Excerpts from: "Conversations on Consciousness"

A few highlights from a recent highly-recommended read, Conversations on Consciousness:

 

Richard Gregory, British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol.

And do you ponder about other big questions like the meaning of life or what happens when you die?

Oh I think one just snuffs out. And I don’t think life has a meaning beyond what we put into it. It’s like vision. I mean one not only projects colors onto objects – they’re not, of course, themselves colored – one also projects meaning onto things. If you look at a painting, the viewer is projecting his own meaning into the paint, whatever the artist wants.

The other big question is what consciousness does. I don’t think it’s uniquely human.

… it’s very much associated with the present moment.

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When you’re perceiving things, the brain has a vast amount of processing going on from the past.

… I see that {item} as a real object, not just because I’ve got a retinal image and a bunch of signals going into the cortex, but because it’s evoking all this from the past. Now it seems to me that you’ve got to live in the present moment; you’ve got to survive crossing the road. So it really matters that the traffic light is red or green now, at this moment in time.

Qualia

So are you saying then that the function of consciousness is to discriminate the past and the future from what’s now, and requires action?

Yes, absolutely.

Stuart Hameroff, anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Arizona known for his studies of consciousness.

You want to know what my answer to the hard problem is?

Yes.

… I think there are basically two types of explanations for qualia, for conscious experience.

  1. ... emergence; that is, (paraphrased) out of complex information processing a new property emerges at some higher level. (“properties that emerge from a higher order”). I question emergence. I think we need something else.
  2. The other way of looking at it is that consciousness, or perhaps something proto-conscious, is fundamental to the universe; it’s part of our reality, much like spin, or mass, or charge. There are certain irreducible things in physics that you just have to say ‘they’re there’ and consciousness is like that. (Chalmers) said that consciousness must involve something fundamental something that’s intrinsic to the universe, and I agree with that.

I think that qualia, if they are fundamental, must exist at the fundamental level of the universe, the lowest level of reality that exists. In modern physics that’s best described at the Planck scale, the level at which space-time geometry is no longer smooth but quantized. When you go down in scale, you get to this level of space-time where there is a granularity, and that’s the fundamental level. It is at that level where we think qualia are embedded as patterns in this fundamental granularity of space-time geometry that makes up the universe.