Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Smythies's material dualism, a mathematical framework, and consistency with Vedanta

It is interesting that Vedanta has many concepts in common with the Material Dualism of Smythies. For example, Vedanta rejects the identity of mind and brain. The subtlest aspects of the mind, the accumulated latent impressions of all past experiences and desires called vasanas or samskaras are said to survive the death of the physical body and carried by jiva (the soul) who also survives  death (because of being a spark of the immortal Consciousness) and enters them into another physical body for fulfillment of desires.  The new life gives vasanas another chance for expression. To use the computer analogy, this principle of reincarnation is analogous to the following scenario: when the hardware of a computer is broken, the computer operator can load the same software that was in the broken computer into another computer and can run it again if the software was copied and stored on a storage device.  (No copying is necessary in the case of vasanas because they have independent existence from the moment they are created unlike the computer software which is a mapping of some "real information" which exists in the programmer's head to the hardware elements of the computer memory.)  Anyway, the point is that according to Vedanta, the contents of the mind (in other words, phenomenal information (PI)) are subtle and consist of a different kind of matter other than ordinary matter and they interact with the neural matter in the brain during life. Smythies does not go as far as reincarnation but he has suggested many times the possibility of a substance dualism in which  phenomenal information (a person’s ‘consciousness module’) and its brain are two ontologically independent parts of a human organism located in different but related spaces (in two of the parallel universes of brane theory), and connected by causal relations (mechanism). In fact, Smythies suggested the following in Cosmology 2014; 18: 110-118:  "physical space-time (4D) and phenomenal space (3 spatial dimensions) plus 1 dimension of real time—t2, are cross-sections of a common higher dimensional space that are in relative motion in t2 along the time axis of the block universe. This movement generates the ‘now’ and the passage of the time that we experience. The contents of phenomenal space are our sensations, images and thoughts all causally related to (but not identical with) particular brain events. "  This proposal can be regarded as being consistent with Vedanta in view of the following theoretical developments.
In Indian philosophical literature thought is often described as being very fast and one that never comes to stop. Properties of thought described in this literature are very similar to those of faster-than-light objects, known as tachyons in modern physics. It will be possible to describe mental processes and interaction of mind with ordinary matter, in the terminology of mathematics and physics and quantum mechanics in particular,  if one assumes that PI consists of superluminal matter. 
Interestingly, it can be shown that in the Beck and Eccles (1992) quantum mechanical model of exocytosis, a zero energy tachyon (ZET) can precisely do the task of an Eccles’s psychon, that is, interact with boutons and increase the probability of the exocytosis in all the boutons of a whole dendron simultaneously thus coupling a large number of quantum amplitudes to produce coherent action but without violating energy conservation (Hari 2008).  
Again, assuming mind-brain interaction as tachyon interaction with a nonrelativistic quantum brain, it can be shown that subjective experience is created in the form of tachyons if the mind consisting of tachyons pays attention to the brain (Hari 2014).  
Libet’s delay-and-antedating temporal anomaly can be explained using  the tachyon-matter interaction model of mind-brain interaction. Using the same model, it can be explained why an unconscious development of ‘readiness potential’ (RP) occurs prior to the awareness of the intention to act a freely voluntary act, and why on the other hand, one can consciously veto the act until actually beginning to do it even after being aware of one’s own intention to act (Hari 2014).
Coming back to Smythies proposal:  During the 1970’s and later, tachyon physicists discussed six-dimensional special relativity (6D-SR) with equal number of space and time dimensions, as they found it more suitable for the description of tachyons than the conventional 4D-SR.  In 6D-SR, events accessible (by exchange of energy, momentum etc.) to a subluminal object and those accessible to a superluminal object are located on two different 4D-Minkowski-spacetimes in the 6D-spacetime (Pavsic 1981). If one assumes that the PI module of a sentient observer consists of tachyons then the observer’s brain and mind play the roles respectively of a subluminal and a superluminal agent, whenever he/she observes an external material object or an internal thought, emotion, etc. The 6D-SR then implies that the spacetime of the physical world and the spacetime of PI of the individual are located on different 4D-Minkowski sheets embedded in the 6D-spacetime.   
The tachyon theory of mind (TOM) explains the ‘now’ of an observation as follows: Consider an event BP in the brain S of observer O corresponding to a ‘conscious’ event P. BP is the event of a collapse of the wavefunction of S if we assume S to be a quantum system. According to TOM, awareness occurs because BP produces ZETs that describe the collapse. In the frame F in which S is at rest the coordinates of BP can be written in the form:  BP(F) : (tb, 0, 0, x1, x2, x3), where the first three are the time coordinates and the last three are the space coordinates. The latter can be taken to be (0,0,0) because when one monitors the formation of a neural map, the completed neural map occupies the same place as where there is no such map earlier. The time tb is the time taken to build the map as measured by the monitoring neuroscientist. In the superluminal frame F’ in which the ZETs (in the mind S’ of O) are at rest, coordinates of BP are given by a coordinate transformation K called the transcendent superluminal transformation which switches space coordinates to time coordinates and vice versa. Hence in the frame F', the coordinates of BP are: K(BP) = BP(F') : (t'~(0, 0, 0), x'= (tb, 0, 0)). Thus, observer O reports the event as happening at time t'~ (0, 0, 0), i.e., as happening ‘now’.  This conclusion therefore agrees with Smythies's view that the experienced ‘now’ of time in a block Universe is where consciousness, or the experiencing subject is, not where his or her physical body and brain are.
Obviously, the 6D-SR of TOM differs from the Smythies proposal by having one more time dimension in the higher dimensional space.  I am not sure at this point whether just two time dimensions are enough to describe the physical and phenomenal worlds.  For example, it is not possible to associate space and time in the block universe, to our dreams some of which we may be able to report to others  because an event in a dream or any other event of pure imagination may not have happened and may never happen in the physical world.  When we are aware of them, something happens 'now' in the second time dimension; when they are in the memory, it is not clear what time we can ascribe to them.
Hari S D. Eccles’s Psychons could be zero-energy tachyons. NeuroQuantology 2008; 6 (2):152.
Hari S D. Mind and Tachyons: Quantum interactive dualism - Libet’s causal anomalies. NeuroQuantology 2014; 12(2): 247.
Pavšič M. Towards Understanding Quantum Mechanics, General Relativity and the Tachyonic Causality Paradoxes. Lettere al nuovo cimento 1981; 30(4): 111-115.
Pavšič. Unified kinematics of bradyons and tachyons in six-dimensional space-time. J Phys A: Math Gen 1981; 14: 3217-3228.
Smythies J. Many Mansions: Special Relativity, Higher-Dimensional Space, Neuroscience, Consciousness and Time Cosmology 2014; 18: 110-118


