After having a very enlightening conversation with my good friend John, I have had to come to terms with the rationalization and definition of some of my ideas and concepts about myself and the world around me. In this conversation we discussed God, and god, consciousness, reality, observation, DNA, physics, cosmology, biology, eastern mysticism, hallucinogenic drugs, the theory of everything, quantum mechanics, and UFOs. I have been an amateur scholar of life and the universe now for several years and had come to some conclusions I have based on several things I've read and seen, but John showed me I did not have clear explanations for these beliefs. I intend for this essay to change that.
I will try to persuade you with a very convincing argument backed by scholarly papers and cutting edge theoretical sciences that:
1) the entirety of the concept of "consciousness" cannot be fully explained by the current physical sciences paradigm.
2) "information" can exist without perception and can influence the shape and actions of physical phenomenon.
3) the phenomenon of "consciousness" preceded the phenomenon of physicality.
4) given the above four conclusions the entirety of all "Information" (including all possible outcomes of all universes/multi-verses everywhere) could be plausibly and probably stored non-locally/non-physically, and that this "Information" was and is intrinsically tied to at least one "consciousness" and that that "Consciousness" preceded all physical reality.
So, let's get started!
The entirety of the concept of "consciousness" cannot be fully explained by the current physical sciences paradigm.
To really get into this one, which is the crux of the next three, it is important to start by defining consciousness.
Dictionary.com says it's: "the mind or the mental faculties as characterized by thought, feelings, and volition". Wikipedia has a slightly longer explanation: "Consciousness is a quality of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one's environment. It is a subject of much research in philosophy of mind, psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science."
But consciousness has many more meanings and definitions than this, and those meanings can be different depending on one's cultural background. What I propose isn't a redefining of consciousness, at least not any further than Decartes' "I think therefore I am", but that consciousness cannot be reduced solely to physical phenomenon; That there is more than just what happens in the brain that causes the phenomenon of consciousness. In the mind sciences, and especially neuroscience, scientists are hard at work trying to reduce all the states of consciousness and the mind to specific electro-biochemical processes that can be named and identified. I will try to show that not only has science been unable to find a physical part of the brain that is responsible for the phenomenon we commonly call "consciousness" (e.g. making decisions, preferences, opinions, innovation, imagination, judgment, etc.) but that most mind scientists are most likely thinking about the whole thing wrong (pardon the pun).
First, let's watch an important video taken from the "What the Bleep do We Know" movie. In this 5 minute clip, a very excited superhero explains how the conscious act of observing a quantum experiment changes the outcome of the results, showing that consciousness has an intrinsic connection and a direct correlation with physical phenomenon outside of the brain, but without direct physical contact! In other words, if the phenomenon of consciousness is only limited to the physical interactions inside of the brain, how can it play an inseparable role in the outcome of a physical experiment (in this case with electrons) that is conducted outside and separate from the brain? If after watching this clip you are not completely baffled, then you did not understand it at all!
The fact that the "conscious observer" cannot be separated from the quantum experiment is only one of the bizarre properties of quantum mechanics. One of the major contributors to the science of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrodinger, created a thought experiment, commonly referred to as Schrodinger's Cat, to show how rediculous this may seem. The thought experiment goes something like this: A poisonous capsule is set to release it's deadly contents should a specific quantum event take place. We know that the event has a probability of exactly a 50% chance of occurring or not occurring over the course of an hour, thus giving us a 50/50 chance that the poison will be released. We put this apparatus along with a living cat into a box and close the lid. Common sense would tell us that either the quantum event took place or it didn't, and that the cat is either dead or alive, and that when we open the box we will discover the true state of the cat. However, according to the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, an unobserved subatomic particle can be both a wave and a particle at the same time, and is said to be in a state of flux. It isn't until the subatomic particle is actually observed that the "wave function is collapsed", thus causing the subatomic particle to stop behaving like a wave and to start behaving like a particle. Since the apparatus is connected to a quantum event that has a wave function, and since the fate of the cat is directly connected to the state of the quantum event, the cat is also said to be in a state of flux, where it is both dead and alive at the same time, and that the act of opening the box and observing the cat collapses the wave function, determining at this moment whether the cat is dead or alive.
So quantum mechanics shows us that although consciousness is intrinsically linked to matter, it can interact with matter through what seems to be non-physical means.
Harald Atmanspacher wrote an article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about the quantum correlations to consciousness and had this to say:
"One important aspect of all discussions about the relation between mind and matter is the distinction between descriptive and explanatory approaches. For instance, correlation is a descriptive term with empirical relevance, while causation is an explanatory term associated with theoretical attempts to understand correlations. Causation implies correlations between cause and effect, but this does not always apply the other way around: correlations between two systems can result from a common cause in their history rather than from a direct causal interaction.
"In the fundamental sciences, one typically speaks of causal relations in terms of interactions. In physics, for instance, there are four fundamental kinds of interactions (electromagnetic, weak, strong, gravitational) which serve to explain the correlations that are observed in physical systems. As regards the mind-matter problem, the situation is more difficult. Far from a theoretical understanding in this field, the existing body of knowledge essentially consists of empirical correlations between material and mental states. These correlations are descriptive, not explanatory; they are not causally conditioned. It is (for some purposes) interesting to know that particular brain areas are activated during particular mental activities; but this does, of course, not explain why they are. Thus, it would be premature to talk about mind-matter interactions in the sense of causal relations. For the sake of terminological clarity, the neutral notion of relations between mind and matter will be used in this article." [Italics theirs.]
In essence, the line "this does... not explain why they [brain activities] are [activated]" shows that science is still ignorant of the actual underlying "physical mechanism of consciousness". But if you still don't believe me, look it up!
And over at Princeton we have the Global Consciousness Project, which is currently using random number generation in connection with major global events to see if there is a correlation between "mass consciousness" and physical phenomenon. The project has been running random numbers and looking for statistically improbable number generations that are timed with global events for close to 20 years and can be quoted from the "theories and speculations" section of their website as saying:
"After all the caveats, however, we can say that the evidence for an effect of consciousness on REGs [Random Event Generators] is strong. We are driven by that evidence to infer that something like a "consciousness field" exists, and that intentions or emotional states which structure the field are conveyed as information that is absorbed into the distribution of output values of labile physical systems." [Italics are mine.]
