QR6.2.3 Nested Hierarchies

Figure 6.9 A Nerve

A nerve is a cell whose body gets electrical input from other nerves by dendrites and projects electric pulses down an axon to other nerves (Figure 6.9). If nerves get electricity from dendrites and send it to projections, as trees send water from roots to leaves, the figure shows the nerve upside-down.

Dendrites into a nerve body are said to add up to fire a nerve based on an input threshold so in Figure 6.10, input from neurons B and D fire the nerve A, but B and C don’t as they don’t reach its threshold of four. Nerves selectively transmit electrical impulses to other nerves.

Figure 6.10 Neuron Threshold

In embryos, nerves grow from the brain to form the retina so light entering the eye touches the brain directly. If the retina was a photoelectric cell, it would pass on pixel data for analysis, but the signal must be defined say that 1 is black and 9 is white. It works equally well if 9 is black and 1 is white, as long as the definition is absolute, but a designer would have to define that.

Brains had no designer so evolution took both options as it always does. One type of retinal cell responds to light above the background level and another type responds to light below that level.

Figure 6.11 How retinal cells respond to black and white

In Figure 6.11, cell 1 responds to white and cell 2 to black. Instead of defining data absolutely, retinal cells respond relative to background light, then interact to excite or inhibit each other to amplify the borders later used to recognize object shapes.

Vision identifies an object by making one side figure and the other ground. In Figure 6.12, making black the figure just gives blobs but making it background lets you read “MAIL BOX”. The brain uses context to unravel visual data ambiguity, as one must choose the right context to see an object.

Figure 6.12 Background context defines vision

The human cortex is a nested hierarchy that processes data in six layers labelled I to VI, as lower units feed higher ones. The first step after the nerve is a hundred or so nerves about the thickness of a hair called a microcolumn:

“… current data on the microcolumn indicate that the neurons within the microcolumn receive common inputs, have common outputs, are interconnected, and may well constitute a fundamental computational unit of the cerebral cortex …” (Cruz, 2005)

Figure 6.13 Brodmann brain areas

About a hundred microcolumns then form a cortico-cortical column that sends axons to nerves nearby. They then form into a macrocolumn of about a million nerves, about 3mm wide, with cortical links. Macrocolumns then form about 32 Brodmann areas (Figure 6.13) of maybe a hundred million nerves for functions like language. Cortical processing then builds up from nerves as follows (Nunez, 2016) p91:

1. Microcolumns. A hundred or so nerves about .03mm wide.

2. Cortico-cortical columns. A thousand or so nerves about .3mm wide.

3. Macrocolumns. A million or so nerves about 3mm wide.

4. Brain areas. A hundred million or so nerves of various sizes.

Figure 6.14 The cortex (Blausen.com staff, 2014)

Brain areas then form four lobes about 50mm wide separated by deep fissures (Figure 6.14). The occipital lobe handles visual data, the parietal lobe handles body image and space relations, the temporal lobe handles sound and memory associations and the frontal lobe handles plans and intentions. It can stop other parts doing socially improper acts, so a person with frontal lobe damage may know how to behave socially but can’t stop inappropriate acts like touching. These lobes form the hemispheres that together are the cortical brain.

Figure 6.15 Nerves fire for different angles

The visual hierarchy starts when the eye detects a photon, which data is then subject to layer upon layer of processing to detect relevant features. For example, cells in layer IV are found to fire for different line angles (Figure 6.15) and others respond to other features.

Scientists estimate that each eye inputs about 8.75 Megabits a second and the brain in total receives over 20 Mbps, so as James said in 1892, our first impression was probably information overload:

“The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion”

Computers handle information overload by compressing a video to a smaller information set that keeps the relevant features but is less to download. Visual processing does the same by reducing sense data to features that map reality to less information. When a baby’s brain can transform data from millions of optic nerves into a smaller set of objects, it can relate to the world better. Reducing sensory data to what is relevant is the brain helping us to survive.

Computer processing is mostly linear but brain hierarchies have bottom-up, lateral and top-down links. Sense data flows up and down the processing hierarchy as a two-way flow not a one-way flow. Top-down paths act to predict, interrogate and check lower processing as higher processing “experts” check data for consistency or errors (Dehaene, 2014) p139. While bottom-up paths process data as computers do, lateral paths establish context and top-down links act to predict, interrogate and check lower processing.

