Consciousness and existence: some brainstorming about it (revised June 19)

“The ego is a relation which relates to itself” S. Kierkegaard – Treaty on despair.

 In his definition of “ego “, the subject (me) and the object (me) are no longer intrinsic entities, but shadows of a more complex self-recursive structure that we call consciousness!

Like the snake biting its tail to close the circle, image, that curiously, we find in Nordic cosmogonies as we can see on the figure below.

 It is this concept, difficult to understand, that one should retain from his introspection.

Ygdrasil, the cosmic tree, ensures the vertical coherence of the worlds of Nordic mythology, while the snake of Midgard ensures its horizontal coherence.

Painting attributed to Oluf Bagge

Surprisingly, we find this kind of theorical structure in general relativity; As far as the universe is concerned, the classical view is that the universe is the container of all things that are in it, which are called the content. In this point of view, content and container are independent.

But, in general relativity, what would have been called, commonly, content and container in classical mechanics, is one entity. All the parts of what we would call the “content” in Newtonian mechanics define the geometry of the spacetime (the entity), while in turn all these parts interact (are coupled) with the geometry of this spacetime that they have defined and which then defines their phenomenology!

The whole, which results from this embrace, constitutes a space-time which is our universe

 In this case, we have found a solution to this intricate interdependence which, moreover, reflects better, than the classical view, the phenomenology of the universe, such as we observe it.

This looks to be a worthful approach for our topic.

Faced with this strange self-recursive property, one can wonder if this is a universal fundamental property of which our mind and the universe would be some representations.

But we can also assume that the cause is the structure of our mind which imprints the structure of the theory describing the universe, or, of course, vice versa.

 In order to try to find an approach to a situation that seems rather locked from the inside, let’s start with a phenomenological examination. Even if it is peripheral to the subject (we look around to examine it from different points of views), seeking who it applies to, how it’s implemented, what it entails. We hope that this would give us some information that might open up, at least, some perspective on how to tackle the problem.

Let’s start with the problem of our existence, which is a prerequisite for our consciousness. Let us underline that the motivation of this document, like the method advocated by Plato, is not to reveal any universal truth but to encourage everyone to think about what would corresponds to their own knowledge

 Would cosmology be different if we did not consider the problem of the creation of the universe, of its existence and of ours?

 The study of the current cosmological model, including the supposed “creation” of the universe, shows that our existence looks totally accessory even though all conditions for intelligent life were fulfilled [1]. It is surprising that in a theory which is a human work, the human is (apparently?)  absent! We wouldn’t be there; things would have gone the same way.

Our late appearance in its history attests it, since for more than 13 billion years (in cosmological time), all that happened, happened without us.

 Are we the only thinking beings in the universe?

The discovery of exoplanets in large numbers, foreshadowing a gigantic number, makes it credible that other forms of life, some of which being intelligent, may exist [2]. At the risk of upsetting our ego, the universe may also exist for others and as such would be “of more general interest” than we think. Are these other beings asking the same questions, have they gone beyond that? 

To tempt answer, we would have to start by getting rid of our egocentric approach. 

Is the problem of the creation of the universe and of our own a worthful topic?

 Since, it doesn’t seem like there is any need for this and it seems that our existence looks useless, one might wonder why living things, like us, wonder about it. We could therefore close the debate there, by considering quite wisely that all this seems to be a void question. Nevertheless, as we are children, rather curious, of this universe and that one can be seized with a doubt, in general, we consider that the question deserves to be examined as, perhaps this apparent uselessness is hiding something! After all, we admit a creation from nothing, why not look for a reason hidden in the useless. 

 Phenomenology of creation?

 The creation of the universe, is a mystery, because emerging from nothing is not a common event and should, doubtless, break some laws of physics and assuming that it is the transformation of something that existed before, one is only postponing the problem which ends up in an “eternal” existence of something.  

Cosmology is a theory, moreover not quantified, where the “origin” of the universe is a problem that the standard model of cosmology avoids by invoking a “singularity” for that.  

Creation is a singularity in this model, something where physics does no longer apply! In our daily existence the word “creation” is used in many various topics (art, business, even cooking.). 

Each of us has been created, which is correct use of the word because, before that, we did not exist. But our material substance is made up of an assembly, certainly original and moreover changing, of atoms which already were existing in nature prior our creation. 