Once again this is an example of consciousness reaching out beyond the physical confines of the brain, acting in a non-physical manner to create observable affects in physical systems.
An interesting paper titled "A Course In Consciousness", written by Stanley Sobottka, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Virginia comes out and blatantly states this:
"As we have seen in Sections 6.4 and 6.5, if it is consciousness that collapses the wavefunction (or that materializes a branch [as in the many-worlds theory, more on that later]), then consciousness must be nonphysical. If it is a nonlocal [more about non-locality later] universal consciousness, we are faced with some other far-reaching conclusions. What two individual observers see is determined by universal consciousness, not by any kind of individual consciousness that might exist. This applies to all of our sensory perceptions without exception. Since everything we perceive is determined by universal consciousness, it makes no sense to say that there is a material world independent of consciousness. Thus the dualism of mind and matter is excluded."
"Information" can exist without perception and can influence the shape and actions of observed physical phenomenon.
Next, I will argue that there is a certain type of information that is essentially non-physical (not encoded on anything physical), does not require an observer to exist, and that this unknown and unperceived "information" can affect observable physical phenomenon, despite our lack of being able to "read" or "decode" this "information". I will use a popular philosophical riddle to illustrate this.
If a tree falls in a forest, and no one's around, does it make a sound? I'm going to try to show, in a slightly indirect way, that the answer to this question is yes, but not in the way that you might think (once again, sorry for the pun). Again, I will start by trying to define "information", and how it will relate to this riddle.
An article titled "Semantic Conceptions of Information" can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that gives a rather in depth explanation of "information":
"Information is notoriously a polymorphic phenomenon and a polysemantic concept so, as an explicandum, it can be associated with several explanations, depending on the level of abstraction adopted and the cluster of requirements and desiderata orientating a theory. The reader may wish to keep this in mind while reading this entry, where some schematic simplifications and interpretative decisions will be inevitable. Claude E. Shannon, for one, was very cautious: “The word ‘information’ has been given different meanings by various writers in the general field of information theory. It is likely that at least a number of these will prove sufficiently useful in certain applications to deserve further study and permanent recognition. It is hardly to be expected that a single concept of information would satisfactorily account for the numerous possible applications of this general field. (italics added)” (Shannon , p. 180). Thus, following Shannon, Weaver  supported a tripartite analysis of information in terms of (1) technical problems concerning the quantification of information and dealt with by Shannon's theory; (2) semantic problems relating to meaning and truth; and (3) what he called “influential” problems concerning the impact and effectiveness of information on human behavior, which he thought had to play an equally important role. And these are only two early examples of the problems raised by any analysis of information."
Wikipedia's article on the Philosophy of Information also has this to say:
"According to Floridi, four kinds of mutually compatible phenomena are commonly referred to as "information":
* Information about something (e.g. a train timetable) * Information as something (e.g. DNA, or fingerprints) * Information for something (e.g. algorithms or instructions) * Information in something (e.g. a pattern or a constraint).
"Information is the result of processing, manipulating and organizing data in a way that adds to the knowledge of the receiver. In other words, it is the context in which data is taken. [In this definition of information a conscious observer is required to perceive and interpret it otherwise it is referred to as data, but this is just a semantic differentiation and does not exclude the notion of "data" existing without perception.]
"Information as a concept bears a diversity of meanings, from everyday usage to technical settings. Generally speaking, the concept of information is closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, mental stimulus, pattern, perception, and representation." [Bold is mine, explained later.]
First off, one might start by pointing out that only one of Floridi's phenomenon, information as something, requires that information actually be a tangible thing. And of course, if you take the time to read the previously mentioned Wikipedia article on the Philosophy of Information you will quickly realize that there is no concrete definition of the term or meaning of "information" (notice the redundancy?). For the sake of this discussion I will try to be specific about the type of information I am referring to by using Floridi's and Shannon's definitions, but it's how information is related to perception that I'm most keenly interested in.
But let me back up a minute and return to our riddle. The question is, does the phenomenon of sound actually occur if there is not an observer to witness it? The riddle begs us to consider that since we have not perceived the sound (or light or the electromagnetic force that triggers our sense of "touch", or in other words, information as something), that the tree itself and its subsequent action of falling (information about something) does not exist. In Wikipedia's article on this riddle it says this:
"The most immediate philosophical topic that the riddle introduces, involves the existence of the tree (and its sound) outside of human perception. If no one is around to see, hear, touch or smell the tree, how could its existence occur? What is it to say that it exists when such an existence avoids all knowing?"
More important to this discussion though would be Floridi's information for something, or especially his "Environmental Information" or otherwise referred to as "natural data". In an article titled simply "Information" written for the Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics, he states:
"...It is important to recall that environmental information may require or involve no semantics at all. It may consist of correlated data understood as mere differences or affording constraints. Plants (e.g. a sunflower), animals (e.g. an amoeba), and mechanisms (e.g. a photocell) are certainly capable of making practical use of environmental information even in the absence of any (semantic processing of) meaningful data." [Italics are Floridi's.]
A little later in this article Floridi also points this out:
"...Likewise, in Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes solves the case by noting something that has escaped everybody else, the unusual silence of the dog. Clearly, silence may be very informative. This is a peculiarity of information: it's absence may also be informative."
So, in rephrasing the riddle we might ask instead, "if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, but a picture is taken, does it make a sound?" We might even envisage sending in a mechanical robot to retrieve the camera from the location that we have never been to or witnessed first hand so that we may perceive the picture of the tree in the action of falling, but does this mean we have perceived the actual tree and that it thusly made a sound? Does this sound familiar? It should because it's exactly what scientists have been doing with the NASA Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers for several years now. Obviously the information had to exist before (more on the concept of time later) the conscious perception of it or one might say that we are merely creating Mars with our minds. And if that's true why can't we create other planets, right here in our own solar system, with our minds?