Figure 6.16 Old or Young?

Is Figure 6.16 an old or young lady? If you see a young lady, can you see an old one or the reverse? To do this you must rerun your visual processing. The visual system makes a best guess but you can ask for a redo because nerves go down as well as up. The processing is “out of sight and out of mind” but it can be redone by top-down control. All perception is a hypothesis of an ambiguous world.

Figure 6.17 Spinning ballerina

Such “subconscious” processing might be assumed to be primitive but the spinning ballerina illusion (Figure 6.17) suggests otherwise. Clicking the link shows a ballerina spinning but the rotation is ambiguous so you can see her spin clockwise or anti-clockwise. Try to see her spin the other way. If you can’t, pause the video and if you see an extended leg at the front, imagine it at the back, or vice-versa. Restart the video and if she spins the other way, you just reprogrammed some complex unconscious visual processing.

The optic nerve has about a million axons but the auditory nerve only has about 50,000, so its processing base is narrower than for vision.

Figure 6.18 Broad vs. deep processing

In Figure 6.18, processing network resources applied to a narrow base give deeper processing. There is a trade-off between base width and processing depth, so if hemispheres of equal processing capacity specialize, the one that does the narrower base of sound will process deeper. The left hemisphere may handle language because its earlier sound specialization allows the deeper processing language needs. Left and right hemisphere specializations may be different processing hierarchy structures.


QR6.2.2 Decentralized Control

We like to control things so our early networks used centralized control, until we found that decentralized networks like Ethernet were ten times faster. They also degrade gradually under load while centralized networks collapse entirely. When the Internet was first proposed, it was expected to fall into chaos without central control but in fact, decentralization allowed it to survive.

Figure 6.4 Schacter’s Brain Model

Early brain models expected a central executive. In Figure 6.4, an executive decides what to do after a conscious awareness unit accesses sensory knowledge modules, memory and higher reasoning (Schacter, 1989).

The cortex is a folded layer wrapped around the midbrain and hindbrain (Figure 6.5). It handles perceptions, voluntary acts, memory, thought, planning, attention and language, so the executive was assumed to be in the cortex.

Figure 6.5 The Cortex is the folds around the brain

But how could the most advanced part of the brain have an executive when its two hemispheres split the work between them? The left hemisphere directs the right side of the body and the right hemisphere the left and usually the left specializes in language and the right in spatial analysis. How can two hemispheres act as one executive?

The answer revealed by the treatment of epilepsy, an illness where an electrical disturbance in one hemisphere spreads to incapacitate the cortex, was that there is no central executive. An 800 million nerve bridge called the corpus callosum joins the hemispheres and cutting it in animals didn’t seem to harm them, so surgeons tried the same in epileptics to stop the epilepsy spreading and let them lead normal lives. The treatment worked but while serious side effects were expected, split-brain patients still spoke and acted as before! So little changed that some thought that the corpus callosum was just a structural support. Further studies unlocked the mystery.

Figure 6.6 How Visual Processing is Shared

Each hemisphere moves the opposite hand but vision is different. Instead of the left hemisphere getting right eye input, it gets input from the right side of both eyes and the right hemisphere gets input from the left side of both eyes (Figure 6.6).

In split-brain studies, each eye saw half of a split screen, so in Figure 6.7, the left eye saw the snow image and the right the claw image. The corpus callosum was cut so the left hemisphere saw only the claw and the right hemisphere saw only the snow.

Figure 6.7 Split-brain study set-up

When subjects were asked to point to a picture that matched what they saw, the right hand picked a chicken but the left hand picked a shovel! The left hemisphere used the right hand to point to a chicken because it saw a claw and the right hemisphere used the left hand to point to a shovel because it saw snow, and neither was aware of the other’s choice. The two hemispheres were able to receive and send data as if each was a brain in itself, so the cortex had no central executive.

When asked why his left hand chose a shovel, a subject said “you need a shovel to clean up after chickens”. The verbal left hemisphere had no idea why the shovel was chosen as it didn’t see the snow but instead of saying I don’t know, it made something up to explain it. The verbal left hemisphere tried to interpret events as best it could:

These findings all suggest that the interpretive mechanism of the left hemisphere is always hard at work, seeking the meaning of events. It is constantly looking for order and reason, even when there is none – which leads it continually to make mistakes. It tends to overgeneralize, frequently constructing a potential past as opposed to a true one.(Gazzaniga, 2002) p30

Interpreter theory sees the language and thought of the cortex as more servant than master of the brain. If the brain is a federation of agents(Minsky, 1986), the left cortex is head of human relations not the CEO as some suggest (Kaku, 2014). It acts like a diplomat to explain a system that others run.

