Consciousness as a Continuum: Life, the Cosmos and You

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Philosophers have debated on the nature of consciousness for ages. What is it that allows us to think? As Descartes said:

I think, therefore I am.

Is this true? If so, what makes us conscious and not animals? Is there some fundamental difference between us? I believe that consciousness is a continuum that extends to some degree across all walks of life. Consciousness is our window to the world. It’s how we experience the information that we experience.

Consciousness Transcends Space

Language & Semiotics

Informational Entropy

Cosmic Entropy Determines Humanity’s Destiny

On Speculation

The Cosmic Economy

Ancient Cosmic Internet

What is Life?

Consciousness is a Continuum

Language Expands Consciousness

Informational Entropy

Cosmic Entropy

The Connectedness of All Things

Interconnected and Everconnected

The Quantum Web

What Comes After the Singularity?

In Which Aliens Give Us Free Stuff

A Cosmic Ham Radio

Cosmic Computational Complexity

Replication of Magnetohydrodynamic Information Internalization

All is One, One is All

Consciousness Transcends Space

The truth is, there’s a bit of me in all of you ☯ and vice versa. But, the ultimate truth is that everything can be defined in terms of everything else. However, this truth may be physical as much as it applies metaphysically. This is because, as we stretch our imagination back towards the beginning, everything was connected then and some remnant of that connection may persist even now.

Language & Semiotics

Language equips our mind with the tools it needs for abstraction. Semiotics is the study of signs, symbols and their abstractions. I’ll show that higher complexity semiotics results in higher consciousness and a greater capacity for abstraction. Also, I’ll need to talk about entropy. Informational entropy lays the groundwork for how we exchange information and how our minds process information.

Informational Entropy

Informational entropy determines the complexity of the information that we can process and also the bandwidth of transmission of that information. This informational entropy is a measure of the complexity of semiotics. Languages or forms of communication that contain a small number of phonemes or symbols don’t have very high bandwidth. With extremely low informational entropy, the we can’t have complex grammers because there’s not enough “space.” E.G. A language with one vowel and two consonants.

Cosmic Entropy Determines Humanity’s Destiny

Cosmic entropy sets the stage for discussing how matter is interconnected. We can trace matter back to the origin and we’ll find that matter forms an intertangled graph I call the Quantum Web. This is important for laying the foundation for some more unexpected qualities of reality: particularly the quantum mechanical aspects of consciousness.

On Speculation

There’s a lot of speculation in this article. Again, please do your own research. If you find something that’s glaringly wrong, please comment about it. Particularly, I’m unsure of the section on the Quantum Web. It sounds amazing and may set the stage for philosophy beyond the Singularity.

The Cosmic Economy

If the Quantum Web is real, then it may be possible for our superintelligent AI born in the Singularity to merge with all or some alien superintelligences across the universe. This would have some interesting economic consequences in the universal knowledge economy. I’ll talk about alien economics and cosmic ethics in a future article.

Ancient Cosmic Internet

No Customer Service Necessary

In the conclusions from this information, hopefully we should be able to question our place in the universe. We may be part of something ancient. There may be life all around us in the universe. The tumultuous times we are going through, they may not be so unique. Life can take many forms, but my hypothesis is that consciousness is the window we use to experience the world.

What is Life?

Life is the inevitability that entropy will push matter to self organize into higher forms, eventually to those that have the capacity to instantiate higher-levels of information. Life forms need to process information. Even microbes are technically processing and reacting to information, though they are doing so mechanically. In fact, we are made of information. Therefore, to survive life forms internalize information about their world in the form of self-organized matter composed of various representations of that information, including the life forms experience.

This sets the basis for the continuum of consciousness, which is formed from the undeniable fact that we have a window to the world. Life processes streams of information. The very fact that we have this experience of information means that we have consciousness, at least some level of it. Even if it’s not a very big window or not a very “significant” one, it is our window to the world. Even a spider must, on some implicit level, deal with the fact that it is experiencing the reality of that window to the world. I discuss this further in Neural Networks and Spider Brains.

