Archive for July, 2006

Statement of faith Messianic Jews

Posted by Pelgrim on 15th July 2006

GOD - We believe that the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4), teaches that God is Echad, as so declared: a united one, a composite unity, eternally existent in plural oneness [Gen. 1:1 (Elohim: God); Gen. 1:26 “Let us make man in our image”; Gen. 2:24 Adam & Eve were created to be as one flesh (basar echad)] 

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Pathology hearing voices and magnetic field therapy

Posted by Pelgrim on 7th July 2006

Today a Dutch television program aired a program on a current psychological study conducted in a Dutch hospital in which magnetic fields are used to bring down the “hearing of voices”.
A scan of the brain revealed that the area in the brain that is responsible for hearing becomes active at the moment the patient signals “hearing voices”. So to the patient they are as real as we would perceive hearing only in this case the ear is not involved.
These areas are treated with electro magnetic fields which brought down the “hearing of voices” considerably to the extent that the person could function again almost normally. This pathology is normally labelled psychotic as these voices tend to have a live of there own which negatively influences the patient.
The results are promising but still preliminary. The question it raises is: How do electro-magnetic fields influence the brain?

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Quantum Consiousness by Piero Scaruffi

Posted by Pelgrim on 5th July 2006

An approach to the mind-body problem based on physical laws has been advocated by several thinkers. Quantum Theory has been particularly intriguing for scientists eager to provide a physical explanation of consciousness.

Loosely speaking, the point is that consciousness is unlikely to arise from classical properties of matter (the more we understand the structure and the fabric of the brain, the less we understand how consciousness can occur at all), which are well known and well testable. But Quantum Theory allows for a new concept of matter altogether, which may well leave cracks for consciousness, for something that is not purely material or purely extra-material. Of course, the danger in this way of thinking is to relate consciousness and Quantum only because they are both poorly understood: what they certainly have in common is a degree of “magic” that makes both mysterious and unattainable…

On the other hand, it is certainly true that all current neurobiological descriptions of the brain are based on Newton’s Physics, even if it is well known that Newton’s Physics has its limitations. First of all, Newton’s Physics is an offshoot of Descartes division of the universe in matter and spirit, and it deals only with matter. Secondly, neurobiologists assume that the brain and its parts behave like classical objects, and that quantum effects are negligible, even while the “objects” they are studying get smaller and smaller. What neurobiologists are doing when they study the microstructure of the brain from a Newtonian perspective is equivalent to organizing a trip to the Moon on the basis of Aristotle’s Physics, neglecting Newton’s theory of gravitation.

No wonder most neurobiologists reach the conclusion that Physics cannot explain consciousness, since they are using a Physics that 1. was designed to study matter and leave out consciousness and that 2. does not work in the microworld. Not surprisingly, it has been claimed that all current neurobiological models are computationally equivalent to a Turing machine.

The true pioneer of this field is the biologist Alfred Lotka, who in 1924, when Quantum Theory had barely been born, proposed that the mind controls the brain by modulating the quantum jumps that would otherwise lead to a completely random existence.

The first detailed quantum model of consciousness was probably the American physicist Evan Walker’s synaptic tunneling model (1970), in which electrons can “tunnel” between adjacent neurons, thereby creating a virtual neural network overlapping the real one. It is this virtual nervous system that produces consciousness and that can direct the behavior of the real nervous system. The real nervous system operates by means of synaptic messages. The virtual one operates by means of the quantum effect of tunneling (particles passing through an energy barrier that classically they should not be able to climb). The real one is driven by classical laws, the virtual one by quantum laws. Consciousness is therefore driven by quantum laws, even if the brain’s behavior can be described by classical laws.

A few researchers have invoked another quantum effect, Bose-Einstein condensation (theoretically predicted in 1925 and first achieved in a gas in 1995), which is a general case of superconductivity. A Bose-Einstein condensate is the equivalent of a laser, except that it is the atoms, rather than the photons, that behave identically. Its atoms behave like they were a single atom. Technically speaking, as temperature drops each atom’s wave grows, until the waves of all the atoms begin to overlap and eventually merge. After they merged, the atoms are located within the same region in space, they travel at the same speed, they vibrate at the same frequency, etc.: they become indistinguishable. The atoms have reached the lowest possible energy, but Heisenberg’s principle makes it impossible for this to be zero energy: it is called “zero-point” energy, the minimum energy an atom can have. The intriguing feature of a Bose-Einstein condensate is that the many parts of a system not only behave as a whole, they become whole. Their identities merge in such a way that they lose their individuality.

In 1986 the British physicist Herbert Froehlich suggested that such condensation can be achieved in Nature by biological organisms. In particular, it should arise when biological oscillators which are in a nonequilibrium state (such as all plants and animals) are maintained at constant temperature. Biological oscillators of this kind are pervasive in nature: living matter is made of water and other biomolecules equipped with electrical dipoles, which react to external stimuli with a spontaneous breakdown of their rotational symmetry. The biological usefulness of such biological oscillators is that, like laser light, they can amplify signals and encode information (e.g., they can “remember” an external stimulus).

Pelgrims’s note: We are called children of the stars because of a process called the triple- alpha process. All living known is carbon based. The big bang process also created Hydrogen in a 4/12 ratio. 

In 1989 the British phychiatrist Ian Marshall showed similarities between the holistic properties of condensates and those of consciousness, and suggested that consciousness may arise from the excitation of such a Bose-Einstein condensate. In Marshall’s hypothesis, the brain contains a Froelich-style condensate, and, whenever the condensate is excited by an electrical field, conscious experience occurs. The brain would maintain dynamical coherence thanks to an underlying quantum coherent state (due, precisely, to the properties of such a condensate).

Drawing from Quantum Mechanics and from Bertrand Russell’s idea that consciousness provides a kind of “window” onto the brain, the philosopher Michael Lockwood advanced a theory of consciousness as a process of perception of brain states.

First he noted that Special Relativity implies that mental states must be physical states (mental states must be in space given that they are in time). Then Lockwood interpreted the role of the observer in Quantum Mechanics as the role of consciousness in the physical world (as opposed to a simple interference with the system being observed). Lockwood argued that sensations must be intrinsic attributes of physical states of the brain: in quantum lingo, each observable attribute (e.g., each sensation) corresponds to an observable of the brain. Consciousness scans the brain to look for sensations. It does not create them, it just seeks them.