Perhaps human intellect expanded when we formed tribes because those who better explain themselves survive to reproduce, as the animal most likely to harm a human is another human. Inventing acceptable reasons after the fact may be the evolutionary basis of our famous intellect. Logical thought, building one idea upon another in a rational way to reach an unforeseen conclusion, probably isn’t what our intellect originally evolved to do.

The left hemisphere usually specializes in language but the right hemisphere isn’t illiterate. One study of a split-brain boy (Wolman, 2012) asked the left hemisphere “Who is your favorite?” but flashed “Who is your favorite girlfriend?” to the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere made no verbal reply, as didn’t see the word girlfriend, but a nervous giggle revealed that the right hemisphere understood. The left hand the right hemisphere controlled then selected scrabble tiles from a set to spell out L-I-Z, a cute girl in his class. The right hemisphere had no vocal control but it could still read and spell. The hemispheres are conscious in any way you care to define it:

Everything we have seen indicates that that the surgery has left these people with two separate minds, that is, two separate spheres of consciousness. What is experienced in the right hemisphere seems to lie entirely outside the realm of awareness of the left hemisphere. This mental division has been demonstrated in regard to perception, volition, learning and memory.” (Sperry, 1966)p299.

Figure 6.8 Phineas Gage

Evolution favors decentralization because if part of the brain is lost, the rest can still carry on. In a famous case, an iron rod pierced the middle and left cortical lobes (Figure 6.8) of a railway worker called Phineas Gage, who shortly after walked off, conscious and speaking. He showed disturbed behavior but lived for 13 more years and died of unknown causes. Now imagine banging a nail through a mother-board! The brain duplicates the cortex for the same reason that planes double up critical control units – to increase reliability if one fails. This answers Von Neumann’s question:

How could a mechanism composed of some ten billion unreliable components function reliably while computers with ten thousand components regularly fail?

As information goes into the brain, it makes sense to peel away the processing layers to find an “I” from which all proceeds but doing so reveals no central executive in the cortex. If the body is a ship run by a decentralized brain, it has no “Captain” even at the highest level:

Studies of the structural and functional organization of the brain have shown that this organ is, to a large extent, decentralized, and processes information in parallel in countless sensory and motor subsystems. In short, there is no single homunculus in our brains that controls and manages all these distributed processes.(Singer, 2007)

No-one searches the Internet to find its “center” so why expect sense data to funnel into a brain center? The answer is that we experience one “I”, but neuroscience doesn’t support this:

In contrast to this first-person experience of a unified self, modern neuroscience reveals that each brain has hundreds of parts, each of which has evolved to do specific jobs – some recognize faces, others tell muscles to execute actions, some formulate goals and plans, and yet others store memories for later integration with sensory input and subsequent action.(Nunez, 2016) p55.

Dennett argues that the conflict between one “I” and a decentralized brain means the first fact is wrong (Dennett, 1991) but science doesn’t resolve conflicts by picking the answer it prefers. It accepts both, so part 3 of this chapter asks how can a decentralized brain create a unified observer?


QR6.2.1 Growing Processing

A transistor can’t grow into a computer but a cell can grow a brain, as we all did, so building information processing isn’t the same as evolving it. Evolution found a path from cells to a brain and embryo brains grow by following that path. We can build a computer but we can’t grow one as nature does.

Brains and computers both use electricity to power on/off units that process data, so brain neurons are logic gates that process data just as computer transistors do (McCulloch & Pitts, 1943). Sensorimotor channels also mirror computer input-output channels so brain-computer theories propose that nerves process the senses to give muscle output as computers process input and output (Churchland & Sejnowski, 1992). But the comparison misleads because growing and building a processor are entirely different challenges (Whitworth, 2008).

Figure 6.2 Von Neumann Architecture

We build a computer at leisure then switch it on but an evolving brain is always on because life never stops. Our computers use the Von Neumann design of a central processing unit (CPU) with memory that processes input to give output (Figure 6.2) because then it always knows what to do next but if the CPU fails, everything does. Biological parts fail regularly, so a system that fails if a part does is too fragile to survive. Evolution had to find another way so brains don’t have a central processing unit.

