2000) or a 3D shape (Shepard & Metzler, 1988) or do mental arithmetic (Han et al., 2016), so this timescale may represent three-center brain observations.

Table 6.1 below reviews observation timescales from a photon to a human, where the estimated times increase with degree of evolution. It’s hard to swat a fly that sees 250 frames a second to our 60 because to the fly, we move in slow motion. Consciousness as the ability to observe then evolved as matter and life did, so the difference in consciousness between us and a fly is one of scale not kind. Working back from us to what came before suggests that consciousness was always there, just on a different time scale.

Figure 6.38 S. Roeselii responses

Consciousness benefits all life as even single cells face choices that demand unified actions. The trumpet-shaped S. Roeselii is a one-celled animal that attaches to sea rocks to feed on passing rotifers. When subjected to an irritant, it tries various responses (Figure 6.38), in order, before finally detaching to relocate elsewhere (Dexter et al., 2019):

They do the simple things first, but if you keep stimulating, they ‘decide’ to try something else. S. roeselii has no brain, but there seems to be some mechanism that, in effect, lets it ‘change its mind’ once it feels like the irritation has gone on too long.

How does a cell with no brain make choices like that? The answer proposed is that cell-level observations allow cell-level choices. The details are unclear, but the evidence suggests that consciousness helps every step of evolution, from cells to our brains.

When watching a movie, consciousness combines the sights and sounds into one experience. Bottom-up sensory competition would pit picture data against sound but attention can choose from all the senses. We experience the pictures, sounds and feelings of a movie all at once because consciousness integrates on our timescale and on every timescale.

Each of us is a walking, talking, thinking collection of 30 trillion cells that grew from a cell by a path discovered by evolution. We grew as humans evolved from cells, one step at a time. We are conscious because countless less-conscious life forms found ways to become more so. When a baby looks at you intently, it may be forming the observer as well as the observed. Whether we admit it or not, our consciousness evolved.

If only the physical world exists, evolution is going nowhere but if it is a virtual reality, then the grand evolution is one of consciousness.

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Table 6.1 The Evolution of Consciousness

Observer

Time Scale

Examples

Light

Planck time

̴10−44 seconds

Photon

Basic matter

Yoctosecond

10−24 seconds

Electrons, quarks, neutrinos

Atoms

Zeptosecond

10−21 seconds

Periodic table atoms.

Molecules

Attosecond

10−18 seconds

Oxygen, carbon dioxide …

Macromolecules

Femtosecond

10−15 seconds

DNA, RNA, mtDNA

Simple cells

Picosecond

10−12 seconds

Bacteria and organelles

Complex single cells

Nanosecond

10−9 seconds

Paramecium, amoeba

Multicell life

Microsecond

10−6 seconds

Placozoa, algae, fungi

Instinctive brains

Millisecond

10−3 seconds

Fish, insects, crabs

One-center brains

Centisecond

10−2 seconds

Reptiles, amphibia

Two-center brains

Decisecond

10−1 seconds

Mammals, birds

Three-center brains

Seconds

Seconds

Humans

QR6.3.12 The Nature of Consciousness

A synchrony cascade theory of consciousness answers common questions about it as follows:

1. What is consciousness? Consciousness is the ability to observe a physical event. Human consciousness is the ability to observe nerves processing our body’s physical interaction with the world. Without it, a brain could respond to the physical world but there would be no “I” to experience anything.

2. What causes consciousness? The first cause is that the quantum world created the physical world as a virtual reality that it can observe. Our consciousness arose when nerve synchrony evolved to allow observation on a larger scale, so the brain causes our consciousness.

3. Is consciousness physical? No. Every physical event is an observation result so the observer can’t also be physical as that would be circular. If consciousness was physical, we could put it in a bottle but what causes physicality can’t be contained by it. If consciousness exists in a non-physical electromagnetic field, then it isn’t physical either.

4. Is consciousness continuous? A physical observation is an event not a thing so our experiences are intermittent not continuous, but that which experiences constantly exists.

5. Where is consciousness? If the physical world is a virtual reality, the observer exists outside it just as the player is always outside the game. The observing “I” views the physical world as one observes a glass globe with a snow scene – from the outside. We observe the scenes of physical reality from the quantum reality that contains it.