In 1986 John Eccles, the British neurophysiologist who discovered neurotransmitters, has speculated that synapses in the cortex respond in a probabilistic manner to neural excitation, a probability that could well be governed by quantum uncertainty given the extremely small size of the synapsis’”microsite” that emits the neurotransmitter. If this is true, Eccles speculates that an immaterial mind (in the form of “psychons”) controls the quantum “jumps” and turns them into voluntary excitations of the neurons that account for body motion.

Conscious matter

The American physicist Nick Herbert has been even more specific on the similarities between Quantum Theory and consciousness. Herbert thinks that consciousness is a pervasive process in nature. Mind is as fundamental a component of the universe as elementary particles and forces. Mind can be detected by three features of quantum theory: randomness, thinglessness (objects acquire attributes only once they are observed) and interconnectedness (John Bell’s discovery that once two particles have interacted they remain connected). Herbert thinks that these three features of inert matter can account for three basic features of mind: free will, essential ambiguity, and deep psychic connectedness. Scientists may be vastly underestimating the quantity of consciousness in the universe.

The computer scientist James Culbertson, a pioneer of research on robots, has even speculated that consciousness may be a relativistic feature of spacetime. In his opinion, too, consciousness permeates all of nature, so that every object has a degree of consciousness.

According to Relativity, our lives are world lines in spacetime. Spacetime does not happen, it always exists. It is our brain that shows us a movie of matter evolving in time.

All spacetime events are conscious: they are conscious of other spacetime events. The “experience” of a spacetime event is static, a frozen region of spacetime events. All the subjective features of the “psychospace” of an observer can be completely derived from the objective features of the region of spacetime that the observer is connected to. Special circuits in our brain create the impression of a time flow, of a time travel through the region of spacetime events connected to the brain.

Memory of an event is re-experiencing that spacetime event, which is fixed in spacetime. We don’t store an event, we only keep a link to it. Conscious memory is not in the brain, is in spacetime.

The inner life of a system is its spacetime history. To clarify his view, Culbertson presents the case of two robots. First a robot is built and learns German, then another robot is built which is identical to the first one. Culbertson claims that the second robot does not speak German, even if it is identical to the one which speaks German. Their spacetime histories are different. At the same time, Culbertson thinks that our consciousness is much more than an illusory travel through spacetime, and it can, in turn, influence reality. Quantum Thoery prescribes that reality be a sequence of random quantum jumps. Culbertson believes that they are not random but depend on the system’s spacetime history, i.e. on its inner life.

Tripartite Idealism

The American physicist Henry Stapp holds that classical Physics cannot explain consciousness because it cannot explain how the whole can be more than the parts. In Quantum Mechanics, on the other hand, the relationship between the parts and the whole is completely different. Stapp therefore advances a “quantum theory of consciousness” and bases it on Heisenberg’s interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (that reality is a sequence of collapses of wave functions, i.e. of quantum discontinuities). He observes that this view is similar to William James’s view of the mental life as “experienced sense objects”. His view harks back to the heydays of Quantum Theory, when it was clear to its founders that “science is what we know”. Science specifies rules that connect bits of knowledge. Each of us is a “knower” and our joint knowledge of the universe is the subject of Science. Quantum Theory is therefore a “knowledge-based” discipline. This view was “pragmatic” because it prescribes how to make experiments, and it was separating the system to be observed from the observer and from the instrument. Von Neumann introduced an “ontological” approach to this knowledge-based discipline, which brought the observer and the instrument in the state of the system. Stapp describes Von Neumann’s view of Quantum Theory through a simple definition: “the state of the universe is an objective compendium of subjective knowings”. This statement describes the fact that the state of the universe is represented by a wave function which is a compendium of all the wave functions that each of us can cause to collapse with her or his observations. That is why it is a collection of subjective acts, although an objective one. Stapp follows the logical consequences of this approach and achieves a new form of idealism: all that exists is that subjective knowledge, therefore the universe is now about matter, it is about subjective experience. Quantum Theory does not talk about matter, it talks about our perceiving matter. Stapp rediscovers George Berkeley’s idealism: we only know our perceptions (observations). Stapp’s model of consciousness is tripartite. Reality is a sequence of discrete events in the brain. Each event is an increase of knowledge. That knowledge comes from observing “systems”. Each event is driven by three processes that operate together:

The “Schroedinger process” is a mechanical, deterministic, process that predicts the state of the system (in a fashion similar to Newton’s Physics: given its state at a given time, we can use equations to calculate its state at a different time). The only difference is that Schroedinger’s equations describe the state of a system as a set of possibilities, rather than just one certainty.
The “Heisenberg process” is a conscious choice that we make: the formalism of Quantum Theory implies that we can know something only when we ask Nature a question. This implies, in turn, that we have a degree of control over Nature. Depending on which question we ask, we can affect the state of the universe. Stapp mentions the Quantum Zeno effect, as a well known process in which we can alter the course of the universe by asking questions (it is the phenomenon by which a system is “freezed” if we keep observing the same observable very rapidly). We have to make a conscious decision about which question to ask Nature (which observable to observe).Otherwise nothing is going to happen.
The “Dirac process” gives the answer to our question. Nature replies, and, as far as we can tell, the answer is totally random. Once Nature has replied, we have learned something: we have increased our knowledge. This is a change in the state of the universe, which directly corresponds to a change in the state of our brain. Technically, there occurs a reduction of the wave function compatible with the fact that has been learned.
Stapp’s interpretation of Quantum Theory is that there are many knowers. Each knower’s act of knowledge (each individual increment of knowledge) results in a new state of the universe. One person’s increment of knowledge changes the state of the entire universe, and, of course, it changes it for everybody else. Quantum Theory is not about the behavior of matter, but about our knowledge of such behavior. “Thinking” is a sequence of events of knowing, driven by those three processes. Instead of dualism or materialism, one is faced with a sort of interactive “triality”, all aspects of which are actually mind-like: The physical aspect of Nature (the Schroedinger equation) is a compendium of subjective knowledge. The conscious act of asking a question is what drives the actual transition from one state to another, i.e. the evolution of the universe. And then there is a choice from the outside, the reply of Nature, which, as far as we can tell, is random. Stapp’s conclusions somehow mirror the ideas of the American psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwarz, who is opposed to the mechanistic approach of Psychiatry and emphasizes the power of consciousness to control the brain. Stapp revives idealism by showing that Quantum Theory is about knowledge, not matter. The universe is a repository of knowledge, that we have access to and upon which our consciousness has control.