To understand the brain, one must understand evolution. In Darwin’s natural selection, traits gradually change over time to select what survives (Figure 6.3).

Figure 6.3 Evolution is Gradual

For a brain, the key demands are variability, change and survival:

1. Variability. Brains vary because nerves have autonomy, the ability to act based on internal direction. If neurons didn’t grow and act as they chose, the brain couldn’t evolve so neural autonomy allows evolution. Absolute central control denies this, so the brain had to decentralize control.

2. Change. Evolution occurs in a step-wise manner so brains had to evolve in the same way. A brain can’t string together neurons in a series of steps that eventually gives value, as programmers do, because each step has to give value. As a result, brain processing is a nested hierarchy, where each step adds value alone and leads to the next. It is layer upon layer, where each layer evolved while the previous one was still operating.

3. Survival. To survive, a brain must add value, say by moving a body towards the light, but even a simple sense like light detection is useless if it isn’t acted upon. To survive, a brain must control the feedback loop between sensory input and muscle output.

Decentralized control, nested hierarchies and feedback control are the brain principles that allowed it to evolve. They explain it better than any computer analogy because the information processor that nature evolved follows different rules than the computers we build.


QR6.2 Evolving a Brain

Our brain has more nerves than there are people in the world or devices on the Internet and as one nerve can link to 10,000 others, it also has more connections than the Internet. It took five hundred million years and an unimaginable number of entities to evolve it and it had to function at every step. A bee brain is just a neuron sliver but it lets bees fly, form colonies and even talk to each other. Brains like ours could only evolve from brains like theirs if they survived. Imagine building a jumbo jet where the first part had to fly and the same applied for every part added after that. Or imagine writing a program where the first line of code had to work or you didn’t get to write the second. We know how to build an information processor but not how to grow one.


QR6.1.8 Neutral Monism

Chalmer’s last option, that a primal reality causes both consciousness and physical reality, is the neutral monism suggested by Russell in 1921:

“The stuff of which the world of our experience is composed is, in my belief, neither mind nor matter, but something more primitive than either. Both mind and matter seem to be composite, and the stuff of which they are compounded lies in a sense between the two, in a sense above them both, like a common ancestor.” (Russell, 2005)

Quantum realism is a neutral monism where quantum reality is the “common ancestor” that created both the observed physical reality and the consciousness that observes. Potters make pots from clay that is already there but what existed before the universe had nothing to work with but itself. It had to create a virtual reality and provide the observer and the observed from itself.

If the physical world is a virtual reality, the observer must exist from the start, but what was observed? The answer isn’t much, in our terms at least. If the universe began as a photon plasma, physical reality began as photon events that occur on the Planck scale, of the smallest possible distance and time. Needless to say, this isn’t much of an observation in our terms.

Nagel imagined what it is like to be a bat (Nagel, 1974) but who can imagine what it is like to be a photon? Observation must exist from the start for a virtual reality so photons must observe on different scale. I can see a chair that an ant can’t see because it observes on a tiny scale, so if everything observes, consciousness as the ability to observe existed from the beginning but on an infinitesimal scale.

This isn’t panpsychism, that all matter is conscious, because matter doesn’t exist in quantum realism, except as a view. Panpsychism assumes materialism, that physical matter exists and has the property of consciousness. In contrast, quantum realism sees matter as coming into existence at the same time as the ability to observe it did.

To avoid confusion, let us call quantum-scale observations proto-consciousness, as proposed by Penrose in 1944 (Penrose, 1994) and more recently:

… the elements of proto-consciousness would be intimately tied in with the most primitive Planck level ingredients of space-time geometry, these presumed ‘ingredients’ being taken to be at the absurdly tiny level of 10-35m and 10-43s, a distance and time some 20 orders of magnitude smaller than those of normal particle-physics scales and their most rapid processes.(Penrose & Hameroff, 2017)p21

To observe so little so briefly seems hardly worth it to us but one can apply smallism, that facts about big things come from facts about small things (Coleman, 2006), to consciousness. If the observer experience began small, like everything else, then macro-consciousness derives from micro-consciousness (Chalmers, 1996) (p305), which is appealing because consciousness is then no longer miracle as it was always there, just not as we know it.

