Imagine that you have entered a bar. It’s later in the evening when you arrive. When you get there you realize that many others had been there long before you arrived, and they are all engaged in heated discussion. The scene is overwhelming at first for the uninitiated, and with so many intense discussions surrounding you, it is hard to place yourself in any single discussion, so you go up to the bar for a drink and are surprised by what you see. At the bar is a very alien looking man polishing a glass, his nametag reads, Snoo. A group of people furiously engaged in heated discussion sits next to you, you finally get the courage to ask what all the fuss is about only to find out the conversation had been going on for so long that no one was left who could retrace it all the way back to the beginning for you; so you continue to observe. A hallway lined with doors at the back of the bar catches your eye, so you walk over. The door closest to you reads “Whiskey,” and the doors to each side of it read “Beer” and “Wine,” you walk down this walk down the hall this pattern continues, “Vodka,” “Rum,” “Tequila,” a room for each type of liquor at the bar. As you continue down the hall the labels on the doors become more obscure: “Chess,” “Movies,” “PlayStation” the doors are as random as they are numerous. Something else about the doors catches your eye, the fact that none of them have a lock. You reach out and turn the handle, swinging the door to the room labeled “Beer” open wide. You are taken aback as you walk inside a room that is almost identical to the one you were in before, albeit slightly less crowded. As you mosey up to the bar you notice there is something very familiar about the bartender as well and sure enough a check of his nametag reveals your assumptions to be true, it reads Snoo. You order a beer and lean against the bar, observing the goings on. Around the room there are many tables, each of which seems strangely to have room for more people to sit down despite already being bustling with activity. You watch as people walk from table to table, sitting down and offering their two cents to a discussion before wandering to the next table hoping to engage the crowd. After observing for a while, you finally garner up the courage to sit at one of the tables. As you do, you quickly begin to familiarize yourself with the conversation, and a wave of comfort washes over you as you dive into the conversation yourself. You speak your position, adding something to the argument. Someone responds to your comment, prompting an answer from you. As you speak up, someone comes to the defense of his position, and someone else speaks up in agreement with your side. As the discussion continues each person raises a point that adds something to your understanding of this ongoing conversation, and you begin to feel like a part of the living discussion. You check your watch and realize that you had been raptured in conversation for hours, lost in the unending argument. You push away from the table, stretching to reawaken your muscles as you walk out the door. On your way out of the bar you stop to peek inside a few of the other rooms in the infinite hallway, inside each is a scene similar to the one you had just emerged from, conversation still continuing rigorously despite the late hour. As you step out into the after-midnight darkness, you glance back one more time at the neon sign glowing above the bar “Welcome to Reddit, the front page of the Internet.”
Recently I began reading the new book by theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, entitled The Future of the Mind. In the book the author explores the directions that the growing field of neuroscience is leading us and the potential implications for the discoveries already being made. Wrapped up in this discussion is a discussion of that ephemeral idea that has stumped scientists and philosophers alike, what is consciousness? Or, more specifically, what is human consciousness?
Kaku offers his own take on the idea of consciousness, creating what he dubs the “space-time theory of consciousness”. His idea is that consciousness is the ability to take in multiple factors, or as he calls them “feedback loops”, and evaluate them in order to make judgements and accomplish a goal. Kaku divides consciousness along a spectrum of four levels. One’s level of consciousness is determined by how many feedback loops they are able to process as well as what they are processing them in relation to. Level 0 consciousness is reserved for stationary, simple organisms, which react only to a limited number of parameters (he uses the example of a thermostat which only reacts to temperature). Level I consciousness applies to similarly simple organisms who additionally have the ability to move, allowing them to position themselves in relation to space. Level II involves the social consciousness of that space, allowing one to form their reality based on not only their space but in relation to the space of others. Finally, Level III consciousness, which Kaku defines as ‘human consciousness,’ is separated by one’s ability to determine things in relation to time, which is an entirely human construct. Kaku defines this level of consciousness thusly:
Human consciousness is a specific form of consciousness that creates a model of the world and then simulates it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future. This requires mediating and evaluating many feedback loops in order to make a decision to achieve a goal.
So essentially by Kaku’s definition our consciousness is inherent to our ability to envision what the potential consequences of any given action may be, based on our past experiences. This is what allows us to grow and evolve (in a non-biological sense) as humans. This imagining of consciousness has some other potentially interesting implications, especially when one combines it with the idea of the multiverse.
In 1957 Hugh Everett proposed the idea of a universe that is constantly splitting itself into many separate universes. These universes are created any time a choice is present, and represent each of the potential outcomes for a given scenario. The idea was created in response to the famous Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment in which one was asked whether a cat placed inside a box with a canister of poison gas which would be triggered by a Geiger counter detecting the particles emitted by a lump of uranium. The question asked whether the cat was alive or dead. It seemed an unanswerable question without some form of observation. Everett proposed that in fact there were multiple instances in which the cat was either alive or dead and that each of these paths were represented by one of the infinite number of multiverses. So where does this connect with consciousness?
As I mentioned before, Kaku’s view of consciousness is defined by man’s ability to project many possible potential futures based on a number of factors. Each of these projections is based in some sort of learned view of the way the world works and therefore you are able to come up with reasonable projections as to what the near future may hold. In the end, however, one must choose a direction when faced with a decision (even the act of ignoring making the decision is a decision). This means that there is only one projection that is acted upon out of the many potential simulations your mind may run (both consciously and subconsciously). So what happens with all those other simulations? Well if one follows the logic set about within the framework of Everett’s theory, we can assume that they are acted upon in various other multiverses. Therefore, in a way, every time you go through a conscious or unconscious decision making process, you are creating potential new multiverses in your mind. This is a process which happens thousands of times each day, for every single person on the planet. So, in addition to being a prognosticator of the future, each and every individual mind – under Everett’s theory – could perhaps act as a multiverse production factory. Think about that next time you go to make a big decision in your life.