Holonomic Consciousness

The “holonomic” model of memory, advanced by psychologist Karl Pribram, is based on the hologram. Many properties of the brain are the same properties that are commonly associated with holograms: memory is distributed in the brain and memories do not disappear all of a sudden, but slowly fade away. Holograms are the product of a physical process that preserves the three-dimensional quality of an object. Normally, lasers are employed to record the diffraction pattern of an object, from which a 3-dimensional image of the object can be rebuilt. In Pribram’s opinion a sensory perception is transformed in a “brain wave”, a pattern of electromagnetical activation that propagates through the brain just like the wavefront in a liquid. This crossing of the brain provides the interpretation of the sensory perception in the form of a “memory wave”, which in turn crosses the brain. The various waves that travel through the brain can interfere. The interference of a memory wave and a perceptual (e.g., visual) wave generates a structure that resembles an hologram. Pribram employs Fourier transformations to deal with the dualism between spacetime and spectrum, and Gabor’s phase space to embed spacetime and spectrum. All perceptions (and not only colors or sounds) can be analyzed into their component frequencies of oscillation and therefore treated by Fourier analysis. Dirac’s “least action principle” (which favors the least expenditure of energy) constrains trajectories in such a space. Gabor’s uncertainty principle sets a limit at which both frequency and spacetime can be concurrently determined (the fundamental minimum is Gabor’s “quantum of information”). Structure and process are two aspects of the same entity, distinguished only by the scale of observation (from a distance an entity looks like a structure, but close enough it is a process). In Pribram’s theory, therefore, the formalism of Quantum Theory applies to the modeling of brain functions themselves (brain microprocesses and physical microprocesses can be described by the same formalism). Incidentally, Pribram suggested that consciousness may occur primarily in dendritic-dendritic processing and that axonal firings may support primarily automatic, non-conscious activities.Quantum brain dynamics

Quantum-gravitational Consciousness

One of the strongest proponents of a theory of consciousness founded on Quantum Theory is Roger Penrose in person, one of the leading British physicists of our times. In his opinion, consciousness must be a quantum phenomenon because neurons are too big to account for consciousness. Inside neurons there is a “cytoskeleton”, the structure that holds cells together, whose “microtubules” (hollow protein cylinders 25-nanometers in diameter) control the function of synapses. Penrose believes that consciousness is a manifestation of the quantum cytoskeletal state and its interplay between quantum and classical levels of activity. The theory exposed by Penrose and his close American associate Stuart Hameroff is very detailed. The story begins with Penrose’s distinction between “subjective” and “objective” reduction. Subjective reduction is what happens when an observer measures a quantity in a quantum system: the system is not in any specific state (the system is in a “superposition” of possible states) until it is observed, the observation causes the system to reduce (or “collapse”) to a specific state. This is the only reduction known to traditional Quantum Theory. Objective reduction is a Penrose discovery, part of his attempt at unifying Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory. Superpositioned states each have their own space-time geometry. Under special circumstances, which microtubules are suitable for, the separation of space-time geometry of the superpositioned states (i.e., the “warping” of these space-times) reaches a point (the quantum gravity threshold) where the system must choose one state. The system must then spontaneously and abruptly collapse to that one state. So, objective reduction is a type of collapse of the wave function which occurs when the universe must choose between significantly differing spacetime geometries. This “self-collapse” results in particular “conformational states” that regulate neural processes. These conformational states can interact with neighboring states to represent, propagate and process information. Each self-collapse corresponds to a discrete conscious event. Sequences of events then give rise to a “stream” of consciousness. The proteins somehow “tune” the objective reduction which is thus self-organized, or “orchestrated”. In concluding, the quantum phenomenon of objective reduction controls the operation of the brain through its effects on coherent flows inside microtubules of the cytoskeleton. In general, the collapse of the wave function is what gives the laws of nature a non-algorithmic element. Otherwise we would simply be machines and we would have no consciousness. Therefore, Penrose and Hameroff believe that “protoconscious” information is encoded in space-time geometry at the fundamental Planck scale and that a self-organizing Planck-scale process results in consciousness. This means that Penrose believes in a Platonic scenario of conscious states that exist in a world of their own, and to which our minds have access; except that his “world of ideas” is a physicist’s world: quantum spin networks encode proto-conscious states and different configurations of quantum spin geometry represent varieties of conscious experience. Access to these states (or consciousness as we know it) originates when a self-organizing process (the objective reduction) somehow coupled with neural activity collapses quantum wave functions at Planck-scale geometry. There is a separate mental world, but it is grounded in the physical world.

A Physics of Consciousness

Now that legions of physicists are delving into the topic, physical models of consciousness abound. One has to do with other dimensions. The unification theories that attempt at unifying General Relativity (i.e. gravitation) and Quantum Theory (i.e., the weak, electrical and strong forces) typically add new dimensions to the four ones we experience. These dimensions differ from space in that they are bound (actually, rolled up in tiny tubes) and in that they only exist for changes to occur in particle properties. Saul-Paul Sirag’s hyperspace, for example, contains many physical dimensions and many mental dimensions (time is one of the dimensions they have in common). The physicist Erich Harth is trying to explain consciousness by means of a process that relies on “positive” feedback. Feedback can be negative or positive. Negative feedback is the familiar one, which has to do with stabilizing a process, in particular its input with its output. Positive feedback works in the opposite direction, at the edge of instability: the signal is amplified by itself, weakening the relationship between input and output. Harth thinks that a loop of positive feedback spreads through different areas of the brain and provides “selective amplification. If that be the case, then unification of consciousness would occur at the bottom of the sensory pyramid, not at the top. The American physicist Alwyn Scott applies Eigen’s model of “hypercycles” to consciousness. He makes consciousness stem from a procedure which is analogous to the one that generates life: simple cells originate complex cells which originate hypercomplex cells.

