Photon and Electron

completed: September 10, 2011
posted: November 23, 2011

 

"What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck." Anon

 

PHOTONS AND ELECTRONS:

Picard

 

A SPECULATION ON THE MATERIAL BASIS OF CONSCIOUSNESS, INSPIRED BY MR. FEYNMAN AND CAPT. PICARD'S HOLODECK HORSE

WARNING: If you think you are directly conscious of the world around you of, say, the room you are in, the other person or people with you, the flowers in the vase on the table rather than of an internally generated representation or model of what's around you, the way a pilot flying in fog uses radar to get an impression of the outside world, then don't bother trying to make sense of what follows here which, by the way, is an unsatisfactory hypothesis, but it's at least a starting point in thinking about a material basis of consciousness.

PART I Background

The spiritual view of this world, with gods and demons, mental telepathy, telekinesis, prophecy, heaven, hell, reincarnation, souls, and so forth, is unaccountable in the scientific explanation. Newton's laws of motion, especially his great Second Law, F = ma, describe all motion in the world and all changes of motion which covers a lot; and where Newton doesn't answer, the quantum mechanics of the 20th century is said to fill in gaps of knowledge on the molecular and atomic scales and even much of the subatomic and nuclear scale of things.

Feynman.jpgRichard Feynman, in his short book QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, says that quantum electrodynamics (QED) "describes all the phenomena of the physical world except the gravitational effect . . . and radioactive phenomena, which involve [atomic] nuclei shifting in their energy levels." One other thing QED doesn't explain is why things like electrons, protons, people, cars, planets and stars have mass, or inertia, nor, for that matter, why anything exists in the first place a question which has the look of being forever unanserable. Compared to that, the question of the relationship of consciousness to the other components of this universe might be less hopelessly intractable.

The standard way these days to think about how consciousness comes about in this material world is in terms of the brain; it arises somehow in the nerve tissues and networks of the brain. Such is the view taken by Sir Francis Crick in the opening pages of his 1994 book, The Astounding Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul. Dr. Crick's astounding hypothesis is, in fact, that "conscious awareness," as he agreeably calls it, arises within the brain or, more specifically, within the structure AND OPERATION of the brain. The operational aspect is important because conscious awareness is dynamic; it exists as a flow and would, from Dr. Crick's point of view, stand in relation to the brain as music does to a violin or piano.

It's useful to refer to this standard and mostly unexamined view as the arrangement-of-matter theory of consciousness, so as to contrast it with an alternative property-of-matter theory, which is the one considered here.

The arrangement-of-matter theory could also be called the Chevrolet theory, because Chevrolets are brought into existence by arranging matter so as to form a Chevrolet. Matter's property of being able to have or carry shape is important: It is addressed in the first clause of the second verse of the bible, right after the creation of matter ("earth") in the first verse: Matter that does not have form is worthless ("void").

The property-of-matter theory supposes that conscious awareness is equivalent to other physical properties of matter, e.g., inertia, electric charge, and gravitation. Note that those three properties can be said to exist only within the contexts of interaction: Inertia, for instance, cannot be measured or even said to exist except during forceful interactions. Likewise for charge and gravitation.

 

Keller.jpg The Matter-Consciousness Problem, Considered in Terms of Helen Keller and the Star Trek Holodeck

If you've ever considered Helen Keller, you might've wondered about what she was aware of without seeing or hearing. Maybe you went on to wonder what a person might be conscious of if they had NO SENSES AT ALL.

A person with no senses at all would at least be conscious of memories, right? But if a living person NEVER had any senses at all, internal or external, with which to experience even the most trivial aspects of the world, then they'd not even have memories.

Seems like the potential for conscious awareness could still be operative in an otherwise healthy person having no senses and no memories. But with nothing to be conscious of . . . that would be exactly the same as not being conscious at all, like not even having the potential for consciousness.

It might be possible in this world for the potential for conscious awareness to exist without having anything to be conscious of. Maybe that's what happens during deep sleep: the conscious aspect or part of oneself what might be called the CONSCIOUS AGENT gets disconnected from all sensory and memory inputs. The conscious agent is wide awake i.e., ready to be conscious of SOMETHING but because there are no sensory and memory inputs, it has nothing to be conscious of, and therefore it's in a state of . . . of what?

"Timelessness" is one possible descriptor. The word "eternity" means timeless, though it's mostly used as a synonym for "forever." Blessed timelessness. Blessed eternity.

