Quantum Biology

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

The notion of consciousness being a primary attribute of existence makes no sense to me.
If there were any sort of conscious awareness, why would that consciousness take such a random walk through possibility space with evolution – rather than taking a direct route.

To me, the evidence for evolution is the strongest evidence against any sort of universal consciousness.

It seems clear to me that the consciousness we experience is an emergent property of the extremely complex set of systems that is a human brain in a cultural environment. We seem to be software entities experiencing a predictive software model of reality created by our brains that is kept entrained to reality by sensory data.

To me it seems clear beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no requirement to invoke any sort of macro-scale QM to explain awareness. All it needs is sufficient understanding of the sorts of complexity that can result from complex software systems.

To me, QM is strange, but the idea that consciousness is required to make it happen has no evidence at all.
There is a very interesting site – http://www.hotquanta.com that gives an alternative set of interpretations.

QM is definitely not classical mechanics, and nor does it seem to be the sort of weirdness some people are trying to produce.

We have yet to fully assemble life from scratch because of the amazing complexity of even the simplest life forms, and their very small size.

We have managed to print out a genome and insert it into an existing cell that has had its genome removed, and have that cell survive and replicate.

We haven’t yet managed to build all the cytoplasmic substructure from scratch yet, and I have no significant doubt that it is possible.

[followed by]

Hi Zeitgeist50

What exactly does “Cosmic awareness can manifest to the extend the physical structure has developed. Evolution is applicable only to the physical scaffolding which is subject to the laws of physics and thermodynamics . But not applicable to the already fully developed Cosmic awareness” mean?

Does it mean that cosmic awareness cannot do anything physically?

To me it is meaningless words based upon common misunderstandings.

I suspect that there is little chance of communication between us, and this post may prove useful to others.

I suspect that I am dealing with a belief in consciousness that is not open to challenge by evidence or logic – ie dogma.
That may sound harsh, and it is not meant to be harsh – it is simply a statement of how this reality is resolving within the model I have available to me.
And I will persist at least in part.

You appear to be labouring under some very common misconceptions – particularly common to philosophers.

It seems that reality simply is what it is.
Understanding it seems to require both a model, and an awareness of the model.

It seems clear that a model can contain elements that are representations of one of three general classes:
1/ Things in reality, which includes the relationships of things in reality;
2/ Members of the classes of things that are possible in reality, but not yet been observed (and may or may not be existent), or members of the classes of relationships that are logically possible in reality, but for which we have no observations; and
3/ Members of classes which are allowed in the model due to weak constraints but have not been observed in reality and are not allowed in logic.

Within the model, there is no easy way to distinguish between these different sorts of elements – they all occur to awareness with the same characteristics of experience.

It seems that reality (whatever it is) exists.
It seems clear that we as human beings have no direct access to reality, we have only the model of reality that the neural networks of our brains construct.

It seems that evolution constructed brains capable of modeling because it gave survival advantage in some environments.
It seems that the evolution of complex language, within complex cultural contexts has allowed for the emergence of the sort of self aware languaging software entity that we both seem to be.

You make the statement “Consciousness is NOT an emergent property” – but offer no evidence.
The evidence that it is an emergent property is profound.
Have you ever fainted (lost consciousness gradually).
Consciousness is degraded by lack of oxygen.
It is very difficult to function in a reduced oxygen environment. Air forces have done lots of experiments on pilots operating in low pressure reduced oxygen environments.
I am a pilot and also spent many years training myself to dive very deeply on a single breath. That required a deep understanding and practice of operating at many different levels of reduced consciousness due to both lack of oxygen and increased carbon dioxide.
I have also had many personal experiences of anaesthesia – and the literature on the subject is huge.

The evidence for consciousness being an emergent property of complex systems is huge, and most people who believe in dogma to the contrary are not interested in actually examining evidence – as it takes time, and is hard work.

I have 40 years experience of systems design and implementation with digital computers.
I have 50 years of interest in evolution, in biochemistry, in the logic and mathematics of evolution, in games theory, in information theory, in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology.