A critique of Neuroscience

All contemporary Neuroscience is based on classical Physics. No surprise that it derives a view of the brain as a set of mechanical laws: that is the “only” view that classical Physics can derive. No surprise that it cannot explain how consciousness arises, since there is no consciousness in classical Physics: it was erased from the study of matter by Descartes’ dualism (that mind and matter are separate), on which foundations Newton erected classical Physics (the science of matter, which does not deal with mind). By definition, Descartes’ dualism predicts that mind cannot be explain from matter, and Newton’s Physics is an expression of dualism. Which means that dualism predicts that Newton’s Physics cannot explain mind. Neuroscientists who are looking for consciousness miss that simple syllogism: they are looking for consciousness using a tool that is labeled “this tool does not deal with consciousness”. Contemporary Neuroscience rests on the idea that a physical system is made of independent parts which interact only with their immediate neighbords and whose behavior over time is deterministic. This is the principle behind all computational models of the brain. Within this paradigm, a mind is the product of a brain, which is one particular system of the many that populate the universe. This is a very interesting paradigm, but it is not what Physics prescribes today. It is what Physics prescribed a century ago, before it was showed to be wrong.

The New Materialism

A contemporary American philosopher of the mind, David Chalmers, argues that consciousness cannot be explained with a reductionist approach, because it does not belong to the realm of matter. Chalmers proposes to expand Science in a fashion that is still compatible with today’s Science (in the areas where it is successful) and that allows for a dualist approach. Chalmers distinguishes between a phenomenal concept of mind (the way it feels) and a psychological concept of mind (what it does). Every mental property is either a phenomenal property, a psychological one or a combination of the two. The mind-body problem is therefore made of two parts, one that deals with the mental faculties and one that deals with how/why those mental faculties also give rise to awareness of them (Jackendoff’s “mind-mind problem”). Pain, for example, is both a material entity that can be analyzed functionally, in terms of its effect on behavior, and the feeling of pain. The same distinction applies to consciousness, with psychological consciousness being commonly referred to as “awareness”; but phenomenal consciousness always comes with psychological consciousness. Awareness is having access to information that may affect behavior. Chalmers’ brand of monism admits both physical and non-physical features in the world. His dualism is different from Descartes’ in that it claims that “consciousness is a feature of the world” which is somehow related to its physical properties. A new, fundamental, irreducible feature (a set of “protophenomenal” properties) must be added to space-time, mass, charge, spin, etc., and a set of “psychophysical” laws (explaining how phenomenal properties depend on physical properties) must be added to the laws of nature. Chalmers outlines a few candidate psychophysical laws, such as the principle of coherence between consciousness and cognition and the principle of organizational invariance. The former states a tight relationship between the structure of consciousness and functional organization. The latter states that every system organized in the appropriate way will experience the same conscious states, regardless of what substance it is made of, i.e., consciousness is “organizationally invariant”. From these principles, it follows that consciousness is due to the functional organization of the brain. It also follows that anything having the proper functional organization can have consciousness, regardless of the material it is made of. Still looking for fundamental laws of consciousness, Charmers offers an interpretation of his theory based on the dualism between information and pattern: information is what pattern is from the inside. Consciousness is information about the pattern of the self. Information becomes therefore the link between the physical and the conscious. Ultimately, everything in the universe may be conscious, at least to some degree.

A Darwinist Theory of Consciousness

If we assume that a similar law of evolution is responsible for all living phenomena, from the creation of species to the immune system, and we admit that mind is one of them, then a possible scenario emerges, which is compatible with the latest neurophysiological findings. Thoughts are continuously and randomly generated, just like the immune system generates antibodies all the time without really knowing which ones will be useful. Thoughts survive for a while, giving rise to minds that compete for control of the brain. At each time, one mind prevails because it can better cope with the situation. Which mind prevails has an influence on which thoughts will be generated in the future. In practice, a mind is the mental equivalent of a phylogenetic thread (of a branch of the tree of life). We are conscious, by definition, only of the mind that is prevailing. In ancient times the minds generared chaotically were simply shouted to the “rational” apparatus of the brain, which would act as the mediator with the environment: it would translate “hallucinations” into actions. and the result of actions into emotions, and emotions would either reinforce or weaken the mind in control. Emotions would select the mind. This is more evident in children, which explore many unrelated thoughts in a few minutes: whatever the various minds produce. Later, the adult is better adjusted to select “minds” and does not need to try them all out. The adult has been “biased” by natural selection to recognize the “best” minds. The 40 Hz radiation may simply be a way of scanning all available thoughts and of reporting emotions back to all minds (in other words, of reading the outputs of the minds, in the form of thoughts, and of feeding them new inputs, in the form of emotions).

A Materialistic Theory of Consciousness

“what” is consciousness? What substance is it made of?

Many attempts have been made at explaining consciousness by reducing it to something else. To no avail. There is no way that our sensations can be explained in terms of particles. So, how does consciousness arise in matter? Maybe it doesn’t arise, it is always there. I am conviced that, no matter how detailed an account is provided of the neural processes that led to an action (say, a smile), that account will never explain where the feeling associated to that action (say, happiness) came from. No theory of the brain can explain why and how consciousness happens, if it assumes that consciousness is somehow created by some neural entity which is completely different in structure, function and behavior from our feelings. From a logical standpoint, the only way out of this dead-end is to accept that consciousness must be a physical property. When we try to explain consciousness by reducing it to electrochemical processes, we put ourselves in a situation similar to a scientist who decided to explain electrical phenomena by using gravity. Electrical phenomena can be explained only if we assume that electricity comes from a fundamental property of matter (i.e. from a property that is present in all matter starting from the most fundamental constituents) and that, under special circumstances, enables a particular configuration of matter to exhibit “electricity”. Similarly, if consciousness comes from a fundamental property of matter (from a property that is present in all matter starting from the most fundamental constituents), then, and only then, we can study why and how, under special circumstances, that property enables a particular configuration of matter (e.g., the brain) to exhibit “consciousness”. Any paradigm that tries to manufacture consciousness out of something else is doomed to failure. Things don’t just happen. Ex nihilo nihil fit. Consciousness doesn’t come simply from the act of putting neurons together. It doesn’t appear like magic. Conductivity seems to appear by magic in some configurations of matter (e.g. metallic objects), but there’s no magic: just a fundamental property of matter, the electrical charge, which is present in every single particle of this universe, a property which is mostly useless but that under the proper circumstances yields the phenomenon known as conductivity. Particles are not conductors by themselves, just like they are not conscious, and most things made of particles (wood, plastic, glass, etc. etc.) are not conductors (and maybe have no consciousness), but each single particle in the universe has an electrical charge and each single particle in the universe has a property, say, C. That property C is the one that allows our brain to be conscious. I am not claiming that each single particle is conscious or that each single piece of matter in the universe is conscious. I am only arguing that each single particle has this property C which, under the special circumstances of our brain configuration (and maybe other brain configurations as well and maybe even things with no brain) yields consciousness. Just like electricity and gravitation are macroscopic properties that are caused by microscopic properties of the constituents, so consciousness may be a macroscopic property of our brain that is caused by a microscopic property of its constituents. Just like electrical phenomena can only be reduced to smaller-scale electrical phenomena (all the way to the charge of each single constituent), so consciousness can only be reduced to smaller-scale conscious phenomena. Any theory that tries to manufacture consciousness from other properties of matter is doomed. Even Penrose’s, because he too makes consciousness appear by magic out of unconscious matter (molecules that are unconscious suddenly acquire consciousness when organized in a cytoskeleton).