That consciousness started small also answers another question, that if everything is in effect a player in a virtual universe, wouldn’t it be boring for some? If one asked for players in a virtual universe like ours, who wants to be a rock on mars that just sits there for a million years? But a rock is an aggregate of molecules, so it observes on a molecular scale not a rock scale. On this scale, something new happens every nanosecond, so it isn’t boring at all.

Quantum realism changes the question from how our matter can observe to how quantum-scale observations gave rise to human-scale observations. It replaces the explanatory gap between matter and consciousness with an evolutionary gap between matter-scale consciousness and human-scale consciousness. The question now isn’t how consciousness was added to matter but how proto-consciousness evolved into human consciousness but first, how did brains evolve?


QR6.1.7 Cognitive Theories

When observing things, we assume realism, that a reality out there apart from us causes it. Physical realism calls it physical reality and quantum realism calls it quantum reality but either way, most people agree that nerves interact with physical events to cause observation. If physical events cause nerve events that cause observation, one can short-circuit the event sequence to argue that mind alone creates reality. This goes against realism, but it is quite logical.

Solipsism for example claims that mind alone creates reality, as it does when we dream. This theory is impossible to disprove but it isn’t accepted by science because it doesn’t explain how a mind that dreams arose in the first place and predicts nothing new.

QBism is a theory of physics that uses the same “mind-trick” to dismiss not physical reality, as solipsism does, but quantum reality. It argues that quantum probabilities are degrees of belief about physical outcomes, so quantum waves are just in the mind. Like solipsism, it is impossible to disprove, as one could say the force of gravity is a belief about how matter moves, so it is in the mind too. QBism doesn’t do this, as it selectively uses the mind argument to deny quantum reality not physical reality. Like solipsism, QBism has no scientific value because it makes no predictions nor does it explain how a mind with beliefs can exist (McQueen, 2017). It is telling that physicists now invoke the mind to deny quantum reality because the elephant in the room of physics today is that quantum causes explain what physical causes don’t.

Cognitive theories of consciousness in contrast invoke the mind differently, by claiming that brains are conscious for the same reason that ant colonies are, because:

“… ant colonies are no different from brains in many respects.”(Hofstadter & Dennett, 1981) p181.

The logic is that ants become a colony by chemical communication and nerves do the same by electrical communication, so the chemical trails ants lay down are the colony’s “language” just as neuron wiring causes our language. The analogy is that dumb neurons create consciousness as dumb ants create a colony, so consciousness remains as neurons come and go just as the colony remains as ants come and go. It reinvents Crick’s “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons” theory.

The evidence is weak, as if an ant colony is a being that communicates by ant trails, why haven’t we learned its language by now, as we did that of the bees? It doesn’t help to suggest the same logic applies to countries like Russia or America:

“… let us think a bit right now about whether it makes sense to think of ‘being’ a country. Does a country have thoughts or beliefs?”(Hofstadter & Dennett, 1981) p192

The logic that consciousness is private so countries might be conscious is a smokescreen because scientists don’t ask others to disprove their speculations but go where the evidence leads and nothing at all suggests that countries are conscious beings. To say “You see a unity so it is a unity” is an appeal to the naivety that something is an entity because we see it so. If that were true, tornadoes would be conscious, but they aren’t and neither are ant colonies or countries. When we connect physical parts into a bicycle, it becomes an entity to us but not to itself.

After presenting mysterious Gestalt patterns and speculating that ant colonies are conscious, the underwhelming conclusion of this theory is that:

“Mind is a pattern perceived by a mind.” (Hofstadter & Dennett, 1981)p200.

It isn’t hard to see that this statement is circular, because a mind is assumed to perceive a pattern that is then equated to the mind that perceived it. The underlying agenda of this theory, that mind is a creation of mind, is that consciousness is imaginary as physical realism requires.


QR6.1.6 Information Theories

Physical reality can’t explain consciousness but its information result is often said to do so. Integrated information theory argues that “consciousness is integrated information(Tononi, 2008), generalizing an earlier theory that brain functions like language, vision and hearing deposit information into a global workspace that causes consciousness (Baars, 1988).

As sense data enter the brain, sight, sound, touch and smell are processed differently, then passed to specialist areas for memory, emotions, language, planning and muscle control, but how does the brain do this? According to global workspace theory, different brain areas put data into a common region for other areas to label, store in memory or use in plans. Consciousness then arises when:

“… the information has entered into a specific storage area that makes it available to the rest of the brain.” (Dehaene, 2014)p163.

