Shadows of the mind

A search for the missing science of consciousness

by Roger Penrose

 First published by Oxford University Press, 1994

 ISBN 9780099582113

published by Vintage 2005


 Some comments

(to the questions and ideas cited from this book)

by Peter Jakubowski


From Preface

The conclusions are that conscious thinking must indeed involve ingredients that cannot be even simulated adequately by mere computation; still less could computation, of itself alone, evoke any conscious feelings or intentions. Accordingly, the mind must indeed be something that cannot be described in any kind of computational terms.

In Part II, the arguments turn to physics and biology. The line of reasoning, though containing portions which are decidedly more tentative than the rigorous discussion of Part I, represents a genuine attempt to understand how such non-computational action might arise within scientifically comprehensible physical laws.

… I shall argue strongly for a need for a fundamental change, at a certain clearly specified level, in our present quantum-mechanical world-view. … The specific proposals I am making require that there be large-scale quantum-coherent behaviour (…) occuring within the microtubules in the cytoskeletons of neurons. The suggestion is that this quantum activity ought to be non-computationally linked to a computation-like action that has been argued by Hameroff and his colleagues to be taking place along microtubules.

… I argue strongly … that there should indeed be a scientific path to the understanding of mental phenomena, and that this path should start with a deeper appreciation of the nature of physical reality itself.

… Understanding is, after all, what science is all about – and science is a great deal more than mere mindless computation.

(P.J.: To finalize successfully „ a genuine attempt to understand how such non-computational action might arise within scientifically comprehensible physical laws“ is practically all we need to do in order to understand the global consciousness of our first global civilization. And the Hameroff’s way through the microtubules is practically the only proper way. The corresponding new physics explaining the details is my Unified Physics, presented also on this blog-site.)

Section 1.9 What kind of action could be noncomputational?

What about the role of the environment? As each individual human being develops, he or she is provided with a unique environment, not shared by any other human being. Might it not be the case that it is this unique personal environment that gives each of us an input that is beyond computation? However, I find it hard to see how the ‘uniqueness’ of our environment helps in this context.

(P.J: To explain, how it could be, is the main reason, why I am writing this commentary. My answer is based upon the Unified-Physics idea that the spontaneous fluctuations of the Field of Light – the universal state of the observed Universe, where all the living and inanimate matter come from and finally desintegrate in – belong to the deepest level of the ‘individual environment’ of any living organism.)

Section 1.12 ‘Awareness’, ‘understanding’, ‘consciousness’, ‘intelligence’

It would also seem to me to be unexceptionable to use the word ‘intelligence’ only when there can be some understanding involved. However, again, certain AI proponents might claim that robot could be ‘intelligent’ without its needing actually to ‘understand’ anything. The term ‘artificial intelligence’ implies that intelligent computational activity is presumed possible, but genuine undertanding – and certainly awareness – is argued by some to be outside the aims of AI. To my own way of thinking, ‘intelligence’ without understanding is a misnomer.

(P.J: I think exactly the same.)

Section 1.19 What has Gödel’s theorem to do with commonsense behaviour?

(Sir Roger Penrose concludes the answer to this question with the simple sentence:)

Thus, mathematical understanding cannot be reduced to blind computation.

(This has been expressed many times in the book with some other words, for example in Sec. 3.27:)

… mathematical understanding is something different from computation and cannot be completely supplanted by it. Computation can supply extremely valuable aid to understanding, but it never supplies actual understanding itself.

(P.J: It’s clear enough for me.)

Section 2.1 Gödel’s theorem and Turing machines

Among the things that Gödel indisputably established was that no formal system of sound mathematical rules of proof can ever suffice, even in principle, to establish all the true propositions of ordinary arithmetic. This is certainly remarkable enough. But a powerful case can also be made that his results showed something more than this, and established that human understanding and insight cannot be reduced to any set of computational rules. For what he appears to have shown is that no such system of rules can ever be sufficient to prove even those propositions of arithmetic whose truth is accessible, in principle, to human intuition and insight – whence human intuition and insight cannot be reduced to any set of rules. It will be part of my purpose here to try to convince the reader that Gödel’s theorem indeed shows this, and provides the foundation of my argument that there must be more to human thinking than can ever be achieved by a computer, in the sense that we understand the term ‘computer’ today.

(P.J: Thank you, Sir Roger Penrose, for this simple explanation of the Gödel’s theorem application. To my own, I am convinced, we have to accept that it is true.)

Section 3.28 Conclusions

If we are looking, within existing physical theory, for signs of an action that cannot entirely be subjected to computation, then we must come away disappointed. All the known physical laws, from the particle dynamics of Newton, via the electromagnetic fields of Maxwell and the curved space-times of Einstein, to the profound intricacies of the modern quantum theory – all these seem to be describable in fully computational terms, except that an entirely random ingredient is also involved in the process of ‘quantum measurement’ whereby effects of an initially tiny magnitude are magnified until they can be objectively perceived.

(or the same in other words:)

As things stand, however, it does not seem to me to be very likely that genuine non-computability can be found within existing physical laws. Consequently one must, I believe, probe the weak points in the laws themselves to find room for the non-computability that the arguments above demand must be present in human mental activity. What are these weak points? There is little doubt in my own mind where we must concentrate our attack on existing theory; for its weakest link lies in the above-mentioned procedure of ‘quantum measurement’. As existing theory stands, there are elements of inconsistency – and certainly of controversy – in relation to the whole existing ‘measurement’ procedure. It is not even made clear at what stage this procedure is to be applied, in every given circumstance. Moreover, the presence of an essential randomness in the procedure itself provides an apparent physical action of a quite different character from what is familiar from other fundamental processes. … The reasoning that I have provided in Part I of this book gives strong support to the possibility that the pure randomness of existing measurement theory must be replaced by something else, where essentially non-computable ingrediends will play a fundamental role.

(P.J.: This „something else“ is the spontaneity of the universal energetic fluctuations of the Field of Light, the fundamental level of the Quantum Spectrum of Matter of the Unified Physics. A rising of a fluctuon cannot be predicted or calculated. However, its further development, if energetically profitable, is quite deterministic, following the rules of the fundamental dynamics, or – equivalently – electrodynamics.)

Section 4.3 Consciousness: new physics or ’emergent phenomenon’?

We must therefore ask two things. First, why is it that the phenomenon of consciousness appears to occur, as far as we know, only in (or in relation to) brains – although we should not rule out the possibility that consciousness might be present also in other appropriate physical systems? Second, we must ask how could it be that such a seemingly important (putative) ingredient as non-computational behaviour, presumed to be inherent – potentially, at least – in the actions of all material things, so far has entirely escaped the notice of physicists?

(P.J.: To the first question: Because only the brain level of the Quantum Spectrum of Matter is able to „contact“ the next higher level of superbrain, where the ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’ can be realized. To the second question: Here, we have a unique possibility to observe directly how long the present comment will have to wait for any „notice of physicists“ (Sir Roger Penrose inclusive).

Roger Penrose’s “Shadows of the Mind” commented by Peter Jakubowski

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