I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness.-Planck
Consciousness exists because we are sub-optimal and therefore need to make choices. Each human must choose between one of a hundred rooms at the Hilbert hotel, not knowing fully what lies behind each door. This simple description might make it appear that consciousness is a simple phenomenon. Far from it; we can’t take this human quality for granted.
Consciousness allows a person to choose which branch of the multiverse they would like to be in. These are all being simulated in order to allow choice. How exactly? The mystery leaves something to the imagination .
Consciousness creates a place for ethics, morality, and allows humans to ascribe meaning to their activities. Yet, we could also imagine machine intelligences without consciousness which would have no issues living without a moral compass.
Perhaps I should qualify what I mean by sub-optimal:
- We can’t solve the halting problem.
- Complex decisions are limited to heuristics due to epistemic uncertainty.
- We have limited memory and computational resources in general.
For all these reasons and more, humans operate by the principle of limited omniscience. The same limitations that make humans irrational, make life dramatic and beautiful.
But, what is consciousness? There are good reasons to believe that the precise mechanisms underlying consciousness will forever remain beyond our grasp. Actually, there are two possibilities:
- If consciousness doesn’t operate by mechanisms that may be approximated by an algorithm, then it lies beyond the scientific method.
- If consciousness is primordial and has an algorithmic description, then this description is beyond our grasp because the scientific method is observer-dependent.
More can be said on the subject of observer-dependence, and I promise that more shall be said on the matter in the near future.
- Aidan Rocke (https://cstheory.stackexchange.com/users/47594/aidan-rocke), Understanding the Physical Church-Turing thesis and its implications, URL (version: 2021-02-22): https://cstheory.stackexchange.com/q/48450
- Aidan Rocke. On the equivalence of incompressibility and incompleteness in machine learning. 2021.