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LATEST DIALOGUES Consciousness as a Fundamental Building Block of the Universe

In this wonderful TED talk, the philosopher David Chalmers invites for a new paradigm in science in which consciousness is established as a fundamental and possibly universal building block of nature. Consciousness is a fundamental aspect of our existence, says philosopher David Chalmers: “There’s nothing we know about more directly… but at the same time it’s the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe.”

The nineteenth century physicist Maxwell came to the conclusion that we can’t explain electro magnetic phenomena in terms of the existing fundamentals such as space, time, mass and Newtonian laws, so he postulated fundamental laws of electromagnetism. Chalmers suggests that we might be at a similar point in science today when it comes to consciousness, if we cannot explain consciousness in terms of the existing fundamentals space, time, mass and charge then it is a matter of expanding the list of fundamental laws and postulating that consciousness itself is also a fundamental building block of nature. This postulate will open up the way for science to study the fundamental laws governing consciousness and to investigate the connection with the existing laws.

The second idea Chalmers postulates, is that consciousness might be universal and that every system down to the elementary particles has degrees of consciousness. This view is also called panpsychism in philosophy or nonduality in the mystical traditions. Chalmers believes that the universality of consciousness is what can help us bridge the gap between consciousness and the physical world in science, leaving the equations in physics as they are while using them to describe the flux of consciousness. From this perspective the answer to the famous question of Stephen Hawking “What puts fire into the equations?” is that consciousness is not outside of the physical world but it’s the fire at its heart. Chalmers further proposes that this “new” view can transfigure our relationship to nature leading to profound social and ethical consequences.

The philosopher concludes that we might not “figure out a theory of consciousness over night” but the process of studying consciousness holds the key of understanding the universe and ourselves.

David Chalmers is a philosopher at the Australian National University and New York University. He works in philosophy of mind and in related areas of philosophy and cognitive science. While he’s especially known for his theories on consciousness, he’s also interested (and has extensively published) in all sorts of other issues in the foundations of cognitive science, the philosophy of language, metaphysics and epistemology.

Chalmers placed the “hard problem” of consciousness firmly on the philosophical map. He famously challenges materialist conceptions of mind, arguing for an “explanatory gap” between our brains’ physical properties and our mind’s qualia. Elsewhere he has championed the notion of the “extended mind,” which argues that the mind is not confined to skin or skull, but plausibly may extend beyond them.






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11 Responses to “Consciousness as a Fundamental Building Block of the Universe”

  1. July 18, 2014 at 2:58 pm, louis berger said:

    While I sympathize with Chalmers’ ideas and goals, I think he will never get where he wants to go because he seems to have no sense of what the philosopher Frederick Olafson calls “the ontology of language problem” — one’s conception of what language is and does. He can’t get there without understanding a whole lot more about ontogenesis and phylogenesis. For my unorthodox view of this issue, please see my recent “Language and the Ineffable” (Lexington Books, 2011), and my forthcoming “Human Nature, Language and the Future of Mankind” (Palgrave Macmillan, October, 2014).

  2. July 18, 2014 at 10:51 pm, Opurewilliam said:

    Interesting… I have been researching the topic of consciousness for quite some time now. It is a difficult and complex design and system to develop a concept for understanding. I agree this needs a fundamental approach and I admire his passion for this very relevant condition in life, our existence. Not to get ahead of myself, but in my research, I have started to conclude or rather propose that a fundamental approach, or a first Law to Consciousness would be the Law of Synchronicity. The Law of Synchronicity states that in order to experience existence, consciousness must be Synchronous to the environment of which it exist consciously in, as in relative to its nature. Though some may argue that Causality is actually a root fundamental – Event & Effect, I may argue that both rely on each other to exist, to be aware, or conscientious of an environment and that a third element is also required which ties it together in unity or oneness – Action, Interaction, Reaction. Then, in a Second fundamental approach one would consider internal, external and universal consciousness. All of our environment, the condition of our environment is Synchronous & relative nature in order to exist, to be and that there is a systematic order to the condition of this environment, as random as it may seem.

    However, this has been a research project, a passion of mine for quite some time and I am still in the process of exploring and understanding it. I am always open to input, suggestions, and criticism. But, this is a great TED presentation on a topic that is often over-looked at its roots to define the most important aspect of this environment, our conscious existence. Great Speech.

