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Dizhechko Semyonovich: on 4/7/17 at 8:47am UTC, wrote Dear Sirs! Physics of Descartes, which existed prior to the physics of...

Don Limuti: on 3/28/17 at 7:44am UTC, wrote Hi Matt, Very well presented. It should be a preface to the contest. If I...

George Kirakosyan: on 3/27/17 at 6:16am UTC, wrote Hi dear Matt, Your sarcasm just killing, but I'm a man who respect this...

james akerlund: on 3/27/17 at 4:49am UTC, wrote Hi Matt, I read your submission for this contest and your submission for...

Alan Kadin: on 3/21/17 at 13:39pm UTC, wrote Dear Prof. Visser, I read your essay with great interest. I agree that...

Ben Tolkin: on 3/16/17 at 23:52pm UTC, wrote A good essay! It may be a little awkward to point out the problems with how...

peter cameron: on 3/16/17 at 13:15pm UTC, wrote Matt, Glad to see someone has taken the contrary approach to the...

Kookaetxelantza Zentzaibaitz: on 3/15/17 at 10:47am UTC, wrote Dear Matt Visser, By reading your essay one just can imagine consciousness...


Steve Agnew: "The universe is finite and not infinite. The notion of infinity or..." in Watching the Observers

Anonymous: ""According to quantum mechanics, a vacuum isn't empty at all. It's actually..." in Manipulating the Quantum...

Lorraine Ford: "Dear Rajiv, I have already addressed your 3 points, but I will put it to..." in FQXi Essay Contest 2016:...

Joe Fisher: "Dear Georgina, That is very interesting, but please remember that the..." in Watching the Observers

Peter Morgan: "An e-mail sent to me by Springer Nature today tells me that because I am at..." in Manipulating the Quantum...

munized ward: "Variety exists inside all populaces of life forms. This happens somewhat in..." in Natural Selection in...

Pentcho Valev: "Not Even Wrong Concepts in Physics: Entropy The following argument is..." in We Are All Connected

Rajiv Singh: "Dear Lorraine, Oh! I did not check your recent responses. Let me address..." in FQXi Essay Contest 2016:...

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Watching the Observers
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Is there are sweet spot where artificial intelligence systems could have the maximum amount of consciousness while retaining powerful quantum properties?

Quantum Replicants: Should future androids dream of quantum sheep?
To build the ultimate artificial mimics of real life systems, we may need to use quantum memory.

Painting a QBist Picture of Reality
A radical interpretation of physics makes quantum theory more personal.

The Spacetime Revolutionary
Carlo Rovelli describes how black holes may transition to "white holes," according to loop quantum gravity, a radical rewrite of fundamental physics.

June 23, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: From mindless mathematics to thinking meat? by Matt Visser [refresh]
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Author Matt Visser wrote on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 16:02 GMT
Essay Abstract

Deconstruction of the theme of this essay contest is already an interesting exercise in its own right: Teleology is rarely useful in physics --- the only known mainstream physics example (black hole event horizons) has a very mixed score-card --- so the "goals" and "aims and intentions'" alluded to in the theme of this essay contest are already somewhat pushing the limits. Furthermore, "aims and intentions" certainly carries the implication of consciousness, and opens up a whole can of worms related to the mind-body problem. As for "mindless mathematical laws", that allusion is certainly in tension with at least some versions of the "mathematical universe hypothesis". Finally "wandering towards a goal" again carries the implication of consciousness, with all its attendant problems. In this essay I will argue, simply because we do not yet have any really good mathematical or physical theory of consciousness, that the theme of this essay contest is premature, and unlikely to lead to any resolution that would be widely accepted in the mathematics or physics communities.

Author Bio

Matt Visser is mathematical physicist based at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. He is known for his work on Lorentzian wormholes, and analogue spacetimes, and more generally his work on black holes and cosmology, with some QFT thrown in for good measure.

Download Essay PDF File

Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 19:39 GMT
Your paper has an interesting take on the relationship between event horizons and apparent horizons. Of course we know that event horizons are congruencies of null geodesics while apparent horizons are observer or frame dependent. An event horizon can only be detected, or inferred from the detection of things around it, for a completely stationary situation. The trapping surface is local to a coordinate frame and may be inferred completely. What about the transition between the two?

