Part 3 – Gödel, Self-Knowledge & Magic Mushrooms – Transcending Stuff to Know Stuff
Can stepping out of reductionist materialism shed some new light on the hard problem of consciousness and the measurement problem? How can Gödel's way of thinking help us see the material world in a different way – as a subset of a larger system of knowledge, one which includes the subject of experience in it?
* Reductionism vs Holism
* Emergence, reductionism, holism and separability
* Inadequate use of the term "emergence"
* 1st person and 3rd person perspective
* Materialism as a subset of a more encompassing system of knowledge
* Reductionist materialism: emphasis on quantification, fragmentation, separability, reduction
* Wholeness as primary
* Qualia as primary
* Consciousness, subjectivity, matter
* The Hard Problem of Consciousness
* Integrated experience vs fragmented view
* Reductionist approach: physics, chemistry, biology, inner experience
* Quantum Physics: the observer, the participator
* John Wheeler's Participatory Universe
* David Bohm: Wholeness Primary
* The Measurement Problem
* Does consciousness cause the collapse of the wave function?
* New research and theoretical work (consciousness and collapse): Dean Radin, David Chalmers, Kelvin McQueen
* Nature and self-reference. Embracing paradox
“Ultimately, the entire universe (with all its 'particles,' including those constituting human beings, their laboratories, observing instruments, etc) has to be understood as a single undivided whole, in which analysis into separately and independently existent parts has no fundamental status." ~ David Bohm
Something very important comes to mind here… This holistic view of reality is in stark contrast to reductionism, since one can never hope to satisfactorily explain a system from the perspective of a lower level without using concepts such as that of emergence, that is, almost magical, unpredictable and unexplainable elements of reality, properties or laws which suddenly seem to appear out of nowhere when one tries to explain the wholeness of existence – including its qualitative ingredients – from the perspective of its most fragmented parts.
Using Gödel’s ideas as an analogy, it is only from the higher level perspective that we can shed more light on those unprovable truths. It is a fact that – from the point of view of the fragmented parts – certain elements of reality may simply have to be postulated, without explanation. By modelling the world from the limited perspective of the lower levels, it is inevitable that unexplainable and unpredictable elements or properties are going to appear, are going to emerge, seemingly out of nowhere. This is precisely what happens in Flatland when the 3D sphere goes through a two-dimensional plane, the only plane of existence Flatlanders have ever known. To their astonishment, a series of concentric circles seem to appear out of nowhere.
At this point I would like to clarify something. The concept of emergence, when one actually uses the term properly, can almost be defined as the opposite of reduction, while the term holism can be defined as the opposite of separability. The truth is that these concepts are often misunderstood and therefore misused.
I would like to emphasise that my criticism here is mostly aimed at the popular and inadequate use of the concept of emergence, which has become a buzzword used by many who still cling onto a reductionist world view. The term emergence is often used loosely by scientists who still see reality as being built from separate parts assembled from the bottom up, and that – after a certain level of complexity has been reached – suddenly new properties emerge in the system which were not there before and which cannot be deduced or predicted from the interaction of its low-level parts. Emergence in this case smells of magic. I’ll give you an example: a reductionist scientist will tell you things such as… “If you have a sufficiently complex system of neurons, consciousness then emerges. There is no mystery; consciousness is simply an emergent property of matter and its physical interactions. We don’t understand the mechanism yet but it is just a question of time until neuroscience figures it out”.
Misused in this manner, emergence simply becomes a fancy word to paper over the cracks, ultimately an euphemism for “magical creation”, as we persist in trying to describe the Universe using a reductionist approach. However, turns out that, when used in the true philosophical sense of the word, at the core, emergentism actually implies holism, since it is related to irreducibility; that is, what we call emergent properties or emergent entities are in fact not reducible, they do not emerge out of the system’s parts, but in fact can only be understood by adopting the perspective of the whole integrated system while seeing the whole as primary, more fundamental than the parts.
Let’s expand on the previous example to illustrate what I am trying to get at: think of the idea of emergence, as related to the hard problem of consciousness. Take the concept of qualia for instance; what an experience feels like subjectively – think of the experience you have at a particular moment: you experience sound, taste, colour… The way I see it, reductionist materialism is attempting the impossible job. It is not that the subjective inner experience of colour, taste and sound suddenly emerges from matter after a certain level of complexity has been reached. The truly holistic view would be to see our qualitative inner experience as the whole system, as an integrated, non-separable whole, while viewing inert matter and its interactions merely as a partial representation of the system when it is being conceptualised through a particular lens, one that focuses on form and fragmentation.
The holistic view would be to see that all the so-called emergent properties (such as wetness, colour, sound, pain and so on) aren’t unexpected at all but that they were in fact already there all along from the start, that they were our primary experiential data, the integrated experience from which we created the fragmented abstraction which we call the material world. The world of inner experience is only unexpected and unexplainable from the limited perspective of reductionist materialism. Conscious experience is the whole system. Third person perspective material interactions correlated to that experience (e.g. the neural correlates in the brain) are simply a partial, fragmented representation of the system; a lower level map, if you will.