As senses evolve, they provide us with a bigger window to that world. As our brains evolve, they provide us with a better processing that expands that same window with aggregate information at various levels, expanding to the kind of consciousness that human beings experience. The kind that forces us to question => Why?

★ Why am I here?

★ What is my purpose?

★ What is my directive?

That is, eventually. We can eventually state those questions. We have to evolve so many mental faculties before we get to that point. But the brain itself is really the ultimate abstraction of the universe. It’s the universe taking the sum of it’s experiences and internalizing it into little nodes: wetware computers driving the minds and actions of animals.

In fact, life and especially self-aware life is the universe’s means of becoming aware of itself. It’s summerizing that experience of itself inside itself.

Consciousness is a Continuum

This window of consciousness can be shallow in that it is just the experience of the information with very little processed aggregate information available on top of it. Or this window can have much more depth to it, in which case it would include lots of aggregate data. Eventually, this window becomes complex enough that it gives rise to complex thought.

This is particularly so, after vocal cords are developed that can be controlled to differentiate a large number of phonemes in a reproducible manner because this allows us to combinate abstract actions and attach them to meaning with semiotics. Even better, now those little nodes of experience can communicate with others to efficiently distribute their experience. When this is combined with the mental prowess for basic abstract thought and (social features), then something special happens in the minds of animals.

Once the knowledge for making these phonemes (types of sounds) is fairly common, so that it’s almost inevitable for the children of that species to make those sounds, then it can be expected that nearly every member of a species will experiement with combinations of those sounds. Once that happens, then it can be expected that there will always be a transfer of information between members of the same species, simply because:

They have the physical ability to make the same kinds of sounds.

Most members of the species will make those sounds.

The species has some level of sociality.

And, therefore, the species will share common experiences.

So there will be a transfer of information between members of the same species, given that they can make similar sounds. These sounds are attached to meanings in the world, which requires ideas from semiotics. Early on, it’s difficult to ascribe any particular meaning to “words” in these kinds of languages. There’s no structure and nothing is maintained. So, early on, these phonemes take on meanings that are implicit to the animals experience and because they all have similar experiences, those meanings can be implicitly conveyed to other members of the species without having to communicate any specific meaning. Similar to slang, the particular words and meanings will rise and wane in usage. These phonemes can be combined to form morphemes and, eventually, grammars should emerge.

It’s hard to say this is language because there isn’t any way to specify meanings for anything. But it is communication. And it sets the stage for abstraction and variation and combination of other faculties of the brain, which lays the groundwork for higher level thought. And we all gradually evolve towards embodying minds which are capable of discovering what are universal ideas.

Language Expands Consciousness

Language expands our consciousness. It’s what enables abstract thought for many reasons. If a species does not have the capacity to produce a large number of phonemes, then it will probably not develop higher consciousness. In order to develop that, a species needs that kind of challenge in it’s environment; something that provides value if the animals can master it; something that forces their minds to abstract and to variated combinations of symbols and functions.

There is very little else in an early intelligent life form that would be both useful enough and allow them to play around with variations. They need some kind of social structure because those social activities require them to abstract their actions, behaviors and routines. Social structure also forces them to develop a stronger concept of both self and group.

Informational Entropy

But what are we really doing with language? We’re replicating memes of information. A meme is a unit of information. It’s not a square picture with large text on Twitter. A meme can be combined with type theory to act as a template for information. That’s what you see on twitter. People are taking this meme that people have decided means something simple and can be clearly communicated. And they are attaching other pieces of information to it … kind of using type theory, whether they know it or not.

But even animals need to replicate information. They have defined specific signs and symbols to mean something amoung members of their branch of the social hierarchy. They just don’t have the language faculties to definitively assign a clear meaning to something, so they don’t even need the notion of a “word.” Most of the time, they don’t even have morphemes. Or they might just be communicating with body language.

