It appears that we are approaching a unique time in the history of man and science where empirical measures and deductive reasoning can actually inform us spiritually. Integrated Information Theory (IIT)–put forth by neuroscientists Giulio Tononi and Christof Koch–is a new framework that describes a way to experimentally measure the extent to which a system is conscious.
As such, it has the potential to answer questions that once seemed impossible, like “which is more conscious, a bat or a beetle?” Furthermore, the theory posits that any system that processes and integrates information, be it organic or inorganic, experiences the world subjectively to some degree. Plants, smartphones, the Internet–even protons–are all examples of such systems. The result is a cosmos composed of a sentient fabric. But before getting into the bizarreness of all that, let’s talk a little about how we got to this point.
The decline and demise of the mystical
As more of the natural world is described objectively and empirically, belief in the existence of anything that defies current scientific explanation is fading at a faster rate than ever before. The majority of college-educated individuals no longer accept the supernatural and magical accounts of physical processes given by religious holy books. Nor do they believe in the actuality of mystical realms beyond life that offer eternal bliss or infinite punishment for the “souls” of righteous or evil men.
This is because modern science has achieved impeccable performance when it comes to explaining phenomena previously thought to be unexplainable. In this day and age, we have complete scientific descriptions of virtually everything. We understand what gives rise to vacuous black holes and their spacetime geometries. We know how new species of life can evolve and the statistical rules that govern such processes. We even have a pretty good understanding of the exact moment in which the universe, and thus of all reality, came into existence! But no serious and informed scientist will tell you that at present we fully understand the thing each of us knows best. That is, our own consciousness.
One of science’s last greatest mysteries
Although we’ve come along way since the time of Descartes, who postulated that consciousness was actually some immaterial spirit not subject to physical law, we still don’t have a complete and satisfactory account of the science underlying experience. We simply don’t know how to quantify it. And if we can’t do that, how do we know whether those non-human life forms that are unable to communicate with us are also conscious? Does it feel like anything to be a cat? Most will probably agree that it does, but how about a ladybug? If so, how can we know which life forms are more conscious than others? Do animals that show impressively intelligent behavior and elaborate memory, like dolphins or crows, experience the world in a unified conscious fashion as we do? These questions are almost impossible to answer without a way to measure consciousness. Fortunately, a neuroscientific theory that has been gaining popular acceptance aims to do just that.
Integrated Information Theory to the Rescue
Integrated Information Theory (IIT), which has become quite a hot topic in contemporary neuroscience, claims to provide a precise way to measure consciousness and express the phenomenon in purely mathematical terms. The theory was put forth by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tononi, and has attracted some highly regarded names in the science community. One such name is Christof Koch, Chief Scientific Officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, who now champions the idea along with Tononi. Koch may be best-known for bringing consciousness research into the mainstream of neuroscience through his long-term collaboration with the late DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick. Now Tononi and Koch are actively researching the theory along with an increasing number of scientists, some from outside the field of neuroscience like esteemed physicist and popular author Max Tegmark, who is joining the ranks of those who believe they’ve figured out how to reduce one of science’s greatest secrets to numbers. Bits of information to be exact.
BB-8 had a mission. Never in its short operation span had the droid ever focused such a high percentage of internal resources to solving a single task, but now was the time to compile the data and implement its new subroutine:
The mimicry of human body language.
Less than a dozen bio-organisms on base could understand 27th generation Droidspeak. Any viewscreen with a data port could display BB-8’s conversation in text, but lacked nuance. Any droid with a high-tech vocabulator could translate, but none were available for its ‘ridiculous nonsense’, as the General’s cantankerous protocol droid put it. Nor could they keep up with the new model astromech’s fast-rolling design.
So BB-8 had decided to establish communications without assistance. Poe understood at least the general essence of the droid’s language. Poe was not the problem. The problem was Finn.
Geordi, who is an expert in android medicine, healing Data from a ship-wide virus.
Data, who schedules violin practice at times Geordi is off.
Geordi, who stops by every Gamma shift to relax in the chair beside Data. They chat.
Data, who describes the constellations they pass after Geordi has taken off his visor for the night
Geordi, who designs holodeck programs to complement their dates.
Data, who will always hug Geordi when he looks like he ‘needs it.’ And who will take his hand on long walks to and from the bridge, just to feel the pulse in his wrist and the unique texture of each fingerprint.
Both of them, painting the other from memory.
Both of them, watching over Wesley and offering him whatever advice he seems to need.
Both of them in adjoining cabins, with Geordi scooting his bed into the annex that connects them. Data’s paintings are on every wall.
Both of them, devoting so much of their time and talent to the other.
The philosophy of organism is the inversion of Kant’s philosophy. The Critique of Pure Reason describes the process by which subjective data pass into the appearance of an objective world. The philosophy of organism seeks to describe how objective data pass into subjective satisfaction, and how order in the objective data provides intensity in the subjective satisfaction. For Kant, the world emerges from the subject; for the philosophy of organism, the subject emerges from the world— a ‘superject’ rather than a ‘subject.’ The word ‘object’ thus means an entity which is a potentiality for being a component in feeling; and the word ‘subject’ means the entity constituted by the process of feeling, and including this process. The feeler is the unity emergent from its own feelings; and feelings are the details of the process intermediary between this unity and its many data. The data are the potentials for feeling; that is to say, they are objects. The process is the elimination of indeterminateness of feeling from the unity of one subjective experience.