"Oblivion" would be applicable to a conscious agent having nothing to be conscious of. There's not much to say about a conscious agent that has nothing to be conscious of, except the obvious: If there's nothing to be conscious of, then from a conscious agent's null point of view nothing exists, which is to say, there is no being. Just nothing and nothingness. No existent universe. This universe seems to exist only in some conscious agent being conscious of it. If no thing were conscious, could the universe be said to exist?

In Francis Crick's arrangement-of-matter view, conscious awareness is assumed to arise within the structure and operation of the brain, as one of many of the brain's functions, including remembering things, coordinating body movement, using language, and behaving properly in society.

However, for some people, consciousness feels separate from the other brain-mediated processes. For example, have you ever noticed when you're having a conversation that when you begin to speak you are usually not conscious of how what you are saying will be structured or how it will end? And often, after having said something, you hear yourself say something silly, stupid, or embarrassingly wrong. It is as if the role of consciousness is purely that of an observer. Consciousness simply does not feel as if it derives from the brain's operation. Sentences seem to be assembled mechanically from stock phrases and standard words, without conscious intent. In fact, consciousness seems not necessary to what the brain does; a computer could do the same things. Thinking itself seems to happen outside the view of conscious awareness; consciousness seems uninvolved in brain processes of the sort that seem to underlie nearly all waking actions and the sleeping ones, too, that involve the creation of dreams: when you have a dream, and it's your dream, how come the dream unfolds in unexpected ways?

One other example, of many, of the apparent uninvolved role of conscious awareness in the brain's operation relates to how our eyes work: the images on the retinas are in constant motion as our eyes move, and yet the world appears steady in our perception of it. Also, the brain has to integrate body movement with visual information to create a stable internal mapping of external reality, a mapping suitable to navigating through the world: Consciousness is not required.

 

Horse.jpgJean-Luc Picard, his Horse, and the Walls of the Holodeck

The fantastic holodeck (HOL-a-dek) of Star Trek: The Next Generation was portrayed as the ultimate form of virtual reality. Each starship had at least one holodeck, a kind of recreation room where the ship's computer used holography and projected matter to create any scene, real or fictional, complete with interactive characters. It was the apotheosis of representational artwork: the viewer could be surrounded by and interact with a scene's elements. Starship crew members used the holodeck for R&R; one character used it for combat calisthenics, another for taking real women on dates to exotic synthetic planets. In the Star Trek Voyager series, the ship's doctor was a holodeck fabrication. A regular holodeck character was Sherlock Holmes, an interactive character who acted within stories that unfolded in ways that were unanticipated by the crew members as they interacted with Holmes, Moriarty, and the rest.

Holodeck.jpgThe room in which the holodeck projected its scenes was rectangular with dark walls extending about 15 meters or so horizontally, not very big, certainly not big enough to present synthetic realities having horizons that were miles away, as happened in many Star Trek stories including one where Captain Picard rides a horse toward the horizon.

The synthetic realities of the holodeck were presented as being indistinguishable from the actual reality. Holodeck-projected scenes and synthetic people had solidity; holodeck bullets could kill; synthetic people had personalities and even sexual capability; holodeck horses could be ridden.

Holodeck 
scene.jpg The walls of the room wherein the holodeck scenes were projected ceased to exist when the holodeck was in use. In the show where Captain Picard rides a holodeck horse, he was in need of some R&R, so he went to one of the ship's holodecks and created an English countryside scene complete with a horse, which he saddled up and then rode off toward a horizon. The holodeck's walls were not an impediment to the Captain's holodeck ride.

Clearly, the idea of the holodeck is hopelessly beyond even the most extravagant extensions of present technology: It will never be possible to create synthetic realities as convincingly real as what we experience with our senses.

And yet holodeck technology does exist.

 

dream
monster.jpg Monsters in Dreams

Did monsters chase you in your dreams when you were a kid?

Dreamed realities are as convincingly real as waking realities. And dreamed realities fill volumes of space larger than the space within your skull. Dreamed realities envelop us we exist inside them, just like with the holodeck. Dreamed realities seem completely real, absolutely real, including the unpredictability of story lines. Dreamed objects seem to have mass and inertia, and dreamed events take place on a stage whose dimensions far exceed the volume of a human skull. The dreamer can interact with dreamed characters quite intimately; some of the most intense sexual encounters are dreamed ones.

