So far, scientists have no clue what causes consciousness: that ‘little person’ inside your brain ‘telling’ you who you are, what you’re doing, and where everything else is. Mainstream science claims it’s the unavoidable consequence of the complexity of the brain. But is it? From our experience, do complex computers or robots become conscious? Absolutely not! So, what is the source of our consciousness? This article tries to answer this question.
Let me first distinguish between the brain and the mind. The brain consists of the physical cells at the top of our head—the machine or computer—the hardware. The mind is the operating system—the computer program that runs the brain—the software. By itself, a computer is ‘dead’; it doesn’t do anything: it just sits there without an executable program. The program alone (when on a separate disk) doesn’t do anything either: it needs a medium (a computer) to be able to express itself, and they must be compatible. The brain and the mind complement each other and are practically inseparable.
Note: If a different type of computer is used, the executable program must also be changed in order to perform the same function: it must be reformatted and recompiled to the new machine language to be able to communicate with the new computer; the BIOS (Basic Input-Output System) of this new computer would also be different from that of the original computer. All this is termed compatibility.
The brain gets its information from the surroundings as well as from the five senses in our body; the mind makes its calculations and comes up with a decision. Likewise, therefore, we can distinguish between body and soul: the body is the hardware while the soul is the software.
Now, if you ask someone, “Are computers smarter than humans?” You’ll probably get an answer like, “No, because it’s people who design computers: computers are actually stupid.” If we think a little about this last word, “stupid,” I think it needs some explanation. It’s not so clear-cut. If a student learns from a teacher, isn’t it possible for the student to become smarter than the teacher?
I have a bachelor of science degree in mathematics, so most people would probably rate me in the top-ten-percentile (10%) of humanity in general regarding mathematical ability. Yet, a $10 pocket calculator will outrun me, hands down, in making any mathematical calculation—simple or complex. So, how good must a calculator or computer be for us to stop calling it stupid? We probably wouldn’t even call a human with a mathematical ability in the lowest ten-percentile stupid. What’s so special about us? Is it just human pride?
No, it isn’t just human pride. What every one of us has that computers don’t have, no matter how sophisticated they might be, is consciousness or self-awareness: that ‘little person’ inside your brain ‘telling’ you who you are, what you’re doing, and where everything else is.
In his “Chinese Room” thought experiment, philosopher John Searle contends that computers cannot know what they are doing. Wikipedia explains Searle’s argument as follows:
“Searle’s thought experiment begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input [questions] and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output [answers]. Suppose, says Searle, that this computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: [that is,] it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that they are talking to another Chinese-speaking human being. The question Searle wants to answer is this: does the machine literally ‘understand’ Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese? … Searle then supposes that he is in a closed room and has a book with an English version of the computer program [instructions], along with sufficient papers, pencils, erasers, and filing cabinets. Searle could receive Chinese characters through a slot in the door, process them according to the program’s instructions, and produce Chinese characters as output, without understanding any of the content of the Chinese writing. If the computer had passed the Turing test this way, it follows, says Searle, that he would do so as well, simply by running the program manually. … However, Searle himself would not be able to understand the conversation. (‘I don’t speak a word of Chinese,’ he points out.) Therefore, he argues, it follows that the computer would not be able to understand the conversation either.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room (accessed June 13, 2022).
Computers make decisions strictly on syntax: that is, the exact position of information in a command string. A computer might do fast complex calculations, but it doesn’t really know what it is doing: it follows instructions mechanically; its programmer, however, knows exactly what is going on.
If you think about it, therefore, consciousness is only a property living ‘things’—animals, rather. So far, no man-made computer or robot has ever become conscious: no matter how complex it might have been. Mainstream scientists, however, challenge the concept that we can never make computers conscious: they contend that computers spontaneously develop consciousness at some critical point of complexity. Searle disagrees with them.
Indeed, consciousness seems to be independent of the complexity of the brain since a person with a 10% brain could still be self-conscious: https://www.sciencealert.com/a-man-who-lives-without-90-of-his-brain-is-challenging-our-understanding-of-consciousness (accessed June 13, 2022). One must admit that this case throws a monkey wrench into the cogwheels of mainstream science: namely, that complexity creates consciousness.
God or No God?
Now, what is the difference between a living person and one who just died of a heart-attack? Physically and chemically, the corpse of a person who has just died is practically the same as when it was still alive; yet there is some irreversible damage: it lost its principle of life—the soul—the software. Without software (much like a program-less computer), the body alone becomes useless. And this is where things become tricky: depending, to a great extent, on what one believes regarding the origin of life, the supernatural, and the afterlife.