1st person inner experience does not and cannot physically emerge from inert matter (in other words, subjectivity is not and cannot be caused by material interactions). Furthermore, there is correlation not causation between matter and subjective experience; matter does not cause consciousness and consciousness does not cause matter – they are not separate substances – although we can certainly say that the experience of matter arises in consciousness. As for reductionist materialism, it is a fragmented, a limited map of experience itself, when separateness, quantification and reduction are used as our methods of understanding our experience of the world.
What if the primary ingredients of reality are in fact qualitative (experiential, subjective)? The taste of chocolate, the colour of a flower, the wetness of water, the warmth of a kiss… These are our starting points – the elements of our inner experience (otherwise known as qualia) – as experienced in consciousness, the primary datum of our existence. Describing the world in terms of inert matter, of physical interactions between subatomic particles (then atoms, molecules, neurons, etc) is obviously an incomplete, partial representation; a somewhat useful map, yes, but just a particular way to describe the world through its parts, from the bottom up, as viewed from the third person perspective.
“A moderately satisfying picture of the world has only been reached at the high price of taking ourselves out of the picture, stepping back into the role of a non-concerned observer.” ~ Erwin Schrodinger
Our physicalist description of the world excluded the subject of experience from the start – deliberately, by convention! In an attempt to get rid of Cartesian dualism, we removed qualia, subjectivity, mind from our maps of the world. Materialism and objective science were born. But now, turns out that when using these maps, mind and consciousness seem utterly inexplicable… How on earth can something as immaterial as consciousness be produced by something as physical as matter, we ask? There is a clear ontological gap: there is no way to extract qualitative inner experience from inert, objective matter and its physical interactions.
We don't realise that it is precisely because we mistakenly identify reality itself with our highly abstract models, while using one of the blurriest metaphysical lenses – materialism, a sanitised world view which has completely removed the subject of experience from its description of reality – it is only when we mistakenly identify with these lower level map of the world, that the higher level elements – subjective inner experience, qualia, consciousness – seem almost magical, unexpected and unpredictable.
And of course, from the perspective of reductionist materialism, all we can do then is talk about emergence. We don’t realise that the ingredients of sensitive experience, such as the taste of chocolate, the colour of a flower, or the feeling of wetness are in fact more real than our mathematical equations, that they are primary, more fundamental. It is simply not possible to construct the wholeness of qualitative experience out of reality’s quantifiable parts, because these low-level parts are only a partial, fragmented representation of the world we experience. We are so used to the mechanistic way of thinking, that we convince ourselves that certain subjective qualitative elements of reality can be built from the bottom up, simply by adding up a few of its objectified parts, in this case, inert bits of matter.
So… the idea that from physics we can derive chemistry and from chemistry biology and that then from biology, somehow inner experience and consciousness emerge, is utterly flawed. It is not from the fragments that we construct the whole, but from the whole that we can understand and explain the fragments. Reductionism, the idea that we can move from the fragments to the whole and explain all of reality in such a way, from the bottom up, is hence doomed to failure. It may be of course very useful in many contexts, but we need to recognise its limitations. Thinking that every bit of human behaviour can be explained away mechanically by looking at brains as objects, that is, enclosing these brains inside the most restrictive Gödelian spheres of existence, where only dead matter, energy, space and time exist, is simply wishful thinking.
Modern materialism banged its head against the wall (and still does, I must say!) when this problem became blatantly obvious with the discoveries of Quantum Physics.We found out that we cannot explain the Universe in a satisfactory manner without bringing in the concept of the observer; an observer who observes or measures the world, the Universe we are attempting to model.
“We are both onlookers and actors in the great drama of existence.” ~ Niels Bohr
Using Gödel’s ideas as an analogy, we discovered that putting a conceptual circle around inert matter, isolating it and trying to predict its behaviour simply by using the elements acknowledged by the materialistic mind-set – such as matter itself, energy, space and time – will only give us an incomplete representation of reality. We discovered that we need elements outside this circle in order to make sense of what’s going on inside it, we discovered that our map of the world can be successfully refined by simply putting ourselves – the observer – back into the equation.
The observer asks a question to Nature and Nature answers that question by collapsing all possibilities into one. This is what is known as the collapse of the wave function; the so-called measurement problem was born.
Nowadays, quantum physicists call the process of asking a question to Nature and getting a definite answer “observation” or “measurement”. Physicist John Wheeler went as far as calling the observer a “participator”, which in my opinion is a much more adequate term.
