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Current Essay Contest

Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

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Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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Sounding the Drums to Listen for Gravity’s Effect on Quantum Phenomena
A bench-top experiment could test the notion that gravity breaks delicate quantum superpositions.

March 18, 2018

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Purpose from Equations by Joseph Bisognano [refresh]
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Author Joseph Bisognano wrote on Feb. 7, 2017 @ 21:43 GMT
Essay Abstract

Day to day goal orientation could easily be a trait that was selected by evolution over the eons. Goals don’t imply consciousness and intentionality, just an end point for behavior to converge. Having a goal simply provides an evolutionary advantage that can proceed from natural selection. What remains hard to explain is consciousness. It is possible that when a system becomes more complex, it might key into some entirely new physics; for example, a “consciousness field.” The challenge is to find a test to determine whether an entity is conscious. Then a "phase transition" from unaware to aware might be observed as one moves to relatively more complex systems--whether computers or living creatures.

Author Bio

Joseph Bisognano is Professor Emeritus of Engineering Physics at the University of Wisconsin. He is an accelerator physicist specializing in FELs and collective phenomena in particle beams and in the design and commissioning of large accelerators complexes such as the DOE superconducting facility at Jefferson Lab. Earlier in his career he pursued rigorous results in fundamental quantum field theory.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Feb. 9, 2017 @ 16:31 GMT
Dear Professor Bigognano,

Please excuse me for I do not wish to be too critical of your fine essay and I do hope that it fairs well in the competition.

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

One real visible Universe must have only one reality. Simple natural reality has nothing to do with any abstract complex musings about an imaginary invisible “consciousness field.”

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 comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Jack Hamilton James wrote on Feb. 10, 2017 @ 22:20 GMT
Dear Joseph,

I enjoyed your essay thanks for posting. I also wonder about what an appropriate test for consciousness is. In my entry I examined possible routes to this, focusing instead on what we call non-conscious life (single-celled organisms). Here I looked for intention (intention being a most basic property differentiating life from non-life). I considered that there must be a test or a way of illustrating this basic difference, and reflected also on whether such information described, could describe what via evolution consciousness as we know it is. Anyway not to dwell on my entry, i just viewed your entry as a more direct consideration of the more complex route to consciousness - consciousness itself, which was interesting indeed.



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Author Joseph Bisognano replied on Feb. 11, 2017 @ 16:56 GMT
Thanks for reading.

I guess my points are very simple:

1) A system showing goals and purpose doesn't necessarily need to be conscious or self aware. And evolution could create such systems

2) Our experience of consciousness, on the other hand, is undeniable and hard to

imagine coming from current physics equations. I use the word intention as

closely related to this self awareness, not just heading to a goal.

3) So there should be a new interaction coupled to complex systems,either big

brains or big computers. Analogous to E&M coupled to electric charge, gravity to mass, strong interaction to color charge. --Consciousness field coupled to

complexity. I haven't been able to come up with a good test of whether a system is self aware. Hope to have a discussion of possibilities.

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 14, 2017 @ 00:24 GMT
Dear Joseph J. Bisognano ,

Your observations in page 1 ... " Isn’t an animal’s goal orientation just another trait that improves its chance of survival, and natural selection would tend to home in on this trait? "

In page 2..." Alternatively, when a system becomes more complex, it might key into something new; for example, a “consciousness field.” Since a brain is no less physical than a computer, possibly when a brain or computer gets complex enough, it will become coupled to this consciousness field. "

Are really excellent… Best wishes…

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Author Joseph Bisognano wrote on Feb. 14, 2017 @ 01:00 GMT
Thanks. Those sentences really sum up everything I'm saying. I should have written a three sentence paper!

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 10:32 GMT
Dear Joseph,

………………… I want you to ask you to please have a look at my essay

……………and where reproduction of Galaxies in the Universe is described. Dynamic Universe Model is another mathematical model for Universe. Its mathematics show that the movement of masses will be having a purpose or goal, Different Galaxies will be born and die (quench) etc…just...