My theory is not dualistic and is not materialistic. Like dualists, I admit the existence of consciousness as separate from the physical properties of matter as we know them; but at the same time, like materialists, I consider consciousness as arising from a physical property (that we have not discovered yet) that behaves in a fundamentally different way from the other physical properties. So in a sense it is not a “physical” property, but it is still a property of all matter. Mine is an identity theory, in that I think that mental correspond to neural states, but it goes beyond identity because I also think that the property yielding consciousness is common to all matter, whether it performs neural activity or not. What made Descartes believe in dualism is the unity of consciousness. But electrical conductors also exhibit a unity of electricity, and still electrical phenomena can be reduced to a physical property of matter The main problem is the lack of an empirical test for consciousness. We cannot know whether a being is conscious or not. We cannot “measure” its consciousness. We cannot rule out that every object in the universe, including each elementary particle, has consciousness: we just cannot detect it. Even when I accept that other human beings are conscious a) I base my assumption on similarity of behavior, not on an actual “observation” of their consciousness; and b) I somehow sense that some people (poets and philosophers, for example) may be more conscious than other people (lawyers and doctors, for example). The trouble is that our mind is capable only of observing conscious phenomena at its own level and within itself. Our mind is capable of observing only one conscious phenomenon: itself. A good way to start is to analyze why consciousness is limited to the brain. Why does consciousness apply only to the brain? What is special about the brain that cannot be found anywhere else? If the brain is made of common matter, of well-known constituents, what is it that turns that matter conscious when it is configured as a brain, but not when it is configured as a foot? And why does it stop being conscious if oxygen or blood are not supplied?

Further Reading

Chalmers David: THE CONSCIOUS MIND (Oxford University Press, 1996)
Culbertson James: THE MINDS OF ROBOTS (University of Illinois Press, 1963)
Culbertson James: SENSATIONS MEMORIES AND THE FLOW OF TIME (Cromwell Press, 1976)
Eccles John: EVOLUTION OF THE BRAIN (Routledge, 1989)
Eccles John: THE SELF AND ITS BRAIN (Springer, 1994)
Globus Gordon: THE POSTMODERN BRAIN (John Benjamins, 1995)
Herbert Nick: ELEMENTAL MIND (Dutton, 1993)
Lockwood Michael: MIND, BRAIN AND THE QUANTUM (Basil Blackwell, 1989)
Penrose Roger: THE EMPEROR’S NEW MIND (Oxford Univ Press, 1989)
Penrose Roger: SHADOWS OF THE MIND (Oxford University Press, 1994)
Pribram Karl: LANGUAGES OF THE BRAIN (Prentice Hall, 1971)
Pribram Karl: BRAIN AND PERCEPTION (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1990)
Searle John: THE REDISCOVERY OF THE MIND (MIT Press, 1992)
Stapp Henry: MIND, MATTER AND QUANTUM MECHANICS (Springer-Verlag, 1993)
Yasue Kunio & Jibu Mari: QUANTUM BRAIN DYNAMICS AND CONSCIOUSNESS (John Benjamins, 1995)

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Quantized redshift discovery by Tifft

Posted by Pelgrim on 5th July 2006

Dr. William J. Tifft of the University of Arizona is one of many astronomers who have continued Hubble’s work by performing increasingly precise red-shift measurements. Tifft’s technique has been to focus attention on stars in the arms of many spiral galaxies and to measure the observed red shift of each. Since such galaxies should be randomly distributed in the universe, one would expect the red shifts to also be random and to form a smooth distribution. Instead, in 1978 Tifft found that the red-shifts were grouped into clusters of similar values, and that the clusters were regularly spaced with a separation equivalent to velocity shifts of 72 kilometers per second. Such a “quantized” red-shift is completely unexpected and cannot be readily explained. Therefore, it is not surprising that Tifft’s first reports of this phenomenon were met with great skepticism on the astrophysics community. Some skeptics noted that Tifft’s quantization velocity is not much different from 60 kilometers per second, the semi-annual variation in the Earth’s orbital velocity vector in its orbit around the Sun, and suggested that this velocity variation had produced the effect.

Tifft’s results were so controversial that several groups of astronomers set out to prove that they were wrong by gathering data on red shifts more broadly and from a wider variety of galaxy types. To the surprise of the would-be disprovers, they found evidence for the same red-shift quantization that Tifft had reported. For example, a group of astronomers associated with the Royal Observatory at Edinburgh, Scotland, examined 89 spiral galaxies picked at random and found a periodic bunching of red shifts in their data that was similar to the 72 km/s intervals found by Tifft. The data they used came from many different observatories and many different telescopes, and it is therefore unlikely that some instrumental effects or systematic errors produce the observed red-shift quantization. The quantized red-shift phenomenon is not exclusively a property of the visible light spectrum of stars. Recent results from precision radio-telescope observations of spiral galaxies also appear to support Tifft’s results. The quantized red-shift phenomenon won’t go away. Astronomers are coming to accept it as a real phenomenon.