So far we have looked at philosophy to help us understand information, but let's return to quantum mechanics to see what it has to say. One theory we can look at is called Active Information Theory. F. David Peat is a physicist who wrote a very good laymen's introduction to Active Information Theory:
"[David] Bohm's 1952 Hidden Variable papers proposed an alternative approach to quantum theory in which the electron is a real particle guided by a new kind of force, the quantum potential. While at first sight Bohm's theory appears somewhat "classical" - electrons have real paths - the quantum potential is entirely novel. Unlike all other potentials in physics its effects do not depend upon the strength or "size" of the potential but only on its form. It is for this reason that distant objects can exert a strong influence on the motion of an electron.
"In the double slit experiment, a paradigm-shifting experiment of quantum theory, the effects of the slits are be [sic] experienced by electrons located many centimeters away. This is very difficult to explain in conventional terms but follows quite naturally once a quantum potential has been introduced. Indeed, it is this quantum potential that is responsible for all the novel effects exhibited by quantum theory. The form of the quantum potential is extremely complex and reflects the entire physical set-up of a quantum measurement. The complexity of its form is also what gives rise to the apparently random processes of the quantum world, such as the disintegration of a radio-active nucleus, or the dual wave-particle nature of the electron.
"Bohm's approach to his own theory became more subtle over the years and he soon began to speak of not only of the form of the quantum potential and also of the "information" it contains. The action of the quantum potential is not to push or pull the electron along its path. Rather, Bohm likened it to a radar signal that guides a ship approaching a harbor. The information within the radar signal acts, via a computer or automated steering device, to change the direction of the ship. Information itself does not push the ship, rather it "in-forms" the gross energy of the engines.
"Information therefore allows a distinction to be made between what could be called raw or "un-formed" energy and a more subtle energy, an activity that can be identified with information. This information acts on raw energy to give it form.
"Later versions of Bohm's theory pictured the electron not so much as a real physical particle but as a process, a wave continually collapsing inward to a localized region and then expanding outward. This process is guided by a super-quantum potential. An activity of information is responsible for the existence [of] quantum particles and quantum events.
"In discussing the quantum measurement problem Bohm, and his coworkers, further developed the notion of "Active Information". Take the double slit experiment, as an example. In Bohm's theory an electron has the potentiality to take a multiplicity of paths that pass through either one of the two slits. In actuality, an electron takes only a single path. Bohm suggested that the quantum potential contains information about the experimental set-up. This information is potentially active, but once the electron has "chosen", and begun to move along a particular path the information about alternative paths becomes inactive.
"For reasons of space this is an oversimplification of Bohm's approach, but the essential idea should be clear. Information, in this case about the context of an experimental set-up, is carried, in some sort of active form, at the quantum level. This information acts directly on matter, (eg via the form it imposes on the "unformed"). Information is being used in an objective way. It is not something that depends on the point of view of a human observer."
In the following video David Bohm gives an interview in which he talks a little bit about the notion of "perception".
So, the "information" that Active Information Theory seems to point to is similar to Floridi's "information for something"; in this case the behavior of a subatomic particle. But when we usually think of information we think of its carrier too. But what is the medium that information is conveyed to the subatomic particle? If I think of the information pertaining to a simple conversation I can imagine the sound waves being carried by the air to a persons ears. But when we talk about Bohm's information, it is different because there is not an easy conception of its carrier. It seems to be located outside of perception and in no need of a traditional carrier since there is no need of a conscious observer to receive it. It's also as if the subatomic particles themselves "know" things about their environment, including whether they are being watched or not. Perhaps Floridi would have called this information that forms something or information in no thing.
Now it's time to talk about non-locality, arguably the strangest of quantum behavior, and perhaps the hardest to grasp. To understand non-locality it is helpful to first explain quantum entanglement. Wikipedia has an article on quantum entanglement that starts like this:
"Quantum entanglement is a quantum mechanical phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects have to be described with reference to each other, even though the individual objects may be spatially separated."
If that didn't make complete sense, that's OK, I have this video clip from What the Bleep Do We Know where our special superhero helps us to understand it a little better.
After watching that you should really be baffled now! One point I'd like to add concerning the Bose-Einstein Condensates (for more about the BEC watch this video lecture from MIT) is a slightly better analogy regarding the conceptualization of one particle appearing in multiple places simultaneously. Remember that according to quantum mechanics all particles exhibit wave properties, and we can think of these wave properties as being akin to the sound waves produced by a guitar. When the bosons are cooled down enough that the atoms form one coherent wave function (the BEC), that wave function behaves as one particle. But because the wave function is so large it can be detected as a single particle spread out and in different locations. Put another way, it would be similar to playing a single note on a guitar but hearing it come from several different speakers. It's the same wave function from a single source but it is heard from several different locations. Only, in the case of the BEC, there are no physical "cables" connecting the apparently "separate" detections of the single wave function. The idea of one particle appearing in two or more separate locations, or of two or more particles instantaneously affecting each other over large distances is what is meant by the term "non-locality".
Now that we have an initial understanding of non-locality, let's give another of David Bohm's theories a look; that of the Implicate Order and Explicate Order. David Bohm, in his book "Wholeness and the Implicate Order", described these orders as such:
"In the enfolded [or implicate] order, space and time are no longer the dominant factors determining the relationships of dependence or independence of different elements. Rather, an entirely different sort of basic connection of elements is possible, from which our ordinary notions of space and time, along with those of separately existent material particles, are abstracted as forms derived from the deeper order. These ordinary notions in fact appear in what is called the "explicate" or "unfolded" order, which is a special and distinguished form contained within the general totality of all the implicate orders."
A very interesting article I found at a website called simply www.nonlocal.com uses this analogy to help explain the implicate order:
"For example, a deck of playing cards might be arranged so that it appears to be randomly shuffled until one is shown or notices a pattern to the cards. This hidden order could be called implicate with respect to those who are unaware of the pattern arranged by the dealer, and 'explicate' to those who make use of the pattern.
"What if, like quantum theory, you were congenitally unable to make out any patterns (in arrangements of playing cards) except that of a pure unshuffled deck? (...then you would use the word "random" for any configuration of cards which is sufficiently mixed-up looking.)
"...but typically, of course, biological systems are attuned to implicately threaded information: rather than hearing sounds or noticing smells precisely in order of the physical magnitude of the sense data, organisms react to nuances of the environment which relate to their special interests. In the implicate sea of sound, smell, and light, the signature patterns of predator and prey, of family and beloved, are prioritized."