  3. July 19, 2014 at 12:31 am, Eugenio Siliceo said:

    Pure quantum physics

  4. July 22, 2014 at 8:24 am, Jonathan S said:

    I like David Chalmers (much more than his antagonists, anyway) but I have a problem with this idea of ‘consciousness as a building block’. Why? Because it is not a ‘that’. It is not spread out like some ethereal substance, in the sense of being extended in space (which is also why I generally don’t get along with ‘pan-psychism’ either).

    By trying to imagine it in those terms you’re basically putting it on the same level as matter~energy. You’re imagining it as something ‘out there’, whereas it is really on a different level altogether.

    I say the reason we can’t *explain* consciousness, is not because it is intrinsically complicated, but because it is the source, not the object, of explanation. It is not something to be explained, but ‘that which explains’ (as explained in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad .) So consciousness – or mind – is on a completely different level to the kinds of things which science seeks to explain – not because it is a ‘mysterious substance’, but because in some vital sense, it is prior to any kind of explanation whatever.

    So there’s a non-dualist answer for you – and one, incidentally, that David Chalmers, despite his great erudition, really doesn’t get.

    • September 17, 2014 at 4:24 pm, Peter Jones said:

      Damn. There I was just thinking that Chalmers was getting somewhere, and then read your comment. You’re right, of course, and it is an excellent point. It’s progress, but he still has not understood the exact nature of what he calls the ‘missing ingredient’, or seen that it is not missing and never could be.

    • March 20, 2015 at 1:50 pm, daqu said:

      “[Consciousness] is not something to be explained, but ‘that which explains’ ( per the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad ).”

      I was going to ask WHY it is not something to be explained, but your answer is the Upanishad you cite.

      Since I am not familiar with the citation you reference, and since you make no effort to express it in any terms I can understand, your comment is to me devoid of meaning.

    • January 16, 2016 at 10:01 am, fdsafdsafd said:

      I disagree, you just seem to make invalid assumptions to disprove him. Consciousness is something. Who said that consciousness has to be spread out in space anyway?

  5. August 08, 2014 at 6:05 pm, Mit Jones said:

    He speaks of time, space and matter as if they are all figured out, the fact that when you actually go looking for any of them you find empty space should make him question his building blocks, Consciousness is not the movie it is the screen all this other stuff is just what is needed to make up the story.

  6. May 10, 2015 at 3:42 am, NigelReading|ASYNSIS said:

    Here’s a potential lead to the “new physics” Roger Penrose refers to in linking entanglement with space-time to bridge the wavefunction collapse to the the classical scale.
    #ERequalsEPR bridged by #Universality according to Brian Swingle via Tensor Networks and Renormalisation Groups.
    Here’s the explicit Universality link with Asynsis Fibonacci geometries from Terrence Tao’s presentation at Trinity College Cambridge in 2011: Slide 24.
    More in recent posts here (including my take on the hard problem – and Phi-IIT vrs Orch OR in dialogue with Stuart Hameroff last year following the Tuscon Towards a Science of Consciousness Conference 2014):

  7. December 06, 2015 at 5:10 am, Noah Tell said:

    Consioussness is everything and our so called physical world is simply the pattern in which the experience of consioussness changes. Consioussness is in everything, even the air this means everything is the same consioussness only that when it stretches thin it creates some kind of units that is for example humans. This mean that every fealing that we feel is simply the pattern of our bodies concioussness. I am sure that from a higher dimensional perspektive we are all part of a greater consioussness. Perhaps our whole lives seen from that perspektive is as obvious as the waves on the ocean.

    I think the hardest question is how does our human pattern now it is conssiouss? Thinking about that maybe it truly isn’t. I mean if you ask a robot that has a camera to see with if it sees anything, it will obviously answer yes and can describe what it sees. If it has the ability to extract information of its thought process it can say what it think of and that it is thinking. Since everything is conssiouss saying one is conssiouss is never wrong, though there is no real connection between the conssioussness we experience and the pattern which we say is us.

    So what are we really? Happiness and sandness is simply a experience which leads to acts of our bodies. Feeling sad is only bad for the survival of the pattern.

    This truth would be hard and depressing, maybe equivalent to no free will. I mean it is not our conssioussness that thinks it is our body. I guess the best thing is to not think about it. Conssioussness should never be mensioned or examined in my meaning.

    As buddhists say everything is suffering but not for us but our conssioussness which I would like to call a perspektive of god. What we truly would want is peace a constant never ending feeling, nothing or an infinite chaos were nothing can be discerned which would be nirvana.

  8. July 16, 2016 at 11:42 am, Jake kenner said:

    It’s the Other Way Around
    Matter is a Form of Consciousness

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