  1. Please fix the microscopic font in the first sentence, and from "In Indian philosophical literature thought is often .. " onward!

    1. Thanks for paying attention. I have to confess. I tried many times to have a uniform font size and font color. I select the whole write up and then select the font size as "smallest" and font type as "Times". It brings up its own font sizes. I do not know why. I just gave up. I tried changing the smallest sized portion yo "small". Then that portion looks bigger than the rest. What am I doing wrong?

    2. See if there is an "edit html" option, and then check that there are not still strange font changes embedded in the html at unexpected places.

  2. Bill Rosar asked that I post something here to help get the visual space blog active again, so here goes, although I am not sure how helpful I can be since my background is in Western Philosophy and not Eastern. I gather that we agree that phenomenal visual space (or phenomenal space to include the other senses) is not numerically identical with either distal physical objects being 'perceived" (as assumed by naive or direct realism) or with neural activity per se in the brain (as assumed by various versions of identity theories). If not, these issues deserve separate treatment. But otherwise the question arises as to what sort of linkage there is between neural activity and events in phenomenal space. I agree that this framework of viewing issues may very well be more consistent with eastern philosophy than western, but issues arise concerning how to come up with constructive answers that are not just based on either faith or speculation. I used to think that phenomenal space was located in the brain (even if not numerically identical with neural activity there) but I am much less confident of even that now. Perhaps it is located off-site so to speak, although I have no idea how. If anyone has anything constructive to say on how this occurs I would appreciate hearing it. I would also like to welcome Syamala to the group.

  3. Thank you for your postings Syamala and I join Bob French in welcoming you to the Structure of Visual Space group. Somehow the email notification system was disabled so we have not been receiving emails of new postings, thus my delay in responding to you (I just emailed John Smythies to say that I had wondered whether you were going to post on our blog but didn't think to look myself!) To respond to the quandary Bob posed, I think we must take a step back and ask: What are the rules of the game here? Most fundamentally are we doing science or metaphysics? Modern science is founded almost entirely on Western metaphysics and what you seem to be doing is now grafting on to that metaphysical foundation concepts of Indian metaphysics, specifically, from the Vedanta. This may not pose a problem to scientific materialism which is monistic not dualistic, because if I read you correctly you are seeking to identify consciousness and mental activity solely with aspects of the material universe by appealing to various concepts of theoretical physics in QM and cosmology which, however, were not intended to explain either consciousness or mental activity. Even the observer-oriented Anthropic Principle is founded on the idea that consciousness can only arise in conditions favoring carbon-based life forms and has no other independent existence. Nor does contemporary neuroscience find the need to invoke QM or aspects of cosmology to explain brain activity correlated with consciousness. So I would ask if you could provide something along the lines of a position statement that gives the rationale for your approach which, on the face of it, seems to be an effort to support the Vedanta with Western science. This is what I mean by "rules of the game."