But if a specific brain area is critical for consciousness, why has it never been found? Even people born with no cortex are conscious (Merker, 2007), so it can’t be a cortical area. Workspace theory also suggests that neurons “chat” like little people:

“… neural systems do not merely report to their superiors; they also chat among themselves.” (Dehaene, 2014)p176.

It follows that brain science reduces to “neuron sociology” (Nunez, 2016) p18 by the analogy of Internet crowd control:

“… it is helpful to think metaphorically of a theater of mind. In the conscious spotlight on stage – the global workspace – an actor speaks, and his words and gestures are distributed to many unconscious audience members, sitting in the darkened hall. Different listeners understand the performance in different ways. But as the audience claps or boos in response, the actor can change his words, or walk off to yield to the next performer.(Baars & Laureys, 2004) p672.

The social analogy is seductive but that neural areas chat like little people over nerve phone lines, or clap and boo each other as we do online, isn’t supported by information theory or fact. To exchange data in this way, the brain would need common language for information exchange. For the Internet to share information requires agreed protocol layers, like:

1. Data layer. Ethernet protocol.

2. Network layer. Internet protocol (IP).

3. Transport layer. Transmission Control Program protocol (TCP).

4. Application layer. Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (http).

TCP/IP/http protocols took decades to develop from the original Arpanet, based on a central control group that the brain doesn’t have. Upgrades like from IP version 4 to 6 require browsers to be updated to work with them and the brain has no way to either set global protocols or update them if they change. And these protocols are just to pass data packages around – to actually see a picture or hear music on the Internet still needs an application for that data type!

For example, Notepad displays text and Paint displays pictures but loading text into Paint or a picture into Notepad gives nonsense so even if they put data into a common area, neither could read what the other posted. To do this, Paint would need code to analyze text and Notepad would need code to analyze pictures, which increases program size. And if either application changed its processing, the other would have to update its included code to work reliably.

Programs like Word that read text and display pictures become huge as a result and they still can’t read zip files. For a brain function to include every other denies the benefit of specialization and updating every function when it changes in order to share data isn’t feasible for the brain. Information science tells us that one can’t plug the optic nerve into the auditory cortex and expect information to flow like water.

The auditory area of the brain can no more read smell data than I can read a text written in Chinese. What use is a common stage for neural actors if smell data can only be read by the olfactory lobe? To share data by a global workspace would need a universal translator of smells, thoughts, movements and feelings, which is impossible.

A theory of brain data exchange must respect information science but global workspace theory doesn’t. What can’t work for computer networks won’t work for a brain network. The Internet shares data with no evidence that it is conscious, and although information integration theory expects it to soon become so (Koch, 2014), there is no evidence for this.

The cartoonish picture of neural areas as little people listening to a common brain language that doesn’t exist, merging claps or boos in an impossible way, on a central stage we have no evidence for, isn’t helpful. Some other way must be found for the brain to share local processing.


QR6.1.5 Dualism

In the nineteenth century, Laplace concluded that physical laws determined the universe:

We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.” Laplace, in (Truscott & Emory, 1951) p4.

He challenged the centuries-old dualism of Descartes, that mind controls matter, by claiming that physical laws explained everything so mind was just a “ghost in the machine(Ryle, 1949). Apparently, science not only didn’t need religion, it was better off without it.

The case against dualism is that physical events entirely cause other physical events, so the universe is causally complete and its causal chain has no gaps. If one pushes one end of a tube of balls, a ball pops out the other end and no mind or soul is needed to make that happen. That all physical facts come from other physical facts leaves no room for non-physical causes like a mind.

Supporters of dualism then tried to show that paranormal events are non-physical causes but parapsychology studies didn’t produce definitive results (Kelly at al., 2007). Assuming causal closure, it can be deduced that if mind has a physical cause, it is also physical and so not mind, and if not, it can’t have any physical effect at all (Kim, 1999). Causal closure implies that a non-physical mind can’t affect physical events.

