- Let me begin by nailing my colours to the mast. I count myself a materialist, in the sense that I take consciousness to be a species of brain activity. Having said that, however, it seems to me evident that no description of brain activity of the relevant kind, couched in the currently available languages of physics, physiology, or functional or computational roles, is remotely capable of capturing what is distinctive about consciousness. So glaring, indeed, are the shortcomings of all the reductive programmes currently on offer, that I cannot believe that anyone with a philosophical training, looking dispassionately at these programmes, would take any of them seriously for a moment, were it not for a deep-seated conviction that current physical science has essentially got reality taped, and accordingly, something along the lines of what the reductionists are offering must be correct. To that extent, the very existence of consciousness seems to me to be a standing demonstration of the explanatory limitations of contemporary physical science. On the assumption that some form of materialism is nevertheless true, we have only to introspect in order to recognize that our present understanding of matter is itself radically deficient. Consciousness remains for us, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, what it was for Newton at the dawn of the eighteenth century: an occult power that lies beyond the pool of illumination that physical theory casts on the world we inhabit.
- Having said that, we can only work with what we have. And for all its shortcomings, fundamental physics provides the currently most authoritative overall guide to the material world, which as I conceive it, has consciousness as an integral constituent. It is because material reality, as depicted by modern physics, is quantum-mechanical through and through, that I intend, shortly, to deploy quantum mechanics1 in an analysis of the contents of consciousness.
- In recent years, a number of people have suggested that distinctively quantum-mechanical effects may be implicated in those brain processes that underlie consciousness. Over the past decade, indeed, such speculations (in which I myself have dabbled in the past) have developed into a major academic industry. This chapter, however, is not intended as a contribution to that industry. My own starting point is the more modest thought that the difficulty we have in integrating mind into our overall world-view may in part be due to the lack of fit between the concepts we bring to bear on our own and others' inner lives, and those that we customarily apply to the material world. Specifically, I suggest that, rather than trying to make do with the conceptual currency of everyday discourse, philosophers of mind should avail themselves of the more finely honed concepts that modern physics has developed, for the purpose of rendering natural phenomena susceptible of illuminating mathematical analysis.
- The Mind as a Physical System
… Fig. 16.1: Harmonic Oscillator
- Consciousness and Qualitative Content
- The Concept of an Observable
- Qualia and Quantum Physics
- Slices of Reality
- Local Algebras and the Specious Present
- Branching Out
Part Four: Quantum Mechanics2 and Consciousness, Chapter 16
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)