6. What does consciousness do? Consciousness as the ability to observe, unify and choose, whether at the cell or human scale, isn’t a physical cause because it doesn’t exist in the physical world.Imagine an online game where players discussed “What does the player do?” Those who see only the game see no “player” and so say there is none. If others say the player is the one who observes and chooses, they ask them to point out this “player” in the game. Nothing in the game proves the player exists, but the game only exists because there are players.

7. Why is consciousness singular? Brain areas work in parallel but can only form one synchrony at a time, to give one conscious experience at a time. Consciousness is singular because the brain-wide resonance that creates it is singular.

8. Why does consciousness never fail to give an experience? Brain states that give entirely new smells or body feelings take no more effort than familiar ones. How does consciousness know what to experience each time, without fail? If the conscious cascade builds up from individual nerve observations, the experience is built from scratch each time. Consciousness never fails because every experience is generated from the ground up.

9. Can consciousness change? Consciousness due to neural synchrony can increase or decrease in size as nerves join or leave. This may explain why “I” take a while to fully arrive after waking up. Consciousness increases as the brain works better and reduces as it declines, giving moments of more or less consciousness over a day or lifetime. When consciousness declines, it may divide, as in cases of multiple personalities. A brain-generated consciousness can grow or shrink over time.

10. Can consciousness observe itself? An observation is an observer-observed interaction where the observer isn’t the observed. By the nature of our reality, an observer can only observe itself by dividing into observing and observed parts. A brain can do this, as the intellect can observe what the rest of the brain does, as interpreter theory proposes. But consciousness as an entanglement has no parts to split into, so it can’t do that. The ability to observe per se can’t be observed but it can know that it is observing. To identify with the observer not the observed may be the meaning of the Gnostic saying “Know Thyself”.

Our consciousness makes us special among the animal kingdom but how did it evolve?

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QR6.3.11 The Silicon Chip Speculation

The classic argument for brain information theories is the silicon chip thought experiment, that replacing every brain nerve with an equivalent silicon chip wouldn’t alter consciousness:

… imagine that one of your neurons is replaced by a silicon chip prosthesis that has the exact same input/output profile as the neuron it replaces. At the core of this thought experiment is the presumption that such a replacement would be unnoticeable to you or to anyone observing your behavior. Presumably, you would continue to experience pain even though the physical realization of those mental events includes a silicon chip where an organic neuron used to be. Now imagine that, one by one, the rest of your neurons are swapped for silicon prostheses. Presumably there would be no change in your mental life even though your brain, which was once made of lipid and protein neurons, is now entirely composed of silicon neuronoids.(Mandik, 2004).

No evidence supports this speculation except the belief that brains are biological computers.  That the brain equates to a set of wired chips isn’t supported by neuroscience as transistors are insulated from electromagnetic fields but nerves broadcast them, as brainwaves show.

Even if a chip replaced a nerve and its synapses, it doesn’t transmit as nerves do. Just as replacing cellphone network nodes with computers that can’t transmit would diminish the network, so every nerve replaced would diminish the brain. If consciousness is in the electromagnetic field, replacing every nerve with a chip would destroy it. The silicon experiment would give a supercomputer with the consciousness of a mass of metal. The silicon chip speculation is science fiction posing as science fact, just like the singularity prediction (Kurzweil, 1999).

Consider another thought experiment: if in the future we could copy a physical table atom-for-atom, would replicating me and my brain also copy my “I”? Physical realism says it would, as the result is physically identical to the original and the physical world is all there is. But if one “me” gardens while another cooks dinner, it might look like two of me but I can’t experience both events. If a copy of me went to work while “I” lay in the sun, I experience the sun not a day at work, so the physical copy didn’t replace me at all.  For Chalmers, the original is conscious and the copy is a zombie while for Dennett, both are zombies imagining they are conscious. One assumes that consciousness adds to physical reality while the other assumes it doesn’t exist at all. Either way, we don’t know how to duplicate a conscious experience.

Split-brain studies show that if the corpus callosum is cut, each hemisphere creates its own consciousness and they can come into conflict, so in this case, having two “I”s isn’t beneficial. If in the future I made a perfect copy of myself that was also conscious, who is to say it wouldn’t decide to kill me? The brain evolved to unify consciousness, not to divide it, for a reason.