The elementary particles, almost elementary as they are made up of quarks, the protons and neutrons were (almost in totality) all created 13.7 billion years ago (in cosmological time in the Big Bang model). [3] 

The protons which constitute us are 13,6 billion years old! The protons and neutrons that constitute us may have belonged to dinosaurs before us, or even to viruses and bacteria, etc. 

In the recycling process, the nature is very efficient! 

Curiously, if the theory predicts an origin, in our universe, to the proton, the proton seems “immortal” (no spontaneous disintegration). This baffles physicists. Even though, speculative, supersymmetric theories predict a limited proton “lifetime”, this has never been observed.

 

Therefore, nature reveals a kind of “eternity”, by the immortality of the proton which is a fundamental brick of matter. It is a very strange “dissymmetrical” concept in physics, as well as in philosophy, as there is a beginning but no end!

Does this question make sense?

 The essential functions of life are reproduction, survival (food) and development of the species, by the best possible appropriation of an environment, this, in competition with the other species. This is what many life forms seem to be limited to such as viruses, bacteria, plants, animals.Some life forms only live for one day, just long enough to reproduce.

One may wonder what kind of benefit can be provided to the Sapiens by questioning on its existence.  To a lesser extent, are other evolved animals, wild or domestic may be in the same quest? 

Could this also apply to other less complex individuals of some species which are simple but which behave within sophisticated collective social structures, such as ants and bees, for instance? 

Another element, linked to ecology, which comes to mind, is that alongside competition there is cooperation, such as synergy or even symbiosis between very different elements (our intestinal flora which allows us to ” assimilate food, the role of insects in pollinating plants, etc.). 

All this forms a closely linked system (that the purpose of ecology) with multiple interdependencies. For our own safety, we must care to not damage it too severely.  

Likely, we question our existence because we are aware of being an individual, delimited in space and time, with an inside and an outside, located, with many others Sapiens on the Earth. 

Does asking this question give us an advantage?

A priori, no. Rather, it would be a disadvantage by the anxiety it can provide.

Is this inspired by the fear of death, because we know that our life is finite and consequently, do we wish to link it to something that gives it some reasons for this existence?  Hence the religious and philosophical responses. 

The algorithms in all of this?

 We build high-performance machines capable of great autonomy in decision-making and action, possibly capable of reproducing themselves (building some others) and improving on their own. But do they have a consciousness of existing? It is true that at the beginning it was humans who designed them and implemented them.

 But these algorithms increasingly inspired by neuronal networks that are capable of learning, so evolving, can they become fully autonomous and (this is the great fear of some) get out of our control and become totally independent ?

Can these algorithms be designed for getting a consciousness of existing or could this result of a “bug”?  If so, wouldn’t that be a handicap (by getting human behavior) or would it be an advantage? 

Is it consciousness that gives Sapiens an advantage?

 At first glance, it is not obvious that for living being interested in such existential topics it is an advantage in terms of the efficiency of a society. See, for example, totalitarian societies (Nazism, Stalinist communism for example), where the individual is totally submitted to the collective. In other words, as some advocate, are these concerns unnecessary, futile or even harmful? 

In terms of efficiency, totalitarian political organizations, where philosophy is not welcome, look more efficient, as easier to govern, but the success of them looks to be invalidated, as least partly, as, even though democracies are more difficult to govern, providing an extensive and various educational policy, they allow a better development of ideas, freedom for personal initiative, and therefore more prosperity.

Today, less than one quarter of the total population live in a democratic country but the GNP of these countries accounts for three quarters of the world GNP. But, in a world, under tension as ours, democracies are more fragile and may be threaten by a growth of the obscurantism. This why it is so important to promote an extensive educational policy everywhere. 

Limits and confidence in the Brain

 The big question is therefore the nature of this consciousness linked to the nature of our brain. If this organ is remarkable, it would be wrong to sanctify it, because it is only an evolution of a more primitive structure.

He can be remarkably smart at dealing with common problems that we encounter in our environment, but he can only effectively deal with what he has encountered before (learning).  In other words, for questions to problems he has not been confronted with, his answers are questionable.

 Note, however, that the answers he can give are probably better than those resulting from simple chance because it is a remarkable property of neuronal networks to give a not completely random answer if the question asked has correlations with others questions that he has faced before.

