In my previous article 1+1=Mind, I showed where consciousness is a necessary assumption in order for there to be mathematics. My problem with that was that it left open the possibility that “God did it.” I want an explanation that is consistent with rationality, not faith, if possible. In this essay by taking consciousness as a given, I can offer a rational answer to the same questions Stephen Hawking asks in both his books, A Brief History of Time and A Briefer History of Time.
Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?
Why does the universe go to all of the bother of existing?
If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason–for then we would know the mind of god.
When I consider the old metaphysical question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” what strikes me is that potentially either could have been the case. What are the implications of that potentiality? The only way I can tell the difference between nothingness and potentiality is if some of that potential is realized, if there is something and I am aware of it. But there is more here than it seems. If there were only potentiality, then it would be absolutely free. It would not have a boundary or limit and could not have any gaps. Therefore, it must be infinite potentiality which must continually come into being if it is to remain unlimited. If I abstract myself from the situation what remains is pure potentiality having the need for realization and requiring consciousness as the means to do so. Admittedly my starting unity is actually a trinity, but it seems to hold promise so I will continue.
In very rudimentary form I have the start of an answer to Stephen Hawking’s questions that is an explanation for both the origin for the universe and the reason for it. But to be of any value I will need to show a possible path connecting that origin to the world that I live in. Because Hawking is asking a ‘why” question I need to offer an emotionally satisfying answer. This allows me to expand the initial consciousness from a minimum of awareness of being to awareness of what it emotionally feels like to be that conscious self.
One of the functions of emotions is to recognize a need and supply the drive to satisfy it. Because I find the need for realization of potential to be the fundamental need, I can consider curiosity as the emotional expression of that need which supplies the drive to satisfy it. I can go a step further and state that since a it is a conscious self that feels the curiosity, what is experienced as a result of exercising that curiosity adds to that self, becoming its knowns. I will now give a name to this emotional self-aware being; I will adopt the phrase Mind-at-Large (M@L), even though at this point it is quite small.
There is the old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.” I have a new and deeper appreciation of its truth and beauty. Needs drive creation.
If there is “only” infinite potential and an emotionally self-aware being how is that potential to be realized? I need to expand the consciousness of M@L to include the imagination. Any aspect of that infinite potential is realized at the point where it is first imagined by M@L. It is only by imagining a solution that a need can be satisfied. Whatever is imagined becomes part of the content, the being of M@L, since it is what it knows and feels. There is the old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.” I have a new and deeper appreciation of its truth and beauty. Needs drive creation. The more clearly a need is experienced, the more it defines the solution. The imagination is what makes it all possible. The imagination makes the future present by making it known. I can only stand in awe of what it has accomplished so far.
By their very nature some knowns will have greater potential for further exploration than others. Those knowns thought or found to have the greatest potential will be explored further, until a dead-end or loop is reached. This implies that those lines of inquiry thought or found to have the greatest potential for further exploration would have a higher value, be more interesting, than the rest. But in saying this I am assuming that there is the capacity for rational thought in addition to emotional feelings. I am also assuming that a choice can be made as to which paths to explore and which to ignore. In effect, I have expanded the consciousness of M@L to include rationality and volition.
An insatiable need would have no motivating value it there was not some means of, at least temporarily, satisfying that need. This requires that in addition to emotions that express a need there must be emotions that express a response when that need is, again at least temporarily, satisfied. It must be possible to satisfy one’s curiosity. I repeatedly qualify the response as being at least temporary. The reason is that with infinite potential awaiting realization, the need can never be permanently satisfied. A temporary satisfaction is the necessary reward to keep curiosity meaningful since otherwise whether or not one pursued one’s curiosity the emotional feeling would remain the same. The temporary sense of satisfaction need be nothing more than that, a feeling of satisfaction (possibly evolving into joy), perhaps accompanied by surprise and these would have value.