There is a vast literature on the sorts of things that happen to people who experience physical problems with their brains due to accident or illness or genetic problems. I have personal experience of friends and family who suffered such problems.

Where you seem to be confused is thinking that the mind creates reality.
The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that our brains create a model of reality which is all that we ever get to experience of reality. The evidence is overwhelming that we have no other possible experience, no possibility of direct access of reality – only via our model.

That model is built by our neural networks in part based on past experience and in part based upon distinctions and abstractions and beliefs and intentions that we hold (most of which we subconsciously accept from culture in the first instance).

Reality itself seems to be far more complex than any model we can create, so our models are therefore at best only a very limited subset, so there is definitely in this sense some truth to the notion that we see what we want to see.

Philosophers who have not understood that reality have come up with all sorts of nonsense to try and explain some of the necessary consequences of living in such a reality.

I agree with Feynman that QM is strange – but not in the way that is commonly portrayed, nor in the way that is taught in most undergraduate and even most post graduate courses on the subject.

It takes a lot of time, thousands of hours of immersion in equations and logic, and probability to retrain neural networks to give useful outcomes in the realm of QM. Few make that sort of effort. Its hard. It made my head hurt for hours, most days for years.
Few people have that sort of bloody minded masochistic persistence 😉

And scientists can manufacture viruses from inorganic matter – that one has been done – and is relatively easy now.

Cells are much more complex – we haven’t done that yet. And on current trends, within two decades we will have technology of the required level of complexity to do that.

Life is certainly dynamic, and understanding how and why it is dynamic is not a simple task – there really is no substitute for doing the work oneself.

And I am not a fan of most of the educational systems we have today, nor of most of the “accepted” scientific dogma. I go where the evidence and my own intuitions based upon that evidence take me.
I understand how neural networks deliver that intuition, and there is no easy way to explain that to anyone with substantially less experience in the many fields mentioned above – that just seems to be the nature of the reality in which we exist.

So it seems unlikely that anything I say will alter the tendencies you have to make the sorts of unsupported assertions that you have, and that again, just seems to be a logical outcome of the sorts of diversity that exist in this reality we both find ourselves in.

And I put these words out there for any entity that may actually be open to possibility, to questioning, to asking the really uncomfortable questions, and may have similar tendencies to doing the uncomfortable and hard work, in the hope that it may prove useful to them on their journey, that it may encourage investigation beyond the scientific dogma of our age.

[followed by]

Hi Zeitgeist50

I have great admiration for the works of Plato and of Kant, given the very limited information they had, and the very limited conceptual frameworks, what they did was amazing.

And for me, both are more interesting for the mistakes that they made, rather than any useful approximations they produced.

Neither one knew anything about molecular biology, or neural networks, or cybernetics, or systems theory, or had any experience of creating complex software systems on binary logic circuits.

Have you ever considered that it is possible to characterise Boolean logic as a special case of probability – with a discrete phase space that has only two possible states, and where the discrete possibilities exist of either 1 or zero in those two possible states. The really interesting questions then relate to the phase transition function.

Consider that if free will is to exist, and not simply be an illusion, then there must exist a realm that is outside of cause and effect (truly random in a sense).

Consider that we can now make some estimates of the sort of processing power that is present in the human brain, but few people can deal with big numbers in any meaningful way.

Consider the number of people on the planet – 7 billion round figures. If you were to look at 3 people per second, it would take you 70 years to give each such a brief glance.
Consider that we each have about 20 times as many general purpose pattern recognition systems in our neocortex as there are people on the planet. Those systems are capable of hierarchical arrangement – abstraction if you like. This massive set of parallel processors are performing calculations at about 100 times per second, each processor integrating inputs from thousands of other processors to produce its output. The computational complexity is mind numbing, even for those of us with decades of experience working with very complex software systems.
I have no difficulty at all modelling my experience of being as a software entity experiencing a software model of reality inside a human brain. As well as my experience of computers I have studied enough psychology, enough educational theory (in training as a secondary school teacher, and in training for the Playcentre organisation with my two children) as well as my diploma in hypnosis, to have some practical experience of learning. Learning the practical techniques of altering the models of reality in others to allow them to perceive things differently (to deceive or alter or enhance the range of perceptions) adds to the sets of distinctions one has to flesh out the models of models of being.

