Consciousness (Part 2)

Conclusion

Within the framework of a universe whose total entropy is always increasing, there is the surprising fact that the laws of physics allow for temporary decreases in entropy.  This direction of decreasing entropy is counter to the overall increase in total entropy and yet does not violate any physical law.  Processes that temporarily decrease entropy are essential to life and they are also present in such well-understood phenomenon as lasers and superconductivity where the process is traceable to quantum physics.  I think it is a reasonable position that all such processes of decreasing entropy are traceable to quantum physics and to decoherence in particular.   Quantum computation is a real process, though it is not yet practical on a large scale.  Quantum computation happens during entangled states of coherence and the results are reported by decoherence.  The most direct evidence that this is happening in biological organisms is from photosynthesis.  During photosynthesis, extended quantum coherence takes place during the transport of photons from the light-harvesting chlorophyll molecules to the reaction center where food production begins.   This results in the near 100% efficiency with which light energy is transported.

Quantum physics is the most fundamental of the physical sciences.  It accurately describes all interactions at the level of fundamental particles, whether they be matter particles such as protons, neutrons or electrons or whether they be energy particles such as photons (light).  If one takes the position that quantum states are real (though they are not directly measurable), then it is reasonable to conclude that the universe must decide where and when such states collapse into a single measurable quantity: the universe must make a decision for every single transfer of energy.  That is the fundamental decisionality underlying all physical activity.

I think it is a reasonable to extend the quantum role in photosynthesis to biology in general.  The protein folding problem in particular has significant similarities with photosynthesis in that an energy landscape must be navigated.  In photosynthesis, the energy landscape funnels a photon to the plant cell’s reaction center where food production begins.  In the protein folding problem the protein folds by navigating an energy funnel to a conformal state which has a lower overall energy level.  The shape into which proteins fold is crucial to their function in the cell and undetected misfolded proteins are implicated in some disease processes.  Recent research supports the view that quantum physics plays a role in protein folding (cf. Lou and Lu, 2011).

It is reasonable to extend the role of quantum computation to the operation of all biological molecules.  They are certainly small enough to be affected by quantum effects.  It fits the overall model that the cell is an information processing marvel.  DNA contains information about the sequence of amino acids in proteins in a coded form (three nucleotides per amino acid).  RNA and ribosomes decode the sequence to produce proteins.  Proteins work together to form complex molecular machines that assist the cell in keeping entropy low despite the constant loss of entropy to the environment.  There is an amazing real-time cooperation, an unbelievable choreography among different cell functions that would be impossible to fully explain through any other mechanism.  A reasonable position is that quantum decisionality is active throughout all biological organisms and the most basic unit of processing is the biological molecule as Professor James A. Shapiro has suggested.  Recent research supports the view that quantum entanglement is active in the DNA molecule (cf. Reiper, Anders and Vedral, 2011).

Although the exact path to creation of the earliest forms of life remains hidden from us, it is reasonable to think that the laws of physics and chemistry favored a path to life.  The alternatives to such a conclusion are either that life happened by blind chance or there was some supernatural intervention in the creation process that bypassed the laws of physics.  A reasonable thought process must rule out both of these options as highly improbable.   Since it is reasonable to think that quantum processes play a significant part in modern biological cells, it is a reasonable extension to think that quantum processes played a part in the creation of life.  It is the quantum computations that provide the necessary bias toward life.

(For those readers who have a theistic view of the universe, as I do, let me pose the question about supernatural intervention this way:  Why would the Creator of the universe put in place laws of nature that He or She would need to bypass?  I view the laws of nature as a kind of covenant with the universe.  The rules of quantum physics allow all the needed degrees of freedom for God’s intervention in history.)

Quantum computation is a real process, but is still in the research and development phase.  Some very simple calculations have been demonstrated such as factoring small numbers.  Factoring is one application that has garnered much interest because factoring can be done much faster on quantum computers than on ordinary computers.  If factoring can be done quickly on large numbers then some public key cryptographic systems would become obsolete.    For example, the RSA scheme relies on the impracticality of factoring large numbers, typically 617 digits long.  Public key cryptography is used to support the security infrastructure that enables shoppers to connect securely to a web site when they provide payment information.  The largest number factored by conventional methods during the RSA factoring challenge, which ended in 2009, was 232 digits and Microsoft has recently blocked any keys with less than 309 digits.  The largest number currently factored by quantum computer using the well-understood Shor’s algorithm is the 2 digit number 21.

However there is another quantum factoring algorithm that has demonstrated factoring of the 3 digit number 143.  Very interestingly, this algorithm finds the factors by arranging the quantum hardware (qubits) in a pattern where the answer can be read when the qubits settle in their lowest energy state, possibly using a quantum process similar to the one proposed for photosynthesis, that is, traversing an energy landscape toward the lowest overall energy level.  However, there is no reason to think this new algorithm can be scaled up for very large numbers.  (Within the past few weeks, there has been another report of quantum computation that works by traversing an energy landscape.  That claim comes from D-Wave Systems which hopes to produce the first commercial quantum computer.)

But it would be a mistake to assume that natural quantum computations of the type that take place during photosynthesis are implementations of any known mathematics.  The analysis that was done on the photosynthesis data led researchers to conclude that the quantum computation was not an ordinary search algorithm of the type that would have been implemented by a human programmer.  If quantum decisionality is the physical process underlying consciousness as Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff propose, then it is unlikely that the full spectrum of quantum computations could be implemented on any ordinary computer.  The quantum computations would be both non-deterministic and, ironically, non-computational in Penrose’s analysis.

In a recent paper, Physicist Roger Penrose and Anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff have summarized their proposal and answered critics.  The paper is titled, “Consciousness in the Universe: Neuroscience, Quantum Space-Time Geometry and Orch OR Theory” (Journal of Cosmology, 2011, Vol. 14).  The Penrose-Hameroff proposal for quantum consciousness calls for quantum coherence within the very numerous microtubules that support brain cell structure.  Microtubules are very small hollow tubes in the neurons, about 25 nanometers in diameter, which would appear ideal for isolating quantum coherence from the environment.  Unlike the microtubules in other cells that form and break apart as needed, the microtubules in neurons are stabilized by another protein, called the tau protein.  Mature Nerve cells don’t divide, so microtubules do not need to become spontaneously active during nerve cell mitosis.  Neuronal microtubules will break apart if the tau protein becomes compromised, and a malfunctioning tau protein is one possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease.  Penrose and Hameroff end their summary paragraph with a surprising admission: “We conclude that consciousness plays an intrinsic role in the universe.”  That is the first time I recall hearing such a statement from Penrose and Hameroff.

