Mind = blown.
That’s how the cool kids of the internet describe a fact, insight or theory that completely, well, blows your mind.
It’s become a meme, and even a meme of a meme, with Jackie Chan being the most popular one.
The reason I bring it up is because I read a theory this week that completely blew my mind. And it was all the more fun because it was actually about how our minds work.
So mind = blown on multiple levels.
I’ll admit, it’s pretty “out there” but it is also hugely interesting. And it could have big consequences for many of the fields we cover.
From biotech, to AI, to machine learning… and maybe even the key to eternal life, this theory may advance them all.
So today, we’re going to explore it.
Okay then. Let’s get started.
Defining the “hard problem” of consciousness
Science has managed to solve many of the problems ancient philosophers struggled with.
But there is one that still has it stumped.
This is the problem of consciousness. It’s actually referred to as “the hard problem” of consciousness because it is so difficult to solve.
Basically the hard problem of consciousness is that of subjectivity.
How do I know that what I see as the colour red is the same as what you see as the colour red?
Or, how do I know that when I experience the pain of stubbing my toe it’s feels the same as when you stub your toe?
Or, how do I know that the sound of a piano sounds the same to you as it does to me?
You get the idea.
How do you explain our subjective experiences?
How do you explain the feeling of being conscious, where does it come from?
We can trace all the pathways of the brain, all our sense organs and all the nerves they stimulate, but we can’t explain why or how they make us feel the way they do.
We can’t explain what it is in our brain that makes us feel like us.
Okay, hold that thought.
We’re now going off on a tangent that seems completely unrelated. But as you’ll soon see. It’s not.
In fact, it could explain everything.
Cue film reference
Have you ever seen the film Split?
Don’t worry if not. Here’s a synopsis from Wikipedia.
Split is a 2016 American psychological horror film written, co-produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Betty Buckley.
The film follows a man with 23 different personalities who kidnaps and imprisons three teenage girls in an isolated underground facility.
One of his darker personalities manifests within his psyche and results in his eventual transformation into a merciless and cannibalistic sociopath with superhuman abilities and an insatiable hunger for human flesh.
In the film, McAvoy has dissociative identity disorder (DID) which is more commonly called multiple personality disorder.
His therapist cites a case where a sufferer of DID actually went blind when in certain personalities – or “alters” as they are called.
She says there is a lot we don’t know about DID and it may be more powerful than anyone realises. Of course, later on, McAvoy undergoes his own physical transformation when he moves into his 24th alter.
Sounds crazy, right? How can someone with DID possibly physically change when they enter different alters?
Well, it turns out the blindness case is true.
As Scientific American writes:
In 2015, doctors in Germany reported the extraordinary case of a woman who suffered from what has traditionally been called “multiple personality disorder” and today is known as “dissociative identity disorder” (DID). The woman exhibited a variety of dissociated personalities (“alters”), some of which claimed to be blind. Using EEGs, the doctors were able to ascertain that the brain activity normally associated with sight wasn’t present while a blind alter was in control of the woman’s body, even though her eyes were open. Remarkably, when a sighted alter assumed control, the usual brain activity returned.
Different states of consciousness can indeed physically change our bodies and brains, it turns out.
Okay, now here’s where we tie it all together.
What if everything is conscious?
One possible solution to the hard problem of consciousness is called panpsychism.
This is the theory that every individual bit of matter has its own in-built consciousness.
What then follows from this is the theory of constitutive micropsychism, which the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy has a good description of:
According to constitutive micropsychism, the smallest parts of my brain have very basic forms of consciousness, and the consciousness of my brain as a whole is in some sense made up from the consciousness of its parts.
But this theory runs into a fairly obvious problem called the combination problem.
From The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:
According to constitutive micropsychism, micro-level entities have their own very basic forms of conscious experience, and in brains these micro-level conscious entities somehow come together to constitute human and animal consciousness. The problem is that this is very difficult to make sense of: “little” conscious subjects of experience with their micro-experiences coming together to form a “big” conscious subject with its own experiences.
What the theory I read – the one that blew my mind – suggests is that there is no individual consciousness. Everything is part of the same consciousness. We are all merely “alters” of one giant consciousness.
Where is my mind?
I told you this issue would be pretty “out there” didn’t I?
But the more you think about it, the more sense it seems to make.
The article I read was by the authors of a paper on this subject. Here’s how they describe it in Scientific American.
The obvious way around the combination problem is to posit that, although consciousness is indeed fundamental in nature, it isn’t fragmented like matter. The idea is to extend consciousness to the entire fabric of spacetime, as opposed to limiting it to the boundaries of individual subatomic particles.
And here is where dissociation comes in. We know empirically from DID that consciousness can give rise to many operationally distinct centers of concurrent experience, each with its own personality and sense of identity. Therefore, if something analogous to DID happens at a universal level, the one universal consciousness could, as a result, give rise to many alters with private inner lives like yours and ours. As such, we may all be alters—dissociated personalities—of universal consciousness.
You can read the author’s full paper, “the Universe in Consciousness” here.
So, to summarise: M. Night Shyamalan, director of The Sixth Sense and Split may have stumbled on to the answer to life, the universe and everything. We are all disassociated alters of one universal consciousness.
Mind = blown.
Until next time,
Editor, Exponential Investor
PS If this theory turns out to have merit, perhaps it could explain some of the unexplainables of quantum physics (which I wrote about here). What do you think, is there something to it, or is it all a load of rubbish? Let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org. Personally, I don’t know what I believe any more.
Category: Artificial Intelligence