The Dude’s Mind Abides…

Are stars sentient? That Solaris-like idea isn’t just science fiction speculation – it’s one of the topics touched on in an upcoming book edited by David Skrbina, author of Panpsychism in the West (Amazon US and UK). The new book, Mind That Abides: Panpsychism in the New Millennium, will feature…

…15 dedicated chapters written by leading-edge thinkers of mind and consciousness. In each case the writer moves beyond a basic defense of panpsychism, and toward new positive theories as they relate to mind, consciousness, and reality. Writings are targeted at a broad audience, with minimal use of jargon, and yet penetrate deeply into the subject matter. Topics covered include mind-body interaction, the physical basis for consciousness, the ‘combination problem’ (on how lower-order minds can combine or merge into higher-order ones), the psychology and phenomenology of panpsychism, and process philosophy perspectives (as per Whitehead and Russell).

Now, I know I’m not the brightest light bulb in the house, but I have to argue a little bit about the “minimal use of jargon” – at least, going by Chapter 5 of the book “The Conscious Connection: A Psycho-physical Bridge between Brain and Pan-experiential Quantum Geometry“, which is available freely on the web. Written by one of our old buddies, quantum consciousness researcher Stu Hameroff, with Jonathan Powell, the chapter looks at the set of philosophical positions which see consciousness as a “foundational component of reality” (as opposed to the materialist view that consciousness is simply a by-product of the brain).

These positions (e.g. panpsychism, pan-experientialism, idealism) relate consciousness to irreducible (‘funda-mental’) components of reality, something akin to mass, spin or charge. These views take consciousness to be present in low level entities, in which—on some readings—they inherently contain a phenomenal nature or subjective experience (qualia). Consciousness or its ‘proto-conscious’ precursors are thus somehow built into the structure of the universe—a view that we might label pan-protopsychism.

Most of these views are monist in nature, in that they take reality to be, ultimately, a single entity or substance. At issue, then, are two key points: (1) the essential characteristic(s) of this monist substance, and (2) how it gives rise to apparently diverse entities like ‘mind’ and ‘matter.’ If the one reality is essentially mind-like, then we have a form of idealism—which may or may not entail panpsychism. If it is essentially physical or material, physicalism obtains.

Alternatively, the one reality can be seen as something other than mind or matter, in which case we have a form of neutral monism; Spinoza, James, and Russell are typically cited as holding this view. A contemporary form of neutral monism—one defended in this paper—defines the one reality in terms of quantum spacetime geometry, i.e. as a consequence of the fine-grained structure of the universe.

While the jargon is pretty heavy (at least for me), the underlying discussion is fascinating: the chapter goes as far as debating whether a rock could be conscious (“probably not”) – but doesn’t stop there. They bring up the observations and speculation of one of the greatest living mathematical physicists, Roger Penrose, on whether stars might be in some way sentient:

Penrose observed that interiors of neutron stars may have huge quantum superpositions which would reach OR with very large E, brief t and high intensity. By Orch OR criteria such events would indeed be conscious. But because the conditions are presumably random, such conscious moments would lack cognitive information processing: OR without Orch. Similarly, OR conscious moments without cognition may be occurring in various crystal-like, large scale quantum materials throughout the universe.

Astrophysicist Paola Zizzi has applied Penrose OR to the problem of inflation in the early universe. During the Big Bang, the universe expanded (inflated) rapidly—for about 10-33 seconds. But rapid inflation then stopped abruptly, and expansion has been slow ever since. Zizzi (2002) considered that during inflation the universe was in quantum superposition of multiple possible universes. Using E=h/t and setting E to the mass of the universe, Zizzi calculated that OR threshold would be met, surprisingly, at 10-33 seconds into the Big Bang, and conjectured that the end of inflation coincided with the universe undergoing a cosmic conscious moment (the ‘Big Wow’). She further suggested our individual consciousnesses are literal microcosms related to the initial cosmic conscious moment.

I remember some similar topics being discussed in a video chat between John Horgan and David Chalmers a while back, for those interested in pursuing the nature of consciousness down a very deep (and possibly sentient) rabbit hole.

Previously on TDG: The Quantum Mind of Stuart Hameroff

  1. I think, therefore…
    I’m pretty sure that this is what i was thinking when i posted this and having just read the Toa of Physics by Fritjof Capra it seems even more likely to me that conciousness is a much more fundamental force in shaping this universe than merely a biproduct of life.

