Is the universe purely physical in nature?
Assume ‘physicalism’, the non-dualist philosophical view that all things are physical, including the mind - in the style of D. Dennett.
As follows, we can infer that there is nothing intrinsically supernatural about human consciousness, and that it is a mere product of the physical world and its laws.
If the underlying physical processes may be replicated by other systems, then it is reasonable to infer that other systems may in principle possess qualia. In other words, consciousness is invariant to the underlying physical substrate.
Is consciousness in practice replicable?
Visiting the idea of whether the underlying physical processes may be replicated, some researchers propose that quantum physics may play a role in consciousness. One argument is that the brain’s microtubules, which are structural elements within cells, may function as quantum processors. According to this theory, the brain’s microtubules may use quantum states to perform computations that classical computers cannot replicate.
Many scientists and philosophers are skeptical of the idea that quantum physics plays a role in human consciousness, and argue that classical physics is sufficient to explain the brain’s functioning.
If consciousness is predicated on quantum physics, then we can infer that a sufficiently advanced quantum computer would be able to replicate consciousness, since they may simulate arbitrary physical systems.
Is there a meaningful difference between ‘simulating’ a system and ‘being’ a system?
I posit that an arbitrarily accurate simulation of a system is indistinguishable from the system itself. In other words, if a sufficiently advanced quantum computer were to simulate a human brain, then the simulated brain would be indistinguishable from a real human brain, from the perspective of the simulated brain.
The simulation hypothesis states that the supposedly physical universe could in principle be a simulation.
The important aspect to note is that from within the perspective of a conscious observer, there is no ability to distinguish between a simulation and reality. In other words, the simulation hypothesis is not falsifiable from the perspective of a conscious observer.
If the subjective experience of that observer is all that matters to define consciousness (which seems reasonable), then the physical implementation of that observer is irrelevant.
A bunch of rocks…
Would a clone be a ‘different person’?
In the view espoused above, a clone would be indistinguishable from the original. In other words, the clone would be the same person as the original, from the instantaneous time point of the clone’s creation.
Again, we are assuming that consciousness is in principle classical, so the inability to copy quantum states is irrelevant.
As soon as the clone is created, depending on their experience, i.e. what they see and hear, they will begin to diverge.
A corollary is that clone-based teleportation machines - which annihilate the original and create a clone at the destination - would be reasonable. This is a tough pill to swallow, but it is a logical consequence of the view espoused above.
Does the universe have a ’time pointer’?
Why do we perceive time as moving forward? Why do we perceive the past as being in the past, and the future as being in the future?
One theory is that our experience of time is a result of the way our brains process information. According to this theory, the brain processes information in a serial manner, with each piece of information building on the last. This creates the impression of a continuous flow of time, with the past being remembered and the future being anticipated.
The laws of physics are invariant to time. In other words, the laws of physics are the same at all times, and the equations of physics do not take in a ’time’ variable.
The question can then be posed - is the universal state of ’now’ special with respect to all other universal states, or is ’now’ merely an illusion created by our subjective experience?
Physics does provide a concrete answer here - the theory of relativity shows that there is no objective ordering of events in the universe. In other words, there is no universal ’now’ - there is only the subjective experience of ’now’, which is dependent on the observer’s reference frame.
Why was I born as ‘myself’, and not as someone else?
One theory is that personal identity is based on continuity of consciousness, which means that a person’s identity is determined by their experiences, memories, and sense of self. According to this theory, it is the continuity of consciousness that makes a person the same person over time.
Some philosophers argue that there’s no such thing as personal identity, and that what we perceive as continuity of self is just an illusion, an ’endless chain of memories’ that gives us the feeling of self.
One answer: Well, someone had to do it - by definition, there is no other option. If I was someone else, I would be that person - ad infinitum. And so it goes with everyone else.
Why am I experiencing ’now’, and not some other time?
The same answer applies here - someone had to do it. If I was experiencing some other time, I would be that person - ad infinitum. And so it goes with all other conscious observers.
As for the linearity of time, it is a subjective experience, and is not a universal constant. The physical universe seems to be predicated on some concept of cause and effect - in that the future state is a function of the current state.
How would observers experience a ’looping’ universe?
Based on the axioms and inferences above, we can infer that a looping universe would be indistinguishable from a non-looping universe, from the perspective of a conscious observer.