Another example of the implicate order from nonlocal.com goes like this:
"An excellent example of the implicate order can be seen in a phenomenon known as the "plasma wave echo." The experiment proceeds as follows. An external source antenna is placed in a plasma (ionized gas) and a large electric field pulse is imposed. The pulse creates a plasma wave oscillation that rapidly damps away. A short time t later another pulse is applied, creating another wave oscillation that damps away. Immediately after this damping the plasma is back to a normal unperturbed state. There is no measurement technique presently available that could detect any residual disturbance of the plasma. However, phase information on the two pulses is contained in the microscopic velocity distribution of the particles. This information is a property of the whole plasma and is truly an enfolded order. At a time 2t this information becomes unfolded as the plasma generates its own pulse from the phase information contained within it. This pulse is the plasma's echo to the first two external pulses. A review of echos similar to this is given in Roy W. Gould, "Cyclotron Echo Phenomena," American Journal of Physics 37 (1969): 585-97."
Bohm himself went on to say:
"This order is not to be understood solely in terms of a regular arrangement of objects (e.g., in rows) or as a regular arrangement of events (e.g. in a series). Rather, a total order is contained in some implicit sense, in each region of space and time. Now the word 'implicit' is based on the verb 'to implicate'. This means 'to fold inward' (as multiplication means 'folding many times'). So we may be led to explore the notion that in some sense each region contains a total structure 'enfolded' within it."
And here's a short clip of David Bohm talking a little bit about the implicate order:
So, we can see that David Bohm et. al. are beginning to define a type of non-local "information" that influences the form and behavior of all subatomic particles, and thusly all matter, and that this information is stored in what they call the implicate order. Since it is non-local it has direct and instantaneous influence "in forming" matter, and serves as the underlying set of instructions or as Bohm originally put forth in the 1950's "hidden variables".
It is important here to mention a theory proposed by Hugh Everett called the Many Worlds Theory that was an interpretation about the many paths the electrons could take through the two slit quantum experiment. If you remember from the first video, the superhero explains that quantum math shows that the electron simultaneously goes through both slits, one or the other slit, or neither, and that all outcomes are true. To reconcile this math Hugh proposed that for every quantum event the entire universe "branches" into all possible outcomes (literally an entire new physical universe is made non-locally), and that "you", the observer exists in all universes but that since each universe is non-local from the others "you" only have the sense of existing in only one of the possible branches. Stanley Sobottka from University of Virginia puts the Many Worlds Theory like this:
"It is easy to see that the number of branches rapidly proliferates as the observations continue. In addition, most observations on most types of systems will result in not just two branches, but many more, as many as are allowed by Schrödinger’s equation. In fact, the number of branches at each observation is usually infinite. Also, like orthodox theory, many-worlds theory is nonlocal because all parts of an entire branch (world) are materialized simultaneously.
"While the many-worlds interpretation is very economical in terms of the number of concepts required in the theory, it is grossly extravagant in terms of the complexity of the world it describes. Furthermore, the existence of the other branches is intrinsically unverifiable--they are hypothesized merely to preserve the mathematics of quantum theory. It is these features that most physicists find hard to accept."
So, now we have looked at both philosophy and physics, but are there any other examples of scientists and scholars taking a turn to the non-physical? In fact there is. Rupert Sheldrake, a biochemist with a Ph. D from the University of Cambridge proposed a theory called Morphogenetic Resonance or otherwise referred to as Morphogenetic Fields. But before we dive into this theory, it is important to understand the current theory of morphogenesis and embryogenesis.
You might remember from biology class in high school that embryogenesis is the process through which cell differentiation occurs as a newly conceived zygote grows to become an embryo and later a fully formed human. To put cell differentiation and embryogenesis into a larger context see what the Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute at the University of Virginia say about the process of morphogenesis:
"Morphogenesis is one of the major outstanding problems in the biological sciences. It concerns the fundamental question of how biological form and structure are generated. Morphogenesis encompasses a broad scope of biological processes. It concerns adult as well as embryonic tissues, and includes an understanding of the maintenance, degeneration, and regeneration of tissues and organs as well as their formation. Morphogenesis also addresses the problem of biological form at many levels, from the structure of individual cells, through the formation of multicellular arrays and tissues, to the higher order assembly of tissues into organs and whole organisms. While related to the field of developmental biology with its traditional emphasis on the control of gene expression and the acquisition of cell fates, morphogenesis investigates how this regulation of cell fates contributes to the form and structure of the organism and its component parts."
Now, you might at first think that this, in so far, has little to do with non-local information, because you are sure that DNA (a physical and obviously local phenomenon, and a known form of the physical encoding of information) is surely responsible for all the processes of embryogenesis, including cell differentiation. But before you jump to any conclusions about DNA, consider a quote from the article "DNA is not Destiny" written in Discover magazine:
"Our DNA—specifically the 25,000 genes identified by the Human Genome Project—is now widely regarded as the instruction book for the human body. But genes themselves need instructions for what to do, and where and when to do it. A human liver cell contains the same DNA as a brain cell, yet somehow it knows to code only those proteins needed for the functioning of the liver. Those instructions are found not in the letters of the DNA itself but on it, in an array of chemical markers and switches, known collectively as the epigenome, that lie along the length of the double helix. These epigenetic switches and markers in turn help switch on or off the expression of particular genes. Think of the epigenome as a complex software code, capable of inducing the DNA hardware to manufacture an impressive variety of proteins, cell types, and individuals.
"The even greater surprise is the recent discovery that epigenetic signals from the environment can be passed on from one generation to the next, sometimes for several generations, without changing a single gene sequence. It's well established, of course, that environmental effects like radiation, which alter the genetic sequences in a sex cell's DNA, can leave a mark on subsequent generations. Likewise, it's known that the environment in a mother's womb can alter the development of a fetus. What's eye-opening is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the epigenetic changes wrought by one's diet, behavior, or surroundings can work their way into the germ line and echo far into the future. Put simply, and as bizarre as it may sound, what you eat or smoke today could affect the health and behavior of your great-grandchildren."
