The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The World And The Mind

Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory said something important about the mind. They were as much about mind as they were about matter, only in a more subtle way.

Relativity Theory was not only about reality being "relative" to something. It was (first and foremost) about reality being beyond the reach of our senses.

Einstein's underlying principle is that we don't always see the universe as it is. Newton's underlying principle was that we see the universe as it is. Newton's Physics is a description of how our mind perceives the universe. There are bodies, there is absolute time, etc.

Einstein's Physics is a "guess" about what the universe really is, even if our mind cannot perceive it. Einstein's Physics implied that there may be aspects of the universe that our mind cannot perceive, and that we can guess only by analyzing the aspects that we can perceive.

Quantum Theory was not only about reality being "quantized". It was also about reality being beyond the reach of our mind. The single most distressing finding of Quantum Theory is that reality, as we know it, only occurs when somebody observes it. The electron is in a certain place only when somebody actually looks at it, otherwise the electron is, simultaneously, in several different places.

We can analyze this finding with either of two stances. According to the first one, our mind has no limitations. It can perfectly perceive nature as it is. It observes only one value because that is what nature does: the multiple choices for a quantity's value collapse to just one value when that quantity is observed by an observer.

According to the second one, our mind has limitations. The quantum collapse from many values to just one value is due to a limitation of our mind. Our mind cannot perceive nature as it is. It can only perceive one value for each quantity.

The electron is in many places, but our mind cannot perceive a thing being in many places at the same time, so it "collapses" the electron into only one specific place at a time. This is just an effect due to the limitation of our mind. We are forced to "sample" reality because we can't handle all of it. After all, that's what all our senses do. They are bombarded all the time with data from the environment, and they only pick up some of those data. We don't perceive every single detail of what is going on around us, we are forced to be selective. The mind turns out to be a sense that also has limited capacity, although the limitation is of a different kind. Each item of reality (a position, a speed, etc) "has" many values. The reason we observe only one value is that our mind can't handle a universe in which quantities have more than one value.

The conceptual revolution caused by Quantum Theory was somewhat deeper than the one caused by Relativity Theory. Reconciling Newton and Einstein is relatively easy: Newton's theory was not false, it was just a special case of Einstein's theory, the one in which the spacetime is Euclidean. Reconciling Newton and Quantum Theory is, on the other hand, impossible: Newton's theory is just false. It seems to work because we insist on assuming that such things as big objects truly exist.

A theory of the mind that does not take into account Relativity is a legitimate approximation, just like a theory of the Earth that does not take into account Relativity is a legitimate approximation. But no theory of the mind can ignore Quantum Theory.


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