Abstract Details

The Discovery of Objective Consciousness as a Problem for Physics  Richard Hilbert (Sociology/Anthrpology, Gustavus Adolphus College, Flagstaff, AZ )   P1

Consciousness is conscious. Science is objective. This is a problem for the scientific study of consciousness. What scientists study and discover is presumably exactly as it is, and exactly as it would be, independently of consciousness and the work of scientific discovery. The problem resides in the fact that neither consciousness nor objectivity have been theorized as categories. Social scientists are familiar with how what they study might talk back to them, but they either squander this insight by minimalizing it or they see what they study as mere lay practitioners competitive with science. Natural scientists study the world as an object and are thereby compelled to theorize consciousness as a product of objective non-conscious material which spontaneously turns into consciousness once it is sufficiently complex. Hence electronics and computer algorithms as anticipated artificial consciousness, hence neurons firing in algorithmic ways and ideas about consciousness arising from inside brains. No matter the presumed "seat" of consciousness, nothing can be said about what makes it specifically conscious in the first place. It is difficult to imagine consciousness as a category; it is just as difficult to imagine a universe without consciousness. Yet whatever else is true about Big Bang, it resulted in us, and it resulted in consciousness. In that sense, we are objective, and so is consciousness. There are precedents for pre-life phenomena that prove fortuitous for life as it proceeds later: Photons cannot be light independently of organic living material sensitive to them; otherwise there is nothing special about them or "the range of visible light". Yet they well preceded life in the history of the universe. Moreover, their capacities to pass through certain matter and to change directions as they go also preceded any kind of "usefulness" to living things, which nevertheless make use of them. When people are amazed by eyeballs, which evolutionary theory can easily handle, they seldom think how lucky we are that photons refract like that and can even make an image, without which the objective universe wouldn't have, specifically, appearance. In a course called "Consciousness," I told students about photons and assigned them a paper with the title, "Yeah, But What are Sentons?" The next day I read a lot of interesting papers, including a children's illustrated science book from the distant future. I use the term "photons" as shorthand for everything we know about light, just as I use the term "sentons" as proxy for everything we don't know about consciousness, which is basically everything. To discover sentons would be to discover consciousness even though sentons are not conscious and have nothing to do with consciousness independently of organic life. They are nothing, but when they start crashing into organic material, things start to happen. For various reasons, consciousness studies face problems without remedy in the social sciences and the humanities. The only place for them is physics and its cousins, astro-physics, cosmology, and particle physics.