I can also consider this from the perspective of the conscious self. Since what is known to the self becomes part of the content of that self, these knowns then serve as an expression of that self. The problem with this is that since there can be no knowing in advance what curiosity will produce, the self then becomes a collection of findings not all that the self would choose to explore further and others that the self would have greater interest in. This would require that the self be able to focus on some and ignore others. I will repurpose the word ig-NOR-ance to express this willful disregard of what is known and use the term nescience when referring to what is a true unknown. With the ability to ignore what is known we can add one more capacity to M@L’s consciousness: memory. Memory serves M@L by allowing it to ignore some of its knowns while focusing on others.
At any given point, M@L could be presented with multiple paths offering great potential for further exploration, but which could not be simultaneously explored with a single focus. M@L could overcome this through what would be the equivalent of budding. Each bud would become a new individual self, a growth tip on a branch of M@L. This new self would be motivated to pursue the option that justified its creation. This would establish a primitive value for it and an associated need for self-expression.
While I am focusing on curiosity, as consciousness develops further other emotional drives will be needed depending on the context. A broad range of emotional responses will also be appropriate. These, however, can be further distinguished. Taking curiosity as an example, when the emotional response to the results of curiosity encourage further exploration, we can refer to this as a positive emotional response. When, however, the results discourage further exploration this can be characterized as a negative emotional response. Which lines of inquiry were continued while others were halted could be determined in this manner.
Needing to be factored into this framework is how what is realized fits within the preexisting content of the self and serves to further its intended self-expression. If the self is to be a coherent whole, the self would need to integrate each new known with all its preexisting knowns. Those new knowns that integrate the best would have the highest value and would produce a positive emotional response. The degree of integration can be reasonably equated with harmony, an aesthetic value. Those disharmonic knowns that could not be integrated well or which resulted in a negative emotional response, such as disgust or revulsion, would be ignored.
In this manner the self could exert control over its self-expression. It would seem reasonable to assume that the goal of self-expression would be a whole self that was the greatest possible sum of its parts, or knowns (The Good). Implicit within this is the fact that being the greatest possible sum of its parts is dependent on how well the parts are integrated into the whole, not just how many parts there are. Any incoherence or disharmony resulting from parts that have not or cannot be integrated would limit the composite whole. IgNORance helps to minimize this problem if properly applied.
From this overarching perspective, I can now supplement the basis for determining whether an emotional response is positive or negative. Those discoveries/creations that most contribute to the whole would elicit positive emotional responses and the continuation of the relevant emotional drive, while those that detract from the whole or limit curiosity would elicit negative emotional responses.
Most of the technology that humanity has developed is the attempt to reestablish what would have been natural to a conscious mind if it were not functioning within the confines of physicality.
Because emotions can serve to either express the drive to satisfy a need or the satisfaction of a need, different emotions would develop depending upon the context within which the self was located. The greater the limitations of that context, the greater would be the need for overcoming those limitation so that the appropriate emotional drives could be given full rein. Most of the technology that humanity has developed is the attempt to reestablish what would have been natural to a conscious mind if it were not functioning within the confines of physicality. For example, all technological aids to communication simply seek to replicate what telepathy can do.
I can now consider the deeper implications of viewing emotions as the driving force in satisfying needs and rewarding those efforts for a being that was considered omniscient. First, I must clarify whether omniscient refers to knowing all that could be known, or only all that is known at that point. If it refers to all that could be known, then my starting point of pure potentiality is moot. Everything that could be, would be actual as knowns in such a mind. The result would be stasis unless some dynamic factor is introduced. If instead omniscience refers to knowing all that is known at that point, then curiosity still serves a function. Now the question becomes one of omnipotence. If the omniscient and still curious being had no limitations placed on it, it could be considered as omnipotent. If that were the case, then emotions that were developed in response to the limitations of the context in which the self was located would not be present or required. Those emotional responses to how the results added to the whole would remain.