While the Penrose-Hameroff hypothesis for quantum consciousness has not been experimentally verified, it does fit my overall paradigm of quantum coherence and decisionality being the primary mover of life.  I have been following the developments in quantum consciousness for over 20 years, since Roger Penrose’s first book on the subject, The Emperor’s New Mind, in 1989.  I am sufficiently comfortable with the theory to think that quantum coherence is the phenomenon behind our amazing consciousness.  The details will almost certainly be different than Penrose and Hameroff propose, but the direction is solid, and I am confident that an intelligent, decisional consciousness does indeed play an intrinsic role in the universe.

I have also emphasized that one cannot immediately conclude that such a consciousness is God.  The question of God is a theological question about oneself and one’s relationship to some power.  The power that I have elucidated over my several postings on science is the decisional, conscious ordering power of the universe.  It is a power that comes to us free of cost; it transcends time and space by its amazing non-local properties of entangled particles; it does not require any energy, and is the primary power causing a bias in the laws of physics supporting life, supporting entropy lowering processes.  I emphasize, once again, that entropy lowering processes are temporary and localized so that the total entropy in the universe increases.    For readers wanting a less theistic view, I recommend “the Information Philosopher” (Bob Doyle).  He also sees order in the universe emerging through the action of quantum physics, but he applies this concept to philosophy rather than metaphysics.  He points out that even though the total entropy in the universe is increasing, so is the available entropy: there is always more available ordering power as time increases.  His web site is http://www.informationphilosopher.com/.

Even for readers with a theistic view of the universe, I would not recommend a direct correlation between the consciousness inherent in the laws of physics and God.  It may be impossible to completely distinguish the deterministic aspects of quantum computation from its non-deterministic aspects.  Therefore, I analogize the consciousness inherent in nature as the “hand of God,” although not in any anthropomorphic sense.  It is the vehicle through which God interacts with history.

Nevertheless, these developments in physics, biology and in the very new science of consciousness have the potential of sending a shock wave through theology and religion.  Throughout history, religion has responded poorly to or reacted against the best scientific evidence.  From Galileo to Newton, religious dogma has been confronted with scientific truth and has struggled to respond appropriately.  During the enlightenment, as people of faith came to terms with Newton’s mechanistic universe, God was deemed to have withdrawn from the world and Deism was the result.  The modern secular imagination has no place for religions that demand God’s supernatural intervention in history or for a three story universe.  The scriptural worldview is woefully outdated.  Yet, theology holds that God is real and that God acts in history.  So theology must answer the question about how God acts in history if supernatural explanations are no longer appropriate.  The best answer that I know of today is something called “process theology.”

Process theology is a type of panentheism.  A panentheistic view holds that God is present in all aspects of matter and energy, but that God is not limited to or identical with all matter and energy.  Process theology is based on the process-relational philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne and emphasizes changeable relationships rather than permanent entities as the basis for truth.  For process theologians, God’s power is exercised through acts of consciousness, through persuasion rather than coercion, and therefore requires a robust theology of free will.  And because free will is an essential property of humankind, God is therefore not the immutable, changeless God of traditional theology.  God interacts with history and is changed by history.  Since God is in all things, process theology also reconfigures the concepts of good and evil to avoid a reductionist form of Manichaeism; that is, there is no need for a devil or Satan role to account for evil.

Process theology emphasizes God’s imminence in the world, but also acknowledges God’s transcendence of the world.  Within Process Theology, evolution is guided by God, but not in a deterministic sense.  God represents the creative aspect of evolution.  According to several sources, process theology has influenced both Christian and Jewish writers such as Harold Kushner, Abraham Joshua Heschel, William E. Kaufman, W. Norman Pittenger, John B. Cobb, Thomas Berry and Marjorie Suchocki.  Marjorie Suchocki’s pamphlet, “What is Process Theology,” is a good place to begin learning.

I found it interesting to read a review of Hartshorne’s discussion about the proof of God.  From his 1970 book, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, he identifies four possible philosophical options relating to cosmic order and God:

(A1) There is no cosmic order.
(A2) There is cosmic order, but no cosmic ordering power.
(A3) There is cosmic order and ordering power, but the power is not divine.
(T)    There is cosmic order and divine power.

Hartshorne holds the fourth position identified as (T), but insists that he does not arrive there by “proof.”   I have not read Hartshorne’s book, so I don’t know to what extent he uses empirical evidence for cosmic order, but I think that empirical evidence is very helpful in giving more weight to option (A3) compared to (A1) and (A2).  In my view, reason can be very helpful in arriving at a conclusion that there is a cosmic ordering power, but that faith is necessary to conclude that such a power is an expression of divine action.   If the evidence from physics, chemistry and biology is all we have, then a “leap of faith” is required to get from position (A3) to (T).  However, there is more evidence, but exploring that evidence will require delving into the social sciences, particularly psychology, to elicit reasonable conclusions about the structure of experience and selfhood.

In this context, faith is a decision one makes when reason based on empirical evidence does not apply or cannot guide our logic.  But there are other kinds of evidence and that brings me back to consciousness and the role of empirical evidence in understanding consciousness. 

David Chalmers has probably done more than any other philosopher towards putting the science of consciousness on sound footing.  But his most contentious position is that there are two paths for making progress in consciousness studies.  One path is the traditional and reliable reductionist path where complex mental processes are explained in terms of simpler, experimentally verified biological functions.  The reductionist path can explain how the brain works and therefore what brain functions are necessary for consciousness.  Chalmers calls this the “easy” question, and it is a long way from being answered.  The second path has the very difficult problem of dealing with the experience of consciousness and why the sensation of being conscious arises from brain function.  I have phrased this second question as the question about the ontology of selfhood: why is it that we have a self with which to experience life?

Chalmers insists that the second question cannot be answered from function alone and he posits a new category to deal with the “hard” question.  Taking a clue from historical scientific efforts to subject new phenomenon to reason, he favors creating a new fundamental category for subjective experience:

I suggest that a theory of consciousness should take experience as fundamental. We know that a theory of consciousness requires the addition of something fundamental to our ontology, as everything in physical theory is compatible with the absence of consciousness. We might add some entirely new nonphysical feature, from which experience can be derived, but it is hard to see what such a feature would be like. More likely, we will take experience itself as a fundamental feature of the world, alongside mass, charge, and space-time. If we take experience as fundamental, then we can go about the business of constructing a theory of experience.

