Catalyst - Custom Universe
Hi everyone,

This episode of Catalyst was uploaded just yesterday, and it's got plenty of connections to the ideas we've been learning about. If you have 27 minutes to spare I reckon it's worth checking out! (available 2 weeks from today)

Not sure what I think about the idea of "minds creating the universe" (approx. 25 minutes in) - in my opinion that seemed a bit far-fetched. Nevertheless, it's still an interesting idea to think about. It actually made me think about consciousness in general, and how weird it is that consciousness seems to occur in distinct "packets". What I mean is that each thinking being seems to assume their own self-contained "identity" - my brain thinks its own thoughts and your brain thinks your own thoughts, and we both see ourselves as having distinct "minds".

Perhaps this is merely an illusion, and our thoughts are more interconnected than we can understand? Or if the distinction is a real one, why does it exist? I guess you could argue that consciousness stems from the physical brain, and is driven exclusively by physical signals (e.g. neural pathways, electrical signals, etc.), in which case spatially-distinct brains are bound to have distinct "identities". But I still find it all a bit strange...why have all these brains - these little "packets" of consciousness - evolved out of a physical universe that is often considered not to be conscious? Not really sure where I'm going with this one...but could the universe be imbued with its own sort of consciousness?

Josephine Davies (u5375415).

Jo - I think there are (at least!) two separate issues there.

1. How does consciousness evolve out of non-conscious stuff, if indeed it does? This question is an old chestnut. I'm still not sure what the answer is, but at least a lot has been written about it. One possibility is the one you hint at, that dead matter is conscious. This is called panpsychism. Another possibility is that consciousness affects evolution, although nobody knows how it could. (Clearly behaviour affects evolution, but that's not the same as consciousness.) A third possibility is that we don't understand evolution very well.

2. Why does there seem to be (at least roughly) one concsiousness per organism? Why not, for example, one consciousness for each hemisphere of your brain? One for the top of your brain and one for the bottom? Etc.

Question 2 is not an old chestnut. I've almost never heard anybody discuss it — it's certainly not a common topic in philosophy of mind. It's been bothering the HECK out of me for YEARS, and I wish someone would tell me the answer.


Thanks for this response - it definitely helped me organise my thoughts. I find question 2 particularly interesting as well. I had never really thought about the idea of having one distinct consciousness per hemisphere! I guess it's even weirder when you think about how many living cells make up a brain, each of which has it's own tiny brain. Maybe those cells are facing the same conundrum as us :)


OK. This is your PhD topic.


These are some really interesting questions. Could it just be as simple as saying that consciousness arises from the complexity of the neural pathways and biological signals? It could be possible that rather than having a distinct point that divides non-conscious and conscious, it is more of a continuum. Humans have extremely large (in terms of surface area) brains with many such biological pathways, and thus we are very conscious. Plants are much less complex in terms of biology and thus they are not as conscious. That could also be what explains sentience, and how some mammals are sentient (which can be equated to 'very conscious' by this same logic). Humans have just picked a point on this continuum of consciousness that separates sentient from non-sentient, like we have also picked a point to separate states of consciousness. The difference between these sentient mammals, including humans, and other mammals could perhaps be some sort of neural complexity we are, as yet, unaware of.

And perhaps a reason for one consciousness could simply be the sum of all the individual consciousness-es of every region of our brain produces our net consciousness. There could be something to the saying 'being of two minds' :p.

Harriet Farlow