Are you conscious? Did you evolve?
With the available evidence, we can now prove that consciousness isn't physical.
(Abstract: Consciousness isn't necessary to describe the physical world. Consciousness is necessary to fully describe a human being. Thus, consciousness must not be physical. Even if consciousness isn't necessary to fully describe a human being, it exists. Thus, consciousness must not be physical.)
I shall now go through the entire chain of logical possibilities. Any time I reach a possibility that proves physics isn't causally closed, then I will say so. At the end of the essay, I will have shown that every twig of the possibility tree terminates in causally open physics.
That is, while we can't yet say exactly why consciousness isn't physical, we can rule out the fact that it isn't. This is why I state this idea as a negation; I cannot describe consciousness. I can only determine a few things it is not.
I need a catchphrase so I can put it here. Something less lame than 'phear the logicz!' Let's begin.
First, let's assume you answered 'No, I'm not conscious. I do not experience qualia. Consciousness does not exist and the question is meaningless.' This is logically incoherent. I'm conscious. I can't be confused about my experience; it can't be some illusion; my experience of experience is consciousness itself. I think, therefore, I am.
So, are you conscious? You're welcome to answer no, but I'm taking all your stuff. If you're not conscious then you cannot suffer.
Next, did you evolve? If you didn't evolve, then this essay is moot anyway - we know that there's something beyond physics. If humans did not evolve, then biology is not causally closed under physics.
If you evolved and you are conscious, then consciousness is either free or confers some specific fitness advantage.
If consciousness is free, then that means it has no physical overhead. It appears spontaneously. It either has no physical effects in which case it is purely nonphysical, or it has physical effects and your brain is not causally closed under physics. (There would also be no constraints on the occurrence of consciousness.)
However, consciousness is not free. First, it requires specialized brain structures, and second consciousness has the property of 'choice' or 'decision' which allows you to, among other things, kill yourself.
Thus consciousness must confer a selective advantage that outweighs the costs. However, it is physically impossible.
First let me note that I'm distinguishing thoughts from actions; information processing from rearrangements of energy.
The relevant action, reproduction, is entirely physical, as are all the relevant prerequisites. However, all of these actions could be carried out without experiencing them. We could program, hard-script, a robot to do so without much trouble. (If computers are conscious then consciousness is free.)
Let me digress, considering some physical action that cannot be performed by a robot. What is preventing it? Are their hands not simply patterns of atoms, just as ours are? If we were to find a test of consciousness it would mean we have literally discovered magic. If there is an action robots cannot perform, then physics is not causally closed under physics.
Similarly, things like 'creativity' which are strings of fully physical actions, cannot be unique to consciousness. It would mean that there's literally an incantation that you can do to prove you're conscious. Which step exactly would a robot be unable to mimic and why? How would it know to fail if you hard-code it to mimic the action?
Further, the relevant thoughts are similarly constrained. There is no calculation that can be performed by a brain that cannot be performed by a computer. To posit such a calculation would require it to be not a calculation - it would require it to be non-mathematical and thus consciousness would perform nonphysical calculations.
As such, a robot can perform all the relevant physical actions of reproduction. Because computers have a much easier time staying consistent, it would likely perform the actions and calculations at a much higher efficiency than a human would.
Thus, a computer is fully capable of emulating human action, in the physical world, without consciousness. There is no physical action or thought that consciousness is a prerequisite for.
What if all this is true, but consciousness is physical but just somehow does it better than a computer? That, sure, you don't have to experience it, but experience makes it more effective? That would literally mean consciousness is a magic ingredient. Two otherwise identical computers compete, one experiencing its calculations, one not, and the conscious one wins. Consciousness would affect the physical world without actually being a part of it, contradicting the premise.
Consciousness physically does nothing. Consciousness confers a selection advantage. Your brain is causally open under physics.
This isn't easy, let's recap.
- You evolved.
- You are conscious.
- Consciousness costs resources.
- There is no action you must experience to perform.
- There is no action you could perform better by experiencing it.
- There is no computation you must experience to perform.
- Ergo, consciousness cannot physically do anything.
- Consciousness confers a selective advantage.
- Ergo, consciousness isn't physical.
- Your brain is causally open under physics.
- Ergo, the universe is causally open under physics.
Physics is best described as a consistent set of rules for the interaction of energy. Without such a set, interaction is in fact impossible, because contradictions do not exist.
Therefore, I propose that there is an orthogonal physics that uniquely defines the physical output of consciousness. I could call it the physics2 of vacuum2. (I won't.) This system must have a similar set of rules, though not necessarily mathematical ones. Also, if it is to not violate causality, (which you'll note I used to discover it) the system must be incapable of violating any physical law.
The system presumably has a similar causal hole. The system mutually closes causality with the physical vacuum.
This is the set of rules that allows us to be conscious - to experience the world. It is the plane of the mind. Unfortunately, that's nearly everything I know about it.
Most likely it allows free will, but it is possible that it simply confirms determinism. [rant]So please, quit debating it. You have no idea. The concepts of free will and determinism aren't even consistent concepts. Believe whatever the hell you want and tell anyone who argues with you to stuff it.[/rant]
So, in physics, what's the hole? There's only one hole in physics that I know of. It's been rigorously proven, too. Quantum randomness is true stochastic behavior. There's no physical way to predict what any particular particle will do, ever.
Technically speaking, a second set of rules could easily interface at this level, without violating any law or indeed being detectable at all, except through logic.
But for now I'm done with the firm certainty of deductive logic. This tree has grown up and borne delicious philosophical fruit. In my next essay I'll discuss some of my minor hobbies, the consequences of this fruit, and develop some of the ways consciousness may be implemented in the brain.