Chalmers also proposes that a bridging theory can be constructed that will correlate subjective experience with brain function and this might take 100 years for meaningful progress to occur.  Others are not so sure.  Daniel Dennett does not think the hard problem is real.  For Dennett, consciousness is an epiphenomenon; it is an illusion generated by biological function.  He thinks that consciousness is adequately explained by a reductionist approach that explains brain function biologically, neurologically or computationally.  On the other hand, both Thomas Nagel and John Searle think that the hard problem of consciousness cannot be scientifically solved at all.   For them, consciousness is real but it must be explained philosophically.

Subjective experience may be the essential evidence necessary for consciousness science, but I think that it must be organized around a concept of self in order to be coherent and have an impact on our life.  We usually are not concerned with simply reporting individual and isolated experiences; we report and attempt to make sense of what these experiences mean for ourselves.  I think the fundamental entity is a sense of self; in other words, it is human self-consciousness that is the interesting phenomenon psychologically, philosophically and theologically.  And there already exists methods for dealing with experiential self-consciousness in the only universe we know about: developmental psychology, existentialism and process theology.

Developmental psychology has shown that there is a crucial point in the development process around 18 to 36 months where self-awareness appears.  If self-awareness can be equated with self-consciousness, then the structure of self-consciousness can be described through the analysis of psychological states arising at about the same time, namely empathy, embarrassment, shame and guilt.  But such an analysis must await another series.

Thomas Nagel once wrote a paper titled, “What is it Like to Be a Bat?”  The interesting question going forward is what is it like to be a self?  H. Richard Niebuhr’s contribution to this question has been formative for me, so I expect future expositions to be based on this seminal quotation from The Meaning of Revelation: “To be a self is to have a god; to have a god is to have history, that is, events connected in a meaningful pattern”.  And, according to Niebuhr, a “god” can be any power to which we intentionally relate ourselves.

I began this series in order to examine the role of reason for a person of faith.  I believe that a mature faith must resolve certain issues with respect to science and with respect to history.  This portion has dealt only with the physical sciences, and it has confronted the question of the kind of god that is compatible with science.  I have followed the best science that I know of, but I have also woven a narrative through the scientific evidence to elucidate something of the nature of the universe and its creator.  This narrative is not meant as proof; it is an exercise in metaphysics, but it demonstrates to me that faith is compatible with science and that science informs us about how God is likely to interact with us.  Not only does science not disprove the existence of God, it provides the essential evidence for a cosmic ordering power which is, if one choses, the hand of God.  I hope my future essays will explain possible motivations for making such an affirmation.

Advertisements

Consciousness (Part 1)

So far, in this series on the evidence for a conscious, rational power working in and through the laws of nature, I have followed the trail of low entropy.  I have used a general notion of entropy where low entropy correlates with an increasing degree of order or where it correlates with an increasing concentration of energy.  Consequently, high entropy means a state of disorder or a state of energy dispersal, most often as wasted heat.  I began with the amazing state of low entropy (highly ordered, high energy concentration) in which the universe was created.

I followed the trail of low entropy through the complex of mathematically precise physical laws that represent the incredible ordering power of nature.  I spoke of lasers, superconductivity and photosynthesis as supreme examples of entropy lowering processes.  I looked at the incredibly diverse life processes, all based on DNA, RNA and protein synthesis, that would be impossible without the information coding capability and the molecular machines of the individual cell.  I described the computer-like processing capability of individual proteins and the inexplicable speed with which they fold into the precise shape for their purpose.

I have tried to avoid the teleological language of purposeful design, but when one looks at the trail from creation to conscious being, it is difficult to avoid the question.  Random chance cannot account for this remarkable journey.  The probabilities are just too small for undirected forces to have arrived at living beings that maintain low entropy and rely on entropy lowering processes.  This implies, to me at least, that the laws of physics are favorable to life and consciousness.  What is it that has driven evolution to the point of prizing consciousness almost above other considerations?  Consciousness requires a huge energy budget; why should our brains deserve a 20% allocation of energy if not for its powerful entropy lowering ability?

An incredible panoply of ordered life flows from the human imagination.  There is language, art, drama, literature, music and dance in addition to the social inventions of government, economic systems, justice systems, cultural institutions, family and kinship groups.  One could almost say that the creation of explicitly ordered social structures defines humanity.  And yet there is a profound puzzle in the pervasive human tendency to sow discord.  Why should that be?  Why are there wars, violence, terrorism, and dysfunctional social institutions if the human imagination can be so productive?

In discussing these and other questions of consciousness, I will attempt to follow my reductionist approach by relating emergent phenomenon to the dynamics and properties of constituent components.  However, there will come a point where this approach will fail and I will need to resort to different language to describe what I consider to be the key dynamic of consciousness: the self and its narrative.  Consciousness cannot be completely understood based on functional descriptions of biological or physical components.  But first, let me turn to the attempt to explain consciousness in term of computation.

Considering that order emerges from entropy lowering processes, it is odd that some observers think that consciousness and intelligence emerges from random, chaotic activity.  Pure randomness results in high entropy, so how can order be produced from chaos?  One such person is Ray Kurzweil, a futurist, who has written a book titled The Singularity is Near.  He states, “Intelligent behavior is an emergent property of the brain’s chaotic and complex activity.”  Neither he nor anyone else can explain how entropy lowering intelligence can emerge from random, chaotic activity.  He does, however, distinguish intelligence from consciousness.  He cites experiments by Benjamin Libet that appear to show that decisions are an illusion and that “consciousness is out of the loop.” Later, he describes a computer that could simulate intelligent behavior: “Such a machine will at least seem conscious, even if we cannot say definitely whether it is or not.  But just declaring that it is obvious that the computer . . . is not conscious is far from a compelling argument.”  Like many others, Kurzweil thinks that consciousness is present if intelligence can be successfully simulated by a machine.

Kurzweil is an optimistic supporter of the idea that the human brain will be completely mapped and understood to the point where it can be entirely simulated by computation.  He has predicted that this should occur in the fifth decade of the 21st century: “I set the date for the Singularity – representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability – at 2045.  The nonbiological intelligence created in that year will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today.”  Kurzweil’s prediction is based on the number of neurons in the human brain and their many interconnections, arriving at a functional memory capacity of 1018 bits of information for the human brain (1011 neurons multiplied by 103 connections for each neuron multiplied by 104 bits stored in each of the synaptic contacts.)