  4. Thanks to Both Bob and Bill. Please let me clarify
    1. I do not support Psycho Neural Identity. If anything, I thought I said that my mind-brain theory is material dualism.
    2. I mentioned Vedanta not because I want to support Vedanta by means of Western science but because I saw posts on this blog discussing Vedanta probably to understand consciousness. If I understand it right, Smythies thinks his understanding of body-mind relationship agrees with Hindu psychology. Let me quote from Smythies Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10, No. 3, 2003, p 47 "However, there are other forms of dualism. For example, traditional Hindu psychology states that humans are compounded of an extended physical body made of ordinary matter and of an extended psyche made of another form of matter too diaphanous to be detected by ordinary instruments."
    3. While I agree with his statement, I found that the current physics has a mathematical way of describing this "another form of matter" and its interaction with ordinary matter but physics does not identify this "other form of matter" with phenomenal information. By assuming that phenomenal information consists of this "other form of matter" of physics, one can mathematically arrive at the Smythies proposal that physical world made up of ordinary matter and phenomenal module of an individual are always in relative motion and occupy two different minkowiski-subspaces in a higher-than-4-dimensional spacetime with more than one time dimension. The higher dimensional special relativity can also mathematically show why subjective experience occurs "now".
    4. To describe interaction of this "other form of matter" with ordinary matter in the brain , I did assume that relevant part of the brain is a quantum system. I do not think all neuroscientists agree on ruling out use of QM to explain conscious experience in the brain, Eccles is an example and I think there other neuroscientists who also believe so. Of course many physicists now a days believe that QM is necessary to explain consciousness in the brain.
    5. Vedanta does not need support from science and Vedanta does not support scientific materialism. If one thinks so, it is because of not understanding Vedanta. We do not have to bring up Vedanta if that simplifies matters. My publications listed in my post do not have any reference to Vedanta.

  5. Thank you very much for clarifying, Syamala. All of these analogies from Vedanta are beautiful, poetic, and beguiling but I'm not sure what science can do with them, except that any idea regardless of its source is potentially useful to science if it serves to explain an observation, and predict others, as Western science is empirical and predictive by nature (need I hardly say). That's what put us on the moon.

    It has not been clear to me that the rendering of certain Sancrit words as "consciousness" or "conscious" or even "mind" quite corresponds to Western usage (uses). For the purposes of our discussion here we are equating consciousness with sensations (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, etc.), with mental images, with visions and hallucinations, and with dreams. They all have in common a sensate character, whereas the subconscious of Freud and unconscious of Jung do not. They are not sensate. This brings us back to an observational science, a science founded on observation, observation being part of the scientific method itself. We call this scientific empiricism which seems very different from an understanding based upon analogies of everyday experience,in everyday life, rather than on analysis of observable cause and effect relationships in controlled conditions.

    Whether one chooses to identify sensate experience of any kind with the brain and its activity or to identify that experience with non-biological physical elements as you have sought to do in the context of QM, the problem is the same: Identification. This is different from mathematical equivalence and it is not clear whether it is a solely an empirical or logical problem or perhaps something of both.

    1. I am fine with equating consciousness with sensations (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, etc.), with mental images, with visions and hallucinations, and with dreams. Identification of conscious experience with either biological or non-biological matter is still identification of mind with matter. It is still mind-body identification. It is no use entering into these discussions without knowing that much. So, that is not what I meant by psycho-neural non-identity. There are many entities in physics, which physicists call nonphysical because these entities cannot be accessed directly via senses or by means of measuring devices like in QM experiments but whose existence has been proved by the effects they produce on matter. One example is the vector potential of the electromagnetic field. There are mathematical equations relating these quantities to other entities which are physical. In other words, mathematical/physical theories are possible involving some nonphysical quantities which have physical effects. The mind happens to be one such entity. Although the mind is nonphysical it works on the brain does it not? I am saying that a mathematical theory is possible to describe mind/brain interaction without identifying the mind with something physical. In fact, many physicists want to use QM to explain consciousness because QM allows interaction of mind with the brain without assuming that the mind is made up of matter but only that the brain is a QM system. The 'other form of matter' in my theory is also nonphysical not just non-biological like electronics in a computer.

  6. Pursuant to mind-body dualism, American philosopher Roland Puccetti invoked Leibniz's "identity of indiscernibles" which, on the face of it, seems like the best definition of two things being identical, but as he has duly noted in his writings, and others of us have as well in ours, there is no basis to assert that the mind and brain are identical in any respect, even if there are ostensive causal relations between the two. How then are they identical? It is not that the mind looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like one and that the brain exhibits those same characteristics. The more we probe the brain and its intricacies the less it seems like anything we experience. There are those who liken it to a computer. To me it seems more like a bodily organ, much as it used to be called one. Only I don't believe it is the "organ of thought" or that it "excretes thoughts" as some once maintained. Richard Bergland in his book "Fabric of Mind" argued persuasively that the brain is a gland, not a computing machine as so many (like to) believe.

