Saturday, July 21, 2012

Can consciousness be an explanation for ID?

Consciousness is the great mystery of the scientific age.  How can the 3rd person world of science account for the 1st person account of that world?  Try as they might, no philosopher or scientist has come up with a convincing scientific explanation of consciousness.  Whenever they try, they must resort to vague terms, such as "emergence", or even claim it is just an illusion.  If only it were that easy!   Massive unpaid debt?  It is an illusion!  Car in dire need of repair?  It is an illusion!  Roof about cave in?  It is an illusion!  Wall blocking my path?  It is an illusion!  As the child prodigy says in the Matrix, you've got to realize there is no spoon, nor consciousness.

But for us less intellectually flexible folk, we've got to account for the world as it matters for our day to day lives.  Try to ignore the reality of consciousness and our day to day lives become much shorter!

So, let's see if we can get an angle on this problem of consciousness.  What is so tricky about consciousness that it defies scientific explanation?  Well, the most striking aspect of consciousness is its point of view.  We, as conscious beings, peer out into the world.  And, it is a singular point of view.  Unless I happen to be in a mental institute, there is only one me peering out into the world.

This is is an utterly foreign description for the world of science.  Electrons and protons don't gaze out at anything.  They merely bump around, careening around the microscopic world of particle physics.  Neither are physical objects unified wholes, at least as far as physics is concerned.  Whatever level you happen to examine a physical object, it can always be broken up into yet smaller physical objects, until there is nothing left.  And this introduces the unification problem, as described by Angus Menuge in his excellent paper "The Ontological Argument from Reason".

Dr. Menuge's paper shows there are numerous problems with a materialistic description of reason, whereby materialism does not allow for certain properties that are essential for reasoning.  The property I want to focus on here is the unification property.  It is simply this.  Say we have an argument that 1) A implies B, 2) B implies C, therefore 3) A implies C.  This is the standard transitive relation of mathematical systems.  However, a purely material process runs into problems when trying to carry out such a process of reasoning.

To see why, imagine we have three people: Joe, Jack and John.  Joe holds proposition 1 in his mind.  Jack holds proposition 2 in his mind.  Now, to arrive at proposition 3, John must get proposition 1 and 2 and then unify them into proposition 3.  But, if Joe, Jack, and John are all merely material beings, there can never be one being that holds all three propositions at once.  This is because, as we saw previously, material beings are not single things, but merely a collection of many things.  For a material entity to hold one of the propositions, the proposition must be contained within a configuration of matter.  Thus, since each proposition is different, it must consist of its own unique configuration of matter, and for a chunk of matter to hold another proposition, it must assume a completely new configuration.

This means that no single configuration can process multiple propositions and unify them, since the configuration changes with each additional proposition.  Therefore, there is no single entity that can carry out the unification process necessary for reasoning.

Of course, it is easy to write a program, or create some other clever mechanical device to manipulate symbols so at to arrive at proposition 3.  However, this, in essence, is no more reasoning than an animated film of propositions 1 and 2 merging into 3 can be considered reasoning.  It'd be like saying words on a computer screen are reading.

Thus, we see that the nature of consciousness leaves us with problems that are completely insoluble with a materialistic explanation.  There is an inherently simple, unified nature to consciousness that defies the complex, disparate nature of the physical world.

At this point, we are in a position to see how the mysterious nature of consciousness makes it uniquely suited as the mechanism of intelligent design.  As explained in a previous post, contra Dawkin's popular argument, intelligent design does not necessitate the designer be more complex than the design.

In fact, the design inference works better if the designer contains less complex specified information (CSI) than the design, otherwise it becomes questionable whether the design contains CSI.  And, if a design does not contain CSI, then it cannot be properly considered a design.  Without a design, the existence of the designer is called into question.  So, the very existence of the designer seems to hang on the fact that the designer is simpler than the design.

Yet, such an account is false for all physical processes.  By the very nature of how physics operates, via chance and necessity, the cause must always be as complex, if not more complex, than the effect.  So, to account for a designer, we need an entity that stands in defiance of the entire physical world by being simpler than its product.

Consciousness looks to be a prime candidate for solving our dilemma.  Out of all known substances, consciousness is the only one we know of that is inherently simple and indivisible, as previously shown in the unification argument.  With all physical substances, there is at least the potential that it can be divided, which is why we seem to keep finding smaller and smaller particles that make up our world.  However, consciousness can never be divided, otherwise it would cease to be consciousness.

Consequently, if consciousness is the designer of designs, it must by definition always be simpler than its design.  And if consciousness is always simpler than its design, then the existence of the design and thus the designer need not be dismissed as an illusion.  The result is that consciousness allows us to explain intelligent design.