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Zenith Grant Awardee

Lee Smolin

Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Project Title

Consciousness in the causal theory of views

Project Summary

I propose to study a recently proposed theory of the natural world, which may solve the problem of unifying quantum physics, with space, time, gravity and cosmology. Called the causal theory of views, this theory describes a universe that consists of nothing but diverse and partial views of itself. The views define events, and the processes by which they cause each other. Time indeed has a fundamental meaning, which is nothing but the continual creation of new events. Space is an emergent concept, many events happening in their complex dance in time give an illusion of space, just as the dance of molecules constructs for us the air. This theory gives a complete description of what happens in the world, thus resolving the uncertainties and probabilities of quantum theory. But even more remarkably, this world gives an unexpected gift: which is a new view of the hardest problem in science, what a mind is, and how brain gives rise to it; indeed what in this world of atoms, is the sensation of red. The aim of this proposal is to assemble a team of physicists, neuroscientists, cosmologists and philosophers to test, modify and build on this theory.

Technical Abstract

We examine the mind-body problem in the context of a relational approach to cosmology where the be-ables are views of subsystems of their relations to the rest. We work in a causal universe whose events are defined by their views of their causal pasts. That is, we describe a universe that is composed of nothing but a set of partial views of itself. In this causal universe time in the sense of causation, and in the sense of the continual creation of new events from present events, is fundamental. Space is not, and together with spacetime, locality, non-local etc is emergent. The fundamental dynamics cannot take place in space, nor can it depend on distances. Instead, differences of views are fundamental. It is then natural to propose that conscious perceptions are intrinsic aspects of some views. We propose that only those views which are novel, in the sense that they are not duplicates of any view in the event’s own causal past, may be physical correlates of consciousness. I aim to gather a small team of physicists and neuroscientists, cosmologists, computer scientists and philosophers, to develop and test this and other theories which unify our world.

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