I fully agree with self-declared atheist Richard Dawkins that whether God exists or not is ultimately a scientific question (The God Delusion, p. 70). Does God occasionally come into the picture or not? For example, we now know that life only comes from other life. Did inanimate matter become alive spontaneously, or did God coax the first life to emerge? Likewise, did God create the universe, or did the universe just happen?
In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins claims that the first life evolved through chance combined with natural selection (or survival of the fittest); he writes,
“No indeed, chance is not the likely designer. That is one thing on which we can all agree. The statistical improbability of phenomena … is the central problem that any theory of life must solve. … But the candidate solutions to the riddle of improbability are not, as is falsely implied, design and chance. They are design and natural selection. Chance is not a solution, given the high levels of improbability we see in living organisms, and no sane biologist ever suggested that it was.” (p. 145)
In this conclusion, however, he assumes that initially a rough-and-ready replicator happened to emerge by chance alone. In his book The Selfish Gene, he writes,
“At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator.” (p. 15)
Notice the phrase “by accident.” Of course, natural selection can only kick in after replication is established. But I think that this is only the wishful thinking of an atheist: he offers no specific viable chemical mechanism of how this might have happened.
The problem I have with his argument is that when it comes to inanimate matter, contrary to living organisms, according to the second law of thermodynamics, things tend to get worse, not better: entropy (or disorder) increases. So before these replicators have enough time to evolve into better replicators, they are prone to encounter what is termed an error catastrophe, become unable to reproduce and/or cease to exist.
The living cell is similar to a complex factory involving several ‘catch-22’ situations where certain complex molecules need to be present together simultaneously for it to be able to work, let alone reproduce. In his book The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins writes,
“The ‘Catch-22’ of the origin of life is this. DNA can replicate, but it needs enzymes [protein-based biological catalysts] in order to catalyze [aid] the process. Proteins can catalyze DNA formation, but they need DNA to specify the correct sequence of amino acids. How could molecules of the early Earth break out of this bind and allow natural selection to get started? Enter RNA.” (p. 420)
I think this is too much to ask of random mutation coupled with undirected, Darwinian evolution. In his book Signature in the Cell, science philosopher Stephen C. Meyer writes,
“If, on the one hand, [one] invoked natural selection early in the process of chemical evolution (i.e., before functional specificity in amino acids or nucleotide strings had arisen), accurate replication would have been impossible. But in the absence of such replication, differential reproduction cannot proceed and the concept of natural selection is incoherent. On the other hand, if [one] invoked natural selection late in the scenario, he would need to rely on chance alone to produce the sequence specific molecules necessary for accurate self-replication.” (pp. 275–76)
To make a long story short, Meyer calculates the odds against a bacterium (the simplest reproducing) cell happening by chance alone to be 1041000 (i.e., 1 followed by 41,000 zeros) to 1 (p. 213). Ordinary people think that anything can happen in the fourteen-billion-odd years the universe has existed, but this is simply false since time is like atoms, it cannot be divided smaller than the Plank time (~5.4×10-44 sec.) and, therefore, there is only a limited number of possible interactions (trials) between all the particles of the universe to be able to create life.
According to mathematician and philosopher William Dembski’s The Design Inference (p. 209), our universe’s total probabilistic resources are only 10150 (i.e., 1 followed by 150 zeros)—see section below. If the odds against something happening exceed this number, it means that it is, most likely, designed (like writing a book). This is far too low compared with the odds against forming a bacterial cell by chance. In other words, science is practically telling us that it was God who designed life.
I know this sounds like a god-of-the-gaps argument, but if we don’t accept probabilities, chance would become our god, and we wouldn’t need any science: chance would be a ‘theory for everything’ we cannot explain. If we are to decide whether God got into the equation or not, we must treat him like any other scientific hypothesis or phenomenon if the odds are astronomically high in his favor. Scientists usually take 5-sigma (i.e., odds of 3.5 million to 1) to be sufficient proof.
Besides, the fossil record particularly the Cambrian Explosion does not support macroevolution; not to mention the utter failure of laboratory experiments in genetic engineering and evolution to produce novel organisms.