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Peter Jackson wrote on Feb. 15, 2017 @ 14:37 GMT

An excellent essay, also proving the value of brevity. (I prefer 'concise' - English should include concicity or conciseness). I don't think less length should mean less marks, though perhaps three sentences wouldn't be an 'essay'!

As an essay it has all attributes and is also bang on topic. However I warm to the content most, I suppose I would as it agrees with mine pretty well to the letter (though I do go much further into mechanism).

I don't know of a convincing consciousness test. In trying to imagine one I rather concluded that it should ultimately derive from self awareness which follows naturally from environmental awareness. Maybe we just like to think we're 'ultra special' in some non explainable way? But I also have little doubt there is a continuum or condensate state below current observability scale, and if so could we say it wouldn't play some part?

Great essay, right to 'the heart of the matter' (a working title I had for my own for a while).

Very best of luck in the contest.


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Natesh Ganesh wrote on Feb. 21, 2017 @ 19:48 GMT
Dear Professor Bigognano,

I enjoyed your essay and completely agree with your idea that we should be able to view consciousness arise as a phase transition. If you have the time, please check out my entry 'Intention is Physical', where I attack the problem at hand using physical information theory and make connections to the brain being a self-organized system in a critical Griffith's region exhibiting multiple continuous phase transitions. Any and all feedback is welcome. Thanks.


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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 2, 2017 @ 06:20 GMT
Dear Joe,

It is a nice surprise to see you in this contest! I enjoyed your essay, showing your independence from the mainstream dogmas. In particular, I liked "Our experience of consciousness, on the other hand, is undeniable and hard to imagine coming from current physics equations. " I would say that the model of consciousness you are suggesting belongs to the pan-psychism family, unless the higher level of transcendental mind is also assumed. For the pan-psychism, I have a counter-argument expressed in the essay of my son Lev and myself. I'm giving you a high score. I would also be more than happy to see your comments on my page.

Alexey Burov, your colleague in the field of accelerators and beams.

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Author Joseph Bisognano replied on Mar. 2, 2017 @ 16:19 GMT
Dear Alexey,

Thanks for your comments. I took a quick scan of your essay and read a little about pan-psychism. My perspective is more positing a new fundamental interaction as a starting point. That is, there would be electroweak, strong, gravity, and consciousness interactions. (Of course, at some point there might be the "grand unification".) For the consciousness field, the coupling would be to "oomplexity" rather than to electric charge, color, or mass. Maybe the question of whether it's "pan" has to do with the range and propagation speed of the force. If there is a finite propagation speed and a roll off, the force is localizable and there is some individuality to consciousness. On the other hand, if the propagation speed is infinite or the force doesn't roll off, we have this pan-psychism as a limit.

Anyway,first thoughts. Now I'll do a close read of your note and look into pan-pschism more deeply.


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Alan M. Kadin wrote on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 19:37 GMT
Dear Prof. Bisognano,

I enjoyed reading your clear and well-argued short essay.

I address some similar issues in my own essay, “No Ghost in the Machine”, which you might be interested in reading.

One aspect in which we differ somewhat is my treatment of consciousness, which I argue is not an emergent property separate from the rest of nature. Rather, consciousness may reflect a specific evolved brain structure based on an adaptive neural network which creates a simplified dynamical model that recognizes self and other agents in a causal world. Our internal perceptions of consciousness are largely an illusion. Further, analogous electronic networks may be developed to create true artificial intelligence.

Alan Kadin

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Héctor Daniel Gianni wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 00:14 GMT
Dear Joseph Bisognano

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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peter cameron wrote on Mar. 19, 2017 @ 14:43 GMT

Much enjoyed your essay - clear, short, and to the point. Practical. While we don't yet know what sentience is, I like your choice to describe it as a 'phase' transition of some sort. One of the things that defines the boundary of a quantum system, of entanglement, is phase coherence in the more limited sense of oscillators and mode structures. If sentience implies the existence of...

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