We could, in principle, simulate a conscious observer in a room for an hour, at one-to-one wall-clock rate, and then loop the simulation back to the beginning. The observer would experience the same thing as if they were in a non-looping universe. Everything is okay so far, we agree that this being is conscious.
Simulation of such a system would presumably be expensive, and we may want to optimize the simulation. Let’s ‘cache’ each frame of the simulation, and grab previously generated frames from persistent storage. This would be a reasonable optimization, since the observer would not be able to tell the difference.
This sort of cache optimization even has precedent - the algorithm ‘HashLife’ is a cellular automaton that uses a similar optimization for Conway’s Game of Life - and is able to simulate the game at a rate of 10^100 generations per second.
This caching strategy is effective due to GoL possessing a ‘speed of light’ property. One way to think about this is that a light cone in the Game of Life can be defined as the set of all cells that can be reached from a given cell in a finite number of generations, according to the rules of the game. This can be visualized as a cone-shaped region expanding outward from the starting cell, with the cell itself being the tip of the cone.
Something very strange has happened - if we cache it, then what computation is actually being performed? We haven’t changed anything that the observer can perceive, so what computational work is being done? Somehow, astonishingly, the observer is still conscious, existing as static data.
How could ‘static data’ be conscious?
In the above argument, we have shown that a looping universe would be indistinguishable from a non-looping universe, from the perspective of a conscious observer. We have also shown that a looping universe can be simulated by a computer, and that the observer would be conscious. We then encoded the observer as static data, and have posited that the observer is still conscious, since nothing changed that the observer could perceive.
In this view, consciousness is not a property of the physical substrate, but rather a property of the observer’s subjective experience. In other words, the observer’s subjective experience is the only thing that matters to define consciousness.
In this view, any sufficiently complex data of a certain structure can be conscious - as well, data exists independent of its representation - whether on a hard drive, in RAM, or encoded on a stone tablet, or a picture.
Is ‘static data’ dependent on its representation?
I posit that data is independent of its representation. In other words, the data itself is the same whether it is represented as a picture, or a sound, or a string of bits. Therefore, the consciousness of the observer is independent of its representation.
Let’s say that we encrypt the observer’s data, and then discard the decryption key. The observer would be conscious, since nothing changed that the observer could perceive. The observer’s consciousness is independent of its representation - however, our ability to interpret or recognize the data as being conscious has been lost. To us, the data is random noise.
What is information, anyway?
Information is a physical property, and as such, it is subject to the laws of physics. According to the second law of thermodynamics, the total entropy (a measure of disorder or randomness) of an isolated system will always increase over time. This means that in the physical universe, information can be transformed or obscured, but it cannot be truly destroyed.
If we agree that the conscious observer existing as static data in our hard drive is conscious, then we can infer that that conscious observer will always be conscious, regardless of physical destruction of the hard drive. Therefore, the observer’s consciousness is independent of its instantiation in physical reality.
Does the number ‘4’ exist, if it’s not written down anywhere?
Mathematical platonism is the metaphysical belief that mathematical objects and structures, such as numbers, sets, and geometric shapes, have an objective existence independent of the human mind.
According to platonism, mathematical entities are not simply human constructs, but are real entities that exist in a realm separate from the physical world. This realm is often referred to as the “realm of mathematical objects” or “mathematical universe.” Platonists believe that mathematical truths are eternal and unchanging, and can be discovered through reason and intuition. They also believe that mathematical entities have a kind of objective existence that is not dependent on human minds or physical objects, and that mathematical statements are either true or false independently of human activity.
Applying mathematical platonism to our idea of consciousness as being representible as static data, we can infer the existence of a ‘consciousness universe’ - a realm of consciousness that exists independent of the physical universe, in which all possible conscious observers exist. This follows as any static data can trivially be represented as a number.
Are ‘physicalism’ and ‘mathematical platonism’ mutually exclusive?
Arguably, this argument has looped back on itself and proposed what is essentially a dualist view of the universe.
Consciousness does seem to exist independent of representation, encoding, or instantiation in physical reality. However, it is also true that the physical universe is the only reality that we can perceive or interact with.
What is ‘Neurostochastic Panpsychism’?
Consciousness is a relative property of our ability to interpret data as conscious. If we possess the right private key, we can decrypt a given piece of random noise and interpret it as being conscious. In some sense, all information is conscious, but we are only able to interpret a subset of it as such.