    In looking for some grand unifing theory of everything maybe we need look no further than our conciousness which is searching for it.

  2. Consciousness is Self-Awareness
    Consciousness is something separate to normal biological life, at least this is what I think based on personal experiences.

    Consciousness is self-awareness. Most people never experience this as a separate entity. Self-awareness is so bound up in other emotions/activities. There is such a thing as “personality” but this is different to “self-awareness”.

    I have found it easier to consider the human being as an energy entity inside a “space/diving suit” which allows it to experience life in totally alien surroundings, just as divers and astronauts do when they don their respective life giving suits when they go into alien environments such as deep sea water or outer space.

    The other possible scenarioi is that of the self-awareness being like the operating system in a computer. So often we don’t recognise the actual activities that the operating system does, and mistake the work of other programmes installed on the computer as being the only thing that is working the machine. Windows is such a personality programme, with DOS (the operating system to which it is attached and parts of which are manipulated by Windows) being the original basic operating system.

    I have watched as the computer has evolved, and I remember not too long ago having to put in a disc from which the operating system was installed, and then other programmes, including a programme management programme, were installed with other programmes for specific tasks being installed after that.

    So it is with people. The operating system is the “soul”/”self-awareness” for want of better words, the personality is the equivalent of Windows, and the rest of the things we do are additional programmes which the other two programmes manipulate and control.

    Consciousness/Soul is something that is hard to pin down in normal material forms but does exist, and can be recognised if practically everything else (but not all) in the brain shuts down.

    We need to recognise that the human body is no more than a shell/container for the soul/consciousness, and the personality is the programme manager.

    Simple don’t you think?

    Carol A Noble

    1. Maybe
      That’s the way I experience things, yes, but i do wonder if the seperateness is something constructed/imagined. I experience the trees and birds as seperate entities but they are really part of the same ‘system’ of nature.

      The universe is full of objects but from my understanding there is only one ‘piece’ of energy that is manifesting as apparent different bits.

      I would have to say that as much as it appears that i am just a player wearing a sim, my intuition, for what it’s worth, says that conciousness and existence are the same thing.

  3. Meanwhile the brain of the
    Meanwhile the brain of the planet — the Amazon — is being replaced with Cargill-Rockefeller soybeans just as the human brain is being replaced with silica-doped nanobiomotors. How convenient that the math is a infinite process Platonic quantum gravity Freemasonic dry dream.

  4. Prototyping bio-nanorobots
    Prototyping bio-nanorobots using molecular dynamics simulation and virtual reality

    Author(s): Hamdi M (Hamdi, Mustapha), Ferreira A (Ferreira, Antoine), Sharma G (Sharma, Gaurav), Mavroidis C (Mavroidis, Constantinos)
    Source: MICROELECTRONICS JOURNAL Volume: 39 Issue: 2 Pages: 190-201 Published: FEB 2008
    Times Cited: 0 References: 42 Citation MapCitation Map beta
    Abstract: This paper presents a molecular mechanics study using a molecular dynamics software (NAMD) coupled to virtual reality (VR) techniques for intuitive bio-nanorobotic prototyping. Using simulated bio-nano environments in VR, the operator can design and characterize through physical simulation and 3D visualization the behavior of protein-based components and structures. The main novelty of the proposed simulations is based on the characterization of stiffness performances of passive joints-based proteins (a-helix deca-alanine, repressor of primer protein and immunoglobulin protein) and active joints-based viral protein motor (VPL) in their native environment. Their use as elementary bio-nanorobotic components are also simulated and the results discussed. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Document Type: Article
    Language: English
    Author Keywords: bio-nano robotics; molecular dynamics; computational simulation; virtual reality; nanotechnology; proteins; biomotors
    Reprint Address: Ferreira, A (reprint author), Univ Orleans, ENSI, Lab Vis & Robot, F-18000 Bourges, France
    1. Univ Orleans, ENSI, Lab Vis & Robot, F-18000 Bourges, France
    2. Northeastern Univ, Computat Bionano Robot Lab, Boston, MA 02120 USA
    E-mail Addresses:,
    Subject Category: Engineering, Electrical & Electronic; Nanoscience & Nanotechnology

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