At the very end of the Wikipedia article on epigenetics you can find this passage:
"The biologist C.H. Waddington is sometimes credited with coining the term epigenetics in 1942, when he defined it as “the branch of biology which studies the causal interactions between genes and their products which bring the phenotype into being”. However the term "epigenesis" has been used since the early eighteenth century. (see also Pierre Louis Maupertuis)
"Epigenetic inheritance is the transmission of information from a cell or multicellular organism to its descendants without that information being encoded in the nucleotide sequence of the gene." [Bold is mine.]
Let me bring attention to the bolded phrase "bring... into being" as it refers to another theoretical process closely related to biology; emergence:
"In philosophy, systems theory and the sciences, emergence refers to the way complex systems and patterns, such as those that form a hurricane, arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Like intelligence in the field of AI, or agents in distributed artificial intelligence, emergence is central to the physics of complex systems and yet very controversial.
" ' Perhaps the most elaborate recent definition of emergence was provided by Jeffrey Goldstein in the inaugural issue of Emergence.(Goldstein 1999) To Goldstein, emergence refers to "the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization [Wikipedia article on self-organization] in complex systems." The common characteristics are: (1) radical novelty (features not previously observed in systems); (2) coherence or correlation (meaning integrated wholes that maintain themselves over some period of time); (3) A global or macro "level" (i.e. there is some property of "wholeness"); (4) it is the product of a dynamical process (it evolves); and (5) it is "ostensive" - it can be perceived. For good measure, Goldstein throws in supervenience -- downward causation.' (Corning 2002)"
Morphogenesis is a term that also refers to the process of the origin of multicellular organisms. The actual, physical mechanism responsible for the original primordial, single-celled "amoeba" to collect and congregate into groups or colonies and then later into fully developed, complex, multicellular organisms, is still far from known. In it's role in the Theory of Evolution, an article titled "Basins, Evolutionary Leaps, and Morphogenesis" expands on some of the still unanswered questions regarding the specific processes of morphogenesis and evolution:
"Were we to propose, as conventional evolutionary theory does, that natural selection is the sole mechanism affecting evolutionary leaps, we would be faced with awkward arguments about the details of how those leaps take place. The fundamental awkwardness is that an enormous number of irregular (some would say random) genetic variations would have to occur thereby producing an enormous number of candidate beings against whom natural selection would act, carving away all but the one (or those few) that functionally solved whatever evolutionary puzzle was presented. Lots of monkeys, lots of years typing irregularly on typewriters, and we will get the manuscript of Hamlet. (Which Hamlet? Which folio? Which published copy in modern type instead of the handwriting of the folio? Which edition with which footnotes? And, after you choose one specific Hamlet, what about all the others?) The permutational logic of generating the vast numbers required for natural selection to design new forms dictates against there being enough time to come up with the sudden shift to complex new solutions that is witnessed in the fossil record. A second awkward issue is the pervasiveness of certain solutions, e.g., bilateral symmetry, and within bilateral symmetry all the ways of getting two eyes, and within two eyes, all the different ways of getting depth perception. The third awkwardness is the suddenness of shifts, at least in come cases. These awkwardnesses are not impossibilities they are simply raw implausibilities. We've only become used to them because the slow random walk of natural selection has come to be an almost unconscious scientific tenet."
One of the ways that scientists are trying to study morphogenesis in evolution is by the study of Myxobacteria, a colony of single cell organisms that when starving for food, spontaneously gather together to for one coherent, multicellular organism. In an article published in the Journal of Microbiological Methods titled "Cell behavior and cell–cell communication during fruiting body morphogenesis in Myxococcus xanthus", Lars Jelsbak and Lotte Søgaard-Andersen from the University of Southern Denmark wrote:
"Formation of spatial patterns of cells from a mass of initially identical cells is a recurring theme in developmental biology. The dynamics that direct pattern formation in biological systems often involve morphogenetic cell movements. An example is fruiting body formation in the gliding bacterium Myxococcus xanthus in which an unstructured population of identical cells rearranges into an asymmetric, stable pattern of multicellular fruiting bodies in response to starvation. Fruiting body formation depends on changes in organized cell movements from swarming to aggregation. The aggregation process is induced and orchestrated by the cell-surface associated 17 kDa C-signal protein. C-signal transmission depends on direct contact between cells. Evidence suggests that C-signal transmission is geometrically constrained to cell ends and that productive C-signal transmission only occurs when cells engage in end-to-end contacts."
I recommend entering the keywords 'morphogenesis', 'embryogenesis', 'epigenetics' and 'emergence' into Google to find hundreds of scientific publishings on these topics if you'd like to explore the details further. What is important for the sake of this article is their common idea of new patterns or information arriving from what seems like no apparent physical source. Sound familiar?
Now, back to morphogenetic fields. Rupert Sheldrake suggested in the 1970's that this non-physical information that seems to instruct the organization of biologcal form into new and novel patterns may be held in a type of field, simliar to an electric or magnetic field. And this idea is regaining popularity, most likely due to the fact that science has produced no explanations with the current theoretical background. In an article titled "Morphogenetics-part I - theory of formative causation" written for the National Review in June of 1985, D. Keith Mano explains:
"There are starquakes going on in scientific thought. Each confident assumption held about our mechanistic universe may have to be reblocked. The torque wrench for this profound revolution is morphogenetics--the theory of formative causation. No hypothesis spun off by Darwin, Freud, Newton, or Einstein will have more momentous effect on human understanding. Formative causation has been both elaborated and popularized by Professor Rupert Sheldrake, FRS, a plant biologist from my British alma mater, Clare College, Cambridge. Sheldrake, however, didn't originate it. Indeed, the theory of formative causation has lain dormant, an intellectual Godzilla, in scientific conjecture since 1920. Like plate tectonics (now given universal credence) it was disregarded as preposterous. And for good reason. Once accepted, formative causation would require that every district of materialist science be rethought. And this, I suspect, is what will happen.
