The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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

Structural Realism

The British philosopher John Worrall  introduced an interpretation of Quantum Theory, inspired by Henri Poincaré,  that takes “relations” as the basic units of reality (“Structural Realism”, 1989).

Particles are not good building blocks because, according to Quantum Theory, they are not localized: in general, there is no specific place where a particle is. In fact, even if one managed to localize a particle in a specific point of space, a moving observer might see that particle spreading over the entire universe.  Particles move all the time, but they don’t have clear trajectories. The very number of particles within a system depends on who counts them. Laboratory instruments don’t really detect particles as much as interactions between the instrument and some invisible event.

Fields are no more useful building blocks for reality because they too are misnomers in Quantum Theory: a quantum field is not like a classical field but more like an abstract mathematical concept that needs to be coupled with another abstract mathematical concept (a “state vector” or “wavefunction” describing the configuration of the system) in order to make any prediction about a system that happens to be inside the field.

Structural realism confines itself to the study of relations among the constituents of nature (“epistemic structural realism”) or even takes relations as being the very constituents of nature (“ontic structural realism”). Combining relations yields structures. The human eyes translates those structures into visible objects, but all there really is (or all that we can really measure) is the relations that create those structures. We cannot know what entities engage in those relations, or those entities simply don’t exist and only relations exists as primitive entities.

The German philosopher Meinard Kuhlmann introduced a variant of structural realism in which the basic elements are properties. All we know and all we can measure are properties of what we call “objects”. An “object” is simply a bundle of properties. It turns out that this is actually the way we perceive the world in the first year of our life.

Of course, one could also claim the “instrumentalist” view that all scientific theories are simply mathematical abstractions to make predictions, and they do not necessarily explain the real nature of nature.


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