But just as physical realism was dominating dualism, its own vision of a world of fixed laws that define fixed events took a crippling blow from a new kid on the block, quantum theory. Quantum mechanics asserts that no physical event is 100% certain and the evidence agrees. In the Stern-Gerlach experiment, silver atoms in a magnetic field go up or down based on a spin that is perfectly random. We can’t sort the atoms into those going up or down in advance because they are initially identical and the spin direction that moves them in a magnetic field is decided when they interact with it, not before. Quantum theory says it happens when an atom observes the field, just as where a photon hits a screen happens when it observes the screen. In a mechanical world, the physical history of an event should completely define it, but it isn’t so in our world. Quantum theory implies that every quantum entity chooses, by itself, how it physically interacts and this unpredictability is inherent to reality itself.

According to quantum theory, observing a quantum wave randomly chooses from its lawful possibilities to actualize a physical event from one option and obliterate the rest. The observation stops quantum waves expanding endlessly and causes a physical event. Quantum theory needs an observer outside the quantum system to end the quantum chain while a closed physical system has by definition nothing outside it to end the chain, so physical realism has no observer.

An endless causal chain with no gaps has no way to select one link and call it an observation. Physical realism denies the observation and randomness we know occurs so it fails on two counts. It’s a nice theory that doesn’t fit the facts. If marbles banging together in a lottery in complex ways don’t become conscious, why would brain neurons linking in complex ways do any better? Quantum realism avoids these issues by accepting quantum theory but not physical realism.
Figure 6.1. The Reality Theories

Figure 6.1 compares the reality options:

1. In physical realism, a series of physical events (P) lawfully cause each other with no gaps to allow no observation or randomness.
2. In dualism, a series of physical events together with non-physical mind events (M) create physical events that may deny physical laws, so it allows miracles.
3. In quantum realism, a series of quantum observations (O) cause physical events, to allow both randomness and observation. All physical laws then derive from quantum laws.

In Figure 6.1a, reality is one set of physical events causing the next, with no randomness and no observer, so there is no evolution and no observing “I”.

Figure 6.1b is more complex, as now two event sets in different reality realms, mental and physical, affect not only their realm but also the other, but no-one can say what mind events add to physical events or how they affect them.

In Figure 6.1c, reality is a series of observations each leading the next just as quantum theory says. Each physical event is the observed result of quantum events but doesn’t itself have any further consequences, so there are no physical causes. The physical world is an epiphenomenon that, like a train whistle, appears but doesn’t affect the engine, which in this case is quantum.

Physical events link lawfully to each other by their quantum precedents so physical laws are the resulting correlations. The quantum world creates the physical world and quantum laws create the physical laws we deduce. The quantum sequence leaves no gaps for physical causes to explain just as physical causality left no gaps for mental causes to explain.

Physical realism has no observer or choice but quantum realism has observation and choice because every quantum collapse is an observation choice. The observer is why quantum theory works when physical realism doesn’t.


QR6.1.4 Physical Realism

The best theory to explain consciousness should be the one that also best explains matter. This theory is widely thought to be the physical realism that physics accepts because its equations predict how matter behaves, but to do so they routinely invoke non-physical causes like quantum waves. As Part I found, the findings of physics actually repeatedly deny physical realism.

Consider a simple question, is matter a particle or a wave? Physical realism initially saw it as particles with mass, charge and spin until its core particles turned out to be dimensionless points, raising the question of how a zero-size particle can have properties like mass or charge? How can a particle with no physical extent spin? No-one really knows, so it’s a miracle.

Electrons are matter particles but physics had to call them waves to explain them in atoms. A wave needs a medium but the Dirac wave function vibrates electrons into an imaginary plane outside physical space, which a physical wave can’t do. No-one knows how a physical wave can vibrate outside physical space, so it’s another miracle.

Both particle and wave equations work so it was agreed that matter is sometimes like a wave and sometimes like a particle, though particles aren’t wave-like nor are waves particle-like. This was called wave-particle duality, but as no-one can explain how an electron knows to act like a particle in space but act like a wave in an atom, it was just another miracle

If a miracle is an outcome with no physical basis, physics based on physical realism is full of them, for as Part I established:

  • Gravity is said to be caused by graviton particles that have no physical basis at all.
  • Light travels at a constant speed but has no physical reason to go at just that speed.
  • Moving matter changes space and time but has no physical way to do so.
  • The vacuum of empty space exerts a pressure with no physical cause.
  • An electron can suddenly appear outside a Gaussian sphere with no physical path.
  • An object on a path can be detected without any physical contact at all.
  • The physical universe is said to have created itself from nothing, which isn’t physical.
  • Entangled photons define each other faster than the physical speed of light.
  • Most of our galaxy consists of dark matter that has no physical basis.
  • Most of the universe consists of dark energy that has no physical basis.
  • Our universe consists of matter not anti-matter for no known physical reason.
  • Quantum waves with no physical basis predict physical event probabilities.