If you fall towards a black hole the black surface you witness splaying out below you is the event horizon. This is until you cross r = 2GM/rc^2. Then suddenly the event horizon becomes an apparent horizon. The question is how would you know the exact time you cross the event horizon? The infalling observer would need to know within a Planck time unit when they cross the horizon. The energy of the black hole E = Mc^2 which has black hole temperature T = ħg/2πck. This acceleration on the clock of mass m is then F = ma and the energy E = 1/2NkT gives E = GMm/r^2*L_p. Putting this together the estimated mass of the clock necessary to measure this fine scale would be m ~ GM^2\sqrt{c^3/Għ}. This is a colossal figure. So how does one know for certain whether a horizon is absolute or a relative trapping surface?

This does prevent an observer from cloning states. It prevents Bob from performing a swap out of a quantum states, which can teleport a state to Alice in the black hole, but where Bob can precisely time his entry into the black hole to find Alice before she is shredded by the singularity and produce cloned quantum states.

Cheers LC

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Daniel de França Diniz Rocha wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 01:01 GMT
Dear Matt Visser,

The brain is, due its dense connections, a strongly coupled euclidean 3 dimensional system, with low entropy. Computers, are, ideally, weakly 2 dimensional surface with high entropy. A brain is operates in low frequency, a computer, in high frequency. So, what could help in simulating the brain is taking advantage of some sort of holographic relation. Figuring out the operators in this case is perhaps the key.

Off topic: Verlinde updated its theory . Some discussion followed it, it seems in better shape now:

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Author Matt Visser replied on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 22:54 GMT
Dear Daniel:

1) Current computers are more-or-less 2 dimensional, (or more precisely weakly-coupled 2-dimesional sheets), only because of the relative simplicity of building and linking circuit boards --- but if we had appropriate technology, we could build a fully 3-d computer by building circuit-blocks instead of circuit-boards; this is a technological limitation, not a fundamental one... (which means the appeal to holography may not be all that appropriate...)

2) Verlinde-style entropic gravity still has a lot of problems...



Georgina Woodward wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 03:07 GMT
Hi Matt, the message coming through load and clear is that you didn't like the essay question. Nevertheless you put together an interesting read. I wouldn't have thought about black holes and teleology but you did.

Re. thinking meat; You do not consider the complexity of organisation, which includes branching fractal like growth of nerve fibers, vast numbers of connections, and structural organisation of functions of different regions; Allowing emergent characteristics. The brain certainly isn't just more meat. I like that you do acknowledge that there is a material component though.

I've recently watched two interesting lectures by Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky that you might find interesting too Chaos and reductionism and Emergence and complexity that contain some ideas relevant to what you have written, I think. kind regards Georgina

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Rajiv K Singh replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 06:51 GMT
Hi GW,

Yes, I do agree with your spirit of observation that complexity could allow emergence of certain characteristics, but the mechanism and phenomenon of emergence must have a description and existence of its own. I mean, it must be seen even at the elemental level, it may not require vast numbers of agents, connections, or structural detail to exhibit the phenomenon. Furthermore, brain cells are attributed with the evidence of representing simple or complex information. Again, information must have a reality of its own even at the most fundamental level. I hope, I have enticed you to critique mine.


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Author Matt Visser replied on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 23:04 GMT
Dear Georgina, Rajiv:

1) Regarding the essay question: I feel it is maybe phrased too broadly; a more narrowly focussed question on a more limited topic might have been useful...

2) Regarding teleology: I feel it is important to take a careful look at how teleology has been applied in mainstream physics, and as far as I know black hole event horizons are the best (only) example...

3) Regarding thinking meat: Whether or not consciousness is "emergent" is perhaps one of the main implied themes of this FQXi essay contest; and again, it is best to condition one's expectations by checking out those physical theories for which emergence really has worked, (eg: molecular dynamics -> fluid mechanics), to get a realistic feel for what can and cannot be achieved...



Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 08:10 GMT
matt, hi,

okay. deep breath. i'm glad to see that you have taken the question raised by this essay seriously, and endeavour to question its validity - or at least, conclude that, with no definition of consciousness mind existing, it is impossible to really answer the question. i note, sadly, that i have not yet found another essay other than my own which *actually* answers the question.

with some trepidation i would like to refer you to dr alex hankey's work on the foundations of consciousness. dr alex hankey has indeed provided a formal mathematical framework in which consciousness may be explored objectively. the foundation is in an entirely new form of self-referral quantum mechanics ("QM with a twist") which he utilises to describe "Critical Instability Points" within biological and other systems.

i say trepidation because it is most unfortunate in that simply mentioning the existence of his work - and that of others who also explore this topic - it undermines the premise of your essay. i can only deeply apologise for that, and would be interested to hear your thoughts given that it *is* in fact possible to formally and mathematically describe consciousness.

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James Arnold wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 16:34 GMT
Matt, when you write “the mathematics and physics communities… do not (yet) have any suitable and appropriate well-agreed-upon mathematical/physical framework to address” the issues questioned in the essay contest, you are quite right. Thought and feeling are not reducible to physics, and not attributable to mathematics. Some physicists deal with this barrier to their expertise by denying that thought and feeling even exist. But of course it takes feeling to want to concoct such a belief and thought to give it formulation.

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Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 05:59 GMT
indeed - reducto ad absurdum, logically it is clearly not the case that thoughts and feelings cannot exist, thus we may infer that any physicist which attempts to deny that fact is... well... put simply and plainly: in a pathological psychological state. there's really not much point in beating about the bush and trying to say otherwise.

james i am most reluctant to say it but i do have to protest your assertion that thought and feeling may not be described formally in mathematical notation, or that they may not be "reduced" to physics. clearly we live in a physical world therefore there *has* to be some basis and link to cognition. otherwise, why do these people keep meeting every year to discuss that and other related subjects?

the 2017jan27 conference in san fransisco had 17 confirmed speakers. one of the papers presented summarises the results of meetings of over *forty* physicists and biologists who discuss the application of quantum mechanics to consciousness...

why, then - or how - is it possible to conclude that the question raised by this essay is not valid or legitimate, and on what basis can the peer-reviewed work of so many notable scientists be denied? sorry to have to be the one to ask these questions.

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James Arnold replied on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 09:42 GMT
Luke, no problem. We can disagree, right?

I have no problem with appreciating that consciousness is descended from "the physical." I'd actually say it is most expressive of something latent in "the physical."

I didn't say your paper was "invalid" or "illegitimate." I just disagree. Maybe I shouldn't be commenting until someone (you) have the opportunity to counter-critique. It feels like I'm sniping.

In any case, I suggest it's not a good idea to rest one's beliefs on counting the heads that agree.

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Cristinel Stoica wrote on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 06:05 GMT
Dear Matt,

> "I will argue, simply because we do not yet have any really good mathematical or physical theory of consciousness, that the theme of this essay contest is premature, and unlikely to lead to any resolution that would be widely accepted in the mathematics or physics communities"

That's right, at this stage we can only speculate. This is useful too: although...

view entire post

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Rajiv K Singh replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 06:37 GMT
Oh! I did not realize that you had raised the point already only a few minutes ago. I stated the same, but there may be certain unexplored paths in physics which attempts to show how information is naturally associated with states of matter, implying that information has a reality of its own.


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Author Matt Visser replied on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 23:11 GMT
Dear Cristinel, Rajiv:

Speculation is good, as long as it is controlled and disciplined speculation...

Experimentalists have an adage: Never change more than one parameter at a time...

Theorists should probably take note --- don't introduce more than one new speculation at a time;

otherwise you are into uncontrolled and undisciplined speculation, with then little expectation of useful progress.



Cristinel Stoica replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 10:55 GMT
Dear Matt,

Very well said, I completely agree with you (although in my essay for this contest I allowed myself more freedom than I would normally do :) because I think it is a good opportunity to exchange ideas).

Best wishes,


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Rajiv K Singh wrote on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 06:20 GMT
Dear Matt,

"... simply because we do not yet have any really good mathematical or physical theory of consciousness, that the theme of this essay contest is premature, and unlikely to lead to any resolution that would be widely accepted in the mathematics or physics communities."

