The existence of sentient consciousness in the universe is one of the greatest scientific mysteries of all time. The existence of the universe itself, not to mention the development of organic life, is already confounding enough, but scientists still cannot explain why the universe evolved biological mechanisms to subjectively experience itself. The crux of the debate—rekindled in recent years due to new discoveries in quantum mechanics—centers around whether consciousness is a purely physical, materialistic phenomenon that is self-contained, or whether consciousness constitutes a more symbiotic universal force that helps establish the reality of space-time.
For those who stay up late swan diving into cosmic rabbit holes, here are five stunning new theories of consciousness developed by leading physicists and researchers:
1. “Quantum Consciousness,” or ORCH-OR
For a couple of decades, theoretical physicist Roger Penrose and anaesthesiologist and psychologist Stuart Hameroff have passionately advanced a theory of consciousness known as Orchestrated Objective Reduction, or ORCH-OR. The theory posits that consciousness fires from microtubules embedded in the quantum core of our universe, suggesting that consciousness does not arise merely from neurochemical processes of the brain but has a deeper, more primal origin that is intrinsic to the universe.
The theory suggests that our minds can leave behind imprints, residual information, in the fabric of the world around us. Hameroff also believes that this controversial idea of a “quantum consciousness,” that is not dependent on a purely biological substrate, leaves open the possibility of a kind of afterlife.
In January 2014, Japanese researchers detected quantum vibrations in microtubules, providing important corroboration for one of the controversial pillars of ORCH-OR. Consciousness, Penrose and Hameroff argue, is a non-computable force linked to the fundamental geometry of space-time itself.
2. Panpsychism, Universal Proto-Consciousness
Panpsychism is not a new theory but there have been some interesting tweaks and addendums in recent years. Panpsychism is essentially the belief that the universe itself is conscious, that there is a kind of ubiquitous proto-consciousness that permeates the cosmos. As such, panpsychism has traditionally been seen as a philosophical conundrum that is debated in metaphysical circles.
In recent years, however, a growing number of physicists and astronomers have begun viewing panpsychism as a scientific question—a concept that could actually be experimentally tested.
One such physicist, Gregory Matloff, wrote a paper in which he argued that scientists may be able to validate the idea of universal proto-consciousness by looking for “volitional stars” that chart their own paths in galactic orbits. While it sounds absurd, Matloff believes certain phenomena in observational astrophysics, such as Parenago’s Discontinuity, could help confirm panpsychism. Matloff also believes that a new theory of panpsychism could one day replace dark matter.
Other modern proponents of panpsychism include German physicist Bernard Haisch, who presented a theory that harkens back to ORCH-Or, in that it suggests that consciousness arises in a “quantum vacuum” anytime energy flows through an advanced system or structure and neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi who believes that consciousness may not be limited to biological organisms and that integrated information theory would suggest we make a distinction between consciousness and intelligence in the universe.
3. The Participatory Universe
The “participatory universe” theory is sometimes noted as a subset of panpsychism, but it deserves its own entry. Developed by renowned physicist John Archibald Wheeler—who coined the term “black hole” and worked with Niels Bohr on early groundbreaking experiments in quantum mechanics, among many other achievements—participatory universe, or Participatory Anthropic Principle, incorporates ideas from quantum theory to suggest that human observation creates the universe.
More specifically, Wheeler argued that the universe exists in a state of undefined quantum potential until the conscious observer collapses reality down into a single state. In essence, the universe requires the participation of a consciousness in order to have an objective reality. This theory requires really drilling down into the nuances of quantum theory, but it’s worth going down that rabbit hole.
4. The Global Consciousness Project and Retroactive Precognition
The Global Consciousness Project resulted from a series of experiments that took place at Princeton in the 1990s. The researchers there launched a project called Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) and ultimately wrote a book called The Margins of Reality that summarized their findings. After running a number of experiments involving human participants and random number generators, the PEAR team concluded that human intention has a small but mathematically significant effect on physical reality.
Essentially, the researchers believe that human consciousness can impact random information and make it more ordered. The research turned into the ongoing Global Consciousness Project, which collects worldwide statistical data documenting how human consciousness affects random number patterns.