Dreams are as convincing as full-sunlit reality. Therefore, it follows that holodeck technology exists in nature and has existed since long, long before anyone thought up the fantastic holodeck idea, since at least as far back as when our ancestors lived in trees, and probably way before that.

But does each of us have a natural holodeck just so we can dream at night? Or might the holodeck "screen" or "stage" where dreamed actors move about in a large, three-dimensional world, be useful for other purposes?

The answer is plainly Yes, and here's another Star Trek story as an example:

 

Lt. Barclay 
in holodeck.jpgLt. Reginald Barclay and "The Nth Degree"

"The Nth Degree" episode of Star Trek TNG first aired in 1991. In it, because of circumstances of the main story, the central character, the shy and socially inept Lt. Reginald Barclay, becomes confident and super-intelligent, like the character Charlie in the story "Flowers for Algernon."

In order for the story line to be resolved, the intellectually enhanced Lt. Barclay commandeers one of the ship's holodecks and programs it so that information from the ship's external and long-distance sensors can be used to create, just for him, a holodeck representation of the space outside of the ship, out to tens of thousands of lightyears.

In effect, the Barclay character, receiving as he does information from the ship's sensors, becomes the conscious agent of the Enterprise, with the ship being his body, and the ship's computer performing one of the functions of a human brain, namely that of using the ship's sensor information to create a real-time holodeck representation of the ship's sensory world. Barclay becomes the conscious agent of the starship, the homunculus that sees through ship's "eyes." (A reasonable question is, Why isn't the Enterprise always managed in that way, with the ship's captain experiencing the sensor-based holodeck representation of the world surrounding the ship instead of by means of the flat-screen display on the ship's bridge?)

Two things about this story's portrayal of the holodeck: The room into which the holodeck projects its sensor-based representations of the external world can be thought of as a "stage," or as "the stage," while the holodeck "show" that plays on that stage can be thought of as a "map," or as "the map," since that's what it is: a three-dimensional mapping of the world, one that is being updated in real time.

Note in this TNG analogy that the conscious element or agent, Lt. Barclay, is separate from anything that can be called "mind." If the word "mind" must be invoked in this analogy, then it would be the combined product of the ship's computer and the holodeck machine, the product specifically being the sensor-based holodeck-projected real-time map or model of the world, which the conscious agent "sees" or is conscious of.

 

In this holodeck analogy, the conscious agent is conscious ONLY of the Map displayed on the holodeck Stage. In other words, as conscious entities, we are conscious ONLY of the sensory-based, representation of the world that is displayed on our body's natural holodeck stage, which, presumably, exists within the brain.

In the starship analogy, the ship's computer integrates the ship's sensor information into a summary display which then gets projected by the holodeck for the conscious agent's awareness.

That's about as far as this analogy can go, because the brain performs one other important function in relation to the integration of sensory information into a real-time model of the external world: it assesses real-time sensory information with respect to all stored information of prior experiences that are related to present events, thereby giving meaning to current sensory experiences.

The point here is that waking reality is also recreated, presumably in the brain, on each person's natural holodeck stage, plausibly the same stage where dreams play at night.

The Star Trek holodeck at least works as an analogy for how the brain uses sensory data to create a representation of the external world.

The holodeck analogy also illustrates the separateness of consciousness awareness i.e., of each person's conscious agent from the brain's operation i.e., from anything that might be referred to as "mind." The word "mind" can be removed from this discussion except to note that the combined operation of the brain and the natural holodeck obviously derives from an arrangement of matter. Which partly explains why it is easy and natural to think that conscious awareness itself arises within the brain when, in this holodeck view of brain operation, it is only what we are conscious of that is assembled in the brain. (Though, obviously, the conscious agent must also reside somewhere in the brain or at least somewhere in the body.)

 

Dali's Persistence of Memory.jpgThe Operation and Role of Memory

Memory function which is to say, remembering impressions of experiences and being able to recall them is clearly a brain function. The conscious agent/observer is the "audience" of a "show" on "the stage," the show being a real-time map-type representation of moment-to-moment sensory information that has been integrated with recollections of any prior experiences that are potentially usefully related to events in the present moment.

 

Feynman explaining.jpgEnter Mr. Feynman

Richard Feynman disparaged philosophers and the idea of philosophy. And yet, a speculative philosophical perspective is evident in his work.