Challenge accepted ! But are you one of the rare ones who not only throw this challenge but also support the development of such a description in physics? After all, consciousness has emerged in physical systems, therefore, there must be a description of the physical world that allows it. In my encounters, I find a large section of physicists, who nip the arguments / development in the bud. Even in my inability to state it any differently from most of us who exaggerate our own claims -- I must invite you to comment on my essay, even though Brendan-San ensured that a fuller description could not appear among these essays. Of course, in this essay, I could not take the issue all the way up to actual emergence of Consciousness, but I hope, you will observe a definitive path.

Rajiv K Singh

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Author Matt Visser replied on Mar. 9, 2017 @ 23:17 GMT
Dear Rajiv:

I can only promise that I will not demand artificially high standards for any proposed physical theory of consciousness. The model should have a high degree of internal coherence, and some realistic hope of being connectable to experiment/observation...



Joe Fisher wrote on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 17:27 GMT
Dear Matt Visser,

Please excuse me for I have no intention of disparaging in any way any part of your essay.

I merely wish to point out that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with it.

The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light.

A more detailed explanation of natural reality can be found in my essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY. I do hope that you will read my essay and perhaps comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 23:04 GMT
Nice essay Prof Visser,

Your analysis of the theme of the contest is nice… for example in the conclusion you said about your essay…. ‘The theme of the essay contest implicitly appeals to consciousness (be it human or otherwise) to even define aims" or intentions", and the fact that we simply do not have a coherent physical understanding of the ontology of consciousness….’...

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Héctor Daniel Gianni wrote on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 23:29 GMT
Dear Mat Visser

I invite you and every physicist to read my work “TIME ORIGIN,DEFINITION AND EMPIRICAL MEANING FOR PHYSICISTS, Héctor Daniel Gianni ,I’m not a physicist.

How people interested in “Time” could feel about related things to the subject.

1) Intellectuals interested in Time issues usually have a nice and creative wander for the unknown.

2) They usually enjoy this wander of their searches around it.

3) For millenniums this wander has been shared by a lot of creative people around the world.

4) What if suddenly, something considered quasi impossible to be found or discovered such as “Time” definition and experimental meaning confronts them?

5) Their reaction would be like, something unbelievable,… a kind of disappointment, probably interpreted as a loss of wander…..

6) ….worst than that, if we say that what was found or discovered wasn’t a viable theory, but a proved fact.

7) Then it would become offensive to be part of the millenary problem solution, instead of being a reason for happiness and satisfaction.

8) The reader approach to the news would be paradoxically adverse.

9) Instead, I think it should be a nice welcome to discovery, to be received with opened arms and considered to be read with full attention.

11)Time “existence” is exclusive as a “measuring system”, its physical existence can’t be proved by science, as the “time system” is. Experimentally “time” is “movement”, we can prove that, showing that with clocks we measure “constant and uniform” movement and not “the so called Time”.

12)The original “time manuscript” has 23 pages, my manuscript in this contest has only 9 pages.

I share this brief with people interested in “time” and with physicists who have been in sore need of this issue for the last 50 or 60 years.


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Kookaetxelantza Zuntzunegi Zentzaibaitz wrote on Mar. 15, 2017 @ 10:47 GMT
Dear Matt Visser,

By reading your essay one just can imagine consciousness as a bundle of fields over a manifold so-called space time.

This is just imagination and fantasy because what seems clear is this :

That bundle of fields , if there existed something like this thing , would be extraordinary weak here on Earth : human beings are unable to know this sort of question because the "field of consciousness "??? , here and now is very weak. In the past , it was even weaker than now and in the future it is going to vanish. Then, there may be the possibility of traveling points ( i think they were called anunnakis and that sort of stuff , most of them just fantasy and layers of lies over lies in order to make some money by making religions ) from patches of the manifold where the field is stronger than here . Obviously these points would be only able to come here from patches with stronger values of the field and the exception would be a case like that of that film about the alien and Sigourney Weber . ... Hence, consciousness owns to the field of fantasy and imagination, it has always been this way and it will remain the same.

Congratulations for your essay , best wishes.

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peter cameron wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 13:15 GMT

Glad to see someone has taken the contrary approach to the organizer's theme. Agree that to claim a math model for sentience one must have an understanding of wavefunction collapse in the foundation of the model.