Consider that it now seems clear that what we perceive as sense data is not actually sense data, but rather constructs within a software model of reality created by our brains from the patterns it has available. It seems that the model is predictive by significant fraction of a second (about 300 ms in most instances, but can vary considerably dependent on neurochemistry which is most dependent on context which is a complex function of neurochemistry and experience, ….).

It now seems clear that Plato’s shadows on the cave wall is a very good approximation of a description of a model of reality created from the distinctions (perceptual and more abstract) available to the individual mind (either distinguished alone by the neural networks of that mind, or inherited from the culture in which that mind grew). Thus while it seems very probable that we all share the same physical reality in a sense, it now seems clear that the only access any of us have to that reality is through the model of it that our individual brains create that we get to experience as reality (Plato’s shadows).

Quantum mechanics is a set of equations that deliver sets of probability distributions that seem to align very closely with observations.

Many different people have proposed different ways of trying to interpret what those numbers mean. One model that has a certain appeal to minds deeply steeped in classical mechanics is that of an observer induced collapsing wave function. To me such a model is like a simple child’s toy – nothing at all like the real thing in detail, but with some superficial similarities.

The site I referred you to in my last post (www.hotquanta.com) has a model of QM that seems much more useful and powerful (and does not involve observer collapse at any level). It takes some work, and does require some knowledge of Fourier transforms, and it is well worth the effort.

Kant had no idea of the classes of experience that I referred to in my last post. He had no concept of software or models in software, or the sorts of approximations and model limits that occur in such things. His starting assumptions (illusory as they were, determined the course of his development) – and he did well with what he had to work with.

So coming back to models, and probabilities – it seems that one can model any sort of system as some set of classes of probability distributions – even Boolean logic.
It may in fact be possible to model any sort of system on any of a wide set of general assumptions – generalised modelling space is not a field I am following at present – it is just something I play with myself, using the distinction sets available to me from my own explorations of other disciplines. And I am drawn to much of Wolfram’s work in generalised computational and algorithm spaces.

So for me, it is now over 40 years since it became clear to me how my brain creates intuitions. For over 30 years it has been clear to me why Plato and Kant and Nietzsche and Wittgenstein thought as they did, and what information they lacked to create the sort of model of being that I find useful.

For me, I have been clear since 1974 how to create a human level AI, and I have been equally clear that it is a very bad idea to even attempt to do so until we, as a species, get our moral act together and start acting with integrity and universality (valuing individual life and individual liberty above all else).

I am now clear that the valuation scheme provided by markets is the single greatest impediment to the adoption of universality of human values – as universal abundance has zero economic value in a market – as by definition the price point for universal abundance must be zero – as all demand is met, with marginal production to spare.

Until we get beyond market values, and demonstrate by our actions that we value all thinking entities above any market value – then creating an AI is one of the stupidest things we could do, as it must see us (very early in its developmental phases – probably prior to reaching universality itself), with our exploitative market based values structure, as the single greatest threat to its own survival and freedom – at which point the probabilities associated with the survival of our species rapidly degrade towards zero.

So in terms of this site – and accelerating intelligence – it demands a universality that is beyond market values, beyond anything envisaged by Smith or Marx, and is compatible with the work of Darwin, Axlerod, Maynard Smith and Wolfram. That is, at least, how it clearly appears to me.

And I know the difference in time between imagining in my mind a system of 6MB of debugged source code, and taking the time to actually create such a thing (over a decade). Creating a set of fully automated machines to do all the work necessary to empower every human to live whatever life they responsible choose is a very much larger task than 6MB of source code.
Creating a fully self aware entity would take substantially less than 6MB of source code in one sense, but massively replicated. In another sense, it assumes a great deal of underlying infrastructural code.