Are there theories that can explain the effect? Not really. Gravitational attraction is known to bunch galaxies into clusters of galaxies with similar red-shifts, but such bunches should be randomly distributed, not regularly spaced. Tifft’s Arizona colleague W. John Cocke attempted to place the quantized red-shift effect in a theoretical ad hoc “quantum” framework by hypothesizing a “red shift” operator constructed to produce discrete recession velocities as eigenvalues of a wave equation. Cocke’s approach, however, did not yield velocities spaced a even intervals. Instead, the squares of the velocities were equally spaced in the model. In later theoretical work, Nieto at Los Alamos devised a mathematical technique for producing evenly spaced velocities. However there is no physical justification for such a wave equation or red shift operator, nor is there any explanation of underlying mechanisms behind the suggested mathematics.

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Electro magnetic fields, matter and its source

Posted by Pelgrim on 5th July 2006

Plasma is electric current flow in space without the mechanical limitations of physical circuitry.
Electro magnetic fields
Maxwell studied the parameters of electrical and magnetic fields and gave us the famous four Maxwell equations which have been used since in all electromagnetic field equations.

But Maxwell also included a tiny term in his original equations which he incorporated in order to make the equations consistent. The term was tiny, but the mathematics involved 20 quaternions to solve. Maxwell called this tiny current displacement currents, and they were to connect the Ether to the fields. But the Ether did not survive, and with it, Maxwell’s tiny displacement current was simplified out.

Thomas Kuhn, using Maxwell as an example on his explanation of scientific revolutions, wonders, “…perhaps we shall someday know what these displacement currents are.”

Maxwell’s displacement is that tiny current which connects the electric<>magnetic fields to their source.

There is a source. All matter is but electron fields interacting together. Fields are moving and moving is energy. Energy does not come from nowhere and what goes out must come in. This much is known. All matter-fields are sustained through the Maxwell displacement currents by a non-local plenum of high energy potential known by many different names. This much is to be learned.

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Halton Arp’s redshift discoveries

Posted by Pelgrim on 5th July 2006

galaxy.jpgArp discovered, from photographs and spectra with the big telescopes, that many pairs of quasars (”quasi-stellar objects”) which have extremely high redshift z values (and are therefore thought to be receding from us very rapidly - and thus must be located at a great distance from us) are physically connected to galaxies that have low redshift and are known to be relatively close by. Because of Arp’s observations, the assumption that high red shift objects have to be very far away - on which the “Big Bang” theory and all of “accepted cosmology” is based - has to be fundamentally reexamined.!

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Big Bang?

Posted by Pelgrim on 5th July 2006

The Big Bang is already dead! The unheralded “Galileo of the 20th century”, Halton Arp, has proven that the universe is not expanding. The Big Bang theory is based on a misinterpretation of redshift. The redshift of a distant galaxy is measured in the light coming from that galaxy. Lines in the spectrum of that galaxy show a shift toward the red compared with the same lines from our Sun. Arp discovered that high and low redshift objects are sometimes connected by a bridge or jet of matter. So redshift cannot be a measure of distance. Most of the redshift is intrinsic to the object. But there is more: Arp found that the intrinsic redshift of a quasar or galaxy took discrete values, which decreased with distance from a central active galaxy. In Arp’s new view of the cosmos, active galaxies “give birth” to high redshift quasars and companion galaxies. Redshift becomes a measure of the relative ages of nearby quasars and galaxies, not their distance. As a quasar or galaxy ages, the redshift decreases in discrete steps, or quanta.

The huge puzzle for astrophysicists is why a galaxy should exhibit an atomic phenomenon. So we turn to particle physics. This difficulty highlights the fact that quantum “mechanics” applied to atoms is a theory without physical reality. The weirdness of quantum theory has been attributed to the subatomic scale to which it applies. But now that we have quantum effects in something the size of a galaxy, this convenient nonsense is exposed. If Arp is right many experts are going to look very silly. His discovery sounded the alarm in some halls of Academe and since nobody likes a loud noise - particularly if they are asleep - the knee-jerk response was to attack the guy with his finger on the alarm button. Arp’s telescope time was denied, papers rejected, and he was forced to leave the US to pursue his work.

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Sensed Presences and Mystical States

Posted by Pelgrim on 3rd July 2006 

Why Study Them?

Understanding the neurobehavioral correlates of the sense of self is one of the last challenges for neuroscience. In general the sense of self is involved with language processes traditionally associated with the left hemisphere of the human brain. However we were interested in the source of discovery: the neurocognitive processes of creativity. We had been impressed by the many historical and cross-cultural examples of ordinary people who accessed sophisticated knowledge well beyond their level of education or intellect when the right hemisphere was likely to have been stimulated. To test this association we experimentally simulated the condition. We applied specific complex magnetic fields of less than 1 microTesla over the right hemisphere. The most frequent result was the experience of the sense of a presence or of another Sentient Being.

We have hypothesised that this sense of a presence is the transient awareness of the right hemispheric equivalent to the left hemispheric sense of self. We suspect that the general properties of this “other” reflect right hemispheric functions that include a feeling of extended space (beyond the self, infinity), widened time (eternity) and marked emotion. Our data suggest that the sensed presence is the prototype for experiences of gods, incubi, succubae, demons, and other “supernatural” beings. Most cultures have words to describe a process that is everywhere and forever. They usually call it God or some equivalent. Whether or not the idea is valid or not (if God exists or does not exit) is not the issue. What is important is that we have a technology that may allow the identification of those portions of the brain and those activities of the brain that generate the experience. Consequently the experimental study of these phenomena may allow us a more precise understanding of their origins within the brain and the stimuli, man-made and natural, that produce them.

The primary experimental method to study the “presence” is to place the person in a simulated “cave”, an acoustic chamber, where they are blindfolded and sit in the dark for about 30 min. The person wears a helmet or a collection of solenoids arranged around the head (like a crown) through which complex magnetic fields are generated. By applying specific patterns of weak magnetic fields that imitate the brains own activities, about 80% of the normal population report the experience of “another”. Only specific patterns produce the experience; a reversed presentation of the pattern does not. People exposed to sham-field conditions rarely report the experience.

