Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

Stuart Kauffman is a theoretical biologist and author from the University of Calgary in Canada who has pioneered the study of complexity in relation to biological systems.

As a theoretical biologist, it must be hard to avoid the biggest outstanding problem of them all: what is the nature of consciousness? And today, Kauffman takes a crack at it along with five others related to the philosophy of mind.

He begins by mapping out his territory: “If mind depends upon the specific physics of the mind-brains system, mind is, in part, a matter for physicists.” Fair enough.

He then lists the questions he hopes to tackle:

  1. How does mind act on matter?

  2. If mind does not act on matter is mind a mere epiphenomenon?

  3. What might be the source of free will?

  4. What might be the source of a responsible free will?

  5. Why might it have been selectively advantageous to evolve consciousness?

  6. What “is” consciousness?

That’s an ambitious list. The gist of his answers is that mind is a quantum phenomenon that produces a classical output that Kauffman says is the source of free will. He adds that this classical output is nonrandom and yet cannot be described by the laws of physics because, as the quantum system decoheres, information is lost in a way that can never be retrieved.

If true, that’s important because “if the quantum-classical boundary can be non-random yet lawless, then no algorithmic simulation of the world or ourselves can calculate the real world, hence the evolutionary selective advantages for evolving consciousness
to “know” it may be great”.

In other words, consciousness is very useful for making sense of the world which is why evolution selects for it.

He also says this means we are not machines, although how he reaches this conclusion isn’t clear. A more reasonable conclusion would be that we are machines that span the quantum-classical divide.

In any case, that clears up questions 1 to 5.

As for the biggie, he says: “I make no progress on problem 6”

An honest answer for sure; but then why include it in the essay in the first place?

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0907.2494: Physics and Five Problems in the Philosophy of Mind


23 comments. Share your thoughts »

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me