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QR6.3.10 Consciousness Cascades

Nerves as oscillators can act as observer gates rather than transistor gates, so a feature catches our attention when lower observations build up to a global observation. If nerves that fire together observe together, each observation chooses the neural combinations that rise at each step of the hierarchy, up to a global observer who also chooses.

The brain develops neural synchronies in a definite sequence to form a global observation. A microcolumn that registers a feature must synchronize to get a field strong enough to merge with nearby microcolumns into a cortical column that can then synchronize with others into a macrocolumn. The constant pings of interneurons and the thalamic beat help nerves to lock in phase, as we tune violins by varying a note slightly until resonance occurs.

As neural units synchronize, small observations entangle into larger ones that can collapse to observe any component combination. Precise synchrony takes time to achieve, so neurons ping constantly until resonance gives an observation that can synchronize further. The cascade eventually lets distant brain areas of language, meaning, memory and planning form a global consciousness that is my attention. A consciousness cascade integrates the decentralized brain.

This cascade allows negotiation between higher and lower units. An outcome that doesn’t work at a high level can be redone until it does, so we can see an ambiguous figure one way then choose to see it differently. Computers struggle with low-level ambiguity but a brain based on choices at every level can ask for a processing redo. Top-down neural links also allow the global observer to prime lower neural units to act alone, allowing brain response times as low as a tenth of a second.

A photon wave collapsing at a screen point essentially chooses to observe a field point. When distant nerves synchronize, their entangled electromagnetic fields can collapse to observe a point that represents some neural combination. The microcolumn result is a flicker of an observation but by synchrony it repeats, until instead of collapsing alone it entangles with other microcolumns that are doing the same with other sense data. Constant neural volleys sustain lower synchronies until they cohere into bigger ones and the process repeats, eventually giving a global observation choice. The global ignition that correlates with consciousness is a series of observer choices that end in what we experience.

Consciousness is a spotlight on the senses that starts as millions of barely discernible point flickers blinking at different frequencies, that eventually synchronize into area flashes that wink separately until they finally synchronize into a coherent beam that be directed anywhere. It takes about half-a-second for the spotlight to power up, as each synchronization step leads to the next.

The choice of what to attend isn’t defined by sense input nor is it entirely free, as the options available at the top level depend on choices made lower down. This isn’t a machine where each cog drives the next but a choice hierarchy, where lower choices define higher ones. When it comes to what causes human behavior, in brain terms it is choices all the way down so the social practice of seeing people as responsible for their own behavior has a neural foundation.

The integration of brain functions requires consciousness, so the hemispheres don’t send their half of the visual field for the other to “see” the whole field via the corpus callosum because this is both impossible by encapsulation and inefficient, as it duplicates processing. Instead, callosal nerves synchronize corresponding areas to generate a consciousness that not only sees the entire visual field but also allows both frontal lobes to unite in a single plan. Hence under anesthesia, beta-gamma waves stop as the hemispheres functionally uncouple and not until they resynchronize does consciousness return to see the entire visual field (John et al., 2001). What observes the full visual field isn’t either hemisphere but the observer their synchrony creates.

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QR6.3.9 Consciousness Scales

The multiscale conjecture is that consciousness builds up by interactions at many temporal and spatial scales in the brain (Nunez, 2016) p326. It follows that:

“Consciousness does not work like a light switch that just goes on and off. Rather it is more like a light with variable brightness controlled by a dimmer switch.” (Nunez, 2016)p98.

The electromagnetic field of a nerve is extremely local so it fades after a millimeter or so but tubulins could synchronize a microcolumn 1/300thmm wide to give P1 waves 50ms after stimulus. The observation scale might be a fleeting registration of borders.

A synchronized microcolumn amplifies its electromagnetic field, increasing its strength. The greater range lets cortico-cortical columns of about 10,000 neurons synchronize, perhaps using thalamic beats and cortico-cortical links to give N1 waves about 130ms after stimulus (John, 2005) p159. The observation at this scale might be a brief registration of features like shape.

Synchronized macrocolumns of about a million neurons may arise in the same way, to give P2 waves about 210ms after stimulus. The observation at this scale might be of a visual object.

The processing hierarchy doesn’t stop at macrocolumns as they synchronize into areas. The primary visual areaV1 at the back of the brain maps shapes in space then passes its results to nearby V2, V3, V4, V5 and V6 areas to handle relative movement. Finally, distant brain areas responsible for memory and planning join in to form a global synchrony.