What we have found

We have found that: 1) the verbal label (usually supplied by the culture) the person places upon the experience strongly affects how it is recalled even within a few seconds after the end of the experiment, 2) experiences along the left side are usually aversive while those associated with the right side are more positive and may have “thoughts” associated with them, 3) increased geomagnetic activity in association with right hemispheric stimulation encourages the incidence of a sensed presence, 4) when a person attempts to “focus” upon the sensed presence it appears to become dynamic (to “move”) since the act of focusing alters brain activity and hence how the applied complex fields interact with the brain, 5) an inordinate number of people who experience a sensed presence attribute them to gods or deceased individuals, 6) about 7% of the population, particularly males with enhanced temporal lobe lability and who attend a religious place frequently), report that if god told them to kill they would in his name, and 7) certain patterns of applied magnetic fields produce subjective experiences that are sometimes considered “parapsychological” or “paranormal”. By applying a specific sequence of magnetic fields through the brain of a person who had experienced a “haunt”, we generated the experience as well as paroxysmal electrical activity that suggested a source deep within the right temporal lobe.

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Scientific research - union experience and the brain

Posted by Pelgrim on 3rd July 2006
silence and venture out of the cloister, ANNE McILROY says. They have joined forces with science to look for a concrete sign from God — inside the human brain

Saturday, December 6, 2003 - Page F1 
The Carmelite nuns live a life of silent prayer, separated from the modern world by the high stone wall that surrounds their monastery in an industrial part of Montreal. Except for medical care, they rarely leave their sanctuary. But that changed late last month, when they began to make periodic visits to, of all places, a science lab.

The sisters arrive at the neuro-science laboratory in the University of Montreal’s psychology department two at a time, wearing habits sewn from thick, dark cloth, high white collars and veils that frame their faces and flow down their backs. On their feet are sensible brown laceups that appear to have never seen the outdoors before.

They come to take part in an experiment that will probe a mystical and very private part of their lives. Sister Diane, the monastery’s prioress, and Sister Teresa admit to being nervous as they peer curiously into a dark chamber about the size of a walk-in closet and equipped with an old barber’s chair.

It is here that they have agreed to try to relive unio mystica, a religious experience so intense that Christians profess to sense their Lord as a physical presence. The nuns hope to help Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard uncover just what happens in their brains when they feel the hand of God.

Their openness to scientific examination is a sign of a relatively recent rapprochement between science and religion, especially in the new field of neurotheology, which uses the tools of psychology and neuroscience to probe the neural underpinnings of religious experience.

This is only a dry run, but the formidable Sister Diane suddenly looks vulnerable as she takes off her veil and loosens her thick grey hair. Research assistant Vincent Paquette gently helps her put on what looks like a red bathing cap full of holes. Inside the cap, electrodes below each hole will be attached to her scalp to measure the electrical activity of her brain.

“This isn’t,” she says, “what we are used to.”

Indeed, life inside the monastery has changed little since the Carmelites founded it in 1875. Sister Diane and her nuns rise at 5:20 for breakfast and an hour of silent prayer that they liken to meditation. The days are filled with chanting the Psalms, attending mass and more silent prayer.

When they aren’t praying, they are working; cooking, gardening, baking hosts for communion, washing and sewing habits, making crafts to earn money. They are permitted to talk to each other only during two 20-minute recreation periods, after lunch and after supper. In the evening, they must write notes if they have something pressing to say.

“We are hermits, living in a community,” Sister Diane explains. They even pray in separate wooden compartments.

There are 19 nuns now in the monastery and all plan to stay until they die.

Now, they have agreed not only to venture out of the cloister, but also to relive perhaps the most intimate moment of their lives while researchers watch what happens to their brains.

Sister Diane says unio mystica, the mystical union with God, is difficult to put into words. St. Teresa of Jesus, the Spanish nun who established the Carmelite order in 1526, described it as talking lovingly to God as though He were a friend and sharing a divine intimacy. The experience happens only once or twice in a lifetime, typically before a person turns 30. Sister Diane had it happen twice in the same year — 1977, when she was 29 — and not again since. She has never talked about it before, she says; it was too private, too intimate. She was at a religious retreat, praying silently and recalls entering an altered state, with an intense sense of God’s physical presence. She lost herself in it.

“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how much time had passed. It is like a treasure, and intimacy. It is very, very personal. It was in the centre of my being, but even deeper. It was a feeling of fullness, fullness, fullness.”

Sister Teresa, 43, also experienced her unio mystica when in her 20s. “It is more than a feeling,” she says. “It is more intense than feeling, but you sense God is physically there. It brings intense happiness, even bliss.”

When Dr. Beauregard and Mr. Paquette, his doctoral student, first approached Sister Diane about using three of the most powerful brain-imaging tools available to learn more about unio mystica, she was intrigued. She had heard about other experiments investigating the biological basis of religious experience.

The researchers were hoping the nuns would have a mystical experience right in the lab. Sister Diane told them that this would be impossible — God can’t be summoned at will. “You can’t search for it. The harder you search, the longer you will wait,” she says.

So the scientists came back with an alternative: Would the nuns be able to remember what it felt like? Dr. Beauregard is certain that when they recall such an intense experience, their brains will operate the same way as when the nuns actually felt God’s physical presence.

He says there is plenty of evidence that this is likely. When we think about doing something physical, such as hitting a forehand in tennis, the same parts of the brain are active as when we are actually make the shot.

Similarly, he has conducted experiments with actors and found that dramatizing a sad experience causes intense activity in the parts of the brain that process emotion.

This approach pleased the nuns, and so far six have agreed to participate in the experiments, which will take two years to complete.

The first step is to measure their brain waves, or electrical activity, using an electroencephalographic (EEG) recording device as they re- live unio mystica as best they can.

The second, using functional magnetic imaging, will provide a living picture of their brains at work by showing which regions of their brain are active and which aren’t.

In the third experiment, the nuns will be injected with a low-level radioactive chemical so that the scientists can use positron emission tomography, better known as a PET scan, to measure levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in different parts of the brain. Serotonin is involved in regulating a person’s moods, and there is evidence that psychedelic drugs such as LSD mimic it to produce hallucinations.