A more recent experiment provided anecdotal evidence for something called “retroactive precognition.” Dr. Daryl Bem conducted an experiment strongly suggesting that humans are more likely to remember something in the present if they memorize it in the future. In other words, you’re more likely to recall something today if you memorize it tomorrow—which takes a minute to get your head around. His paper “Feeling the Future” presents experimental evidence that the human mind can cognitively sense the future in the present, though the exact mechanism remains unknown.
If these studies seem to suggest the reality of some kind of extrasensory perception (ESP) on the part of humans, it would not be the first time this idea was considered. In 2017, the CIA declassified hundreds of thousands of documents confirming that the government experimented with ESP and worked with psychics through the legendary STARGATE program. The CIA conscripted psychics as covert spies during the Cold War, attempting to marshall their ‘remote viewing’ powers to exfiltrate information from the Soviet Union—and Soviet intelligence agents did the same to us. There was a secret psychic Cold War going on that we’re only now learning about.
The documents also confirmed that police departments all across the country regularly hire psychics to solve cold cases and that the method works a shocking number of times.
5. Advanced Intelligence May Encode Itself Into the Physics of the Universe
This is one of the newest and most mind-blowing theories on the list. It is the stuff of science fiction—not something most people would expect to find openly written about by respected scientists.
In an article entitled “Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence?” the esteemed astronomer and astrobiologist Caleb Scharf explored the idea that advanced alien consciousness may actually be encoded into the fabric of the universe itself. Harnessing theories from modern futurists and the enigmas of dark matter and dark energy, Scharf argues that higher forms of intelligence in our universe may encode living systems into physical law itself and use the energy to “manipulate luminous matter.”
The theory puts a new spin on panpsychism and presents an outlandish explanation for both dark matter and dark energy.
In a way, all of these theories can be said to flow together, describing a new conception of consciousness that transcends the bounds of current science. The fact that many of these theories are championed by renowned physicists and scientists testifies to their legitimacy. The fact is, there is much about this universe we don’t know. However, observations from quantum theory tell us there is a nebulous but fundamental link between consciousness and the establishment of physical reality.
Physicists Suggest All Matter Could Be Made Up of Energy ‘Fragments’
Matter is what makes up the Universe, but what makes up matter? This question has long been tricky for those who think about it – especially for the physicists.
Reflecting recent trends in physics, my colleague Jeffrey Eischen and I have described an updated way to think about matter. We propose that matter is not made of particles or waves, as was long thought, but – more fundamentally – that matter is made of fragments of energy.
From Five to One
The ancient Greeks conceived of five building blocks of matter – from bottom to top: earth, water, air, fire and aether. Aether was the matter that filled the heavens and explained the rotation of the stars, as observed from the Earth vantage point.
These were the first most basic elements from which one could build up a world. Their conceptions of the physical elements did not change dramatically for nearly 2,000 years.
Then, about 300 years ago, Sir Isaac Newton introduced the idea that all matter exists at points called particles. One hundred fifty years after that, James Clerk Maxwell introduced the electromagnetic wave – the underlying and often invisible form of magnetism, electricity and light.
The particle served as the building block for mechanics and the wave for electromagnetism – and the public settled on the particle and the wave as the two building blocks of matter. Together, the particles and waves became the building blocks of all kinds of matter.
This was a vast improvement over the ancient Greeks’ five elements but was still flawed. In a famous series of experiments, known as the double-slit experiments, light sometimes acts like a particle and at other times acts like a wave. And while the theories and math of waves and particles allow scientists to make incredibly accurate predictions about the Universe, the rules break down at the largest and tiniest scales.
Einstein proposed a remedy in his theory of general relativity. Using the mathematical tools available to him at the time, Einstein was able to better explain certain physical phenomena and also resolve a longstanding paradox relating to inertia and gravity.
But instead of improving on particles or waves, he eliminated them as he proposed the warping of space and time.
Using newer mathematical tools, my colleague and I have demonstrated a new theory that may accurately describe the Universe. Instead of basing the theory on the warping of space and time, we considered that there could be a building block that is more fundamental than the particle and the wave.
Scientists understand that particles and waves are existential opposites: A particle is a source of matter that exists at a single point, and waves exist everywhere except at the points that create them.
My colleague and I thought it made logical sense for there to be an underlying connection between them.
Flow and Fragments of Energy
Our theory begins with a new fundamental idea – that energy always “flows” through regions of space and time.
Think of energy as made up of lines that fill up a region of space and time, flowing into and out of that region, never beginning, never ending and never crossing one another.
