Ahhh, the “Hard Problem.” It’s the neuroscience riddle of them all that remains unsolved by humans after thousands of years. The question is this: What is consciousness?
Put another way:
“In other words, how does a three-pound lump of dendrites and axons and sodium channels create a loving, sorrowing, self-knowing self? Show your work,” wrote Alexis Soloski for the New York Times.
Soloski was covering a 2015 play by Tony Award-winning playwright, Tom Stoppard, called, “The Hard Problem.” It’s a phrase first coined by philosopher David Chalmers in the mid-’90s. Although the question has persisted forever, it seems we might be closer to understanding it at last.
The play centers on the question of all questions, incorporating the ancient doctrine of panpsychism, the idea that consciousness is universal, from humans to animals, to inanimate objects like the computer or smartphone you are reading this on. That’s right, every bit of matter around us has consciousness and always has.
“[…] consciousness did not emerge at some point during evolution. Rather, it’s always associated with matter and vice versa – they’re two sides of the same coin.
Panpsychism runs against the human exceptionalist idea that only human beings possess a soul. It runs counter to traditional religious thinking, originating with the ancient Greeks. It’s “The oldest of all philosophical doctrines extant.” Panpsychism harmonizes with the Buddhist belief in the universal nature of mind.
The Hippie movement of the 60s took it and ran with it intuitively with the idea that:
“It’s all about the vibrations…man.”
— Jon Lieff MD — Searching for the Mind Blog (@jonlieffmd) March 25, 2014
After all these years, the idea that all matter has some at least rudimentary level of consciousness created by vibrations is catching on once more. The last two centuries of human exceptionalism are giving way to the wisdom of the ancients and the hippies to solve the mind-body problem. It’s may not be only human beings who can claim to be sentient beings, after all, as shocking as that may seem.
Even the concrete floor vibrates and shares waves with its surroundings, which translates to a tiny bit of information.
“Any system that possesses some nonzero amount of integrated information experiences something. Let me repeat: any system that has even one bit of integrated information has a very minute conscious experience,” wrote neuroscientist, Christoff Koch.
Today, panpsychism is the philosophical view “most consistent with the deluge of current scientific data about mind in nature,” according to Tam Hunt. He and university psychologists and philosophers have come together to develop the “resonance theory of consciousness,” building on the work of German neurophysiologist, Pascal Fries. He studied how electrical patterns sync in the brain.
University of California, professor Tam Hunt, believes that the Hippies were really onto something big.
“We suggest that resonance – another word for synchronized vibrations – is at the heart of not only human consciousness but also animal consciousness and of physical reality more generally. It sounds like something the hippies might have dreamed up – it’s all vibrations, man! – but stick with me.”
Since all matter in the universe is in a constant state of motion, it vibrates at different frequencies. What’s really interesting is that these vibrations often seem to work together, syncing up for an unknown reason to vibrate at the same frequency together. It’s self-organization. This runs counter to Murphy’s law, that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” and against the concept of entropy in the universe. Rather than going toward disorder, matter and life can become synchronized.
One example that Hunt offers:
“When fireflies of certain species come together in large gatherings, they start flashing in sync, in ways that can still seem a little mystifying.”
— The Wilderness Society 🌳 (@Wilderness) March 16, 2016
The tendency for matter to vibrate in waves that sync together facilitates communication with neighboring matter. Waves of various wavelengths, such as Gamma, Beta, and Alpha waves are sent out into the universe. Hunt believes that more powerful Gamma waves synchronized together facilitate perception, meditation, and focused consciousness. When neurons vibrate at the same frequency together, it leads to higher and more complex consciousness.
On the other hand, even an object like a rock can exchange information internally through heat and thermal pathways. There isn’t as much “going on” consciously, but the vibrations are present as “mere aggregates.”
You might see where this is going. Higher consciousness arises from a shared resonance, combining relatively simple aggregates into a larger group consciousness. Does that mean there is a “collective soul?” Maybe in some cases.
Are our own bodies not collections of microscopic cells that work together to form a collective consciousness?
“[…] in biological structures with the right kind of information pathways and processing power, these tendencies toward self-organization can and often do produce larger-scale conscious entities.
These philosophers and neuroscientists are returning to the ancient ways of thinking to answer the age-old mind-body questions anew. While some continue to believe that language determines consciousness, the reality may be that “language” can be broken down at a primary level to waves, resonance, and vibrations.
Do you feel the vibe? Right on, man.
Explore the metaphysics of panpsychism below:
See more about “The Hard Problem” with Tom Stoppard below:
Featured image: New Age image via Pixabay