The consciousness units
In the essay entitled “The nature of consciousness,” I introduced the concept of consciousness units (CUs), the fundamental “components” of all that exists: space, time and the quantum fields of the fundamental particles.
In this framework, space and quantum fields are composed of various organizations of CUs, and therefore a quantum field is also a conscious self, a part-whole formed by those organizations of CUs that make up space plus some other CU organization which is not part of space. The space common to all quantum fields that seems to us to be “empty,” appears so to us only because organizations made of these fields can perceive or measure only what “sticks out” from the common background. In other words, the “visible” properties are only those that define the identities of the quantum fields, i.e., the “part” aspect of each part-whole.
The quantum fields, communicating with each other and with space, produce measurable traces on physical instruments – for example, on particle detectors. These traces are structures consisting of the identifiable parts of the fields that appear to us as “particles created and destroyed in space-time”.
The fundamental nature of reality
If space and the quantum fields are made of conscious entities with free will, it means that the quantum vacuum from which our universe of matter, energy, space, and time emerged must also be an organization of conscious entities. I advanced this conjecture about ten years ago, and the more I reflected on it, the more it appeared to possess an explanatory and unifying power. If it can be shown to be true, everything that exists must be intrinsically conscious.
From this hypothesis, it follows that “objective” and “subjective” must be two intertwined and inseparable aspects of an indivisible whole from the beginning. In other words, the nature of reality intrinsically has an inner and an outer aspect that are irreducible, co-emerging, and co-evolving. In this model, the inner aspect is the semantic reality of each self; the outer aspect is the informational or symbolic reality that gives rise to all the physical worlds. The evolution of the physical universe must therefore reflect in some way the semantic evolution of the selves, and vice versa – one reflects and supports the other.
In this picture, the physical universe represents only the symbolic manifestation of the semantic inner reality that is what connects everything from the inside but is invisible from the outside. The inner reality can only be perceived by each self within itself. Consciousness, then, is another name for the capacity of One – the totality of what exists – to know itself and come into being in the same act of knowing itself.
What happens to consciousness when the body dies?
When materialists claim that consciousness ceases to exist when the body dies, this assertion makes sense only if one believes (without proof) that consciousness needs a body to exist. But if consciousness is an “inner” property of each part-whole accessible only to each self from its “inside,” it can never be proven to exist with an outer observation. The state of that consciousness will always remain a private, not shareable inner property, which can only be known if it is symbolically communicated by the self through its outer symbolic aspect.
In the model I propose, the ego is that part of us that is identified with the body, when it is instead a small portion of the vaster self (the true self) that created the body and maintains it as a coherent organization. The ego is therefore only an indivisible part of the true self that remains unknown when the ego only pays attention to the signals produced by the physical body.
When the true self decides to end physical life, the physical correlates of consciousness can no longer be observed, not because death is the end of our consciousness, but because a dead body can no longer communicate with the ego’s consciousness. We are much more not only of our body, but also of our ego.
The nature of the self
In the essay entitled “What is consciousness?”, I defined consciousness as the capacity of a self to perceive, know and experience itself and the world. Consciousness, therefore, is a property of a self. In addition, a self has also the capacity to act with free will and with a unique identity. Action, free will, and identity express the agency of the self, while the consciousness of the self does express its ability to perceive, understand and comprehend.
Self, agency and consciousness are inseparable and co-emerging aspects of any conscious entity, be it a CU or a combination of CUs.
Identity is what allows a self to be recognized as such by all other selves when they perceive its external reality. It is also what allows the self to identify itself and know itself within itself.
Identity makes it possible to discriminate self from not-self. It also provides the sense-of-self, that is, a unified perspective of being an autonomous, independent agent with free will, i.e., with the ability to decide an action based on its comprehension and consistent with its intention and purpose.
Free will is inextricably connected with the identity of the self and makes the behavior unpredictable. This means that a self cannot predict the behavior of another self, although it may be possible to predict its probable behavior.
The probability appears only when one “looks from the outside.” That is, when one tries to foresee the decision that will be taken freely by someone else. Seen from “within the self,” the probability does not exist because the self simply makes a free choice based on its comprehension, intention, and purpose.
The intention and purpose are integral parts of the free will because it is impossible to separate them from it. As a metaphor, free will could be considered as a vector, in which the intention represents its length and the purpose represents its direction.
Since free will is an irreducible aspect of every self, complete determinism cannot exist. Predictability can only be the result of voluntary agreements between the selves. In other words, when a self does behave predictably, it is only because it has agreed with others to behave in that way.
Agency and action
Agency is the capacity of the self to decide and act as a unit, as an integrated whole. That’s why the notion of self as a single and free agent is so fundamental.
Freedom is the idea that every self can do whatever it wants instead of being forced by another agent to go against its will. Nevertheless, freedom does not imply capricious behavior because all selves share the same desire to know themselves and to know the other selves as themselves.
Finally, while action in the world of classical physics is the ability to directly influence external reality, for example by hitting or raising an object, in the “space” of selves there are no bodies with which to bump against other bodies coercively. Coercion is impossible because there is free will and the body doesn’t exist. Therefore, action is reduced to influencing another self to cooperate voluntarily in the desired direction.
Action is therefore reduced to a communication.
But how is it possible to communicate without a body? To do so, a self must be able to voluntarily create “signs” on the outer aspect of its field, that can be perceived and understood by other selves. The action thus becomes the capacity of a self to create symbols on its external reality to represent the meanings it wants to communicate.
The creation of communication symbols marks the beginning of the creation of languages with syntactic rules that require voluntary agreements between the community of selves that uses a particular language. This also leads to the creation of an external public reality.
The nature of physical laws
In this framework, the fundamental physical laws that we observe in our universe can be interpreted as the manifestation of the syntactical rules of the languages used by the quantum fields to communicate with each other. The symbols used in these communications are what we perceive as elementary particles appearing and disappearing in our space-time.
The probabilistic nature of the laws of quantum physics is necessary because the communicating quantum fields are conscious entities with free will. The existence of deterministic laws that prescribe the interaction of these probabilities corresponds to the existence of syntactical rules that symbols must obey in order to communicate – a necessary characteristic in any language. Physical laws, therefore, could be the manifestation of the agreements among conscious fields to be able to reliably communicate with each other
What is free is the meaning that is communicated, not the syntactical rules of the symbols that are used to represent the meaning. This is also true in our case: for example, the book that one of us will write in five years, whose subject has not yet been decided, will necessarily have to obey the probabilistic laws of the symbols of the language in which it will be written.
Therefore, the physical laws constrain only the way in which material symbols must be composed to express the meaning of the selves. In other words, meaning is fundamental, not the symbols. We are completely free to express the meaning we wish, by using the syntactical laws of the symbols that are the physical laws of the universe in which our body exists. If instead we believe that symbols are fundamental, then the true meaning of life and existence are lost.
It is essential to understand that communications among the selves are truly indispensable for deepening the self-knowing and the comprehension of the inner world of each self. Going deeper into this topic, however, would take us far beyond the scope of this introductory essay.
© Federico Faggin, May 2019