    So the problem, as I see it, is how to ascertain identity under such circumstances? One can say, "Well, consciousness is certainly identical to itself." But how far does that get us? The so-called "identity" of Identity Theory is an identification like no other in epistemology, as I have said to John Smythies. It is not only the requirement that X and Y be equivalent in some way but that they be one and the same to satisfy the Identity Theory which, I counter, cannot be satisfied empirically. It is as if it should be an empirical problem but in reality is not. Because to make such a determination that mind and brain or mind and matter be *indiscernibly identical,* requires an agent to make an observation. Who is in a position to judge that mind and brain or consciousness and brain are identical or not? Who is it that can make such a comparison? The same problem occurs in seeking to identify consciousness or mind with some physical agency other than a living brain. How is the observation to be made? If such an observation or comparison cannot be made, are we not postulating a condition of identity for which there is no possibility of empirical verification? This is where we are stumped, so it seems to me. Others may have a different opinion, though.

  7. Just an afterthought to my remarks above: Memory presents an interesting case because it is like consciousness in that things can go in and out of memory much as things go in an out of consciousness. Conceptually, though, it is probably memory that gave rise to the notion of the unconscious mind, not perception, because there is no such thing as an unconscious observation, whereas a memory can be unconscious. Whatever it is that separates sensate things from unconsciousness is a big mystery!

  8. I am glad that we are renewing a discussion on these matters. I also think that we have a pretty broad agreement on what is going on, although I am more sympathetic with the computer model of the brain than Bill is, and I prefer to call the position 'spatial substance dualism' rather than 'material dualism' since the latter term could be construed as implying that phenomenal space is made of physical matter. I find also that I am not clear on what Syamala means by 'phenomenal information.' Does this just mean that events in phenomenal space give information about our physical environment (e. g., by in some respects being isomorphic with them) or something else? With respect to quantum theory, while I have an interest in this subject, I am not convinced that such quantum events as the reduction of wave packets have anything to do with consciousness. Perhaps this is a side issue though. I also think that it might be useful to see whether we all agree on the geometrical character of visual space. I recently had a paper published in Topoi on the subject, and it is also given in one of the first postings on the blog.

  9. Bill says he is equating consciousness with sensations (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, etc.), with mental images, with visions and hallucinations, and with dreams. Fine. I call all these as different sets of phenomenal information. Some of the events in phenomenal space give information about our physical environment as you said. Our minds/memories also contain imagined events for which it is not possible to associate space and time coordinates in physical space. For example, our dreams some of which we may be able to report to others are of this kind because an event in a dream may not have happened and may never happen in the physical world. In any conscious experience which we can report, we are aware of something, whether it is a sensation, an emotion, a mental image, a hallucination, etc. I call that something as a piece of phenomenal information. Whatever we can report is phenomenal information; we are aware of it and therefore it is in phenomenal space. Smythies says these sensations, thoughts, etc. consist of a substance different from ordinary matter but which occupies a space called 'phenomenal space'. I say that phenomenal information is made up of this substance. Thank you for being not allergic to viewing the brain as a computer because I do so sometimes.

  10. I quite like the idea of a mathematician such as Syamala bringing to the table an approach comparable to that of mathematical physics! But rather than saying what consciousness and mind is or isn't--choosing to identify it with things other than itself--it may be useful to define what consciousness is not, as Julian Jaynes did in his book. It is astonishing that there is a whole field of endeavor called "mathematical psychology" and the closest it can get to relating sensations to physical stimuli is a kind of glorified correlation called "psychophysics" which demonstrates a linear-log relationship and even has its own "quantum" principle, courtesy of S.S. Stevens, though it has nothing to do with QM. Back in the 1980s Saul-Paul Sirag annotated a chapter by Gilbert Ryle on the nature of mind and was surprised by how much its elusive characteristics (the "ghost in the machine") reminded him of phenomena in QM. As Smythies knows I tried to organize a conference on QM and the mind back in those days to be held under the auspices of the Caltech Biology Dept., but the idea was vetoed by John Hopfield, whose support I had sought for it--that in spite of many papers that had already been published on the topic by reputable physicists who wanted to hold such a conference.

  11. Bob French mentioned his paper that will be appearing in an issue of the philosophy journal "Topoi" to be devoted to the geometry of visual space. In the same issue will appear my paper "The Dimensionality of Visual Space" in which I have shown how various topological properties apply to it, only one of which is dimensionality. Visual space appears to be a "real" space comparable to physical space because it shares a number of the same topological properties.