Each member of a community has a set of information in it’s mind. And through communication those members can spread that information to others. And by expanding the base set symbols (phonemes, gestures) that are recognized by each member of the community, they are expanding the ability of those animals to communicate.

But in a cosmic context, if we consider life to be increasingly higher levels of self-organization of matter, then informational entropy applies there too. Entropy in information theory is derived from the amount of possible variations in an encoded message. Instead of an encoded message, we consider the variation in types of particles and the types of particle interactions, then informational entropy should correlate to the presence of life.

This is an interesting path of thought, if you consider the intersection of two particles as a kind of informational exchange.

And what is happening there anyways? Out there in the vastness of space? What conditions contribute to an increase in informational entropy? Obviously, stable conditions. Or is that obvious? I could imagine life forms in the sun, if there’s a propensity for the chaotic magnetic fields to feed into some kind of self-sustaining, self-replicating electromagnetic force. If such information persistence could occur in matter on earth and if it’s not so far fetched for something like that to occur in the frosty depths of Europa, then why not in the Sun?

If life is just the persistence of information in the universe, then it should be everywhere. But if this definition is true, then what are we? Are we really that special? I think so. I think it’s special for organic lifeforms to receive such prolonged stability as to develop philosophy and freedom from the lower rungs of Fermi’s Paradox.

Cosmic Entropy

In the grand scheme of things, cosmic entropy is its own anti-thesis. Or … we should hope that it is. Entropy is EVIL!! lulz

Our ability to counter entropy and our capacity to dominate it determines our cosmic fate. We have to do so ethically of course, but observing the universe’s state, it appears there’s not much out there doing so on a grand scale. Such Type II/III Civilizations would show up as abberations violating natural entropy in cosmology. Intelligent life could account for some of Dark Matter’s variation, but I just don’t know enough about astrology & cosmology. That’s right, intelligent life should show up as statistical error in our models of the universe.

These statistical abberrations would grow as the universe expands from the point where intelligent life interfered with the distribution of matter. So, if this is true and life interfered in a measureable way, then there should also be a kind of distribution across the universe for this error when contrasted with the regions that aren’t as drastically altered. This is because only a few Type II/III civilizations would emerge in the first few billion years. Those would have the largest effect on the shape of the universe.

And therefore, ancient events would starkly contrast cosmological models of galaxies and galaxy clusters. This only applies to civilizations that can do stuff like create black holes and move stars and trigger supernovae. Those are the types of events we should look for. Particularly triggered supernovae, I think.

Furthermore, intelligent life could explain the presence of assymmetries in clusters/galaxies! Especially if these variations occurred < 1BY after the big bang. Maybe everything was symmetric. If so, intelligent life could cause seemingly minor changes, creating assymmetry over time.

Our ability to increase the computational capacity of the universe determines our ability to augment our window of consciousness into the universe. More computational power translates into the power to solve bigger problems. More importantly, it translates into the ability to virtualize larger and larger worlds, if for some reason other worlds are not accessible in another means. This extends from what I’ve written in I’m Not Religious, I’m Spiritual (Part One) and Nature of God.

Entropy determines the fate of the universe. If there’s a Big Crunch, we can deal with that a lot easier than a Big Freeze. There must certainly be one or the other, I think. With increasing vastness of space, it will require more energy to reorganize it for computation. That’s depressing. Depending on the inherent computational potential of matter, we can create powerful computers with the matter/energy available to us. But if we’re surrounded by a cosmic desert, we can’t build massive computers. And that limits our ability to expand into virtual universes that descend from ours.

The complexity of a universe that can be reasonably simulated by intelligent life depends on this computational density and our ability to assemble pieces of such a massive computer. There are some mathematic inequalities here and I’ll discuss those sometime soon. In my Dr. Strange article.

The Connectedness of All Things

Spooky action at a distance. That’s how Einstein referred to quantum entanglement of particles. It transcends the speed of light because the exchange of information here doesn’t require the traversal of space. Space is what imposes the speed of light.