"For example," he writes in the second paragraph of the Chapter 1 of the first volume of The Feynman Lectures on Physics,

if we stand on the shore and look at the sea, we see the water, the waves breaking, the foam, the shoshing motion of the water, the sound, the air, the winds and the clouds, the sun and the blue sky, and light; there is sand and there are rocks of various hardness and permanence, color and texture. There are animals and seaweed, hunger and disease, and the observer on the beach; there may even be happiness and thought.

It seems reasonable to suppose that the great Feynman a "magician," is what Hans Bethe called him considered how consciousness might arise within matter, or within the interactions of light and matter. Naturally, he would have kept his inconclusive speculations out of public view.

Still, his remarks in his popular writings, which are largely transcriptions of lectures about the strangeness or unknowableness of quantum mechanics and of nature in general, reveal the uncertainties in theory, science, and nature. For instance, on page 9 of QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, he admits that "my physics students don't understand [quantum electrodynamics] either. That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does." From a quantum mechanical point of view, it is as if anything you can imagine has a probability of happening, even things like, perhaps, string theory and multiple universes. The notion of consciousness, or conscious awareness, as a property of matter e.g., of photons interacting with matter might also have a probability of . . . well, of at least being worthy of serious consideration. The quotation above continues this way:

Any other spot in nature has a similar variety of things and influences. It is always as complicated as that, no matter where it is. Curiosity demands that we ask questions, that we try to put things together and try to understand this multitude of aspects as perhaps resulting from the action of a relatively small number of elemental things and forces acting in an infinite variety of combinations.

He is yet more direct in a poem which he included in his lecture/essay, The Value of Science:

Out of the cradle
onto dry land
here it is
standing:
atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.

What follows here is not a theory, as it probably cannot be tested, at least not yet. "Conjecture" or "speculation" might be better words. But one thing that seems pretty much a truism is that there would be no consciousness in this world if there were no electrons and photons to interact with one another.

 

PART II Implications of the POM View

The idea that is alluded to above in relation to a property-of-matter theory of conscious awareness is that the interactions of photons and electrons might be worth considering. Those interactions are electrical and material, and they are dynamic. Quantum electrodynamics might give some insight.

 

Quantum Electrodynamics (QED)

Richard Feynman's QED book is a transcription of a 1983 lecture series on a subject "called by the horrible name 'quantum electrodynamics.'"

On page 4 he writes, "My main purpose in these lectures is to describe as accurately as I can the strange theory of light and matter or more specifically, the interaction of light and electrons."

An idea that he repeats throughout the book is that quantum electrodynamics describes the entirety of the daily world, the phenomenal world. Page 7: "I would like to again impress you with the vast range of phenomena that the theory of quantum electrodynamics describes: It's easier to say it backwards: the theory describes all the phenomena of the physical world except the gravitational effect . . . and radioactive phenomena. . . .

On page 84 he says that "The actors are photons and electrons." And on page 85, their actions are:

Action #1: A photon goes from place to place.
Action #2: An electron goes from place to place.
Action #3: An electron emits or absorbs a photon."

Feynman 
DiagramMr. Feynman's QED book introduces to laymen what quantum physicists call "Feynman diagrams." Feynman diagrams show the movements of photons and electrons in space (horizontal axis) and time (vertical axis). This particular Feynman diagram shows an electron moving forward in time from location 1 to location 2 where it encounters photon 1. (An electron moving alone in free space cannot, it seems, interact with a photon, because of considerations having to do with conservation of energy and momentum. The electron in this diagram would have to be associated with an atom.) Photon 1 delivers momentum to the electron, causing it to change course toward location 3, where it emits photon 2 and then moves toward location 4.

That seems simple enough; however, this same diagram can also be said to show an electron moving backwards in time from location 4 toward location 3 where it encounters photon 2 (which is moving backwards in time) so that its trajectory is now toward location 2 where it emits photon 1 and then heads toward location 1.

Mr. Feynman's QED book is effectively a Dick-and-Jane type primer on quantum mechanics. But the slim book is difficult because so much of it defies ordinary experience. Electrons, for instance, can move backward in time as well as forward, and so can light, which, sometimes, might travel faster or slower than the speed commonly attributed to it, and it can travel from one place to another by other then straight lines. On page 97 he comments on the interaction of an electron with a photon and says, "One way this event can happen is: a photon is absorbed by an electron, the electron continues on a bit, and a new photon comes out" (as shown in the Feynman diagram above). But then, on page 101, he notes parenthetically that, "there are other possibilities to be considered, such as the new photon is emitted before the old photon is absorbed."