When subjects were asked to recognize image fragments, electrodes in the occipitotemporal cortex, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex showed a steady beta synchrony significantly higher than when they didn’t recognize it (Sehatpour et al., 2008). When input reaches higher visual areas, a remarkable thing happens: sub-millisecond synchronies link distant brain areas as the image is recognized. Neuroscience confirms that distant cortical areas use re-entrant circuits, self-perpetuating neural loops that set up rhythmic synchronies of extraordinary precision. Neuroscience accepts that nerve synchrony integrates information although it can’t explain it:

“We believe that the brain integrates functional modules by bringing neural oscillations in those modules into synchrony. Neurons oscillating in synchrony can communicate their information and influence each other’s activities much more effectively than can those oscillating asynchronously.”(Ward, 2007)p325.

In a study of monkeys presented with two stimuli, one of which was relevant, both stimuli produced a V1 response but only the attended one gave a V4 area gamma synchrony (Bosman et al., 2012). A similar result was found for competing auditory streams presented simultaneously – only the attended stream synchronized the higher auditory area, leading the authors to suggest a top-down synchrony filter in selective auditory attention (Lakatos et al., 2013). In human studies of binocular rivalry, each eye gets a different image but the brain sees only one, not a merge of both. Neuromagnetic measurements of rivalry find the hemisphere with better local synchrony predicts the image that is consciously perceived (Tononi, 1998).

In masking studies, where a word is only seen half the time, long-distant gamma synchrony between occipital, parietal and frontal areas occur if the word is seen but not if it isn’t (Melloni et al., 2007). Both cases gave gamma oscillations but phase-locked synchrony between distant areas and the hemispheres only occurred for the visible case and shortly after this transient synchrony, the p300 correlate of consciousness occurred. Evidence from animal and human studies suggests that synchrony enables the conscious observation of neural combinations:

“We propose that this transient synchronization might enhance the saliency of the activation patterns not only allowing the for contents to get access to consciousness but also triggering a cascade of processes such as perceptual stabilization, maintenance in working memory, and generalizations of expectations, all aspects intimately related with conscious awareness.” (Uhlhaas, 2009) p11.

Why do nerves send the same signal hundreds of times a second in synchronized volleys? It can’t be to exchange information, as we neither act nor perceive in hundredths of a second. The alternative is a synchrony cascade, from small to large synchronies, that causes a cascade of consciousness.

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QR6.3.8 Consciousness Takes Time

Electrical stimulation of sensory cortex locations by electrodes in awake subjects undergoing neurosurgery gives a sensation in a related body part, so stimulating a left-cortex point might give a brief right-hand tingle that subjects consciously report about 500ms later (Libet, 2005), raising the old issue of whether consciousness is cause or effect:

“How are nerve cell activities in the brain related to conscious subjective experience and to unconscious mental functions?” (Libet, 2005)p32.

To find out, subjects were asked to flick a wrist when they felt like it. The EEG showed a movement readiness potential in the prefrontal cortex about 200ms before subjects reported their intention to act. Conventional neuroscience immediately took this to mean that consciousness follows the brain, like a king who thinks he rules but his advisors run everything. If brain processes do everything, then consciousness exists but does nothing, resurrecting the old idea that only physical reality counts:

“A systematic exploration suggests that every cortical site holds its own knowledge. Consider the insula, a deep sheath of cortex that is buried beneath the frontal and temporal lobes. Stimulating it can have a diversity of unpleasant effects, including a sensation of suffocation, burning, stinging, tingling, warmth, nausea or falling. Move the electrode to a location farther below the surface of the cortex, the subthalamic nucleus, and the same electrical pulse may induce an immediate state of depression, complete with crying and sobbing, monotone voice, miserable body posture, and glum thoughts. Stimulating parts of the parietal lobe may cause a feeling of vertigo and even the bizarre out of body experience of levitating to the ceiling and looking down on one’s own body.

If you had any lingering doubts that your mental life arises entirely from the activity of the brain, these examples should lift them.” (Dehaene, 2014)p153.