Regarding our universe, the argument in God’s favor is even more compelling; and in this case, there’s no question of Darwinian evolution clouding results obtained from chaos theory. In his book Other Worlds, theoretical physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies states that the odds for a starry universe (rather than a black-hole universe) happening after the big bang, assuming the current laws of physics, are 1:101030; that is, 1 followed by a million trillion trillion (1030) zeros; he writes,
“In the case of the sun, whose disorder is only one hundred-billionth-billionth [10-1020] of the equivalent black hole, the chances against the sun, rather than the [black] hole emerging from a purely random process will be roughly one followed by the same number of zeros! That is one followed by one hundred billion billion zeros , which is pretty improbable by any standards. If the same argument is applied to the entire universe, the odds piling up against a starry cosmos become mindboggling: one followed by a thousand billion billion billion zeros  at least.” (p. 169)
Not to mention the odds against a life-sustaining universe (1010 to 1), given by mathematical physicist Roger Penrose in the coauthored book Quantum Gravity 2.
Even the 10500 (i.e., 1 followed by 500 zeros) universes, assuming the highly questionable multiverse hypothesis, derived from the just-as-controversial string theory is a drop in the ocean compared to the odds against a starry universe, let alone a life-sustaining universe like ours.
In my opinion, therefore, life is a bridge between the natural and the supernatural: a space-permeating field like gravity or magnetism. There is no string in between pulling things to the ground, or a magnet to the refrigerator door.
In his book The Physics of Immortality (pp. 13–14), mathematical physicist and cosmologist Frank Tipler contends there is a space-permeating field that he identifies with the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, in the Nicene Creed, Christians profess/pray, “We believe in the Holy Spirit … the giver of life”: https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=495 (accessed June 13, 2022).
When the body dies, it loses this connection with the divine (the principle of life) and the soul (consciousness) either ceases to exist (which is probably the case with animals & plants) or returns to God, if one believes in an afterlife.
The Human Soul
Consequently, I believe consciousness (and life) is a direct connection with God—a spark of the divine—and is therefore something external to the brain/mind: the latter is only the receiver and processor (transducer) of information, including consciousness as a ‘sixth sense’ or another direct input from God, who Christians believe is always present with us.
Humans might have evolved physically from apes or chimpanzees because our body is so similar to theirs, but our intelligence is astronomically superior to these animals: indeed, far superior to that of any animal, even those with a much larger brain than ours. In my opinion, therefore, this is another indication of God’s intervention to create a special species—us humans including our soul.
So, apparently, God entered the equation at least five times over time: (1) creating the universe, (2) creating the first life, (3) creating many living species/families, (4) furnishing consciousness to animals, and (5) creating the human soul. God does not seem to be an absentee landlord.
Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences
Near-death experiences (NDEs) and out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are evidence of such an entity as consciousness/soul existing external to the body.
In the interest of fairness, certain OBEs can probably be explained scientifically. According to neuroscientist Olaf Blanke, if a certain integrating area of the brain is damaged, or if a small electric current/field is applied to it, the brain introduces a phase difference (un-focus) between the physical body and its normal mental perception of the body. Consequently, the mind thinks it’s ‘seeing’ another body external to it. Related phenomena are the phantom limb sensation, and the rubber hand illusion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daUnVir0qUE&ab_channel=Science%26Cocktails (accessed June 13, 2022). This might explain local OBE’s but not roaming OBEs, of course. Neither does the damaged brain hypothesis hold much water explaining the astronomically heightened self-awareness usually experienced by Near-Death Experiencers (NDErs), not to mention their spiritual or supernatural experiences.
However, there’s some evidence that, before they die, rats show an electroencephalogram (EEG) spike: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/the-science-of-near-death-experiences/386231/ (accessed June 13, 2022), whatever this might turn out to mean. Of course, it might be just an assumption (wishful thinking) by scientists trying to explain NDEs; unfortunately, I doubt whether rats will be able to tell us what they experience prior to their flat-lining.
Now, if one doesn’t believe in God, the following CIA report might offer some insight. Using the right lobe of the brain, the mind creates a hologram of the universe: it attunes itself to the energy fields (some static & some dynamic) of the universe. Using the left lobe of the brain, it creates another hologram of the individual’s memory, compares the two holograms, and comes up with a beat signal of ‘reality’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXfzxo4rumE&ab_channel=BrianScott (accessed June 13, 2022). According to this report, this gives the impression of consciousness. Our mind does a job similar to our senses; for example, the eyes block all electromagnetic frequencies they receive except the visible spectrum, that is, 4×1014–8×1014 Hz.
There’s something more fundamental than classical physics in nature, and that’s quantum physics. The Double Slit Experiment, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB_2Qd5xNvE (accessed June 13, 2022), shows that reality ‘crystalizes’ only after observation. In a way, therefore, our thoughts create reality, thus enabling us to exercise free will. Apparently, therefore, information ‘subtends’ all of science.