Kurzweil welcomes this prospective technological leap as a great advancement in the intellectual potential for the world.  He writes about his vision for the world after the singularity which he names the fifth epoch: “The fifth epoch will enable our human machine civilization to transcend the human brain’s limitations of a mere hundred trillion extremely slow connections.”  He goes on to say that eventually this new paradigm for intelligence will saturate all matter and spread throughout the universe.  Kurzweil appears to have the opposite perspective from my own view which is that the universe began with consciousness and consciousness infused all matter from the beginning.

But other people look at Kurzweil’s predictions and are concerned.  I recently read an opinion piece by Huw Price in the New York Times about the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI).  Huw Price was on his way to Cambridge to take up his newly appointed position as Bertrand Russell chair in Philosophy.  He had met the AI researcher named Jaan Tallinn, one of the developers of Skype, on his way to his new job.  Tallinn was concerned that AI technology would evolve to the point where it could replace humans and through some accident the computers would take control.  So Tallinn and Price joined up with Martin Rees, a cosmologist with a strong interest in biotechnology, to form a group called the Center for Study of Existential Risk (CSER).  I suspect that the group will focus more on the risk to human life posed by biotechnology rather than from AI, but the focus of Price’s column was on the risk from artificial intelligence.

Professor Price presented the argument that, although the risk of such a computer takeover appears small, it shouldn’t be completely ignored.  Perhaps he has a valid point, but what are the empirical signs that such computer intelligence is near at hand?  Some might point to the victories in 2011 of IBM’s Watson computer over all challengers in the Jeopardy game show.  This was an impressive demonstration of computer prowess in natural language processing and in database searching, but did Watson demonstrate intelligence?  I think that Ray Kurzweil would answer yes.  To the extent that the Jeopardy game demonstrates intelligence, then, by that measure, Watson must be considered intelligent.

However, consider the following subsequent development.  In a recent news report, Watson was upgraded to use a slang dictionary called the Urban Dictionary.  As that source puts it,

“[T]he Urban Dictionary still turns out to be a rather profane place on the Web. The Urban Dictionary even defines itself as ‘a place formerly used to find out about slang, and now a place that teens with no life use as a burn book to whine about celebrities, their friends, etc., let out their sexual frustrations, show off their racist/sexist/homophobic/anti-(insert religion here) opinions, troll, and babble about things they know nothing about.’”  (From the International Business Times, January 10, 2013, “IBM’s Watson Gets A ‘Swear Filter’ After Learning The Urban Dictionary,” by Dave Smith.)

One of Watson’s developers, Eric Brown, thought that Watson would seem more human if it could incorporate slang into its vocabulary so he taught Watson to use the slang and curse words from the dictionary.  As the news report continued,

“Watson may have learned the Urban Dictionary, but it never learned the all-important axiom, ‘There’s a time and a place for everything.’ Watson simply couldn’t distinguish polite discourse from profanity.  Watson unfortunately learned all of the Urban Dictionary’s bad habits, including throwing in overly -crass language at random points in its responses; in answering one question, Watson even reportedly used the word ‘bullshit’ within an answer to one researcher’s question. Brown told Forbes that Watson picked up similarly bad habits from reading Wikipedia.”

Perhaps the news story should have given us the researcher’s question so we could make our own decision about Watson’s epithet!  Eric Brown finally removed the Urban Dictionary from Watson.

In short, Watson was very good at what it was designed to do:  win at Jeopardy.  But it lacked the kind of social intelligence needed to distinguish appropriate situations for using slang.  It also appeared to lack a mechanism for learning from experience that some situations were inappropriate for slang or how to select slang words based on the social situation.  Watson was ultimately a typical computer system that had to be modified by its developers.  I know of no theoretical framework in which a computer system could maintain and enhance itself.

Now consider another facet of Watson verses Jeopardy contestant.  Our brain requires about 20% of our energy.  For a daily energy requirement of 2000 Calories, that amounts to 400 Calories for human mental activity.  That works out to about 20 watts of power.  In terms of electricity usage, that is less than 6 cents per day in my area.  Somewhat surprisingly, the number of brain energy calories does not much depend on one’s state of alertness.  The brain uses energy at about the same rate even when you sleep.  Watson, in contrast, used 200,000 watts of power during the Jeopardy competition.  That computes to about $528 per day.  If computers are to compete with humans for evolutionary advantage, it seems to me that they will need to be much more efficient users of energy.

In fact the entire idea of comparing computers to human mental activity is absurd to many people.  Perhaps I have even encouraged this analogy by speaking of quantum computation relative to biological molecules.  But I think it will become very apparent that any putative quantum computation must be something quite unlike ordinary computer calculations.  Mathematician and physicist, Roger Penrose, thinks that the fact that human mathematicians can prove theorems is evidence for quantum computation and decisionality in human consciousness.  But he also thinks that quantum computation must have capabilities that ordinary computers do not have.

John Searle is a Philosophy Professor at UC Berkeley and thinks that the current meme that the brain is a computer is simply a fad, no more relevant than the metaphors of past ages: telephone switchboard or telegraph system.  Professor Searle supports consciousness as a real subjective experience that is not open to objective verification.  It is therefore possible to explore consciousness philosophically, but not as an objective, measurable phenomenon.  Professor Searle is known for his example of the “Chinese Room,” where Chinese is mechanically translated into English, but where Searle claims there is no real understanding of what is being translated.  Searle states, “. . . any attempt to produce a mind purely with computer programs leaves out the essential features of mind.”

Closely related to the “Chinese Room” is the Turing test which seeks to demonstrate that a computer can simulate a human being well enough to fool another person.  In the Turing test, a person, the test subject, sits at a computer terminal which is connected to either another person sitting at a keyboard or to a computer.  The task of the test subject is to determine, by conversation alone, whether he or she is dialoging with another person or a computer.  An actual test has been held each year since 1990 and prizes awarded. So far, no computer program has been able to fool the required 30 percent of test subjects.  Nevertheless, the computer program that fools the most test subjects wins a prize.  People also compete with each other because half of the test subjects are connected to other persons who must try to demonstrate some characteristic in the dialog that will convince the test subject that he or she is really talking to another person.  The person who does best at convincing test subjects that they are communicating with another person wins the “Most Human Human” award.  In 2009, Brian Christian won that prize and wrote a book about his experience: The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What it Means to Be Alive.