"The universe does not exist 'out there', independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators. In some strange sense, this is a participatory universe.” ~ John Archibald Wheeler
Indeed, we are not just observers, but active participators in the way reality is displayed to us. The evidence from quantum physics experiments shows us that the choices made by the experimenter have a very deep impact in the way reality behaves. Even the observer’s choices made in the present can have an influence in how matter or light behaves in the past. For instance, the past trajectory of a particle can in fact remain undefined, undetermined until the observer makes a choice in the present moment, which will then determine what took place in the otherwise undetermined past. In the words of quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger: “We know that it is wrong to assume that the features of a system which we observe exist prior to measurement. What we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision on what to measure; which is a very deep message about the nature of reality and about our role in the Universe. We are not just passive observers looking at the stage and watching things.” It seems that not only we need to question materialism and reductionism, but equally importantly, realism, the idea that reality exists prior or independently of observation. What we perceive as the external world is deeply interconnected to ourselves, the observer, the participator, the subject of experience.
As David Bohm once said “[…] man is a microcosm of the universe; therefore what man is, is a clue to the universe. We are enfolded in the universe.” ~ David Bohm
And I certainly couldn’t agree more with Pauli’s view of the cosmos, deeply influenced by his friendship and collaboration with Carl Jung. In his own words: “It would be most satisfactory of all if physics and psyche could be seen as complimentary aspects of the same reality.” Wolfgang Pauli
But… hold on a second Dolors, you might say, do you actually imply that the consciousness of the experimenter causes the collapse of the wave function? Well, to be perfectly honest, I find this question very misleading – it is not only extremely vague but the question itself seems to imply some sort of causal mechanism. And at this point it seems quite clear to me that any kind of mechanistic explanation we come up with is obviously going to fall very short of explaining the why’s and how’s a realm of fuzzy possibilities gets transformed into an observed actuality. However, adopting the other extreme position, that is, attempting to divorce the subject of experience from the act of measurement is, in my opinion, also a huge mistake. My suspicion is that the Measurement Problem is very much an artefact, not unlike the artefact of the Hard Problem of Consciousness, which in my opinion simply stems from the fact that – despite all the evidence – we are still stuck in an extremely restrictive metaphysical frame of reference, reductionist materialism.
Having said that, there is promising new research and theoretical work being carried out at the moment which supports the view that consciousness might be fundamental; there is not only evidence showing that consciousness plays a very active role in the way the Universe works but there are also plenty of scientists and philosophers working on new theoretical frameworks of reference which include the subject of experience in their description of the world. And of course, in order to do that, these new maps of the world need to start from a set of underlying metaphysical assumptions which are very different than those of materialism. Exciting new ways to model the world, which supersede, which transcend materialism are popping up all over the world; we just need to pay attention.
Examples of Alternative Theoretical Frameworks Today (underlying metaphysics NOT being materialism):
– Donald Hoffman: conscious agents/ physics from consciousness (idealism)
– Giulio Tononi: Integrated Information Theory (panpsychism)
– Tom Campbell: Big TOE, consciousness-driven evolution (idealism)
– Bernardo Kastrup: rigorous new formulation of idealist philosophy
– Roger Penrose & Stuart Hameroff: Orch-OR theory (panpsychism)
– Henry Stapp: quantum interactive dualism
Examples of Researchers finding Results that do Not Fit the Current Materialist Paradigm:
– Stanislav Grof: transpersonal psychology research
– Russell Targ & Harold Puthoff: ESP research
– Helmut Schmidt: ESP research
– Dean Radin: ESP research
– Robert Jahn & Brenda Dunne: ESP research
– Rupert Sheldrake: ESP research
– Roger Nelson: global consciousness (mind-matter interaction)
– Ian Stevenson: reincarnation research
– Sam Parnia: NDE research
– Bruce Greyson: NDE research
– Pim Van Lommel: NDE research
For instance, fascinating experiments have been recently carried out and new ones are being currently proposed to test the relationship between consciousness and the collapse of the wave function:
* David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen: Metaphysics of Consciousness
Thankfully, things are slowly changing although – unfortunately – many mainstream scientists still cringe when one puts consciousness and physics or quantum mechanics in the same sentence… But the truth is that one cannot escape it. Think about it: it is precisely through our own conscious experience that we learn about the world. This is how our systems of knowledge are built. Consciousness, subjective experience… It is the primary datum! We are not only writing equations describing the world around us but we are in fact a huge part of this Universe we are trying to explain. We belong inside the equation! In the words of Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum mechanics:
"Natural science, does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves." ~ Werner Heisenberg
In fact, it might be more accurate to say that we are Nature and that we are – inevitably – a self-referential loop. Yes, paradox will occur in any self-referential system of knowledge, but by continuously widening our sphere of understanding, our perspective, we can at least hope that all the paradoxes we encounter will become a little bit more digestible…. As Kurt Gödel pointed out, we are inevitably compelled to move through a spectrum if we aim to create a more encompassing system of knowledge. We need to learn to embrace paradox, and to continuously look for different perspectives in order to transcend our outdated modes of thinking, so we can gain a better understanding of the Universe we are attempting to explain and what our place in it might be.
Thank you so much for watching. I’d like to finish this series of videos with an account of one of my own experiences of transcendence. I know, I am aware that I have not yet delivered what was promised on the title of this series… Yes, I am talking about the ‘magic mushrooms’ part. This will be the topic of Part 4 and the video should be ready in a few weeks… so stay tuned!
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