Objects of consciousness

Donald David Hoffman, Chetan Prakash, Objects of consciousness, Frontiers in Psychology, v. 5, N 00577, 2014.


The list of scientific papers of the first author:


Quotes from the paper


“We develop the dynamics of interacting conscious agents, and study how the perception of objects and space-time can emerge from such dynamics. We show that one particular object, the quantum free particle, has a wave function that is identical in form to the harmonic functions that characterize the asymptotic dynamics of conscious agents; particles are vibrations not of strings but of interacting conscious agents. This allows us to reinterpret physical properties such as position, momentum, and energy as properties of interacting conscious agents, rather than as preexisting physical truths.”


“When Francis Crick asserted the “astonishing hypothesis” that “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons” he assumed that neurons exist when unperceived.”

“Evolutionary theory, in the standard account, assumes that atoms, and the replicating molecules that they form, exist when unperceived.”

“There is a long and interesting history of debate about which properties of objects exist when unperceived. Shape, size, and position usually make the list. Others, such as taste and color, often do not.”

Evolution and Perception

“If we assume that our perceptual and cognitive capacities have been shaped, at least in part, by natural selection, then we can use formal models of evolution, such as evolutionary game theory and genetic algorithms, to explore if, and under what circumstances, natural selection favors perceptual representations that are genuine insights into the true nature of the objective world.”

“However, when we actually study the evolution of perception using Monte Carlo simulations of evolutionary games and genetic algorithms, we find that natural selection does not, in general, favor perceptions that are true reports of objective properties of the environment. Instead, it generally favors perceptual strategies that are tuned to fitness.”

“In short, natural selection does not favor perceptual systems that see the truth in whole or in part. Instead, it favors perceptions that are fast, cheap, and tailored to guide behaviors needed to survive and reproduce. Perception is not about truth, it’s about having kids.”

The Interface Theory of Perception

“Turning now to apply the interface metaphor to human perception, the idea is that natural selection has not shaped our perceptions to be insights into the true structure and causal nature of objective reality, but has instead shaped our perceptions to be a species-specific user interface, fashioned to guide the behaviors that we need to survive and reproduce. Space and time are the desktop of our perceptual interface, and three-dimensional objects are icons on that desktop.”

“But, given that we must take our perceptions seriously, it does not follow that we must take them literally.”

“The interface theory entails that these first two steps were [the flat Earth and the geocentric Earth] mere warm up. The next step in the intellectual history of H. sapiens is a big one. We must recognize that all of our perceptions of space, time and objects no more reflect reality than does our perception of a flat earth. It’s not just this or that aspect of our perceptions that must be corrected, it is the entire framework of a space-time containing objects, the fundamental organization of our perceptual systems, that must be recognized as a mere species-specific mode of perception rather than an insight into objective reality.”

“One example is the mind-body problem. A theory in which objects and space-time do not exist unperceived and do not have causal powers, cannot propose that neurons—which by hypothesis do not exist unperceived and do not have causal powers—cause any of our behaviors or conscious experiences.”

Definition of Conscious Agents

“Here we explore the possibility that consciousness is that new foundation, and seek a mathematically precise theory. The idea is that a theory of objects requires, first, a theory of subjects.”

“We want a theory of consciousness qua consciousness, i.e., of consciousness on its own terms, not as something derivative or emergent from a prior physical world.”

Conscious Realism

Hypothesis 1. Conscious realism: The world W consists entirely of conscious agents.

Microphysical Objects

“We propose that microphysical objects represent asymptotic properties of the dynamics of conscious agents, and that space-time is simply a convenient framework for this representation.”

Objections and Replies

(8) Your proposal that consciousness, rather than physics, is fundamental places consciousness outside of science.

Absolutely not. The onus is on us to provide a mathematically rigorous theory of consciousness, to show how current physics falls out as a special case, and to make new testable predictions beyond those of current physics. To dismiss the physicalist theory that space-time and objects are fundamental is not to reject the methodology of science. It is just to dismiss a specific theory that is false.




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