Jul 6, 2007

A Quote for the Day

“Consciousness is a phenomenon that is part of the physical world, although some people don’t like to think of it as physical at all.” - Sir Roger Penrose, mathematical physicist at Oxford.
Ah, yes, I think you're right, Roger. They don't like it at all. It makes them nervous. ;)


Anonymous said...

If it were so, Sir Penrose would have wrote so. I've read some of his writings and nowhere has he said thoughts affect reality. However, drawing a broad conclusion that thought affect reality, is a pretty big leap.

I think you should use something along the lines of - Under favorable conditions, thoughts may affect reality, in ways that we cannot predict.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I think it would be more accurate to describe Roger Penrose's views as follows:

1. Our current understanding if quantum physics is unsatisfactory because it fails to adequately explain the role of consciousness on existence

2. The way that a subatomic particle turns into either a wave or a particle upon observation can potentially reveal a lot about how the human brain works

3. The observation that leads to the collapse of the wavefunction cannot be a mechanical or electronic one (eg a measurement made by a machine, without human involvement) - the presence of human consciousness is essential for the collapse of the wavefunction,

You may be interested in these books written by Roger Penrose. I will see if I get them from the library, for my own leisure reading:

Shadows of the Mind, by Roger Penrose.

The Emperor's New Mind, by Roger Penrose.

Click here to also read about Roger Penrose' Quantum Mind theory.

7-8 said...

This idea that consciousness is something physical is a rejection of mind body duality by Descartes.

While I've not read Penrose's books I understand that cognitive scientists and neuroscientists believe that his ideas are pretty wacky. People whose ideas are more widely accepted amongst those who study human consciousness are Daniel Dennett (see his "Consciousness Explained"), David Chalmers and William Calvin.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

No, I think you're notseeing Penrose's quote in context. Click on link - and you will see the context.

Penrose is not saying that consciousness is something physical. Penrose is saying that consciousness can affect the physical world.

To oversimplify, he is saying that thought can affect reality. To put it in broad perspective, Penrose belongs to that class of quantum physicists who believe that without consciousness, there is no reality (ie subatomic particles will become neither wave nor particle until observed).

Penrose's view is not inconsistent with Descartes view - "I think, therefore I am."

In fact,

"I think, therefore I am" expands fairly easily into

"My thoughts create my reality"

and thereafter into

"Thought creates reality" -

which is what I have been saying many times this month on this blog.

7-8 said...

OK, mind body duality is a different idea from "I think therefore I am" even though they are attributed to the same person.

Mind body duality means that the substance of mind is spirit, as distinct from physical reality. So your thoughts are not part of the physical world.

"I think therefore I am" Your entire epistemological reality is a result of your being able to think. Descartes view is that this substance is made of spirit. But I think that this substance is physical in nature.

I guess that I misread Penrose's quote.

As for myself, I believe that since there is MRI, you can see the physical effects of brains and thinking (but you need expensive machines to detect them). It may be that telepathy is possible in the sense that radio transmission is possible. But I will disagree with him that quantum effects / extra-classical effects are involved. (Dennett's account uses only classical physics, but is of course not complete.) I think that most of quantum effects are observed at a subatomic level and on the scale of a human brain we should use classical physics.

I believe in "thought creates reality" but only in the sense that "thought creates action / communication, and action / communication creates reality". But not in the sense of "thoughts create interesting shapes of water crystals".