As budding and branching occur a hierarchy is created, just as with a tree where there are trunks, branches, twigs and flowers (and a few nuts as well). This analogy is intended only for visualization purposes since consciousness cannot be equated with a tree. The concept of fractalization while seeming analogous doesn’t apply here. With fractalization there is no inclusion of novelty, whereas in the process I am describing the introduction of novelty is the defining feature. While the whole of conscious being, M@L, continues to know and be the totality of all that originated from it, the same cannot be assumed for the resulting hierarchy. The different levels of the hierarchy are just that–different levels. What would distinguish them would be the focus or degree of limitations that defined them. The farther along the differentiation had proceeded, the lower the level, the greater the resulting restrictions. If in budding, the defining restrictions and assigned focus also limited the conscious functionality of the budded individuals this would then serve to limit their awareness of their true nature and full potential.
Despite these limitations, the budded individuals are where growth occurs, these newly created conscious selves are the leading edge of growth. The growth takes two forms: an increase in knowledge and an increase in emotional scope. How these results are assimilated by the upper levels of the hierarchy would be different. Knowledge, being abstract, is easily shared, and the upper levels of the hierarchy could be considered to remain abreast of the latest advances in knowledge. Since emotions are context and event dependent their sharing is more constrained. In referring to “what it is like to be something,” the emotional state of that being cannot be ignored. If one has not had the experience that gave rise to the emotions, then one would not be able to fully understand the emotions as felt in the moment or in memory. An observer at a higher level could recognize that an emotional response occurred and how it effects later events, but that is an abstraction of the actual reality.
I can now move from a metaphysical framework to our physical one. There are profound differences in the emotions and their corresponding values between a mind functioning as mind without external limitations, and a restricted mind functioning from within a severely limited framework. I can use the prospect of physical death as an example. If outside of physicality there is no prospect of death, then the self would not require the emotions necessary to either attempt to avoid death for as long as possible (vigilance), or to deal with the experience of dying or the death of others (sadness, grief).
Imagine some branch of M@L developing a complex mathematical structure that had great potential for further development and exploration. As a matter of efficiency, or Beauty even, it would want to keep the initial mathematical starting point as simple, as elegant, as possible while still permitting the greatest development possible. The cosmological equations and constants describing our universe would be representative.
The problem here is, as Hawking noted, that each step or change would need to be calculated. Despite the effort required, the universe created would be a mechanical marvel, impressive but boring. To make it easier and more interesting the designers could place an extremely simplified conscious being, a highly restricted bud. at each point where different options are presented. This would allow those conscious beings to select what comes next. At any point where more complex options were present a more complex consciousness would be required. When insignificant mistakes were made by these complex beings an appropriate emotional response would be needed, such as regret, sorrow, or remorse. More significant problems such as reaching a dead-end or looping, would require a reset to allow them to start fresh. Death is just such a reset. The continual starting over as a result of death would also foster change as individuals recycling through continually saw the world from a new perspective while retaining the benefits of past learning.
Now when faced with options, they would choose and value those that retain or increase their capacity and prolong their life while attempting to avoid death. Fear would be an appropriate response to the prospect of death. Fear is a negative emotion and has the effect of limiting further exploration and risk taking. Because the resources necessary to avoid death are limited, the being would find itself in competition with other beings in the same situation. This could even be intensified if the death of one being was necessary for another to continue living. Taken as a whole, this would establish the foundation for both Darwinian biological evolution and the evolution of consciousness itself.
Through the process of trial and error these individuals would eventually learn that cooperation also had benefits. And this would generate the need for positive emotions that rewarded cooperation. Inter-individual cooperation would lead to complex social groups and this would require equally complex emotional drives and responses. The need to trust others and anticipate their actions/reactions would be present.
In this scenario, death requires a replacement and expansion requires additional individuals. To meet these needs different means of reproduction would arise. When this took the form of sexual reproduction and the need to care for offspring, a whole new set of emotions would be required. The emotional responses of trust and love would serve this purpose. The emotional responses of anger and rage would also be appropriate to when anything threatened or harmed members of the social group, particularly the immediate social family.