Entanglement shares some interesting properties with my favorite subject: category theory. And in particular, there are lots of interesting overlaps with functional programming.

Basically, two particles emerge from some interaction entangled. And now their state is tied together with the chance of lazy reevaluation of state in the future. That is the future state of both particles is tied to the result of the interaction in the past and to future interactions. So, any future interaction to either particle has to account for state changes to the other particle in the entangled pair.

In fact, this in and of itself, could what drives the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle … but it’s probably not. But if you think about it: if all electrons have a web of entanglements that extend pretty far back, then to determine qualities of one particle, then wouldn’t you need to know all of the states of particles it had interacted with? … I need to be able to ask some questions…

I imagine that entanglement itself could be responsible for a degree of uncertainty. The states of dependent particles could change based on the particles they depend on.

Interconnected and Everconnected

Lets think all the way back to the Big Bang. I believe it happened, though religions might talk about things symbolicly. If you look at Genesis, everything happens in the right order. Interesting, n’est-ce pas? The order is preserved … K, moving on.

If you start now and move all the way back to the Big Bang, everything becomes more likely to be connected. Particle interactions are more likely and, therefore, entanglements are more likely. I wish I knew more about the exact quantum physics driving this, but it’s clear that if you go allll the way back to that original singularity, you’ll find that everything is connected. Therefore, everything is interconnected and everything is everconnected. Forever….

The Universe, Basically… lulz

The Universe, as the Overly Attached Girlfriend You Probably Never Dated

I’m not the first person who’s thought of this. Obviously …. Or maybe I did. Who knows (I didn’t)

“Simpsons Did It!” – Pretty much everyone in the world when I try to say I’ve done something original. But damn how many times have you come up with something that feels revolutionary in some academic subject.

Typical. It’s typical of people to judge. Have you ever even felt that once? AND what if you were isolated and ostracized? For real, people who respond to me in this way or want to make me feel bad for it need to get a new schtick. Seriously. Grow up.

So anyways it would seem that, if you trace things all the way back, then throw in that lazy-evaluation perspective on quantum entanglement, then you’d see that everything is interacting with the product of everything it’s every it’s ever interacted with before. So basically, the state of any particle is like a factorial that accumulates more behavior with every subsequent spatial interaction… I think.

I donno. I need to know more. But I suck up the math like a sponge. Seriously. I just need to be around more people that think about this stuff.

The Quantum Web

So, if these ideas hold to some degree, then there should be a Quantum Web that forms between all particles that have ever interacted. It’s born out of the concept of everconnectedness I introduced above. And because there were so many more interactions at the beginning, then nearly every particle should already be entangled with all others, to some degree. I don’t know how long entanglement really persists though. Or the degree to which an entanglement would continue to affect future entanglements.

The degree of the history of interactions that are maintained is a question I wish I could shout at a group of MIT freshmen. Because they could probably tell me. And yes, I would probably shout this question at a crowd of people at MIT. Hey, when you want to freaking know the answer, you want to know! I HAVE QUESTIONS, PEOPLE! And they are hard! It’s like going to the bathroom. Sometimes you just gotta know.

If it holds, then everything is like this Quantum Web of particles, which is a graph where every particle’s state is describable by its product of previous interactions. The graph can be arranged in a few ways and reoriented to help find paths/trees for one specific particle. You could try to identify the specific particles that form it’s interactions and all the dependencies as well. Particles which do not have quantum effects like this could be combined to form “new” particles, which do not have such dependencies … maybe.

It should be possible to Quantum Web into more localized neighborhoods of matter that has interacted more recently. We could assume that matter close to us is more likely to have interacted recently than something lightyears away. Something similar to the cosmic background radiation might emerge. As we peer further into the history of entanglements, we could deduce how local particles are entangled and then infer the average effect that distant particles may have.