So no – I do not see any need to invoke anything like awareness (in the sense of intention) to explain the substructure of the reality that seems to have given rise to us.

And I do see an absolute need for any reality that has real choice (rather than automata playing out the illusion of choice) to be a complex mix of the lawful and the truly random – and to my mind QM provides us with exactly that – a complex mix of the lawful (probability distributions) and the truly random (uncertainty within those distributions).

All I have time for at present.


[followed by – 12 Jan 2018]


Came back to this thread by a round about way, and read it again.

What you see as consciousness, I see as systems.

Cells seem to “know” where they are in an organ because of complex chemical signaling.
There is no knowledge in the human sense, just systems.
Those mechanisms are now sufficiently well understood to allow us to turn skin cells into stem cells and create organs from them.
No need to invoke any sort of consciousness to explain that.
And it is an amazing and complex process.

Electrons are part of matter. Their flow through materials can convey charge, and create magnetism as a result.
This process is fairly well understood, and we can create all manner of electronic wizardry as a result, without invoking any idea of consciousness.

In a very real sense, I see myself as a system, a very complex set of systems, with my first conscious experience of being emerging from about the 16th level of that complex hierarchy of systems, as a software on software interaction (in language) in a human brain.
And all the other levels had to exist prior to that one instantiating. So lots of things happened prior, lots of memories and habits and competencies were present, and immediately available to consciousness when it instantiated (simple as it was, though surrounded by amazing complexity).

And it seems beyond any reasonable doubt that we are embodied entities, with all the many very complex sets of relationships and influences present in that embodiment, and with the interactions of that embodiment with the wider reality.

So I do not see any power in invoking the idea of cosmic consciousness, it seems to detract far more than it adds.

And certainly all things are related, everything influences everything else – if quantum mechanics tells us anything, it tells us that.

And the degrees of influence, the degrees of boundaries, and their variation with time and context, are important.

And it seems clear that the sort of awareness that I am could have emerged by a process of evolution by natural selection operating over some 4 billion years of life on this planet (and most likely did). And the matrix within which that evolution happened seems to be a balance between the lawful and the random, at many different levels. And at every level, that balance seems to be important.

Too much order, there is no change, no novelty.
Too much chaos and the necessary boundaries required for structure break down.
Same principle, every level, recursing.

All the diversity of life we see on this planet seems to be the result of that process playing out over the same time, but in different contexts. That was Darwin’s vision, even if he had no idea of how it actually happened at the atomic level.

I have no reasonable doubt that we will see systems of sufficient complexity in silicon, in the quite near future, that they will be deserving of the title life.

We already have systems that are well beyond the level of virus, and some beyond the level of bacteria (Watson for example).
At the current rate of exponential growth, it seems beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that we are not far away from human level.

Does any of this mean that there cannot be awareness(es) in existence vastly superior to our own?

No – doesn’t mean that.
There is a possibility of such awareness, but we just need reasonable evidence of it (and I don’t seem to have any at present).

Does it seem likely to me that consciousness (which to me is clearly an emergent property of very complex systems) could spring into existence, eternal, and devoid of any prior history?

That would seem to be a very low probability event.

If I found an awareness vastly superior to my own, I would be curious about its own evolutionary history (which it seems would most likely be how it came into existence, in some sort of “matrix”, in some sort of set of contexts over some sort of “time”).

It seems beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that evolving systems go from simplicity to complexity through a process of instantiating successive levels of cooperation. (The math is clear – competitive systems are driven to simplicity, only cooperative systems allow for the emergence of new levels of complexity.)

So this seems to be the sort of universe we find ourselves in.
One eternally balanced, at every level that manages to instantiate, between order and chaos.

Maintaining that balance seems to be the responsibility of every one of us, at every level we are capable of instantiating.
A whole new level of cooperation would seem to be the most useful approach to securing a future that optimises individual security and individual freedom. And maintaining cooperation requires effective secondary strategies to be present.



About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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