Working from the idea of a universe of flowing energy lines, we looked for a single building block for the flowing energy. If we could find and define such a thing, we hoped we could use it to accurately make predictions about the Universe at the largest and tiniest scales.
There were many building blocks to choose from mathematically, but we sought one that had the features of both the particle and wave – concentrated like the particle but also spread out over space and time like the wave.
The answer was a building block that looks like a concentration of energy – kind of like a star – having energy that is highest at the center, and that gets smaller farther away from the center.
Much to our surprise, we discovered that there were only a limited number of ways to describe a concentration of energy that flows. Of those, we found just one that works in accordance with our mathematical definition of flow.
We named it a fragment of energy. For the math and physics aficionados, it is defined as A = -⍺/r where ⍺ is intensity and r is the distance function.
Using the fragment of energy as a building block of matter, we then constructed the math necessary to solve physics problems. The final step was to test it out.
Back to Einstein, Adding Universality
More than 100 ago, Einstein had turned to two legendary problems in physics to validate general relativity: the ever-so-slight yearly shift – or precession – in Mercury’s orbit, and the tiny bending of light as it passes the Sun.
These problems were at the two extremes of the size spectrum. Neither wave nor particle theories of matter could solve them, but general relativity did.
The theory of general relativity warped space and time in such way as to cause the trajectory of Mercury to shift and light to bend in precisely the amounts seen in astronomical observations.
If our new theory was to have a chance at replacing the particle and the wave with the presumably more fundamental fragment, we would have to be able to solve these problems with our theory, too.
For the precession-of-Mercury problem, we modeled the Sun as an enormous stationary fragment of energy and Mercury as a smaller but still enormous slow-moving fragment of energy. For the bending-of-light problem, the Sun was modeled the same way, but the photon was modeled as a minuscule fragment of energy moving at the speed of light.
In both problems, we calculated the trajectories of the moving fragments and got the same answers as those predicted by the theory of general relativity. We were stunned.
Our initial work demonstrated how a new building block is capable of accurately modeling bodies from the enormous to the minuscule. Where particles and waves break down, the fragment of energy building block held strong.
The fragment could be a single potentially universal building block from which to model reality mathematically – and update the way people think about the building blocks of the Universe.
Republished from TheConversation.com under Creative Commons
Neuroscientist Claims That Consciousness Itself Is Its Own Energy Field
A neuroscientist has suggested in a new theory that our consciousness is derived from a field of electromagnetic waves given off by neurons.
The study published last month in the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness is entirely based off a theory absent of tangible evidence. However, the author of the research Johnjoe McFadden said that his hypothesis could offer a way forward for robots that think and feel emotions.
McFadden believes that neuron waves of electrical activity get sent out and as they propagate across the brain, they help compose our entire conscious experience.
Johnjoe McFadden, is a molecular geneticist and director of quantum biology at the University of Surrey. McFadden points to flaws in other models of consciousness as the reason that we don’t have sentient artificial intelligence or robots capable of achieving consciousness.
McFadden’s hypothesis swerves away from most traditional neuroscientists, who generally see consciousness as a narrative that our brain constructs out of our senses, perceptions, and actions. Instead, McFadden returns to a more empirical version of dualism — the idea that consciousness stems from something other than our brain matter.
McFadden’s theory adapts the idea of “dualism,” which is the belief that consciousness is a supernatural force. Dualism has long been rejected by scientists and ruled pseudo-science, but McFadden has attempted to apply a scientific explanation for the idea, which hasn’t been done before.
Neuroscience news reports that the theory is based on scientific fact:
“The theory is based on scientific fact: when neurons in the brain and nervous system fire, they not only send the familiar electrical signal down the wire-like nerve fibres, but they also send a pulse of electromagnetic energy into the surrounding tissue. Such energy is usually disregarded, yet it carries the same information as nerve firings, but as an immaterial wave of energy, rather than a flow of atoms in and out of the nerves.”
It’s also a fact we have an electromagnetic field surrounding our brain is well-known and is detected by brain-scanning techniques such as electroencephalogram (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) but has previously been dismissed as irrelevant to brain function and supernatural. Instead, McFadden contends that the brain’s information-rich electromagnetic field is, in fact, itself the seat of consciousness, driving the ‘free will’ of an individual.
