What is it like to be a quark

ConsciousnessPat Lewtas

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 20 No. 9-10, pp. 39-64

Lewtas argues that a theory of panpsychism has to make sense of the bottom level of experience, and it also has to explain how this bottom-level experience relates to higher levels such as human consciousness. The bottom-level experience is seen as being an internal aspect of a bottom-level physical object, and not as can be argued with humans, a response to external entities or signals. In this paper, quarks are used as a name of convenience for a bottom-level object, and there is no attempt to relate this to the actual physics of quarks and other quanta.

In panpsychism, consciousness is viewed as a property of physical objects. Consciousness is not capable of being reduced to anything non-conscious, but the higher-level consciousness of humans can be reduced to the bottom-level consciousness of quarks. Panpsychism thus denies the possibility of the currently fashionable radical emergentism, according to which consciousness can emerge from non-conscious matter. Panpsychism does not tolerate the discontinuity seen in radical emergentism according to which something emerges without depending on, or relating to, any of the physical properties of the thing it emerges from.

Higher-level experiences are built up from basic experiences, and can arise in more complex physical objects such as brains. It is suggested that only some complex objects have higher-level experience, as a consequence of the way in which they are constructed. So brains have higher-level consciousness, but rocks and furniture may lack it.

Lewtas rejects Russell’s type of panpsychism, in which consciousness drives the physical characteristics of non-conscious matter. The idea of the non-conscious arising from the conscious is viewed as a form of radical emergentism working in the opposite direction. In general, the higher-level properties of composite objects are seen as deriving from the lower-level properties of basic physical building blocks such as quarks and electrons.

The assumption of basic-level consciousness in quarks is justified as a means of explaining higher-level human consciousness, without requiring the magic-type discontinuity seen in radical emergentism. The structure of a non-basic object is seen to determine whether and what sort of higher-level consciousness is produced. The basic-level objects such as quarks lack component parts, structures or internal processes, and can be understand as mathematical points. Despite this, a basic-level object can have a variety of properties, as with electrons that have mass, charge and spin, despite having no components or structure. It is suggested that consciousness could be another such property, and this does not conflict with the ultimate simplicity of the particle’s structure.

The simplicity of the structure of quarks and electrons is suggested to determine the simplicity of their experience. The quark, in contrast to the brain, has no mechanism for processing external signals, so consciousness must be purely internal. It is also suggested to be a continous state, just as the mass and charge of an electron are continous and unchanging states. This is seen as being the nature of the basic level. If the mass and charge were variable, they would also have to be more complex in order to implement these variations.

Although quarks do not absorb signals from external entities, it is suggested that they could have more than one type of internal experience, just as they are already known to have a multiple of other properties. These experiences are not seen as representing or correlating to anything external to the quark. However, it is suggested that a combination of these experiences could produce higher-level human-type experiences, with more complex brains producing richer experiences.

Lewtas argues that panpsychism is the only rational approach to consciousness possible within our understanding of physics. Other theories tend to rely on radical emergentism, which is viewed as involving an explanatory gap or physical discontinuity, in allowing consciousness to arise from matter that has itself no property of consciousness.

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