One of Brian Christian’s key insights in his book is that human beings attempt to present a consistent self-image in any public or interpersonal encounter.  In a dialog with another person, there is a striving to get beyond the superficial in order to reveal something of the personality underneath.  But the revealed personality is not monolithic; there are key self-referential elements of the conversation that reveal other possibilities.  Nevertheless there is a strong commitment to an underlying self-image, even if that self-image is ambiguous:

“[The existentialist’s] answer, more or less, is that we must choose a standard to hold ourselves to. Perhaps we’re influenced to pick some particular standard; perhaps we pick it at random. Neither seems particularly ‘authentic,’ but we swerve around paradox here because it’s not clear that this matters. It’s the commitment to the choice that makes behavior authentic.”

Authentic dialog, therefore, contains elements of consistent self-image and commitment to that self-image in spite of ambiguity and paradox.  A strong sense of self-unity underlies the sometimes fragmentary nature and unpredictable direction that human discourse often takes.  This is very difficult for a computer to simulate.

I think the risk from AI is so minuscule that it doesn’t deserve the level of concern that Jaan Tallinn was portrayed as having in Huw Price’s article.  There are two main assumptions in the assessment of risk that are very unlikely to be substantiated.  One assumption is that sheer computing power will lead to a machine capable of human intelligence within any reasonable time frame.  The second assumption is that such a machine, if created, could somehow replace humans in an evolutionary sense.

There are two problems with the first assumption, one theoretical and one practical.  The theoretical problem is that there is a limit to the true, valid conclusions that any automated system can achieve.  This limitation is called “Gödel Incompleteness.”  It means that for any system powerful enough to draw useful conclusions, there will still remain true conclusions that cannot be reached by computation alone.  In computer theory, this is called the “halting problem.”  The halting problem states that it is impossible to create a computer program that can decide whether any other computer program can halt or come to completion, producing a valid result.    The practical manifestation of the halting problem is that there is no way to introduce complete self-awareness into computer systems.  One can create modules that can simulate self-awareness of other modules, but the new module would not be self-aware of itself.  This limitation implies that human intelligence will always be needed to correct and modify computer systems.

(Roger Penrose’s book, Shadows of the Mind, presents the case for quantum consciousness in detail. A key part of his argument is that computers are fundamentally limited by “Gödel Incompleteness.”  This implies, according to Penrose, that quantum coherence plays a key part in consciousness and that quantum calculations are capable of decisions exceeding the power of any ordinary computer calculation)

The second problem with the first assumption is that it is very unlikely that a unified computer system with computing power of the human brain can be developed in any reasonable time frame.   Professor Price doesn’t say what a reasonable time frame might be, but Ray Kurzweil does, placing the date for the singularity at 2045.  Kurzweil’s assumption is that the human brain contains storage for 1018 bits (about 100 petabytes) of information.

In my previous post, I reported that Professor James Shapiro at the University of Chicago thinks that biological molecules are the most basic processing unit and not the cell.  This implies that Kurzweil should be using the number of molecules in the brain rather than the number of neurons.  Assuming about 1013 molecules per neuron, that increases the human brain capacity to about 1031 (10 trillion petabytes)!  This concept of storing large volumes of data in biological molecules has been confirmed by recent research where 5.5 petabytes of data have been stored in one gram of DNA.  Keep in mind that we are speaking only of storage capacity (and only for neurons, omitting the Glial cells) and not of processing power.  If the processing power of the biological molecule is aided by a quantum computation, then we have no current method for estimating the processing power of the human neuron.

Assuming that processing power is on a par with storage capacity, and assuming that computer capacity and power can double according to Moore’s law (every two years – another questionable assumption because of quantum limits), then there would need to be 40 doublings of storage capacity or about another 80 years beyond Kurzweil’s estimate of 2045.  That places the projection for Kurzweil’s “singularity” well into the twenty-second century.

The second assumption is that sufficiently advanced machine intelligence, if it could be developed, would be able to replace humans through evolutionary competition.  I have already mentioned the energy efficiency disadvantage for current silicon-based computers:  200 kilowatts for Watson’s Jeopardy performance versus 20 watts for human intelligence.  I have also described the impossibility of computer algorithms which could in principle modify themselves in an evolutionary sense.  I can also discount approaches based on evolutionary competition in which random changes are arbitrarily made to computer code.  I have seen too many attempts to fix computer programs by guesswork that amounts to little more than random changes in the code.  It doesn’t work for computer programmers and it won’t work for competing algorithms!

My conclusion is that the main practical threat to human intellectual dominance will be biological and not computational (in addition to our own self-destructive tendencies).  That leaves open the possibility for biological computation, but that threat is subsumed by the general threat of biological genetic engineering and by the creation of biological environments that are detrimental to human health and well-being.

I have taken this lengthy excursion into the analysis of the computer / brain analogy in order to eliminate it as one path toward understanding consciousness.  The idea that computation can produce human consciousness is an example of functionalism:  the concept that a complete functional description of the brain will explain consciousness.  Human consciousness is a complex concept which resists empirical exploration.  Let’s look at the key problem.

David Chalmers is professor of philosophy at Australian National University and has clearly articulated what has become known as the hard problem of consciousness.  In his 1995 paper, “Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness,” he first describes the easy problem.  The easy problem is the explanation of how the brain accomplishes a given function such as awareness or articulation of mental states or even the difference between wakefulness and sleep.  This last category, when pushed to consider different states of awareness, previously had seemed to me to be the most promising path towards understanding consciousness.

It has been known for some time that there are different levels of consciousness that are roughly correlated to the frequency of brain waves which can be measured by electroencephalogram (EEG).  Different frequencies of brain waves have traditionally corresponded to different levels of alertness.  The frequency range that seems to hold the most promise for understanding consciousness are the gamma waves at roughly 25 to 100 cycles per second (Hz or Hertz).  40 Hz is usually cited as representative.  In 1990, Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the DNA structure) and Christof Koch proposed that the 40 Hz to 70 Hz was the key “neural correlate of consciousness.”  The neural correlate of consciousness is defined to be any measurable phenomenon which can substitute for measuring consciousness directly.

