Does SoS Theory Provide a Basis for a Plausible and Testable Account of Consciousness?
Some implications of the metric time incorporated in relativity theory strongly suggest that there is a need to accord separate ontological status to both of the concepts of time that were described by John McTaggart over 100 years ago; namely his ‘untensed’ and ‘tensed’ times. Quantizing ‘tensed’ time leads to a proposal for a panprotopsychist theory (SoS theory) which avoids the ‘binding’ and ‘combination’ problems to which most theories of this type succumb when envisaged as providers of a basis for our form of conscious experience. For this reason, SoS theory is regarded as relatively plausible, while it has empirically testable implications for both a potential means of inducing general anaesthesia and for the probable manifestation of brief violations of objective energy conservation.
There are two analogies for the flow of our conscious experience that may be thought especially apt. The first, proposed 80 years ago by Sir Charles Sherrington (1940), pictured the seamless tapestry of our experience as emergent from a weaving together of fluxes of ‘electric messages’ in what he nicely called ‘the enchanted loom’ of our brain. The second analogy, with multiple sources perhaps as old as humanity itself, sees our experience as like a waterfall or cataract in which evanescent whorls, braids, and other patterns are constantly manifesting, imaging fleeting conscious content. Tapestry or waterfall, woven pictures or chaotic patterning, the two analogies have a lot in common and own a sort of poetic or fairy tale truth one may suppose. Is it possible, as Keats accused Newton of having done, to ‘unweave the rainbow’ of experience that they describe and reveal mysteries like those demonstrated by spectography — a method able to reveal the essence of rainbows which are natural spectrograms?
I shall argue in what follows that a plausible approach to unweaving the rainbow involves taking a radical view of the nature of time. It requires envisaging the ‘tapestry’ to be woven, not in, but of time, while the ‘waterfall’ is a cascade, not of material particles or fields, but of temporality itself. Clearly the metric ‘time’ of Newton or general relativity isn’t up to this task; my first step necessarily involves, therefore, looking for some variety or concept of time that might suffice. Lest readers suppose that this is about as sensible a quest as was the hunting of the Snark, I need first to point out one very basic fact. This is that, while Newtonian or Einsteinian times provide a framework for objective reality, neither of these times is a ‘quantum observable’. And quantum observables comprise everything else, other than the fundamental laws of nature, that is at the basis of our objective existence (i.e. energy, momentum, position in space, charge, spin, etc.). Quantum theory encompasses, in other words, all that manifests in nature except for time, natural law, and the very consciousness that allows us to appreciate nature.
As Raymond Tallis (2017) has pointed out, time provides a ‘container’ for our existence. Despite being thus a principal cornerstone of our world, it isn’t contained within our most comprehensive and fundamental theory of the world. Quantum theory uses a temporal metric (which is basically Newtonian with adjustments to accommodate special relativity) but doesn’t tell us anything about the time being used, other than that it is in some sense another side of the coin of energy since metric time and energy share a non-commutative, ‘Heisenberg uncertainty’ relationship. The theory’s treatment of time is quite unlike its treatment of space, despite our habit of eliding the two in Minkowski’s ‘space-time’.
Time, for quantum theory, is a ‘given’ governing evolution of the wave function. It plays a part similar to that of other ‘rules’ of quantum theory (linearity, unitarity, etc., etc.) and thus has the apparent status, in relation to the government of the world, of an arbitrary act of God or random outcome of possibilities inherent in a ‘multiverse’. Space (or at least spatial position) can be extracted from probabilities described by the wave function via suitable ‘measurement’ operations. The likelihood of some particular position in time manifesting can’t be predicted from the rules of quantum theory; the theory tells us only that the precision of any measurement of the time at which some energetic event happens must be in inverse proportion to the precision of any measurement of the actual energy of the event. In contrast, the probability that some particular position in space will manifest on ‘measurement’ can be predicted from theory, with the proviso that position measurement precision will be reduced by any associated momentum measurement. Since time in a sense governs quantum theory, rather than vice versa, a suitable temporal ‘Snark’ capable of forming a cataract of temporality may indeed be lurking somewhere just outside the remit of contemporary physical theory. We need to try to hunt it down.
Of Time and Temporality
The universe can be viewed as a vast assemblage of tiny clocks since every particle in it has its own de Broglie frequency. However, contrary to Newton’s proposal, there is no common ‘time’ that is measured by these clocks. Relativity theory, backed up by implications of innumerable empirical observations, shows that each little clock may be ‘perceived’ by others as having a quite different frequency from its ‘perception’ of its own frequency, depending on the relative velocities, accelerations, or ambient gravitational fields that are involved. The ‘perceptions’ that are involved, if they ‘measure’ one another’s frequencies, require transfer of some sort of information manifesting in its Batesonian guise as a material ‘difference that makes a difference’. It therefore follows that the ‘time’ component of the ‘space-time’ of general relativity has to be regarded as no more than a purely notional contributor to a mathematical function (the Einstein tensor) which describes an important ‘law’ governing the classical causal relationships that are involved in information transfer. The apparent reality of this sort of ‘time’ depends on classical causality itself. Einsteinian time has a relatively elaborate role, but one that is of the same general type as that played by the principle of conservation of momentum, for example, in relation to other aspects of causal behaviour.