“How brain matter becomes aware and manages to think is a mystery that has been pondered by philosophers, theologians, mystics and ordinary people for millennia,” McFadden said in a press release published by Medical Xpress. “I believe this mystery has now been solved, and that consciousness is the experience of nerves plugging into the brain’s self-generated electromagnetic field to drive what we call ‘free will’ and our voluntary actions.”
Ann Arbor becomes latest city to decriminalize “magic” mushrooms and other natural psychedelics
(TMU) – The city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has effectively decriminalized psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms along with other natural psychedelics in the latest sign that public opinion across the U.S. is continuing to turn against prohibitionist policies.
On Monday, the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution that would make it the city’s lowest-ranked law enforcement priority to the investigate or arrest anyone planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, using or possessing entheogenic plants or plant compounds.
The resolution applies to all psychedelics derived from plants and fungi, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine, mescaline, peyote and other substances with hallucinogenic properties deemed illegal under state and federal law.
The council also requires the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office to halt the prosecution of those involved in the use of entheogenic plants and plant compounds.
Ann Arbor now joins a growing list of cities including Denver, Colorado, and the California cities of Santa Cruz and Oakland that have decriminalized all entheogenic plants. Other cities including Chicago and Austin are considering similar measures. A ballot measure that would legalize the use of psilocybin in therapeutic settings will also be voted on in the state of Oregon this November.
The move to de-prioritize law enforcement around psychedelics was spearheaded by the efforts of local grassroots advocacy group Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor, or DNA2.
At the beginning of the year, councilmembers were skeptical about any move to decriminalize psychedelics. Since then, they’ve found themselves convinced by evidence of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of psychedelics, including for mental health treatment and treating addiction, reports MLive.
Councilmember Zachary Ackerman cited the opening of a $17 million psychedelic and consciousness research center by Johns Hopkins Medicine as proof of “the tremendous potential of these future medicines.” The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore is currently conducting clinical trials to find out whether the drug is suitable as a prescription drug for the U.S. market.
Councilmember Jack Eaton described the council’s unanimous backing for the decriminalization resolution as carrying on the city’s legacy of backing the local decriminalization of marijuana during the 1970s, when the plant was still illegal under state and federal law.
The resolution doesn’t allow for the commission of crimes or any significant violation of state or federal law, and any use of entheogenic substances that pose a threat to public health and safety could require intervention by law enforcement bodies.
In the resolution, entheogenic plants are defined as the full spectrum of plants and fungi that contain indole amines, tryptamines and phenethylamines “that can benefit psychological and physical wellness, support and enhance religious and spiritual practices, and can reestablish human’s inalienable and direct relationship to nature.”
The resolution also states that psychedelic substances can be used to address substance abuse problems, addiction, recidivism, trauma, post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, grief, cluster headaches and other debilitating conditions.
“The use of entheogenic plants, which can catalyze profound experiences of personal and spiritual growth, have been shown by scientific and clinical studies and traditional practices to be beneficial to the health and well-being of individuals and communities in addressing these conditions,” it states.
Psilocybin mushrooms are currently considered a Schedule 1 narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Agency.
However, psilocybin – the main chemical component of the mushrooms – was designated as a “breakthrough therapy” by the FDA in 2019 due to the positive results of psilocybin in treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health problems.
Studies have also shown how a microdose of psilocybin—far from the level needed for a full-blown trip—actually increases the creativity and empathy of participants.
Other researchers have also found that psilocybin has provided effective help to patients struggling to quit other addictive substances such as cigarettes.
The newfound recognition of psilocybin therapy as a valid treatment has eroded old stereotypes of psilocybin as some intoxicating and hallucination-inducing party drug that drives its users insane – a reputation that largely grew out of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s when they were widely known as “psychedelic” or “magic” mushrooms.
The resolution further notes that entheogenic plants have been the basis of spiritual practices by human cultures for thousands of years, yet those who seek them for the sake of improving their health and wellbeing must risk arrest and prosecution to obtain them.
“Decriminalization of naturally occurring medicines is necessary for progress,” councilmember Jeff Hayner said in a press release from DNA2 last week, reports Detroit Metro Times. “We can no longer turn a blind eye towards the wisdom of indigenous peoples, and the bounty the earth provides. I have been moved by the testimonies of those who have found profound relief from the use of entheogenic plants.”
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