"The theory then. Sheldrake has surmised that morphogenetic (form-creating) fields exist. These are spatial and as real as any gravitational or electromagnetic field. They might be called habit patterns of form. An M-field will both order and shape matter--matter in crystal, cell, tissue, organ, whole organism--through morphic resonance. At higher levels morphic resonance can influence behavior and even collective thought. But this resonance will transmit only from like form to like form (rat shape on rat, tree shape on tree). Moreover (and here you must inhale intellectually) M-fields function not just across space but through time as well. Each previous M-field, therefore, is retained in the present. Thus a species' entire formal history will be available to it at all times."
Wikipedia maintians a more skeptical view of morphic and morphogenetic fields, but only to say it is not accepted by mainstream science (yet!). Still, the definition it gives of each is a rather good one and needs to be quoted here:
"Morphic fields are defined as the universal database for both organic (living) and abstract (mental) forms, while morphogenetic fields are defined by Sheldrake as the subset of morphic fields which influence, and are influenced by living things (the term morphogenetic fields was already in use in environmental biology in the 1920's, having been used in unrelated research of three biologists - Hans Spemann, Alexander Gurwitsch and Paul Weiss).
“ ' The term [morphic field] is more general in its meaning than morphogenetic fields, and includes other kinds of organizing fields in addition to those of morphogenesis; the organizing fields of animal and human behaviour, of social and cultural systems, and of mental activity can all be regarded as morphic fields which contain an inherent memory.' - Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past (Chapter 6, page 112) "
The only other theory for morphogenesis seriously considered recently is that of Isologous Diversification which itself refers to "oscillations", an obvious reference to wave properties and resonance. But let's see what Rupert sheldrake himself has to say about morphic fields in this hour long lecture:
In the lecture, Sheldrake talks a lot about the paranormal, which is not hard to understand given the implication of the theory, and which I will go into more eloboration later. But it shouldn't be surprising that a theory like this could be use to explain a lot of otherwise unexplained phenomenon. In fact, the theory explains so much that it is even being considered to give a broader understanding to the elusive "form" of gravity. Daniel Sleator, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University helped publish an article titled "Quantum Gravity: String, Weave or Morphogenetic Field?", in which it says:
"Finally, an exciting proposal has been taking shape over the past few years in the hands of an interdisciplinary collaboration of mathematicians, astrophysicists and biologists: this is the theory of the morphogenetic field. Since the mid-1980's evidence has been accumulating that this field, first conceptualized by developmental biologists, is in fact closely linked to the quantum gravitational field: (a) it pervades all space; (b) it interacts with all matter and energy, irrespective of whether or not that matter/energy is magnetically charged; and, most significantly, (c) it is what is known mathematically as a ``symmetric second-rank tensor''. All three properties are characteristic of gravity; and it was proven some years ago that the only self-consistent nonlinear theory of a symmetric second-rank tensor field is, at least at low energies, precisely Einstein's general relativity. Thus, if the evidence for (a), (b) and (c) holds up, we can infer that the morphogenetic field is the quantum counterpart of Einstein's gravitational field. Until recently this theory has been ignored or even scorned by the high-energy-physics establishment, who have traditionally resented the encroachment of biologists (not to mention humanists) on their ``turf''. However, some theoretical physicists have recently begun to give this theory a second look, and there are good prospects for progress in the near future.
"It is still too soon to say whether string theory, the space-time weave or morphogenetic fields will be confirmed in the laboratory: the experiments are not easy to perform. But it is intriguing that all three theories have similar conceptual characteristics: strong nonlinearity, subjective space-time, inexorable flux, and a stress on the topology of interconnectedness."
The idea has also, understandably, been picked up by many "fringe" scientists to help explain and connect various features of science, philosophy and spirituality. Philosopher, writer and ethnobotanist Terrence Mckenna, saw similarities between his Theory of Novelty and Rupert Sheldrake's Theory of Morphic Resonance. They even got together one afternoon to have an hour or so discussion on the topic which you can watch in the next video.
Finally, I'd like to talk about a theory that is quite controversial, not because of it's intellectual and scientific standpoint, but because of religious implications certain groups have attributed to it's meaning. Intelligent Design, when I ask most my friends about it, is usually regarded as being detestable and at best ignorant because of those who would want to associate it with Creationism. Perhaps this may be due to the name of the theory itself containing the word "intelligent", which might denote a conscious intent behind the organization of information. But let's take a look at what the proponents of Intelligent Design Theory have to say themselves. From the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington an essay titled "Intelligent Design: The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories", written by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, Director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture, explains the main viewpoint as this:
"In the last decade or so a host of scientific essays and books have questioned the efficacy of selection and mutation as a mechanism for generating morphological novelty, as even a brief literature survey will establish. Thomson (1992:107) expressed doubt that large-scale morphological changes could accumulate via minor phenotypic changes at the population genetic level. Miklos (1993:29) argued that neo-Darwinism fails to provide a mechanism that can produce large-scale innovations in form and complexity. Gilbert et al. (1996) attempted to develop a new theory of evolutionary mechanisms to supplement classical neo-Darwinism, which, they argued, could not adequately explain macroevolution. As they put it in a memorable summary of the situation: “starting in the 1970s, many biologists began questioning its (neo-Darwinism's) adequacy in explaining evolution. Genetics might be adequate for explaining microevolution, but microevolutionary changes in gene frequency were not seen as able to turn a reptile into a mammal or to convert a fish into an amphibian. Microevolution looks at adaptations that concern the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest. As Goodwin (1995) points out, 'the origin of species--Darwin's problem--remains unsolved'“ (p. 361). Though Gilbert et al. (1996) attempted to solve the problem of the origin of form by proposing a greater role for developmental genetics within an otherwise neo-Darwinian framework,1 numerous recent authors have continued to raise questions about the adequacy of that framework itself or about the problem of the origination of form generally (Webster & Goodwin 1996; Shubin & Marshall 2000; Erwin 2000; Conway Morris 2000, 2003b; Carroll 2000; Wagner 2001; Becker & Lonnig 2001; Stadler et al. 2001; Lonnig & Saedler 2002; Wagner & Stadler 2003; Valentine 2004:189-194).
"What lies behind this skepticism? Is it warranted? Is a new and specifically causal theory needed to explain the origination of biological form?