The neural correlate of consciousness is a measurable phenomenon; and measurable events are what distinguish the easy problem from the hard problem of consciousness.  The easy problem is amenable to empirical research and experiment; it explains complex function and structure in terms of simpler phenomenon.  The hard problem, by contrast, raises a new question: how is it that the functional explanation of consciousness (the easy question) produces the experience of consciousness or how is it that the experience of consciousness arises from function?  As Chalmers says, why do we experience the blue frequency of light as blue?  Implicit in this question is the idea that consciousness is unified despite different functional impact.  Color, shape, movement, odor, sound all come together to form a unified experience; we sense that there is an “I” which has the unified experience and that this “I” is the same as the self that has had a history of similar or not so similar experiences.  My rephrasing of the hard question goes like this: how is it that we have a self with which to experience life.

Chalmers thinks that a new category for subjective experience will be needed to answer the hard question.  I think that such an addition is equivalent to adding consciousness as a basic attribute of matter.  That is what panpsychism asserts, and I think that the evidence from physics, chemistry and biology supports the panpsychist view.  I think panpsychism leads directly to experiences of awareness, consciousness and self-consciousness and that the concept of a self-reflective self is the natural conclusion of such a thought process.  David Chalmers thinks that the idea has merit, but differentiates his view from panpsychism, saying “panpsychism is just one way of working out the details.”

My next post will conclude this series and will directly present the theological question.

The Evidence from Evolution and Biology (Part 3)

In part 2 of this series on evolution and biology, I presented my analysis on the origin of life and my conclusion that life could not have arisen through random chance alone.  I have concluded along with other observers that the laws of physics and chemistry must be conducive to the creation of life and that such laws are evidence for a cosmic ordering power.  The question remains, however, what part does random chance play once life was created?  In part 1 of this series, I raised the question about the role that random mutations play in natural selection.  In this part, I will present evidence that natural selection does not rely entirely on random mutation and that there is at least some portion of natural selection that relies on directed mutation.

The most likely systematic way to create random changes in DNA is through copying errors.  One of the first researchers to deal rigorously with copying errors was Manfred Eigen with his “quasi-species” model.  In this mathematical model of natural selection, survival and fitness to survive are balanced against replication errors.  Here is Freeman Dyson’s description of the problem:

The central problem for any theory of the origin of replication is that a replicative apparatus has to function almost perfectly if it is to function at all. If it does not function perfectly, it will give rise to errors in replicating itself, and the errors will accumulate from generation to generation. The accumulation of errors will result in a progressive deterioration of the system until it is totally disorganized. This deterioration of the replication apparatus is called the “error catastrophe.”

Eigen’s model sets a theoretical limit on the allowable error rate necessary to avoid the “error catastrophe.”  It turns out that the maximum error rate is approximately the inverse of the number of DNA base pairs.  So for humans with about 3.2 billion base pairs, the calculated maximum error rate is about 10-9, or 1 error in 1 billion cell divisions.  This is consistent with the actual error rate after proofreading and repair of the copied DNA.

But some copying errors will still survive.  What becomes of them?  James A. Shapiro is professor of microbiology at the University of Chicago.  In his book, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, he writes, “Although our initial assumption is generally that cells die when they receive an irreparable trauma or accumulate an overwhelming burden of defects with age . . ., it turns out that a significant (perhaps overwhelming) proportion of cell deaths result from the activation of biochemical routines that bring about an orderly process of cellular disassembly known by the terms programmed cell death and apoptosis.”  In multicellular species, there is an elaborate signaling system for causing some cells to die.  This process is not necessarily disease related.  During embryonic development, some tissues grow that need to be eliminated before birth such as the webs that connect fingers and toes.  These are eliminated by apoptosis (programmed cell death).  This process also happens to embryonic neurons that do not have sufficient interconnections to be viable.  The implication of this response is that organisms have elaborate capability for determining when some cells need to be eliminated.  Some cancers are caused by problems with the apoptosis response.

Before proceeding to the evidence for directed mutation, I want to encourage an appreciation for the enormous orchestration that occurs inside the cell.  As an observer of the biological sciences, I am constantly amazed by the incredible variability and responsiveness of living cells.  If you have never watched videos or animations of cell division or other cellular processes, I would urge you to do so.   They are simply fascinating!  And part of what makes for a fascinating view is the complex orchestration that is happening inside the cell.    Here is a video dealing with mitosis, but there are many others:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6hn3sA0ip0.  A longer, more advanced animation on the cellular response to inflammation is here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GigxU1UXZXo&NR=1&feature=fvwp.

Another amazing aspect of cellular function and orchestration is protein folding.  In order for proteins to be effective, they must be folded into a three dimensional shape that is suited to their purpose.  As I explained in my previous post, the protein enzyme, sucrase, performs its function of splitting table sugar (sucrose) into the more easily metabolized glucose and fructose by “locking onto” the sucrose molecule.  Biologists have often used the analogy of a lock and key to explain the fitting of enzymes to their target molecules.

Protein misfolding plays a part in several disease processes including Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a form of “mad cow disease”), Tay-Sachs disease and sickle cell anemia.  In sickle cell anemia the protein misfolds because of a mutation that alters the sequence of amino acids in one of the blood proteins needed to construct hemoglobin.  In the case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the cause of protein misfolding has not been conclusively identified, but may be due to an “infectious protein” called a Prion.  A Prion is a normal human protein in the cell membrane that has misfolded and that causes other normal protein to misfold which results in brain tissue degeneracy.  It would be unprecedented if it is conclusively proved that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is caused by Prions because all other known disease agents involve replication or modifications to DNA.

The instructions for protein folding are not contained in DNA (although the amino acid sequence is a crucial aspect), but correct folding is absolutely necessary for good health.  DNA provides the peptide sequence information and it is the task of the completed protein, after it has been manufactured by a ribosome, to fold into the correct shape.  In human cells there are regulatory mechanisms for determining whether a protein has folded into the correct shape.  If a protein has misfolded, it can be detected and the protein can be disassembled.  Some proteins have the help of chaperones as mentioned in my previous post.  Here is an animation of a short 39 residue segment of the ribosomal protein L9, identified as “NTL9”, shown folding by computer simulation:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFcp2Xpd29I.  (The full protein from Bacillus stearothermophilus is just one of many that make up a ribosome.  It contains 149 amino acids and functions as binding protein to the ribosomal RNA.)

