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 not existing at all, except as a view, and consciousness as an inherent property of quantum reality.

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 smallism, that facts about big things come from facts about small things (Coleman, 2006), can apply to consciousness. If the observer experience began small, like everything else, then macro-consciousness derives from micro-consciousness (Chalmers, 1996) (p305), which makes consciousness 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 matter can observe to how quantum-scale observations became human-scale observations. It replaces the explanatory gap between matter and consciousness with an evolutionary gap between matter-consciousness and human-consciousness. The question isn’t how consciousness was added to matter but how proto-consciousness evolved into human consciousness. This raises the question of how brains evolved?