"This review will address these questions. It will do so by analyzing the problem of the origination of organismal form (and the corresponding emergence of higher taxa) from a particular theoretical standpoint. Specifically, it will treat the problem of the origination of the higher taxonomic groups as a manifestation of a deeper problem, namely, the problem of the origin of the information (whether genetic or epigenetic) that, as it will be argued, is necessary to generate morphological novelty.
"In order to perform this analysis, and to make it relevant and tractable to systematists and paleontologists, this paper will examine a paradigmatic example of the origin of biological form and information during the history of life: the Cambrian explosion. During the Cambrian, many novel animal forms and body plans (representing new phyla, subphyla and classes) arose in a geologically brief period of time. The following information-based analysis of the Cambrian explosion will support the claim of recent authors such as Muller and Newman that the mechanism of selection and genetic mutation does not constitute an adequate causal explanation of the origination of biological form in the higher taxonomic groups. It will also suggest the need to explore other possible causal factors for the origin of form and information during the evolution of life and will examine some other possibilities that have been proposed."
And if that didn't do it for ya, you can watch this video that explains the basic standpoint of Intelligent Design.
Whether or not you want to "believe" the "religious" implications of the Intelligent Design argument, I feel it was worth mentioning here because of the obvious commonality between it's major line of argument (that there is an insufficient accounting of the novel "information" that emerges during the process of morphogenesis) and that of the many other theories in many other fields.
To conclude this section, I'd like to bring us back to the Global Consciousness Project at Stanford mentioned in the first section of this essay. In the Theory and Speculations section of the GCP's website, the page reads:
"If we look at the evidence from studies of the far reaches of consciousness, we are compelled to envision an equivalent to the fields that link physical objects (EM fields). But now this conceptual framework needs to be applied to the non-physical, to the experienced world of ideas, structures, relationships. We need a well-defined equivalent to EM that can accomodate the interconnections in a more subtle realm. We need something that integrates the effective interactions of a field with the meaningful implications of directed interconnection. I think we may have a starting framework in an extension of Bohm's efforts to link the sensible world with the implicate order. The remaining step is to take seriously the notion of active information and consider that is is a field linking us universally to our world. We may call this an active information field (AIF).
"Most simply put, I think consciousness is a source of active information, and that the objects of attention for consciousness can be sinks that attract and hence actualize the information. The qualities of active information make the concept of an AIF richly supportive of the otherwise unexplainable connections we see between mind and matter. The AIF is non-local and thus has universal dimension and accessibility. It is virtual, and is actualized by a need for the structure or formative influence that comprises its nature. It is thus both the manifestation and the generative source of a universal interconnectedness. Its nature comprises both the creation and the application of form and meaning.
"In the following, Lian Groza offers some suggestions that touch the same themes, but attempt to keep a strong link with familiar physical models:
" 'Let's imagine that we have a fifth, non-physical field (see Bohm's quantum potential, or Sheldrake's morphogenetic field) and let's call it IF (information field). The information carried by it is, as Bohm describes, encoded in the form of the wave rather than its amplitude, hence it's independent of the field strength (distance independence).
" 'Now, let's imagine this IF as being related to the EM field in the same way electricity and magnetism are mutually dependent: in the same way a magnetic field is created by an electric current moving inside a wire, an IF signal can be created by certain configurations (patterns) of EM waves, and vice-versa (IF signals can perturb and modify the EM-coded bioinformation of a target organism, producing a healing effect or, as the case may be, being registered as EM thought patterns in a telepathy experiment).
" 'Another intriguing possibility is that this hypothesized EM/IF interplay may account for the target identification/specificity that such phenomena display. If one views a target's identity as being encoded by a unique EM signature, then a long-range IF signal might act as a scanner/matched filter that would first need to "resonate" with the target's EM signature before "delivering its message".(Of course, this is all highly speculative and I haven't got a clue as to what would constitute a unique EM signature for a person or location.)
" 'In this scenario, then, the practice of yogic asanas, samadhi, etc. would serve to enhance one's ability to develop and sustain the necessary EM signal to create a coherent (resonant?) IF wave, while normal consciousness would be equivalent to a plurality of weak, non-resonant, mutually destructive IF signals.'
"The empirical case is good, but theoretical modeling remains weak and speculative. The best bets are quantum mechanical "entanglemant" operating in a quasi-macroscopic realm, described nicely in Dean Radin's recent book, The Entangled Mind, and "active information", a conceptual structure in David Bohm's physics.
"My own "model" is that consciousness or mind is the source or seat of a nonlocal, active information field. This is not a standard, well defined physical construct, but as an operational metaphor it helps to form useful questions for the empirical research. Such fields interact, usually with random phase relationship and no detectable product. When some or many consciousness (information) fields are driven in common, or for whatever reason become coherent and resonant, they interact in phase, and create a new, highly structured information field. The REG has an informational aspect (entropy) and a completely undetermined future, and I speculate, following Bohm, that it manifests a "need for information" which allows or guides the actualization of the active information sourced in human, group, or global consciousness."
The phenomenon of "consciousness" preceded the phenomenon of physicality.
Boy, I'll admit, this is going to be the hardest topic to dive into, mostly because of the restricting linearity of semantic language and the bizarre non-linear properties of time itself. It has long been a philosophical as well as scientific endeavor to understand the full notions of time and space. This was obviously one of Einstien's greatest passions and his theories had no small impact on the way we look at the ordering and chronology of the universe. Both the Theory of Special Relativity and quantum mechanics have given us insights to the strange properties of what we conceive of as time. To give you an example of the nonlinearity of time, consider this video that explains "simultaneity":
And yet another video explaining the "time dilation" according to Special Relativity.