Proteins fold at widely varying rates, from about 1 microsecond to well over 1 second with many folding in the millisecond range.  The quickness with which most proteins fold led to an observation in 1969 by Cyrus Levinthal that if nature took the time to test all the possible paths to a correct final configuration, it would take longer than the age of the universe for a protein to fold.  It is now thought that proteins fold in a hierarchical order, with segments of the protein chain folding quickly due to local forces so that the final folding process only need configure a much smaller number of segments.  Nevertheless, simulations of protein folding often require huge computational resources to recreate the folding sequence.  One source estimated that it would take about 30 CPU years to simulate one of the fastest folding proteins.  A slower protein would require 100 times the resources, or about 3000 CPU years.

So Levinthal’s question has not been completely answered.  How does nature enable proteins to fold so quickly?  The prevailing theory on folding holds that the various intermediate states are following an energy funnel from a high energy state (unfolded) to the lowest energy state (folded).  Just as water seeks its lowest level, proteins seek the conformation that has the lowest energy.  The explanation for the wide variety of folding rates then rests on the nature of the path from the unfolded energy state to the folded energy state.  If the path is straight, the folding will be fast; if the path has energy barriers that must be circumnavigated or perhaps tunneled through, the folding will be slower.  These issues are still in active research, so there is currently no clear consensus.  But in a recent paper, two researchers conclude “Our results show it is necessary to move outside the realm of classical physics when the temperature dependence of protein folding is studied quantitatively” (“Temperature dependence of protein folding deduced from quantum transition”; 2011, Liaofu Luo and Jun Lu).

I simply point out the similarity to the research on photosynthesis that showed that photons captured by photosynthesis follow a highly efficient path to the place where the photon’s energy can be turned into food production.  That research showed that quantum coherence played a significant role in the efficient transfer of energy and it was thought by analysts that a quantum computation of the energy landscape was a key part of the explanation.  It would not surprise me if quantum computation played a key role in protein folding by determining the most efficient path for navigating the energy funnel.  But without regard to whether quantum computation plays a role in protein folding, some scientists have not hesitated in applying the computer analogy to cell function.

Paul Davies is a physicist and science advocate who contrasted the vitalism of the 19th century with our understanding of biology today by saying, “The revolution in the biological sciences, particularly in molecular biology and genetics, has revealed not only that the cell is far more complex than hitherto supposed, but that the secret of the cell lies not so much with its ingredients as with its extraordinary information storing and processing abilities. In effect, the cell is less magic matter, more supercomputer.”

James A. Shapiro continues the computer metaphor when he writes about the cognitive ability of the cell. In his book, Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, he writes about the cell’s ability to regulate and control itself using a number of examples such as repair of damaged DNA, programmed cell death,  and regulation of the process of cell division.  He then continues to characterize the cell in computer-like terms (my emphasis):

The selected cases just described are examples where molecular biology has identified specific components of cell sensing, information transfer, and decision-making processes. In other words, we have numerous precise molecular descriptions of cell cognition, which range all the way from bacterial nutrition to mammalian cell biology and development. The cognitive, informatic view of how living cells operate and utilize their genomes is radically different from the genetic determinism perspective articulated most succinctly, in the last century, by Francis Crick’s famous “Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.“

Shapiro goes on to suggest modification to the “Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.”  The “Central Dogma” summarizes the process of protein creation from RNA which is transcribed from DNA.  Dr. Shapiro suggests that this one way summary is too simple.  There are many paths through which RNA and proteins can modify the DNA.  The primary example of RNA which can modify DNA comes from retroviruses.  The well-known HIV virus is one example.  Retroviruses contain RNA which is transcribed into proteins that can convert the RNA into DNA and then insert the viral DNA into the host DNA.  It is estimated that between 5% and 8% of the human genome is comprised of DNA that has been inserted from retroviruses.

Dr. Shapiro also uses computer programming terminology when describing detailed biological function such as E. coli’s ability to metabolize lactose when glucose is not available: “Overall computation = IF lactose present AND glucose not present AND cell can synthesize active LacZ and LacY, THEN transcribe LacZY from LacP.”  That is a statement that could be implemented in almost any standard computing system with, of course, the proper functions available for “synthesize” and “transcribe,” etc.  I would also point out that a significant portion of a cell’s “cognitive” function is concerned with self-regulation.  In other words, there is a significant amount of self-knowledge available to the cell.

Professor Shapiro itemizes five general principles of cellular automation processing:

  1. There is no Cartesian dualism in the E. coli (or any other) cell. In other words, no dedicated information molecules exist separately from operation molecules. All classes of molecule (proteins, nucleic acids, small molecules) participate in sensing, information transfer, and information processing, and many of them perform other functions as well (such as transport and catalysis).
  2. Information is transferred from cell surface or intracellular sensors to the genome using relays of proteins, second messengers, and DNA-binding proteins.
  3. Protein-DNA recognition often occurs at special recognition sites.
  4. DNA binding proteins and their cognate formatting signals operate in a combinatorial and cooperative manner.
  5. Proteins operate as conditional microprocessors in regulatory circuits. They behave differently depending on their interactions with other proteins or molecules.

Regarding evolution, Dr. Shapiro advocates a concept called “natural genetic engineering” whereby the cell makes adaptive and creative changes to its own DNA.  I have used the phrase “directed mutation” to mean essentially the same thing.  These changes to a cell’s own DNA are not random: “It is difficult (if not impossible) to find a genome change operator that is truly random in its action within the DNA of the cell where it works. All careful studies of mutagenesis find statistically significant nonrandom patterns of change, and genome sequence studies confirm distinct biases in location of different mobile genetic elements. These biases can sometimes be extreme . . . “

In a recent article, Professor Shapiro further clarified his use of the phrase, “natural genetic engineering,” or NGE:

NGE is shorthand to summarize all the biochemical mechanisms cells have to cut, splice, copy, polymerize and otherwise manipulate the structure of internal DNA molecules, transport DNA from one cell to another, or acquire DNA from the environment. Totally novel sequences can result from de novo untemplated polymerization or reverse transcription of processed RNA molecules.

NGE describes a toolbox of cell processes capable of generating a virtually endless set of DNA sequence structures in a way that can be compared to erector sets, LEGOs, carpentry, architecture or computer programming.

NGE operations are not random. Each biochemical process has a set of predictable outcomes and may produce characteristic DNA sequence structures. The cases with precisely determined outcomes are rare and utilized for recurring operations, such as generating proper DNA copies for distribution to daughter cells.

