Saturday, June 30, 2007

Cosmic Jackpot

I finished Paul Davies' "Cosmic Jackpot" which is a mind-boggling overview of current interpretations of the universe, and possible explanations of why the constants (or what seem like constants) of physics are seemingly rigged for the existence of life.

I have intentionally avoided studying this topic because of the ungratifying nature of it's conclusions. Studying what is know about the universe is like watching all three movies of the lord of the rings series and having the screen go black right when Sam and Frodo get to Mordor- The End. No solution. No payoff.

But it's worse than that. It's like being a blind person who has no concept of sight trying to study high art with metaphors like "sound" and "smell".

The first third and last third of the book are mind-bending entertainments. The middle third was tedious for me. As I came to the end I pondered what I have gathered from turning these pages over the hours. It was enriching, if only to help me understand the current state of thinking- not the universe. And as I turned a page I was thinking about the silliness of the explanations in the book and was happy to read Davies' conclusion, and synopsis of the current state of beliefs:

"At the end of the day, all the approaches I have discussed are likely to prove unsatisfactory. In fact, in reviewing them they all seem to me to be ridiculous or hopelessly inadequate: A unique universe which just happenes to permit life by a fluke; a stupendous number of alternative parallel universes that exist for no reason; a pre-existing god who is somehow self-explanatory; or a self creating self-explaining, self-understanding universe with observers, entailing backward causation and teleology."

A lecture by Davies covering much of this can be see at the beyond belief conference session 5

But still in all this mix is the anomaly of consciousness. Davies points out the evolution of the universe from inflation to plasma to the formation of particles to gases and stars and higher elements and planets. He notes that the existence of life and consciousness can be considered just a further devlopment of the evolution of the universe. And so far I can't see any reason to believe that consciousness is a result of computatioational power. There's a missing element. But it seems abundantly clear that all conceptions of a non-physical soul independent of the brain are losing even more credibility in neuroscience than ever before, and psi research is basically dead. It is tempting to think that consciousness is a primary constituent of the universe "all the way down to little quarks" as Ken Wilber would say.... but it just doesn't seem like there is good evidence that anything without neurons can be conscious, or that information can be transmitted from one mind to another without going through a synapse first.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious. Why do you say that consciousness is not the result of a computational process?

Aaron said...

I don't know if it is. See David Chalmers.