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter is not an easy book to read, but then neither was Dick and Jane at the time.

 

The Descriptive Power of QED

On page 77 Mr. Feynman reiterates the descriptive power of the QED theory: "Most of the phenomena you are familiar with involve the interaction of light and electrons all of chemistry and biology, for example." What he doesn't do is bring his poetic talents to bear: He says that QED explains everything, and he cites chemistry and biology but he does not get into such mundane specifics as feeling, emotion, evolution, sex, war, curiosity, politics, dreams and nearly everything else except gravitation and the stuff inside atomic nuclei.

Obviously the QED theory could be used to describe the electrochemical details of the neuronal processes that underlie thinking. A question here is whether QED has the potential to describe consciousness. Perhaps not, given that other properties of matter, such as gravitation, mass, and electric charge, while being treatable within QED, cannot be described, explained or otherwise accounted for in any ultimate way by QED that is, QED does not say why or how mass, charge and gravitation come about, any more than knowing how to flip a switch to turn on lights explains anything about electricity. Nonetheless, Mr. Feynman's amazing QED theory and his revelations about the interactions of photons and electrons can provoke some people to wonder at the thoughts in the mind that contemplates the possibility of "happiness and thought" on an otherwise vacant beach.

 

The Aesthetic Argument for the Property-of-Matter View of Consciousness

The two theories of how conscious awareness arises in this material world, as posed here, are the arrangement-of-matter view (AOM), and the property-of-matter view (POM).

In the AOM view, each of us exists within physical surroundings and our bodies are made of matter that by cultural tradition is thought of as inert, base, boring, worthless, and so on. But aesthetically this feels unlikely. For instance, as I write this on the sunny last day of August, 2011, I am sitting at a table by a pool at my cousin Kathy's house in Bethesda, Maryland. Sonny the cat is flopped out at my feet. The air is still; the leaves on the trees are still or still enough not to engage my rough human sense of air movement. But, the physicists say, even in the stillest seeming air there is vigorous movement: The air molecules around me and Sonny the cat are moving at an average speed of more than 1,000 mph, and each molecule is colliding with others about 8 billion times each second, an action that has been going on for billions of years. The water molecules in the pool are also slamming about among each other the motion can be seen directly with an inexpensive microscope to reveal what is called the Brownian motion of dust particles on the water's surface. And solid things, like the glass top of the table I am writing on or the pages of this notebook or my body also have this high-frequency molecular- and atomic-level jitter. Everything is moving, and all of it, says Prof. Feynman, is happening in ways describable by QED.

My preference for the POM view over the AOM view of the basis of consciousness is purely aesthetic. There can be no other type of argument for it, at this time. The AOM view doesn't even have that going for it. The AOM view is pretty much predicated on the tacit, unexamined, and culturally fashionable notion that consciousness can ONLY arise within the structure and operation of the brain because, in effect, secular culture currently regards the brain as the seat of the soul. Yes: Matter base matter is so devalued in western culture that the suggestion of a direct linkage of consciousness to matter is essentially heretical. The low esteem of matter in the western mind might be related to the traditional concept of a God above, in the sky, in the heavens, while "earth" (as in Genesis, meaning matter) is below, down here with unholiness, dirt and darkness. Matter, below, stands in contrast to goodness and light above. Matter is linked with evil. (God created light and called it good and incidently, in so doing, created moral judgment and "hierarchical" thinking wherein goodness and light are higher than darkness and "base matter." And also incidently, the "hier-" of "hierarchy," has been phononymically confused with "higher," though it refers to priests; "hierarchy" originally meant "rule by priests.") Consciousness is regarded as the "highest" aspect of being human, and any suggestion of direct linkage of consciousness to matter tacitly links it to "soil," "dirt," and "night soil." Cleanliness is next to godliness, the fall of man, and all that; the higher aspects of human consciousness cannot possibly be of this defiled earth.

 

Other Bodies, Born in Other Places

One of the implications of the property-of-matter view of consciousness is that the ultimate conscious agent of each person and each creature, for that matter is the same as all others. But it is obvious that differences between people e.g., personalities, world views, priorities derive from only one source: personal experience. The role of the genes is limited to how they affect life experiences. E.g., bad vision, good or poor memory or mental facility, good muscles for running, or the opposite they influence personal experience.