These results don’t mean what Dehaene thinks they do, that we are just nerves, because the physical matter of nerves can’t observe as the first fact says we do. It is true that:

“… a whole array of mental processes can be launched without consciousness…” (Ibid, p86)

But what observes these neural processes if not consciousness? To say that consciousness exists but does nothing because less conscious parts of the brain can act alone is like saying that the sun does nothing because I can switch on a light when it goes down. That lower parts of the brain can act without global consciousness doesn’t mean it can’t act with it. And that we react to stimuli in under 200ms, before the 500ms it takes to be fully conscious, merely means a lesser degree of consciousness not none at all. A better conclusion is that consciousness evolved to add value to what the brain already does.

The relation between consciousness and the brain is like a viewer watching a TV. Nothing can be seen until the TV is turned on but even so, a TV can’t view itself. Physical realism claims that TVs exist without viewers while “viewer realism” is that viewers also exist. One can imagine a conversation between these two points of view as follows:

VR: A TV can’t view itself, so there must be a viewer out there.

PR: Not at all. When the TV is turned on, we just imagine that someone is viewing it.

VR: But a network of TVs that no-one watched would be pointless!

PR: Exactly! It’s all pointless, that’s why it doesn’t matter what we show.

VR: But we can talk to viewers watching TV by long-distance phone calls.

PR: Yes, but they are also imaginary. It’s all fake.

VR: How do TV channels change if there are no viewers?

PR: The remote control changes the channels randomly. Who knows, maybe a fly sits on it?

VR: So how do you know that viewers don’t change the channel?

PR: We did an experiment. We asked a “viewer” to call us when he changed channels and the remote control came out of standby a second before his call arrived. Hence, he didn’t do it.

VR: But how long does it take a long-range phone call to arrive?

PR: About a second.

VR: So that’s not really conclusive, is it?

PR: Its near enough. Machinery does everything, viewers don’t exist.

VR: But you watch TV so you’re a viewer too, does that mean you don’t exist?

PR: Don’t be ridiculous, of course I exist.

Libet’s flawed experiment led to a consensus among scientists that the brain is a machine, just as a hundred years ago scientists agreed the universe was a machine before quantum theory showed it isn’t. This desire of scientists to prove they have no choice should be a subject of study:

“… why are so many intellectuals so intent on proving that they have no free will? (As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead pointed out ironically, ‘Scientists animated by the purpose of proving themselves purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.’)(Taylor, 2019)

Evolution doesn’t do pointless, so the brain wouldn’t evolve long-range nerve synchronies to create consciousness to do nothing. That it takes time and effort for a brain to create consciousness confirms that it is useful.

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QR6.3.7 Consciousness By Entanglement

It is precisely because the electromagnetic field isn’t physical that it can observe. If the physical world is a virtual reality, the quantum reality that created it must be able to observe it. Quantum theory requires quantum entities to observe when they interact but these infinitesimal observations are to us proto-consciousness, not the consciousness we know.

That would be the end of it but when quantum entities entangle, they merge and act as one. When photons entangle in physics, the ensemble instantly knows what happens to either, even if they are too far apart to exchange data physically. This isn’t information exchange but it has the same effect, so when nerve units entangle by synchrony, the ensemble can collapse to observe any unit combination at any field point. Distant neural areas don’t exchange information by wiring but by forming a common quantum observer. Applying Penrose’s logic to nerves, if synchronized firing can entangle molecules to observe as one, it can entangle nerves to do the same, and we call the result consciousness. The observer is in the electromagnetic field the brain creates but it isn’t physical.

It isn’t proposed that all the brain’s nerves synchronize but that local synchronies let nerves entangle to solve local problems, allowing an evolution from microcolumns to macrocolumns and so on, step-by-step. Nor is it required that all nerves synchronize perfectly, as only some need to do so to achieve the effect. Just as nerves that wire together fire together, so nerves that fire together observe together. What we call consciousness is nerves using synchrony to merge local observations into a global observation.

A neuron that observes when it fires is like a closed window that opens for a moment and neurons firing in synchrony open a bigger observation window. The brain’s answer to the binding problem was to use neural synchrony to create consciousness, hence:

1. Consciousness takes time. Neural synchronies take time to form.

2. Consciousness scales. Synchrony applies at multiple scales of brain activity.

3. Consciousness cascades. Small-scale synchronies lead to large-scale synchronies.

The following sections give more details and supporting research.

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