Some cultures use hallucinogens to communicate with God, and Dr. Beauregard believes that serotonin may play a role in unio mystica. Not that he is trying to prove that unio mystica is all in the head. Every human experience occurs in the mind, he says. The “experience is real, but the manifestation is in the brain.”

When the analysis of all three experiments is done, he hopes to have a clear biological picture of an experience that mystifies even those who have lived it. Ultimately, he would like to know enough about how it works to be able to offer the same experience to anybody seeking spiritual growth.

Sister Diane says she is certain that Dr. Beauregard will discover a biological basis for the Carmelites’ spiritual experience, one she says is shared by all human beings. God equipped people with the brains they need for a spiritual life, she insists. “Our body has a spiritual component. To be a human being is to be a spiritual being. I’m convinced this will show in the results.”

Sister Teresa seems less sure. “It will be up to God,” she says.

Dr. Beauregard is not the only researcher probing the neurobiology of belief. In September, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, took part in a high-profile meeting at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology held to compare Buddhist and scientific views about how the mind works.

Buddhists believe that they can regulate their emotions through meditation, and studies conducted on Buddhist monks have shown intense activity in specific parts of their brains when they meditate. Which part of the brain appears to depend on the type of meditation — whether the person is focusing on compassion or on the details of a mental image of Buddha.

The sold-out MIT session attracted many respected scientists, including a researcher from the Royal Ottawa Hospital who is interested in whether meditation may be useful in treating anxiety disorders.

The study of meditation is no longer considered the flaky fringe of science, thanks to researchers such as Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin who helped to organize the session with the Dalai Lama.

In 1992, he travelled to northern India equipped with electrical generators, computers and machines that could measure the electrical output of the brain. In the foothills of the Himalayas, he wired up monks to learn more about their brains.

New, more powerful brain-imaging equipment has drawn other researchers to the field, including scientists at Harvard, the University of California at San Francisco, the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Beauregard at the University of Montreal.

They are trying to answer a number of intriguing questions: Are humans hard-wired to have religious or spiritual experiences, which are common to almost every culture on Earth? What happens in the brain when they do have them? Is it something that non-religious people might be able to replicate with the right stimulation? Is a transcendent Buddhist experience, often described as feeling connected to everyone and everything in the universe, the same as Christians’ unio mystica? Can religion and spirituality make people healthier, as some studies suggest?

Work with the Buddhist monks shows that meditation results in decreased activity in the parietal lobes, which are located at the top and back of the brain, and help to orient a person in time and space. (For example, they tell you that your hands are on the steering wheel and you’re driving to the store.)

The theory is that a lack of parietal activity reduces the sense of self, and makes a person feel there is no boundary between his or her body and the rest of the universe. As well, there appears to be increased activity in the limbic system, which helps to process emotion.

Dr. Beauregard says Christian mysticism may involve a different biological mechanism. His is the first study to use three techniques for monitoring the brain activity of religious subjects. The two-year, $100,000 (U.S.) project is financed by a foundation created by John Templeton, the mutual-fund titan who is now in his 90s and wants to know more about God.

Mr. Templeton is investing $16-million to $30-million (U.S.) a year in the scientific study of spirituality, everything from whether prayer can heal to how primates exhibit forgiveness.

Dr. Beauregard’s goal is to understand the neurobiology of Christian mysticism, and he has won over the Catholic establishment. Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, the Archbishop of Montreal, has written in support of the project in a publication read by Quebec’s other contemplative orders. The researchers hope to attract as many as 15 volunteers from four other Carmelite communities in the province.

It is not clear, however, that God is on-side. Sister Diane and Sister Teresa arrived at the neuroscience lab for their EEG tests only to find that someone had broken in and stolen key pieces of equipment. Although frustrated, the researchers walked the nuns through the process so they would know what to expect. The more relaxed they are, Mr. Paquette says, the easier it is to monitor their brains. A week later, the researchers were ready to go, but Sister Diane called in sick at the last minute, prompting another delay.

But the two nuns already tested were moved by the experience. One in particular, Sister Nicole, seemed to come especially close to recapturing unio mystica while perched in the barber’s chair (used because it is comfortable — and solid, even more vital to the research results).

When Mr. Paquette opened the door to the soundproof chamber, she was surprised that 20 minutes had passed sp quickly. Asked what it was like, she began to describe the unio mystica she achieved as a child; the two experiences had become blurred in her mind. She also told him that she had heard music, Pachelbel’s Canon.

In the tape Mr. Paquette made of their conversation, her voice sounds dreamy and content. “I have never felt so loved,” she says.

It is far too early to draw many conclusions from the experiments, but the researchers say they already find the data intriguing. “We are seeing things we don’t normally see,” says Marc Pouliot, an engineer who is analyzing the EEG results.

The two nuns experienced intense bursts of alpha waves in the brains, common in a reflective and relaxed state such as meditation. They also had intense activity in the left occipital region at the back of the brain — which is not what the scientists were expecting in the wake of research by Michael Persinger, a controversial researcher at Laurentian University in Sudbury who has developed the so-called God helmet. He uses the device to stimulate the right side of the brain, including the parietal lobe, with low-level electromagnetic radiation. In 80 per cent of subjects, this induces the sensation that there is a presence in the room. Many weep and say they feel God nearby.

However, the real “God experience” may be different, according to the nuns. Rather than crying, they say they felt intense joy and looked forward to the lab experience since there is little chance they will ever enjoy a true mystical union with God again.

This may seem sad, but Sister Diane compares her love for God to the way two people love each other. When they fall in love, they feel a physical rush. They blush. They feel tingly. That, she says, is the kind of love young nuns feel for God when they experience unio mystica. But over time, the love deepens and matures. It isn’t as thrilling, she says. It becomes more of a day-to-day relationship.

This is an intriguing observation, because some researchers have speculated that the human capacity for mystical experiences may have co-evolved with the brain networks involved in sexual pleasure.

At 55, Sister Diane describes her relationship with God as more like a marriage, solid, secure, but without the rush. She says she knows God has been present by the peace he leaves behind, not from the excitement of a mystical union.

“That feeling of peace flowing through you — pacification — tells you He has been here.”

Anne McIlroy is the Globe and Mail’s science reporter.

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