In the case of other creatures, the POM view implies the same thing: To the extent that each creature has experience of the world and memories of it, there must be a feeling of personal uniqueness. This would be so for crickets, squirrels, and presumably bacteria and so on. The conscious agent in each creature plays the same observer role as any other.

If you ever wondered what you'd be like if one of your parents had been different, this POM view wherein each conscious agent is purely an observer implies that even with the same "conscious agent" you would be a wholly different person; who you are now would no longer exist. Likewise, had you been born in another place or time, you, the present-moment you, would not exist; there would be some wholly other person in the world.

Another Star Trek example might make this clearer. In at least one show there was a problem with the "transporter": TWO copies of a person being transported materialized at the destination point. The POM view suggests that were such a thing to happen, that because each copy of the original person would be in a different location, initially side by side or otherwise close to one another, each of those person's views of the world would immediately be different, and from that instant on, different sets of life experiences would unfold for each of them. In other words, each copy would immediately be a different person from the other. Plausibly, each would have the same memories of experiences prior to the transporter accident, but subsequently each would be unique.

 

Some Implications of the Property-of-Matter View

The property-of-matter hypothesis being suggested here focuses on consciousness arising in the interaction of light with matter specifically the interactions of photons with electrons, and with any other particles that photons interact with.

Of particular interest is the heart of that interaction, namely the middle portion of the sequence that Prof. Feynman lays out: a photon interacts with and is absorbed by an electron; a moment passes; then the electron emits a photon. That brief "moment" on the order of 10-30 second might be regarded as a kind of "quantum unit" of conscious awareness.

This is not to suppose that any of this is "true" or actually relates to reality; it is simply a way to mentally connect consciousness with matter, and thereby to begin to think seriously about it. One might even go beyond the idea of the photon-electron interaction as the active embodiment of conscious awareness and instead, and, even more simply, regard the electron itself as being conscious like, ahah! within that brief moment that Mr. Feynman describes.

One implication of in this photon-electron POM view that centers on the interactions of light and matter is that awakeness and awareness happen wherever light (photons) interacts with electrons i.e., wherever light shines or matter which is pretty much in every little nook and cranny of the universe.

The words "life" and "death" would need new meanings if the POM view became general, or they might have no meaning at all.

Other creatures, such as Sonny the cat and the salamander he was chasing a moment ago are, like myself, solar-powered electromechanical vehicles that could each be carrying around a conscious agent that "sees" a real-time representation or model of present sensory experience that has been "put in context"with regard to prior experience; such bodies/vehicles might be all over the universe, and they might not necessarily be carbon-based in structure. The POM view allows that even on the molecular scale consciousness of some sort might be happening along with a concomitant molecular-scale "thinking" that, though not necessarily involving a conscious agent, might have a "decisional influence" on chemical reactions of the sort that, given enough time, lead to mechanisms whose origins are presently attributed exclusively to Darwin's natural selection. The evolution of eyes, ears and so on offers conscious agents larger views of the world

There are far more photon-electron interactions each second in the universe then there are atoms. By this model of thinking about consciousness, where the electron/photon interaction represents a "quantum unit" of awareness i.e., awareness of incoming information, of some little morsel about something happening elsewhere in the surrounding world then, in effect, the whole universe is, in its subatomic particulars, conscious. Regardless of its "truth value," this is just a neat idea. It might even be not so far out as to ask this: What if every atom is a conscious agent awaiting news about the world information, that is borne on photons?

 

A Model

emodel.jpgHere's a schematic view in which an electron (or maybe a whole atom) is disposed somewhere in the body (presumably in the brain) in a way that is similar to Lt. Barclay in the holodeck. The brain integrates sensory inputs into a model of the surrounding world, and then somehow gives meaning to that model by reference to prior experience. A stream of photons, maybe of different colors, is then fed to the electron (or atom), which might be held in a way analogous to an iron atom in a porphyrin molecule in hemoglobin.

Among the many questions that this idea and a schematic view like this one, can provoke, are these: What if the electron "in the driver's seat" were to be replaced by some other electron? If personal memories were not to change, then would not any electron be conscious of the same identity and sense of temporal continuity?

