Friday, July 27, 2007

The binding problem

I had in this post suggested a universal consciousness behind all conscious entities. The motivation for this had to do with ethics. I strongly feel that ethics and fairness are not just Darwinian concepts with survival value, but something more fundamental. In fact, I would say that the presence of pain qualia (both physical and emotional) implies ethics as a concept at the platonic level.

As a take on the famed Schrodinger's cat experiment, let us consider a cat in a sealed steel box that is slowly heated by a flame on the outside. Also consider a vial of a tranquilizer inside the box that may or may not get broken early on (if broken, it anesthesizes the cat). Now, at the end of the experiment, the temperature inside gets so high that everything gets charred (including the vial) and the chemical composition of the remains is the same whether or not the cat got anesthesized. However in one case, the cat suffers a great deal (getting roasted alive), and in the other case, the cat suffers a painless death.

Now, if a human being were given a choice to either break the vial (through some remote control mechanism) from the outside or not, is there a moral obligation for him to choose to break it? From an ethical standpoint, the answer is a resolute yes. I don't think that even those who strongly believe in functionalism would choose otherwise (especially if it is their pet cat).

But from a physical standpoint, since both the initial and final states are the same in both cases, and the intermediate states are bounded to within the dimensions of the box that is shielded to the outside , it should make no difference one way or the other. It is obvious that there is a glaring inconsistency in functionalism from an ethical standpoint.

Even if we leave aside compassion, the thought that some conscious entities enjoy a good life while others suffer irrevocably during their brief existence for no fault of theirs, is aesthetically repugnant, given that pain qualia exist. This is the primary motivation for most religions explaining that such injustices are either corrected in an afterlife, or are the corrections to some injustices in a past life.

However, if we assume that all conscious experiences are in the end perceived by the same entity, a lot of the moral and ethical conundrum dissappears.

So, if there is a "mother consciousness" behind all conscious beings, then how does it get compartmentalized into the varied experiences of multiple beings?

The answer may lie in the "binding problem". Recall that the binding problem refers to how the subjective experiences of different qualia (sight, hearing, touch, etc) all come together to form a consistent and unified experience for a single individual.

I speculate that at a higher level, the subjective experiences of this "mother consciousness" (which would be all the experiences of all conscious entities in any physical universe) gravitate towards multiple binding spaces, with each binding space associated with what we call a conscious entity (or a soul).

I postulate that these spaces are 3-dimensional, and I have already referred to these as the "common binding space" (CBS). When a conscious entity is created or destroyed (as in death), a new instance of the CBS associated with that particular entity is created/annihilated.

As I had already suggested in this post, emotional qualia are bound to (or dwell in) the CBS of a particular entity. So any CBS basically carries with it the entire works of the conscious experience of an individual entity, including physical and emotional qualia.

So, even if pain and emotional suffering may be associated with individual CBSes, the actual perceiver is the mother consciousness, although the neat packaging of the collective experience into individual CBSes gives the notion of identity and individual experience.

As alluded in the above referenced post, the CBS serves as the substrate for qualia. This I feel, is true of a worm as much as a human. And since the physical world we live in is 3-dimensional, the CBS in each case is also 3-dimensional.

Each instance of the CBS pops in and out of existence based on physical processes. A patient given an anesthesia loses his CBS. And with that goes not just his physical qualia, but also his emotional ones (in other words, he is now unconscious). Of course, he regains a CBS once he comes out of it (there is no point in talking about whether the new CBS is the same as before - it is immaterial, and all sense of continuity of individual identity is tied to his physical brain).

The brain of a patient whose corpus callosum is severed suddenly pops a new CBS with a portion of his overall experiences migrating to the new one.

It would be interesting to find out what causes a new instance of the CBS to form in the first place. Is it classical or QM phenomena? Or is it some kind of objective reduction "OR" postulated by Penrose and Hameroff?

With advances made in cognitive neuroscience and brain mapping, we may get close to an answer. Not that we would have an answer to the hard problem, but we might inch a bit closer to the problem of how physical processes relate to identity.