As you can see, according to the theories of Relativity and Special Relativity, it depends on one's perspective or "frame of reference" that the specific chronology of events take place. In other words, it is where the conscious observer is standing, and how fast they are going relative to the observed event that determines the perceived duration of the event, or the order the events took place. And of course, all of this depends on one key concept: the speed of light. To understand this, consider how large our universe is. The closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is more than 4 light years away, meaning it would take light, at the constant speed of approximately 185,000 miles per second, more than four years to travel from that star to our eyes here on Earth. Since we need light to visually perceive things, the light that we are seeing from Proxima Centauri now is what it looked like more than four years ago. Immediately one can see how talking about time and space in this sense can introduce paradoxes (unresolvable problems). For instance, suppose we send an astronaut from Earth to Proxima Centauri, but at a very high velocity, say twice the speed of light. Since Proxima Centauri is about 4 light years away, it would take our astronaut only two years to get there. However, since light cannot travel faster than 185,000 miles per second, the perception of our astronaut's journey would still take the entire four years, and probably longer. You can imagine that once he has arrived, it would be a surprise for our astronaut to look through a telescope back towards Earth, and for two years after arriving, continue to watch himself complete his journey. Of course this introduces the notion of time travel which of course introduces another paradox. If the astronaut has successfully completed time travel, in other words, after continually watching his counterpart complete the journey, there are now two astronauts at Proxima Centauri, then what's to stop our friend from going back in time and killing his father before he was born? It's for this reason that most scientists are confident that people cannot travel faster than light. Although, there are some very interesting quantum experiments that seem to break this rule.
To get a better grasp on the actuality of time, consider this quote by Victor J. Stenger in this article titled "Quantum Time Travel":
"None of the laws of fundamental physics, classical or quantum, forbid travel back in time. In fact they do not even distinguish backward from forward. Time irreversibility is implied by the second law of thermodynamics, but as Boltzmann showed over a century ago, this is a statistical effect of the large amount of randomness present in the many body systems that constitute macroscopic objects. Nothing prevents a broken glass from reassembling by chance; it is just very unlikely.
"On the quantum scale, however, reverse causality actually seems to be taking place. Experimental results depend on future conditions as well as the past. Indeed, many of the so-called paradoxes of quantum mechanics result when people insist on interpreting quantum events in terms of the one-way time of their common experience. When that restriction is relaxed, most of the paradoxes disappear."
For a more in depth discussion of the meaning of "time", I highly recommend reading the article titled simply "Time" from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as it covers everything I could possibly go over here. From here on out I will assume you have read most of this article.
So, that's just it. The paradoxes. The wave / particle duality paradox. The grandfather paradox. And all these paradoxes, what do they have to do with consciousness? What is it to say what time is with no one to observe it? If all consciousness were removed from the universe would there be any causality? If relativity and quantum mechanics have no "arrow" of time, why does our consciousness seem to? Although these topics and many like them are still currently being debated in philosophical and scientific circles, I'd like to propose an analogy that might help with this concept.
Take a computer for instance. A computer works because it has hardware; physical, solid state electronics that are designed to process information; and software; the physical encoding of information. The hardware can be likened to the physical brain, and the software to the "environmental information" available around us. Now, a computer is useless unless it has software, and vise versa, software cannot be used unless it has hardware to run on. When the computer was designed both these concepts were born together, and compliment one another.
The difference with the analogy and it's application to reality is that in reality environmental information does not require physical encoding until it is observed or becomes useful to a biological or physical system. Another difference between the computer analogy and common reality is that of the usage of memory and processing. Whereas in the computer both the RAM (memory) and processor are physical units, the brain acts as the physical storage unit of data whereas consciousness is a non-local field that acts as the processing unit. Depending on how the consciousness field is "tuned" or "focused", it can be used to process external "environmental information" or process internally stored information in the brain.
Because the consciousness must access the brain to receive information, whether stored as memory or as the immediate five sense data, and because we can say that causality is a trait of physicality, consciousness can only be aware of finite units of information given to it in a causal form from the brain. This is a limitation of the physical body, not a limitation of consciousness. A feature of consciousness that might best demonstrate this is it's ability to conceive a whole new concept at once, as opposed to a computer that must run a program step by step before seeing the whole result. When an inventor conceives of a new invention the entire idea is conceived, but then he must use his brain to convert the idea into steps. However, when consciousness acts on the brain to receive either external five-sense data or internal memory data it must receive it in small discrete packets of information that are already seemingly ordered.
To further this analogy, the actual movement of environmental information (or stored memory information) through the brain-filter and to the non-local, consciousness-processing unit is time. In this sense, time is the "potential" of the movement of information through consciousness; the "energy" that allows that movement. It might also be likened to the actual flow of electrons through a computer. Without this flow, none of the processing could be done. Without consciousness, this potential for movement would still be there, even if there was no actual movement.
There are probably a few other differences and similarities that we could go through with this analogy, but the basic concept is there. However, I think it is important not to take this too literally, as it is just one way of looking at it. Essentially, the potential of the information that forms something (e.g. "Active Information"), the potential for the movement of that information (i.e. "time"), and the potential for the ability to process that information, are all facets of the same system called "the perception of physical reality", and cannot be separated from each other and still function. However, just like a computer that is turned off can have the potentially useable information on the hard drive, the potentially usable processing unit to process that information, and the potential movement of electrons through the system to convey that information from the hard drive to the processor, until it is turned on, there is no output or result (i.e. physical reality). It is in this sense that I mean that consciousness (or at least the potential to process information in a meaningful way), precedes physicality.
Besides, even in quantum mechanics it is demonstrated that since it is consciousness that is collapsing the wave function, there must have been at least the potential for consciousness that acted upon the initial state of the universe in order to "collapse the primordial wave function" that created the deterministic (particle like) physical reality we currently perceive. But I suppose science is still working on that one...
Given the above four conclusions the entirety of all "Information" (including all possible outcomes of all universes/multi-verses everywhere) could be plausibly and probably stored non-locally/non-physically, and that this "Information" was and is intrinsically tied to at least one "consciousness" and that that "Consciousness" preceded all physical reality.
I'm really not going to try to answer this one directly because I think you can see this is where science and spirituality meet. Instead I'll simply leave you with some links to a few scholarly papers written by professors and scientists on this subject. Keep in mind the obvious difficulty of talking about this subject without referring to ones own personal beliefs, but I believe that these papers give a good insight to the extent that science is reaching out to the "spiritual", or "paranormal" as a way to tackle this subject.
But first, consider some of these references contained within spiritual texts to some of the concepts we've just gone over in this article:
"An Exploration of Core Power of Thought Concepts in Relation to Theories Involving Quantum Mechanics" by Jeffery A. Martin, California Institute of Integral Studies and Center for the Study of Intent. http://www.goertzel.org/dynapsyc/2007/martin.htm