Philosophy physics

Is Consciousness Inevitable ?

The arrival of conscious observers in the Universe is not so much a miraculous surprise as a probabilistic inevitability hard-coded into the symmetries and logic of matter and physics.

Is information actually information without an observer to differentiate, measure and acknowledge that fact? One of the great conundrums of subatomic physics has been that of the role of an observer (or of observation-like events) in the collapse of the probability wave associated with matter into an incomplete or partially-defined state of matter. The act of measurement and observation is itself the catalyst and inflection point by which coherent or identifiable properties of matter emerge.

While there remains extensive debate on the role of observers in the creation or participatory observation of material entities, collapsing probability waves and quantum indeterminacy have been demonstrated to manifest to at least the level of atoms (and possibly beyond), the role of the observer in the active production of reality remains deeply mysterious. If reality is indeed deeply inflected with a requirement for observers (or observer-like events), then it is quite conceivable that the path through which that reality might unfold over (for instance – Cosmological) time might be that which leads to the production of observers (and observation-like events) at greater probability and eventually to higher degrees of resolution or refinement.

In this sense, that is – not strictly Anthropocentric but perhaps with less hubris caste as “Argocentric” (after the many-eyed, all-seeing giant Argos Panoptes in Greek mythology), every process and possible or probable path of matter and energy is always already biased in some sense towards the production of observer-like events and, eventually, of observers. The reflexive and recursive self-generation of the material circumstances from which conscious observers eventually emerge may be an inevitability within a Universe so finely-tuned and predisposed or logically oriented towards the necessity of observation-like events.

The Universe is in this way plausibly predisposed to the emergence of observers. The form or material nature of those observers may (or may not) be constrained in some way by an internal, not entirely transparent and yet to be determined logic. The arrival of conscious observers in this view is not so much a miraculous surprise as a probabilistic inevitability hard-coded into the symmetries and logic of matter and physics.

Returning to this topic much later (27/07/19) it occurs to me that some of my assertions concerning observers or observation-like events may be a little fuzzy and inaccurate. The Universe may be predisposed to the emergence of observation-like events but this does not lighten the complex burden of characterising consciousness or self-awareness.

As an emergent meta-property or abstraction of materially self-organising information and energy-processing systems, consciousness remains deeply problematic. I have some ideas regarding autonomously self-propagating systems and optimally-efficient or concise algorithmic compression but finding time to develop and record these concepts is proving to be difficult. Such is life, I imagine…

6 replies on “Is Consciousness Inevitable ?”

I have a bit of a problem with the idea that reality requires an observer, especially an observer like us (homo sapiens), although I might be more amenable to reality requiring an observer-like event. The problem with us is that we seem to be so limited in the spectrum of reality perceptible to us. The contrapositive of reality requiring an observer like us would imply that what we couldn’t perceive doesn’t exist (is not reality). An observer-like event, if I understand it properly, may be defined as a theoretical observer capable of observing or measuring any aspect of reality. Just my 2 cents. Nice post as are all of yours that I have observed so far.

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Hi. Thanks.

“Observer-like” events is really just a way of saying that, while the role of the conscious observer in measuring quantum events is mysterious, subatomic events similar to observation-like measurements occur all the time: particles interact and effect each other relentlessly. So, observer-like, does not require sentience or consciouness, but the long-term effect of the Cosmos in some sense privileging the role of an observation or measurement may bias towards the arrival of more complex observers. Sentience may be a consequence of the ways in which the Cosmos observes itself, measures or in some sense “knows” itself.

There is (apparently, apocryphally) an ancient Chinese aphorism “we are that through which the earth comes to know itself”, which captures something of this idea.


I had an idea that might allow us to do away with the somewhat troublesome explanation that measuring or observing a quantum phenomenon collapses it from a state of coherence to a classical state; that quantum phenomena are always in flux between or among their possible states (eigenstates?) and any measurement or observation can only be a “snapshot” of that wave (giving a particle-like view). In any case, even after collapse, the quantum phenomenon is said to recohere, if I am not mistaken. The explanation of a snapshot makes more sense to me than an observation or measurement, even though I’m aware that bouncing photons or electrons off a quantum phenomenon will change its position or momentum. I am enjoying the possibility of discussing this with you.

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Hi. In the end, and no matter what we throw at it – quantum reality remains mysterious, mischievously amorphous. An image or indirect measurement is still a measurement; i.e. a rose by any other name. The underlying reality is hazy, indeterminate not because we haven’t been clever enough to work out how to isolate or identify it, but because in some sense that is how reality at that scale actually is.

Mathematicians and experimental theorists have been abseiling down this particular rabbit hole for close to 100 years and we still don’t intuitively understand it. The kinds of brains and communication systems we inhabit did not evolve to plumb these particular depths; it should be no surprise that our intuitive cognitive methods and organisational heuristics falter at this greatest test: they were never developed or cultivated for solving such problems. It remains something of a Gordian Knot…

It seems that there exists an axiomatic epistemological blindspot in all of this. It is perhaps not such an undecidable algorithm or eternally incomprehensible reality that we should never know it or disentangle the threads, but the act of literal sentient reflection and cosmological introspection in this case invokes paradox and enigma. We seek to understand that which as a consequence of our seeking becomes obscure; a beautiful conundrum. More grandly – the Universe autonomously cultivates, self-propagates or permits the conditions from which (its own) embodied sentience emerges and might then peek back into itself, through the looking glass and diminutive aperture of scientific method, physics and mathematics.

It has been a long day here on Planet Daily Life and the batteries and brain are running a little low for fruitful dialogue. However, I do share your enthusiasm and interest in this topic.

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So you are saying, in essence, “the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get”? I think I could live with a reality that disappears down a rabbit hole. Maybe these are the infinities peeping out at us from behind the finite curtains of our science and mathematics. Have a great day!

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