Is a miracle-based theory realistic? Is it realistic that imaginary waves cause physical events? Is it realistic that virtual particles cause forces? Is it realistic that particles with no size spin? Is it realistic that massless gluons create most of a proton’s mass? Is it realistic that the future affects the past in delayed-choice experiments? Is it realistic that objects are detected without physical touching? Physical realism is the basis of what some now call fairytale physics (Baggot, 2013).

Physical realism repeatedly fails experimental test but is accepted because the alternative is seen as a return to medieval superstitions. Physics prefers a fairytale that supports its equations over those that don’t, but the way of science is not to believe in fairytales at all. The fault isn’t the physics equations that work but the fantasy that physical realism has spun around them.

Physical realism remains because students of physics think that science requires physical realism and students of science think physics requires physical realism, but neither is in fact true:

a. Physicists think that science requires physical realism but an evidence-based study of reality doesn’t need it at all, as physical realism is just another theory of science.

b. Scientists think that physics requires physical causes but this isn’t true either, as quantum theory uses non-physical quantum waves to predict physical events.

The laws of physics work just as well or better if the quantum world is real and scientific realism still applies if the world out there is a quantum reality. It follows that physical realism is the unneeded third man between lawful physics and scientific realism, that adds no value and wastes resources, as the following story illustrates:

A father and son would meet to discuss the meaning of life over a meal. Each time they were joined by a third man who ate most of the food, dominated the conversation and left when the bill arrived so he paid nothing. One day the son said “Your friend eats a lot and never pays!” to which the father replied “He’s not my friend, I thought he was yours!”.

The third man was able to dine because both father and son thought he was the other’s friend. In the same way, physical realism is neither a friend of physics or science. It is an impostor that fails to deliver when the reality check arrives, so physics and science are both better off without it.


QR6.1.3 Current Theories

The scientific approach to a fact is to explain it, not to ignore or dismiss it, so accepting the first fact makes consciousness a valid subject for science. The question the hard problem raises is:

“Why does conscious experience exist?” (Chalmers, 1996)(p5)

Those who argue that the universe is a machine so consciousness can’t exist must also agree that they are machines, so why should we listen only to them? A detailed review of theories on consciousness divides them exhaustively into six categories A-F (Chalmers, 2003):

A. Materialism-A. Consciousness doesn’t exist except as an imagined effect of the physical brain (Dennett, 1991). If physical causes explain everything, there is nothing beyond the physical brain that needs explaining, so the hard problem doesn’t exist.
B. Materialism-B. Consciousness exists but is identical to certain physical brain states for all practical purposes (Block & Stalnaker, 1999). If consciousness equates to physical states, the hard problem is solved.
C. Materialism-C. Consciousness exists but is a physical derivative of the brain in theory (Nagel, 1974) (Edelman, 2003). If physical causes explain everything, they will one day explain consciousness so the hard problem will be solved, eventually.
The above theories argue that consciousness arises from a physical process because physical realism is correct. Yet it isn’t easy to argue that the observer experience is imaginary (A) or that it equates to matter states (B), so most believers in physical realism are left hoping that a miracle will one-day derive consciousness from matter.
D. Dualism-D. Consciousness exists by itself to cause physical events and physical events in turn cause consciousness (Stapp, 1993). If consciousness exists apart from matter to explain what it can’t, the hard problem is solved.
E. Dualism-E. Consciousness is a brain by-product that helps survival but doesn’t affect physical reality (Zizzi, 2003). If consciousness is just an epiphenomenon of physical activity, the hard problem is solved.
F. Neutral Monism-F. Consciousness is an intrinsic property of reality just as matter is. If both consciousness and matter have the same primal cause, the hard problem is solved.

These theories argue that consciousness is a non-physical reality. Dualism lets consciousness affect matter from a non-physical realm (D), Dualism-E lets it exist but have no effect on matter, and neutral monism (F) sees both consciousness and matter as derivative, but as Chalmers notes:

No-one has yet developed any sort of detailed theory in this class, and it is not yet clear whether such a theory can be developed.(Chalmers, 2003)

Quantum realism is therefore a neutral monism but first, we consider physical realism.