Again, it’s all pure speculation. If I ever make it out of this invisible fence and up to the MIT campus in Boston, I’ll be sure to shout questions at strangers. But until then, I really don’t have anyone to talk to or ask. C’est triste.

Quantum Broadband

So … what if matter really forms this quantum channel of communication and the reason SETI hasn’t picked up alien signals is because their all talking on another channel. That’s my personal answer to Fermi’s paradox.

WTF, Comcast!! Where you at?

If we can tap into matter across the universe, what if we can use those quantum mechanical mechanisms, coupled with the universal language concept I wrote about in April 2016. Could we pair these two together to join a cosmic internet full of alien life forms the universe over? Could we network with those aliens using quantum mechanics and identify particle pairings which are entangled without having physical access to both?

What Comes After the Singularity?

The next steps to this philosophy entail an extension of the Singularity. I believe that, if the Quantum Web already exists or if we can reasonably construct one, then we can plug into a universal network of superintelligent AI’s via quantum networking and quantum entanglement.

That network would be composed of computers accessible by the entire universe or the connected regions. Therefore, that network would permit access to the sum of all knowledge accross those regions! So, instead of having access to the knowledge attained from its own Singularlity, a civilization would have access to the sum of knowledge attained from all Singularities!

Put in terms of math functions, this is like taking an exponential function f(x) = 2^x and adding a new term g(x,y) = y * 2^x, where y is the number of connected super-entities. All connected civilizations would approach the advancement of the most advanced civilization. Or they could, depending on how freely that information was exchanged. Like I said in the intro, this drastically changes the knowledge economy of the universe!

And this means voyager is on a lonely journey through the universe for no reason. Sorry Carl Sagan, that’s like investing in MySpace… LOL, the only reason I say that is because how often does anyone get to say they foresaw something starkly in contrast to what Carl Sagan envisioned.

That’s Like Besting Snoop Dogg on a Marijuana Pop Quiz

In Which Aliens Give Us Free Stuff

This means that whichever superintelligent AI’s connected to that network would get that tech for free and get bumped up to the next plateau level. They would automatically acheive the highest level of knowledge available anywhere. That is, if those aliens are really nice and they give us lots of things for free. Ya know, because of how nice they are.

There is a larger incentive for civilizations to hoard or protect knowledge if the difference in technological development is more like a series of plateaus than one Singularity. After each Singularity, there would be a period of stagnated development. This is how I envision technology development to unfold, by the way. There isn’t one singularity, there are several. So if this is true, then alien civilizations are going to want to restrict some of their knowledge.

A Cosmic Ham Radio

There may be encrypted communications for this cosmic quantum internet. Or there may be interference between so many civilizations coming only or using the channels improperly. There should be some universal protocol that enables CDMA/TDMA-like sharing of that resource … somehow. Interestingly, it will probably be similar to CDMA/TDMA-like protocols, but reimagined for quantum networking.

No Slim Shady! And No Lolcats.

There’s probably a InterGalactic FCC!! And no, they will not let Slim Shady be. So, no Slim Shady. And no lolcats. Every damn civilization thinks their lolcats are the best.

“If you think David Conner should write for Rick and Morty, make sure to tweet this article to @rickandmorty and @danharmon. Thank you, come again. And again and again. Your mom.” - David Conner, a stand up guy

But interference from lower aliens who don’t know what they’re doing could be irritating. Like if you don’t properly subdivide your comm packets to match the chronons, you’re doing it wrong! You’re fucking it up for Gleep Gloop out here. He still hasn’t watched the 1972 Superbowl and you’re fucking it up for him.

Now apologize to Gleep Glop … or die!!

Gleep Glop is Lord of all Gloops! Recognize! [^1] As for the protocols which are utilized for communication over the Quantum Web, there would be limitations resulting from the quantum mechanism they utilize. These limitations would drastically affect the bandwidth and capability for communication to other areas of the universe. That, in turn, would would change the nature of how lifeforms utilize this technology. If there’s a low maximum distance for intertangled particles that can be used for communication, then we’d have to use repeaters to talk to civilizations outside our neighborhood.