The reduction in fear made possible through cooperation along with the positive emotions produced would give curiosity greater freedom to explore/discover/create. This would in turn speed up the process of actualization of potential. Through cooperation, each individual as well as M@L, could evolve faster and more easily achieve integration of the new parts in its efforts to be the greatest possible sum of its parts.
While I have offered an explanation of how the experience of physicality can stimulate emotional development, I still need to explain how physicality can be experienced as external. Because mathematics is the most abstract form of thought, it is likely that the earliest minds would have been prone to explore it once the full range of consciousness was in place. The recognition of necessity as fundamental also fosters further exploration through mathematics and logic. Numbers are wonderful things, offering all kinds of unexpected patterns and surprises. Because numbers require space they can be graphed as in geometry. But in order to be graphed the mind must be able to visualize space, only then can points and lines become objects in their own right. The ability to experience something as an object first occurred when M@L was only a self-aware being. The subjective self was experiencing itself as an object. For the English language at least, this act serves as the basis for a language based on subject, verb, and object. But how is one the distinguish all of the objects that mathematics can create? I suspect that it did so by attaching qualia to them. Lines and circles could be colored differently. Different mathematical wave shapes could also produce different sounds. Different surfaces could have different textures. If so, this would explain the development of different means of perceiving objects that were the content of consciousness rather than consciousness itself.
I noted earlier that every new known had to be either integrated with all existing knowns or ignored and left isolated. How well objects could be integrated could stimulate the assignment of properties as well. All of these types of characterizations would be relevant. The physical properties and forces of the universe can be seen as instances of giving the object described by numbers greater expression. If this is so, then in effect a virtual reality could be created that seemed separate from the mind that conceived it. It is at this point that the conceiving mind could populate it with the restricted conscious beings that I referred to previously. Once this occurred, the virtual world would take on a life of its own for the restricted conscious beings functioning within it, it would seem to be an external reality, not a virtual one.
I will now adopt the perspective of a conscious being within that virtual reality having to satisfy a need. Using its imagination, it will explore all of the possibilities that it can think of. Those that offer the most promise will be tried to see how well they work. This is a trial and error process aided by rational forethought. Once a satisfactory solution is found, that solution will always be chosen under similar circumstances, a habit can be formed. By habitually responding in a predetermined manner, the mind can then move on to other concerns. If later the individual wants to change the habitual response, it will find it quite difficult. It may seem as if the habit has taken on a life of its own and is resisting the will of the individual. It will seem somewhat external to the individual.
If faced with a similar problem, others too may adopt the solution, whether by rediscovering it or copying it. It can be passed on to any budded individuals and become the norm, seemingly an instinct, the natural response in a given situation. At that point it appears even more externalized such that the individual not only experiences the world as external but even some of its own actions as being externally driven. I take this as a fairly simple approximation of the conscious experience of physicality.
The trial and error process described represents Darwinian evolution in its truest sense, not survival of the fittest but the continuation of what works until something better can be imagined, if nothing can be found that works the activity is stopped.
Implicit in all that I have laid out is that there was no grand plan going forward, only a trial and error process. The role of formal logic would be to minimize this trial and error process while seeking the optimal. Given the need for it, logic would have to be developed before it could be used. The trial and error process described represents Darwinian evolution in its truest sense, not survival of the fittest but the continuation of what works until something better can be imagined; if nothing can be found that works the activity is stopped. Those beings involved might not even fully understand what is occurring. It would only be with hindsight that the “big picture” could be seen and a new understanding could arise.
Given Stephen Hawking’s dismissal of philosophy and metaphysical speculation coupled with his attraction to that which can be described with only mathematics, this answer may not have been acceptable to him. His vision of how the mind of god would work might be different. But despite his disdain for philosophy and metaphysics, Hawking was asking metaphysical questions not physical ones, and I am offering a metaphysical answer that supports the physical. The idealist alternative offered is fully capable of supporting all of the findings of science as well as the actual lived experiences of people that science now dismisses because they are not explainable by mathematical laws alone. As with most paradigm shifts in science it is not that the new replaces the old, but rather that it places the old within a larger context of greater explanatory power.