Chapter 7

MODERN PHYSICS AND THE ULTIMATE NATURE OF MIND

The position to which we have arrived with regard to modern physics is as follows.

Classical Newtonian and Maxwellian physics still gives an excellent account of everyday phenomena but it begins to fail at very large scale, very high velocities and in the world of the very small. The Newtonian system dealt with very definite concrete like particles of matter as the basis of reality. Atoms appeared to be the basic building blocks. This picture has totally dissolved.

It now appears that what we originally took to be solid objects have turned out to be mostly space. What we thought to be particles have now turned out not to have any definite position at any time but are only describable in probabilistic terms. All we have is "fields of force" of various kinds - gravitational, electromagnetic, weak nuclear and wave functions. No longer do we have any solid particulate matter. All phenomena are the result of the interplay of various fields of force. We have not yet managed to unify these various forces into manifestations of an ultimate single field.

The phenomena of mind must ultimately be electromagnetic. There are no other known forces which could explain this. The widest gap in our present knowledge of electromagnetism concerns the area where the large meets the small and where there is a meeting place between classical physics and quantum theory. Here there is an acute locality and determinacy problem. Some of the phenomena in this area are distinctly weird. They demand new theories to clarify everything. It is not unreasonable to associate the nature of mind with this area of thought. The photon with tiny energy can be unbelievably large. It has a unity which holds it together in a way which seems to indicate instant communication between its parts. Maybe these parts are in immediate contact with each other in another dimension. Unfortunately when we go up a dimension, this produces a further increase in the distance apart of two objects. To bring two things together we need to go down a dimension, not up. Is it possible that some dimensions are curled up in themselves in the way which is described in the current theories of superstrings?

We know that we are conscious. We also have good reason to believe the our pets and other mammals have consciousness. By extension, from behavioral studies we must extend this idea downward to many species with complex visual and auditory systems. It is not clear where we would stop. We should probably include reptiles and cephalopods (The Octopus). We would possibly exclude insects as their behavior is largely automatic but there may be vestiges of consciousness even at very low levels. It is likely to be due to a general property of matter which gradually emerges as complexity increases. At what degree of complexity does it begin to emerge? Perhaps at the level of a synapse or a simple switch it simply equates with the fact of existence.

One of the crucial steps in the evolution of complex nervous systems must have been the creation of Hebbian properties in neurons. This would have created the possibility of a learning process. Hebbian properties in a neuron are those whereby presynaptic stimulation followed by postsynaptic firing lowers the threshold of firing at a future time. This takes some time and it has been shown to involve the synthesis of protein. It involves the building of a small amount of new structure. This has been confirmed because it can be abolished by using chemotherapeutic agents which inhibit protein synthesis. Nervous systems must have got at least this far before consciousness could begin to be marginally useful. It would also be necessary to have achieved a fair degree of complexity.

There is every reason to believe that in the brain of a single higher organism there are several different areas of consciousness each of which is largely independent of the others. We certainly do see this in the split brain subjects described by Roger Sperry where the corpus cullosum was divided surgically. I myself am conscious of an internal slave which manages my body very efficiently without my knowledge. I have one partly in my cerebrum and partly in my cerebellum which finds my bedroom light switch in the dark without my giving it a thought. I have another one which signals to me instantly when get home from a shopping spree that I have a full bladder. It has sufficient analytical ability to know that it is inconvenient for me to deal with this while I am in my car. Sigmund Freud had it all wrong when he described the unconscious mind. What we actually do have is several separate areas of consciousness within the same brain. My own belief, as in this thesis, is that the most significant consciousness is dependent on the magnetic fields generated by oscillating neural loops and that there are emergent properties associated with alternating magnetic fields the nature of which we do not yet know. I am unable to pinpoint any effects which are attributable to quantum theory but it is my belief that there are some mysterious effects associated with electromagnetic induction. It is possible that quantum effects are embedded therein.

The conscious mind presents a picture of the real world which describes it to some extent in a way which is useful to the animal. This picture is not entirely accurate. The brain cleverly constructs a 3D image from two 2D retinal images but it very vividly constructs colors which are not there. In the real world we have different wavelengths which are well represented by the seven colors of the rainbow but the mind invents very much more, producing some thousands of hues corresponding to various color mixtures. We have purple as a mixture of red and blue, but brown can only be produced by inhibition from patches of surrounding retina and it cannot be produced by any pure color mixture. It is absolutely dependent upon the physiology of the animal. No doubt this is very valuable to the hunter, man or animal, in detecting highly camouflaged prey.

Everything is played out in the mind in a Cartesian theater (After Descartes and Daniel Dennett) and it is in topographic form. This picture may be represented in topographic or Quasi topographic form in geographically scattered cells or synapses but this is very unlikely. We are not going to find any master center in the brain. Probably it all comes together only in the conscious mind. So what is mind? We all know that we have it and it knows itself.

Mind is not describable in terms of simple synapses clicking on and off. Mere complexity of arrangement is not enough. We have plenty of complexity in a lump of gravel. The particles therein may be arranged in billions of ways but this does not give rise to mind. Some more subtle emergent property is called for. We will not find it in coming out of lumps of matter but more likely in something less tangible such as a field. A field is an arrangement of some parameter such as force. It seems that everything is fields now. We no longer think of atoms as little solid balls. They have to be regarded as something related to a kind of a wave function, a field. If the mind is to have any executive power it must be able to move molecules. That implies force. Of the four known forces the only one which has the right range is electromagnetism. Nuclear forces are too strong and they act over too short a distance. Gravity is too strong and too distant. Undoubtedly mind is an electromagnetic phenomenon. There is no room in the electromagnetism of Clerk Maxwell for the emergent properties of mind. There has to be something mere subtle and we already know something about this. Quantum theory has shown unexpected properties such as indeterminacy of position and subtle interference phenomena and the properties of mind have to be bound up with this. Mind has to be tied up with wave functions and interference phenomena. When we learn more about interactions at the quantum level the solution of mind will come out of this.

Consciousness is undoubtedly an emergent property of magnetic field and it is related to the non locality and uncertainty inherent in quantum theory.

For further ideas on this theme see the IMPLICATIONS section of this web-site.