It is essential to keep in mind that “non-random” does not mean “strictly deterministic.” We clearly see this distinction in the highly targeted NGE processes that generate virtually endless antibody diversity.

In summary, NGE encompasses a set of empirically demonstrated cell functions for generating novel DNA structures. These functions operate repeatedly during normal organism life cycles and also in generating evolutionary novelties, as abundantly documented in the genome sequence record.

(From What Natural Genetic Engineering Does and Does Not Mean, Huffington Post, February 28, 2013.)

Perhaps the most important evidence for natural genetic engineering is the discovery of transposable elements in the DNA.  These were first identified by Barbara McClintock in 1948 and for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize.  Transposable elements, also called transposons and retrotransposons, are segments of DNA that can move or be replicated into another part of the DNA molecule.  In general, this process can be either a “cut and paste” or a “copy and paste” operation using special proteins to operate on the DNA, sometimes with RNA as an intermediary molecule.

Retrotransposons makes up a significant portion of the human genome, about 42%.    One type of transposon, called an “Alu” sequence, is about 10% of the human genome and is one of the main markers for primates (including humans).    However, almost all transposable elements are contained within the non-coding region of DNA and therefore and not directly expressed as proteins.  This DNA has typically been called “junk DNA,” but recent research from the ENCODE project (“Encyclopedia Of DNA Elements”) has demonstrated a wide variety of function for the non-coding portions of DNA.

I have to mention that, as a computer designer and coder, this discovery of movable elements in the non-coding regions of DNA remind me of one of the most common ways we would modify computer programs.  First, we would locate an old segment of code that functioned similar to the desired new function.  Then we would copy that segment into another part of the program, but leave it unexecuted until the new segment was modified to accomplish its intended new function.  Finally we would activate the new segment and test it.  Nevertheless, DNA represents computational capabilities that I have never seen in any existing computer system.  It has now been demonstrated that the so called “junk DNA” has the ability to affect the “non-junk” portion of the genome by controlling when or whether certain proteins are expressed.

Continuing with the computer analogy, Freeman Dyson also speaks about DNA as a computer program, characterizing DNA as software and proteins as hardware.  I think that is a little too simple since individual proteins exhibit many cognitive abilities described by Dr. Shapiro.  Each separate molecule in the cell, including proteins, has its own processing capability.

One way the Professor Dyson is correct, though, is through the discovery of proteins as molecular machines. This is another fascinating area of biology.  Many of the functions of the cell are carried out by proteins that can best be described as miniature machines.  One important example is the ATP generator which is used to make ATP in the Mitochondria.  ATP, or Adenosine Triphosphate, is the main energy molecule for almost all forms of life.  This ATP generator or ATP synthase looks remarkably like a tiny motor.  This “motor” is powered by a hydrogen ion concentration differential across the mitochondria membrane.  The hydrogen ion concentration is generated by molecular pumps which push the hydrogen ions (protons) across the membrane.  An animation of ATP synthase follows:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjdPTY1wHdQ.

The implications of all the above biology for lowering entropy are enormous.  The molecular machines are themselves an example of low entropy, being a highly structured, functional set of proteins.  The pumping of protons across a membrane is using some energy to create a state of low entropy by concentrating energy at a particular location.  The ATP itself is a storehouse of energy for future use.  Protein folding is another entropy lowering process. The DNA specifying the information necessary to manufacture proteins is perhaps the supreme example of low entropy, particularly now with the discovery of purposeful “junk DNA.”  One could easily conclude that all of life is powered by of the miracle of low entropy overcoming the global tendency for entropy to increase.

Life can be viewed as a struggle to maintain low entropy.  We need sources of low entropy to live: food, shelter and energy, etc.  The ultimate source of low entropy is the sunlight used to create carbohydrates from plants.  However, once our low entropy material needs are secured, we seek an ordered personal life, family life, and social life.  Some say that old age is the result of the loss of our ability to maintain low entropy.  In other words, life is a struggle to maintain low entropy in the face of the law of increasing entropy.  As individuals, we will lose that struggle since death is certain.  As a species, however, the trend towards low entropy, towards more complex ordering, can continue.

Before life began to evolve, matter on earth was subject to laws of physics and chemistry.  One of those laws is the law of increasing entropy: low entropy sunlight is absorbed and then radiated back into space as high entropy heat.  However, the laws of nature themselves contain a provision for entropy lowering interactions.  I strongly believe that such a provision is the result of the decisionality inherent in the collapse of the quantum wave function.  My reason for such a belief lies mainly in the order that results from entropy lowering interactions, especially the order inherent in life.  All of our human experience tells us that order results from rational decisionality; it does not result from randomness.  The mathematics of random chance rules out any likelihood that life arose by chance alone.

After life began to evolve, it naturally took advantage of entropy lowering processes.  Natural selection and fitness are crucially based of efficient use of energy.  There is a recent example of a prehistoric bird that had four wings, named microraptor.   Microraptor’s four wings allowed it to make tight turns around the many forest trees in its habitat.  However, four wings caused additional drag and consequent loss of speed and energy.  It therefore took microraptor more energy to accomplish what modern birds can do. Modern birds evolved two wings with additional muscle control for improved maneuverability but without the additional drag of a second set of wings.  Efficient use of energy is crucial for survival.

It is therefore very surprising that nature and evolution would have allocated a single organ in humans that requires 20% of our energy, yet weighs only about 2% of our total weight.  That is the amazing, almost unbelievable, statistic for the brain.  If we view human life as the pinnacle of evolution, then the entire evolutionary path must proceed towards higher consciousness and higher intelligence.  Therefore, if Professor Shapiro is right about natural genetic engineering (and I am convinced he is – he draws upon a huge body of research done by others), then modification made at the cellular level must include a bias for enhanced consciousness.

In my next section, I will begin to address the evidence from consciousness.  This will be difficult because science can say very little about consciousness.  Some take the position that consciousness is an epiphenomenon; that it emerges, ex novo, from complex calculations and therefore, has no real existence.  Some take the position that mind is a separate category from matter, leading to dualism.  I take the position that consciousness is embedded in matter, a position called panpsychism.  Furthermore, I hold the position that the way that consciousness has become embedded in matter is through the inherent decisionality of quantum decoherence.  One way to view this position is that the universe performs a quantum calculation on every transfer of energy.  But it would be a mistake to think that the calculation is the same as a calculation that could performed by a computer.  Stay tuned.