In 1966, the Beach Boys released “Good Vibrations”, which became one of the most iconic songs of all time. In the 1991 Marky Mark, aka Mark Wahlberg released his “Good Vibrations”, which today is mostly forgotten.
The first concert I ever went to in my entire life was the Beach Boys. When I was a little kid, which I used to be really embarrassed about that, but now I think it’s kind of cool. Although it’s, it was the Kokomo Beach Boys and not the Pet Sound Beach Boys, but, still…
We’ve known for a long time that the brain produces a variety of brain waves associated with different states of consciousness. Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma and Theta. They’ve, been helpful in diagnosing issues and understanding what’s going on inside the brain. But they’ve never really been associated with consciousness itself. What if that’s exactly what consciousness is? Just synchronized vibrations in the brain.
– Resonance Theory
We can begin to understand one of the biggest problems in psychology and neuroscience and philosophy. It’s called The hard problem of consciousness. And it’s not something you can prove with just waves on a brain scan. Consciousness is defined in a lot of ways. But for our purposes today let’s define it like this. An internal subjective experience complete with sensations and emotions.
The hard problem, in a nutshell, is all about connecting the dots between the mushy collection of cells in our head and the subjective conscious experience that we all have. So, as the brain is part of the body and the mind is arguably not, it’S become known as the mind-body problem. But calling it the hard problem gives us more leeway as we start to look into AI and computer consciousness.
Before we go too far down that path, let’s talk about how consciousness works in biological organisms, like you and me. Individual neurons aren’t conscious. Or at least they don’t display consciousness in how we understand consciousness. But for some reason you put 86 billion of these things together in a bone case and then Voila, you get everything.
The thing is, nobody knows why the specific mechanisms aren’t fully understood. We know that neurons communicate with each other through electrochemical signals across synapses. But some experiments have shown that some brain processes actually move faster than that allows.
So there have been some theories that there’s some kind of spontaneous self-organization going on. How does that create a subjective experience? How does that create the mind?
One thing that I talked about previously was Panpsychism. Panpsychism argues that consciousness isn’t an emergent property of matter, that’s actually a fundamental property of matter at the smallest scale. So the spin of a quark isn’t random. It’s actually kind of a conscious choice.
I recently came across an interesting article that offers up some new ideas on this and it’s called The General Resonance Theory of Consciousness. It was written by Tam Hunt, affiliate guests in psychology at UC Santa Barbara, and he spent about 20 years developing this theory with his partner psychology professor Jonathan Schooler. The ‘resonance’ in GRT refers to synchronous vibrations and collections of matter that allow them to organize themselves into complex minds.
It basically says that all matter at the smallest scales vibrates – and we know this is true actually due to quantum field theory, which argues that all matter are just vibrations and quantum fields. GRT argues that if matter is arranged properly, it can sync up so that that proto consciousness can kind of become the subjective consciousness that you and I experience. Without this structure it can’t fall into synchrony, so it never really evolves beyond that proto consciousness level.
So resonance kind of answers the easy part of the mind problem, the easy part of the hard problem. Synchronized vibrations happen in nature all the time. The pacemaker cells in our heart are a good example of this and constructive interference and the ocean waves is another.
We see synchrony in those brain waves that I mentioned earlier. Gamma waves, for example, are related to focus and concentration and memory storage. And the reason that synchrony can occur in us and not say rocks is because we have biophysical pathways that we’ve leveraged to make that flow of information easier and more available. Kind of like the way, a bunch of random beeps doesn’t really convey information, but Morse code does. Or you can say it’s like light coming out of a laser as opposed to a light bulb because that’S basically, what a laser is, it’s photons that have been synchronized together. And this may be why we’ve only seen complex consciousness, and you know biological organisms with big, complex brains. Of course, that could change. Well, we haven’t seen anything that resembles consciousness and AI believes that this is a field that’s going to grow exponentially in the near future.
Now, wht is possible if there are other kinds of consciousness, is that we just aren’t aware of that we can’t perceive ourselves. Like the Sun, for example. It actually produces pulses of electromagnetism that can fall into synchrony, at Least in models, so I mean: is the Sun conscious, sort of, kind of?
