DS asked in Aeon: “Patrice, in what way is consciousness “nonlocal”, and what is the evidence for this?”
DS: Science and technique progress, and thus so do our visions of the world. Quantum computers are becoming a reality. Quantum computers work in a completely different way from the classical computers we presently have (which, fundamentally are of the same type as those the Greeks had, more than 2,000 years ago!). Present (2017) versions of Quantum computers are primitive relative to what’s coming (Artificial Consciousness computers). And you know what? Full Quantum computers depend crucially upon nonlocality.
Descartes located consciousness (“the soul”) in a tiny part of the brain (the pituitary gland). I guess because Descartes considered it was the only part of the brain with a unique character, just like the soul is unique to the mind? Now we know the pituitary is just a master neurohormonal center…)
Split brain, and other surgeries have revealed that consciousness can’t be localized that way, inside a tiny organ (whereas short-term memory can be localized, to the hippocampus, fear to the amygdala, vision to 17 areas in the cortex, etc.)
So, in that gross sense, consciousness is non-local.
Next, we are now basically certain that basic biology uses the Quantum (we have a few telling examples already, not just chlorophyll). By this I mean that consciousness uses individual quanta and their nonlocal behavior (for example individual photon, or individual electrons, the latter when, and precisely because, delocalized).
Indeed, what is the most fundamental property of the Quantum? Not just that it is quantified. Nonlocality is the Quantum most important property. The Quantum is quantified because it is nonlocal (Einstein did not understand this his entire life, from 1905 to his death). Nonlocality is the crucial difficulty of Quantum Physics (it shows up as Schrödinger cats, EPR paradox, etc.)
Supposing that the most fundamental thing we know of in the universe, consciousness, can, somehow, avoid the most fundamental physics we have found in the universe, is a form of denial akin to climate denial, or parallel universes. Ignoring Quantum Physics, as a fundamental conceptual tool to understand consciousness can only be explained by prejudice.
What prejudice? Most cultured people have no understanding, let alone feeling, for the Quantum. So they desperately clinging to Classical mechanics, something best suited for artillery shells…
As the Quantum is essentially nonlocal, and fundamental to consciousness, so is consciousness.
And what of the Quantum deniers? Well they miss entirely the immensely rich new logic that Quantum logic has offered beyond Classical logic…
The preceding should not be construed as an endorsement of so-called weirdly named “extrasensory perception”. Instead, I have argued that the sensory system itself is nonlocal (pretty much a physiological evidence, too, as we see with 17 areas…)
A trivial, but telling, case could be called “Free Will and Cosmic Rays”. Cosmic rays, cosmic elementary particles, can be millions of times more energetic than the most powerful elementary particles created by man, at CERN (their origin is obscure, logically speaking). It is known that cosmic rays can change the states of present computers (so even present computers are unpredictable!) Now the scale at which present computers operate is classical (as in classical mechanics), it is hundreds of times larger than the scale at which the inner machinery of cells operate.
That means that the inner machinery of neurons will be put in different states by cosmic rays, just like smartphones. There goes the freedom of Free Will. “Free Will” may feel free, but it may well have, and sometimes surely will have been, directed from a galaxy long ago, far away… This spectacular conclusion is not a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of science. And I have not even considered the question of (the extremely nonlocal) Quantum Entanglement. Quantum Entanglement is real and makes matters way worse.
Some will say, that’s fine, we don’t need to know all this stuff, we can be happy, and we can still pontificate about our classical notions of “Free Will” and “Consciousness”. Indeed, those who want to stay primitive, should. Yes. Yet, within bounds. There are limits to barbarity that civilization needs to set-up, as a matter of survival.
Those who want to cling to a more barbarian, less scientific past certainly cannot claim to have the will to moral superiority. They are like those who believe Muhammad rode to Jerusalem on a winged mule. One cannot accept the principle that one can believe in anything, accept that anybody can believe in anything, and civilization will go on. Verily, superior morality, superior smarts.
If anything, Quantum Physics show that much more things are connected in mysterious ways than ever thought possible. Even space and time get entangled in “Quantum Procrastination“, and cease to have any conventional meaning.
To believe that this completely new, immensely more subtle than was ever suspected (Quantum) universe, has nothing to do with the way we perceive it, and conceive of it, would be an astoundingly naive, revoltingly obsolete, lack of introspection, a short step away from those winged mules.