QR6.1.8 Neutral Monism

 Chalmer’s last option is neutral monism, that a primal reality causes both the conscious mind and the matter it observes, as 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)

In quantum realism, the “common ancestor” behind the matter we observe and the mind that observes it is quantum reality. If physical reality is virtual, observation must exist from the start but what was observed? The answer is not much in our terms at least. A universe that began as a photon plasma has only photon events that occur on the smallest possible distance and time scale (Note 1). Needless to say, that isn’t much of an observation in our terms.

Yet it is just a difference of scale. Nagel imagined what it is like to be a bat (Nagel, 1974) but what it is like to be a photon? Observation can exist from the start if photons observe on their scale. I see a chair that an ant can’t see because it observes on a tiny scale. If everything observes, consciousness as the ability to observe existed from the beginning 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 to have the property of consciousness, but if matter doesn’t exist at all, it can’t have that property. In Part I, matter properties, like mass, charge and spin derive from 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 the facts about big things come from facts about small things (Coleman, 2006), can apply to consciousness too. If the observer experience began small, like everything else, then macro-consciousness derives from micro-consciousness (Chalmers, 1996) (p305). The ability to observe isn’t a miracle if it was always there, albeit not as we know it.

That consciousness started small answers another question, that if everything is a player in a virtual universe, isn’t it 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 dead matter can observe to how proto-consciousness evolved into our consciousness. It replaces the explanatory gap between matter and consciousness with an evolutionary gap between the consciousness of atoms and of us. The question isn’t how consciousness was added to matter but how it evolved from matter, raising the question of how brains evolved?

Note 1. The smallest possible distance and time is 10-35meters and 10-43seconds, which is unbelievably short and brief to us