Curious re whether event horizons are or are not teleological. By the "...explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes"...

view entire post

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Ben Tolkin wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 23:52 GMT
A good essay! It may be a little awkward to point out the problems with how this question was phrased so directly, but I don't think you can do a serious analysis without acknowledging the assumptions, vague terms, and generally poorly-defined nature of the prompt. I really wish other essays had spent more time on this, instead of diving in to their pet theories.

That said, I do think you could have moved on from acknowledging the problems with the question to defining your own terms and exploring these issues a little more. It may be true that we don't have enough knowledge of the physical brain to understand consciousness and aims; it's still useful to wonder if we could *ever* understand these in purely physical terms (at times it seemed a bit like you were assuming we could, which is not necessarily well-founded) and exploring these questions can still be interesting. If this topic is *so* premature nothing useful can be said about it, you wouldn't have written an essay at all, so you might as well go more in-depth on why it's premature and what steps we should take next instead!

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Alan M. Kadin wrote on Mar. 21, 2017 @ 13:39 GMT
Dear Prof. Visser,

I read your essay with great interest. I agree that the essay topic as stated deals with mind and consciousness, and that there are no consistent physical models that deal with these issues.

I think the missing link is the biological concept of evolutionary adaption. In evolution, random fluctuations provide the raw material, but they are filtered by the environment to select out structures that survive. Even consciousness may be an adaptive structure.

I address the issue of adaptation in my own essay, “No Ghost in the Machine”. I argue that recognition of self, other agents, and a causal narrative are built into specific evolved brain structures, based on neural networks, which create a sense of consciousness as part of a dynamic model of the environment. The reason that this is such a difficult problem is that we are being misled by the subjective perceptions of our own minds. I further suggest that similar structures may be emulated in developing true artificial intelligence.

Alan Kadin

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james r. akerlund wrote on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 04:49 GMT
Hi Matt,

I read your submission for this contest and your submission for the 2012 contest and I am trying to figure out why you didn't some how extend your 2012 submission and apply it to this years contest. Instead you say bad contest question. You know that is up to you and you wrote on that decision, fine. This year's contest did leave some very strange doors open for all kinds of strange ideas, but you didn't need to also entertain those ideas. My submission ignored those strange ideas that lead thru the human mind and looked at how math effects the universe. But reading your submissions, I doubt you will be able to stomach my words or thinking. By the way, my submission is in the vein of the many-worlds interpretation but it argues against your "...with the minds of conscious entities constantly dividing down the infinitely branching yggdrasillian world-tree of future possibilities. (And, if you take the path-integral approach seriously, a merging world-tree of past possibilities.)"

You ask the question; "Can mathematics exist without a mind to formulate it?" I counter that question with this one. Can Euclidean geometry exist in non-Euclidean spacetime? The answer is yes, where the rules of Euclidean geometry apply. The rules of Euclidean geometry apply regardless if a mind is applying them or not. The mind only finds that they apply it doesn't invent that they apply.

Anyway, good luck in the contest.

Jim Akerlund

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George Kirakosyan wrote on Mar. 27, 2017 @ 06:16 GMT
Hi dear Matt,

Your sarcasm just killing, but I'm a man who respect this dealt!

But let me ask - where are you? I would like talk on this matter, in case you see this purposeful. Let me know please (in my page)


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Don Limuti wrote on Mar. 28, 2017 @ 07:44 GMT
Hi Matt,

Very well presented. It should be a preface to the contest. If I read your essay first, it would have added clarity to my own work. And do check out my essay. I believe you will enjoy it.

Also the paper:
will tickle your cosmological interests.


Don Limuti

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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 08:47 GMT
Dear Sirs!

Physics of Descartes, which existed prior to the physics of Newton returned as the New Cartesian Physic and promises to be a theory of everything. To tell you this good news I use «spam».

New Cartesian Physic based on the identity of space and matter. It showed that the formula of mass-energy equivalence comes from the pressure of the Universe, the flow of force which on the corpuscle is equal to the product of Planck's constant to the speed of light.

New Cartesian Physic has great potential for understanding the world. To show it, I ventured to give "materialistic explanations of the paranormal and supernatural" is the title of my essay.

Visit my essay, you will find there the New Cartesian Physic and make a short entry: "I believe that space is a matter" I will answer you in return. Can put me 1.


Dizhechko Boris

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