It is surprising to see how an evolution, in the nature, providing a huge and sophisticated combination of interconnected neurons which, individually, are a very simple structure, may be so powerful. The power is in the combination of the neurons. A model that the most sophisticated algorithms try to imitate. 

Our brain: self-recursion at all levels!

 Let us note the feedback, because it is with our brain that we foment these doubts about it. In addition, it is also with our brain that we study it, at least its organic constitution where the manifestations of its cerebral activity have a physical counterpart, which only allows you to know shadows of reality !

Let us notice that this limit is not totally absent in the physical sciences, because experiments in physics reveal the phenomena, that is to say, the things such as they appear to us (the shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave), but certainly not the reality of the thing which is intended to be inaccessible !

It is with these constrains that we must orient our speculative questioning: How to be able to seek what the brain does not know by using our brain.

We see that we are facing a self-recursive problem that we will have to try, not to untangle because consciousness is part of this self-recursion, but to synthetically understand it in its structural complexity. The danger is that it misleads us without being able to realize it. 

As long as it is physics, the universe and the physical world give us some material references on which we can rely and even though we should be cautious even in physics, because it is through our physical interface (mind, instruments, theories) that we apprehend this physical world, when it comes to question our existence, it is pure metaphysics where none of these evidences exists.

Conclusion: as Plato said : To each one, his conclusion …

[1]  This fact is a truism, if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be here. This is called the “Weak anthropic principle”, which should be rather called the “weak anthropic argument”.

This topic is detailed in the book where we wonder how far, in a reductionist approach, we can go. In summary, for living things this is allowed by the structural diversity of electronic layers governed by quantum mechanics which allows very complex molecules.

 Indeed, the whole physic, with its elements and its laws of interaction is at work in this scheme. We consider that DNA is the key of the evolution and of the extraordinary complexity of living things. The evolution from very simple structures to complex beings like us, where the different functions necessary to life are carried out by specialized organs interacting with each other but also with other forms of living things (bacteria, viruses) is prodigiously marvelous! 

And what about sexual reproduction where from a tiny fertilized egg, the DNA architect will build an original individual but according to a well-established plan!

But this DNA also has its own DNA which are the four interactions (gravitation which will provide the convenient large “accommodation” for life (planets) and contribute to the supply of energy (stars), the strong interaction which build the protons, the neutrons also intervene in the. atomic nuclei, the weak interaction which allows the change of nature of the elements (the dream of the alchemists) and therefore their diversity and finally at the level of the human and of his environment scale, the electromagnetism which governs the electronic layers and allows the whole chemistry.

 These interactions constitute the primary DNA, whose laws govern, among others, our DNA.

Have these interactions always existed ? The Standard Model of Cosmology (MS), tells us that at the very beginning, they might exist but anyway they did not operate as they were masked.

In fact, even at that time, our DNA was already included in our universe.

These interactions decoupled very early (in cosmological time from the MS) and since that they are at work.

[2] The number of planets must be gigantic, as this is associated with the mechanism of star formation. In fact, the angular momentum must be evacuated so as not to prevent the collapse of the gas cloud that will generate the star, in the case of simple stars. It is the planets, which given their distance from the star which, despite their mass much less than the star, do this. In the solar system if 99% of the mass is in the Sun, 99% of the angular momentum is in the planets. So the existence of a planetary system for each star is a generic phenomenon, which suggests that the number of planets in the universe is greater than that of the number of stars, namely more than one hundred trillion trillions of planets!

The opportunity for life to develop is important, notwithstanding the silence of the heavens for reasons evoked by the Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation, taking into account, among others, the lifespan of an evolved civilization….

 [3] We speak of “immortal” free protons. Protons can decay into neutrons in nuclear reactions within an atomic nucleus such as (P + P → P+N (deuterium) + positron + neutrino via W+, which is the boson of weak interaction, in the Sun for example. Likewise, neutrons can decay into protons in atomic nuclei. The free neutron is unstable with a period of about 15 minutes. It disintegrates into a proton + an electron + an antineutrino (via the weak interaction boson W+)

 It is stabilized in a potential well, like that of atomic nuclei, in particular the nucleus of Helium, which made it possible to save the neutrons that had survived in primordial nucleosynthesis.