To be clear, General Resonance Theory does not say that the Sun is conscious. It’s, just sort of a thought experiment to show that there are different levels of consciousness out there. It’s sort of like a Russian nesting doll where inside every synced consciousness. There’s, a bit of a proto consciousness and below that there might be another rudimentary consciousness and below that all the way down to you know the vibrations and quantum fields.
To borrow a phrase from the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead,
The Many become one, and are increased by one
Another way to play it is that consciousness is greater than the sum of its parts.
You put all those nested consciousnesses together and it doesn’t. You know go down, it ticks up. In each level of consciousness continues to exist, both as its own individual level of consciousness and as part of the bigger grander consciousness.
Now there are other theories that assume that lower level consciousness exists, but they argue that once that dominant consciousness takes hold, the others go extinct. That’s not the case in GRT and GRT the lower level parts continue to exist inside the Synced mind and once that mind is dissolved, they may continue.
In an unpublished paper the authors write that:
resonance can be achieved momentarily, resulting in a flicker of shared consciousness, and then disappear in the next moment.
They go on to describe,
the ability to create relatively stable structures that allow for a persistent type of consciousness
as a defining feature of biological life.
We can go from a wake to a sleep, exchanging gamma rays for Delta waves and still maintain that continuity of consciousness, thanks to our memories and whatnot. Nested consciousnesses, are not always the same mini and they don’t, always create the same one. People grow and change, they eat and excrete. It’s like ‘The Ship of Theseus’ thought experiment where you have to ask how much of something can be replaced before it’s not itself anymore.
It’s like one thing that kind of helps me to deal with pain and trauma from my past is the fact that all of our cells, or almost all of our cells get replaced every seven to ten years. So if this thing that I’m so hung up on took place further back the net, then I mean technically that happened to somebody else.
One of the core tenants of GRT. Is that because information is always flowing through resonance, it can actually flow up and down across all the levels. As Tam Hunt said in an interview:
Consciousness is like weaving fabric with disappearing thread. If you weave just one or two or a few threads in your loom, then they disappear pretty quickly, but if you actually have a constant process of weaving back and forth, you can maintain a standing wave, a fabric of consciousness.
The idea of layered consciousness is kind of hard to wrap your head around, but at the same time it kind of makes sense. I mean something is true of me is that if I’m alone, I’m talking to myself. So it’s Just, there’s always a debate in my head over every single idea that I have. Like shifting around and arguing both sides. And if I do have some kind of major epiphany. I’m sure many of you have experienced this. It kind of feels like it just came from somewhere else. That somewhere else might be a deeper level of consciousness.
It probably helps to understand this theory. If you’re already, a panpsychist which I’m, not necessarily, neither is Jonathan Schooler, but he still likes this theory enough that he’s worked with Tam on this over the years.
Now one of the criticisms of GRT is that some people have said that it’s, not falsifiable, which means that there’s, not any experiments that you can run that can prove it wrong. Which is kind of necessary for something to be called science and not pseudoscience.
But to be fair, this is true of every theory of consciousness. Because there’s no way to directly observe another person’s subjective experience. Although, there might be a loophole for GRT.
Tam and Jonathan are working on a couple of new papers which they were kind enough to share with us, which create a bit of a framework for tests in the near future.
Because the idea that it depends on information flow that dominant level of consciousness can only travel as fast as the flow of information in that medium that it’s being held in.
In other words, you can’t have a dominant consciousness, whose nested consciousnesses are traveling at different speeds because then they wouldn’t be synched. But if we could create an AI that uses resonance as its organizing principle, then we should be able to test this. And some neural networks that use a type of resonance actually do already exist.
Another option for testing in the not-too-distant future is neurallink. The ability to actually get down there in the brain and read things at a cellular level should open up vast new amounts of information that we can use to test this.
The bottom line is this is an idea that’s still in its infancy and as technology progresses, we’re going to find more and more ways to test and develop new ideas around the mind-body problem. whether it’s panpsychism or resonance theory, or something way more boring. Every day, we’re inching just a little bit closer to discovering ourselves.