Maybe it wouldn't matter if one electron were replaced with another. Maybe all that's needed is for any random electron to be in the holodeck seat for consciousness to be aware of a continuity of existence and experience. Perhaps a current of electrons could be moving through, intersecting with, the stream of photons. After all, life experience is, for each of us, a continuing real-time story, which means that moment to moment each of us becomes a unique "new" person on the basis of each new event. The chain of personal memory goes back in time, and the brain's electro-mechanical processes maintain that sense of continuity we are conscious of, the sense of being present, here, now, and before now. Maybe this is a completely loony idea, and I can defend myself for having put this forth by saying I am only trying to present a way to think about how consciousness might be a property of matter, given that the arrangement-of-matter method of thinking provides essentially nothing to think about.

 

Free Will v. Determinism

In this POM view, where the conscious agent is purely a recipient of the brain's output, thinking is separate from and unrelated to consciousness. One's sense of personal temporal continuity is, as with thinking, a computational or brain function involving recalled memories of prior experiences. In the example of Lt. Barclay, the ship's computer did all the work except for the decisions.

Also, whereas Lt. Barclay seemed to make decisions when he managed the Enterprise from the holodeck, it is pretty much impossible to imagine an electron having any sort of decision-making ability. Also, it seems implicit in this materialist model of consciousness that the conscious agent does nothing other than observe the holodeck-like output of the brain.

Mr. Feynman says that electrons that interact with photons re-emit photons, which implies a "response" on the part of the electron. Maybe the re-emitted photons do something, provide some sort of feedback to the mechanistic brain . . .

Conscious awareness feels like its role is that of pure observer but those people who feel that way easily might be wrong. Recall that events in your dreams, which are your dreams happening presumably in your brain, are as unpredictable as events in waking reality. A dreamer's role is that of pure observer, despite the claims of those who claim the ability of controllable "lucid dreaming."

[INTERESTING NOTE: Isaac Newton's Second Law of Motion Force = Mass x Acceleration describes a world that is DETERMINISTIC, meaning there is no free will. (Sir Isaac must have wrestled with this; he was, according to his definitive 20th-century biographer, Richard S. Westfall, a believer in God and, presumably, free will.) In the Feynman diagram above, the time interval between time 2 and time 3 is said by physicists to be probabilistic, which means indeterminate. That interval can be brief, like on the order of 10-30 second, and presumably even briefer or much longer. If that time interval cannot be predicted or forecast, then even though Newton's Second Law still applies (i.e., momentum is conserved) free will can exist or at least seems like a possibility.]

Probably best to leave the question of free will v. determinism outside of the immediate topic here, at least right now.

 

Final Thoughts

Someday there might be a way to state in a single, brief sentence how consciousness arises, either as an arrangement of matter or as a property of matter. Such a sentence might be statable in the brief style of such classic statements of science as F = ma or E = mc2. But, if not reducible to elegant mathematical short hand, the statement might have more in common with Darwin's "evolution by means of natural selection" which, being a phrase rather than a sentence, might still have some of the scientific aesthetic aspect to it. The various statements of the Second Law of Thermodynamics are also of the sort desired as a compact summary of a reconciliation of conscious awareness with the rest of material reality.

Until such a time, there is a simple way to think about all this in terms of what Mr. Feynman calls "the actors" interacting; i.e., photons and electrons. They might be thought of as metaphorical stand-ins, the actual active principles perhaps being some yet other material things such as quarks bearing in mind that all such entities, being presumably material, exist in human cultural awareness as the vaguest of concepts that are at best sensed most indirectly.

The stand-in idea is this: The fundamental element of conscious awareness, the least reducible atomic or quantum unit of it, is the interaction of a photon with an electron.

In this admittedly bizarre idea, the electron-photon interaction is PURELY that of passive observer. Notions of will, intent and personal responsibility are not immediately evident which, in the view of some, is the way it is anyway. Set aside the metaphor of Lt. Barclay of the USS Enterprise, where intent and will are operative through the agency of Lt. Barclay. So be it at least for now: Let the topic of will stand aside for now, the present purpose being simply to suggest a way to think about how conscious awareness might be related to the rest of the material reality.

In this most hypothetical and humble photon-electron model of the physical basis of conscious awareness, each interaction event is unique, one of an infinite range/set of possibilities. And each interaction is short-lived, like on the order of trillionths of trillionths of a second. In effect, the entirety of physical reality the secular, materialistic, non-deistic and non-theistic reality is possibly in a way awake and aware.

 


 

Bob

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