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Review -The Emerging Physics of Consciousness

Updated on October 31, 2015

Life, Catalysis and Excitable Media: A Dynamic Systems Approach to Metabolism and Cognition

To review such a book as this would ideally require one or two degrees in physics and philosophy, but as I have none of these I shall simply attempt a very brief summary of what it is on about. Specifically, I shall attempt to explain in layman's terms the gist of one of the contributors theories of consciousness, namely Chris Davia's Minds, Brains & Catalysis. The only reason I feel equipped to do so is because the author has explained his theory tome on numerous occasions, until, at last, I just about got it.

It boils down to this: consciousness/mind/cognition, call it what you will, resembles contemporary computers in the same way that a stone resembles a cat. In other words, barely at all. Davia (amongst others) sees consciousness taking place at the quantum level - biologically-speaking in the microtubules of the brain and body (coincidentally refuting the criticism of biological interpretations of consciousness as being too 'soft'). Here at this tiny level quantum effects are manifest, and in a manner generally mysterious to me, produce awareness.

The physics is beyond me, but Davia's background as a philosopher and litterateur means the theory is accessible to those without much scientific knowledge. Words such as Persistence, Catalysis, Ontology/Phenomenology and Solitons make frequent appearances in his text and are the basic terms upon which he grounds the theory.

On the philosophical front Davia makes a grand assertion that dismisses the traditional difference between ontology and phenomenology (or mind/body etc.). It is quite a leap (maybe even a quantum one), but goes a long way to stitching up the conventional perception that "we" are in "here" and "it" is out there.

Persistence was Davia's starting point and catalysis provided the major breakthrough in the evolution of the theory. Like the mind, catalysts interact with and change the environment, whilst remaining essentially unaltered. It shouldn't be too hard to see how catalysts resemble minds in that, whilst we may "change our minds", our minds, our selves remain basically much as they were before they saw, thought or did.

Solitons - otherwise known as standing waves, similar to the Severn Bolt - provide the mechanism as it were that transmit mental energy without losing coherence. The mind travels but remains still (how very Zen!)

Try the book - there is more than this approach therein (Zizzi for instance).

The Author
The Author
The Emerging Physics of Consciousness (The Frontiers Collection)
The Emerging Physics of Consciousness (The Frontiers Collection)

Seeks answers to these questions using the underlying assumption that consciousness can be understood using the intellectual potential of modern physics and other sciences. There are a number of theories of consciousness, some based on classical physics while others require the use of quantum concepts.

The latter ones have drawn criticism from the parts of the scientific establishment while simultaneously claiming that classical approaches are doomed to failure.

The contributing authors presents a spectrum of opinions from both sides of this on-going scientific debate, allowing readers to decide for themselves which of the approaches are most likely to succeed.


About the Author

Affiliated with

Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University

Department of Philosophy, Sussex University

Departments of Philosophy and English, University of East Anglia,


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