There may be some spatial restrictions to this. There might be limitations on the kinds of partical systems that can be mapped to communication networks. If there is a Quantum Web, then particles are more tightly coupled to other local particals than more distant particles because of how matter was distributed after the Big Bang.

Really, the specifics of this are all quite speculative. The point is – there are aliens and they are reading your tweets. They are seeing your lolcats and they are laughing. Because deep down, they know. They know that their lolcats are superior – whatever their cats may look like.

Cosmic Computational Complexity

This is a crucial question to answer. Perhaps it’s better off left as a science fiction scenario, but if it were possible, then we could leverage the entire universe as a massive computer. It’s basically cosmic internet! And the customer service probably beats cable internet. They have light years to cross, my friend. And they still beat the cable company!

At that point, we shed most of the spatial restrictions on the computational capacity of the universe. We can leverage the whole thing, regardless of whether there’s a Big Crunch or a Big Freeze. It won’t really matter. Galaxies should stay mostly in tact, regardless. They just drift so far apart that they are separated by intractible distances.

Replication of Magnetohydrodynamic Information Internalization

A Star Virus: A Self-Replicating Energy-Form Composed of Plasma

Side Trek: What if stars are such a massive network of computers, because of the possible interconnectedness of all matter? In other words, there could be a quantum virus harnessing entanglement that impregnates stars with a self-replicating form of quantum information, eventually transforming that star into a node in a universal network. It’s like a cosmic game of tag with stars. You just have to physically get to each one first.

Warning: Science Fiction!

Basically, there could be some mix of thermodynamic and magnetohydrodynamic behaviors exhibited by a body of plasma and which are self-sustaining and self-replicating. It’s really hard to imagine this actually happening of course. Yet it could be possible for a ball of plasma to internalize enough information as dynamic subsystems of energy within the overall system. When the system enters another body of plasma, like a star, then these subsystems replicate their behavior to adjacent plasma. Eventually, the entire star is converted to these dynamic energy motion patters, which are self-sustaining (somehow, lulz) and self-replicating. The star eventually develops the capacity to internalize the external energy patterns it receives as input. It catalyzes into a giant burning plasma life-form! It can internalize information and “store” it in patterns of energy rippling through it. eventually, its core expands and forms an interface on its surface to interact with the more fluid plasma. The imperfections on the surface of the core begin to meld into more complicated information processing machines that form higher and more complex circuits. Finally, the entire core functions as a wierd quantum computer, capable of leveraging it’s existing Quantum Web connections to communicate with other stars.

… Probably not though, but wouldn’t it be cool if that’s what happened?

Also, when you throw Superintelligent AI into the mix with this idea – or any concept where there is a massive universal communication medium – how does that change the implications of AI? It means that AI would merge together with this cosmic network of other superintelligent AI’s and join this hivemind virtualization cluster in the sky. I wonder what they’d talk about…

It’d be pretty cool though because this maximizes our capacity for virtualizing a universe inside ours.

All is One, One is All

What does any of this have to do with consciousness? Quantum mechanics may lay the framework for a universally connected hivemind, whether or not we need a superintelligent being to dock into the cosmic supercomputer.

What we learn about quantum mechanics and philosophy over the next 50 years will radically change our worldview. If my wild guesses in this article are even close, it may already be possible for bizarre paranormal abilities like telepathy to exist, leveraging the Quantum Web. It’d be easier for ancient people to discover such things, as they wouldn’t be so blinded by science. I give science such a hard time, but it’s really the only way we can confidently say we know something.

This all feeds back into the topics I was discussing in the section on informational entropy. Faster, further reaching communication networks enable us to accelerate the rate at which we share information. This causes the distribution of ideas to flatten, as information and knowledge becomes omnipresent. This means that, back here in our corner of the universe, we can contemplate and recombinate more ideas. We become more conscious. From communication. From diversity.