In his book The Universe in a Nutshell, mathematician and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking writes,
“We cannot even suppose that [a] particle has a position and velocity known to God but are hidden from us. … Even God is bound by the [Heisenberg] uncertainty principle and cannot know the position and velocity; He can only know the wave function.” (p. 107)
This uncertainty or indeterminacy is what ‘topples’ Newtonian determinism in our universe: it’s what allows us to have free will and do whatever we like. I hate to say it, but I think that God doesn’t really know our future. Were he to know our future, we would be predestined, and no matter what we try to do to change things (live better or worse), whatever he ‘foresees’ about us will simply transpire. Were this to be the case, we wouldn’t really have any free will, right?
I think we’re probably missing a basic scientific breakthrough (the likes of E=mc2) that is undermining our ability to explain consciousness: for example, we didn’t know anything about software a hundred years ago. However, consciousness doesn’t seem to be solely generated in the brain/mind: it seems to be something external to the body as well, like gravitational or magnetic attraction between any two bodies. There is no string attached between a body and the earth pulling it down, but the attracting field permeates all of space; likewise with magnetic attraction. That is, unless one believes in a supernatural connection, which probability seems to suggest.
This extension is for the benefit of those readers who are not mathematically inclined to enable them to understand better the full implications of the above article.
Imagine a thief trying to open a combination safe with 3 registers of 10 digits each: 0 to 9. Imagine also, that for better security, the opening combination is changed by the bank manager every evening before going home.
There are 1,000 ways of programming the opening combination: 000, 001, 002 … 997, 998, and 999. The odds of the thief opening the safe the first time is 1,000 to 1 against him: not much of a chance. However, if he has all night, it’s a different story. If he tries two combinations, the odds against him are halved: that is, 500 (=1,000/2) to 1 against; if he tries ten combinations the odds against him are reduced ten times: becoming 100 (=1,000/10) to 1 against. So the new odds are obtained by dividing the original odds by the number of attempts. He can start systematically from 000 through 999 and open the safe. (Chance doesn’t quite work that way, however: he might get some repetitions if he tries random numbers.) Once he gets over 500 trials (half way), common sense (and science) says the odds turn in his favor.
Now, suppose the thief can try a combination in one minute; so, he can try to open the safe 60 times in an hour. Let’s say the night cleaner leaves at 10pm, and people start coming in at 6am; so that gives him 8 hours to open the safe. If it’s the weekend, it will give him 56 (=24+24+8) hours.
In 8 hours he has the opportunity of trying 480 (=8×60) times. He figures this is too close to half, so he decides to leave it for the weekend. In 56 hours he can try to open the safe 3,360 (=56×60) times: the odds are therefore 3.36 (=3,360/1,000) to 1 in his favor. That gives him ample opportunity to open the safe, so he opts to use the weekend.
The number 3,360 is termed his total probabilistic resources (assuming there are no long weekends); the number 480 is also a probabilistic resource, but it’s not the total probabilistic resources.
Now, If he could try a combination in 10 seconds, say, that is, he can try 6 combinations in one minute: then that will give him 360 (=60×6) opportunities per hour; and in 8 hours he will have 2,880 (=8×360) opportunities—which should do the job. If he uses the weekend, he would have 20,160 (=56×360) opportunities. Notice, therefore, that the total probabilistic resources depend on the time it takes to perform an operation: 1 minute as opposed to 10 seconds, in this case.
Let us now suppose the safe has 10 registers instead of 3. The odds against a thief opening it the first time is 10,000,000,000 (10 billion) to 1. Recall that when we had 3 registers, the odds against his getting it right the first time was 1,000 (= 103, i.e., 1 followed by 3 zeros) to 1. Now that we have 10 registers, we shall have 10 zeros after the 1 (i.e., 10,000,000,000 = 1010) to 1. (103 means ’10 to the power of 3,’ or 10 multiplied by itself three times; similarly, 1010 means ‘10 to the power of 10’ or 10 multiplied by itself 10 times.)
So (in this ten-register scenario), he needs at least 5,000,000,000 (5 billion) tries to have a decent chance of opening the safe. But his TOTAL probabilistic resources (at 10 seconds a trial and over the weekend) is only 20,160 (=56×360), which is far from half way (i.e., 5 billion).
In this case, the odds of his opening the safe are the original odds against him, 10,000,000,000, divided by total probabilistic resources, 20,160, which turns out to be about 496,032 to 1 (almost half a million to 1) against him. Imagine trying to pick a white marble out of half a million black marbles (blindfolded): those are his new chances of success. So he decides to stay home with his family instead.
Trying to pick a white marble among 9 black marbles (blindfolded) is quite a feat: the odds against are only 10 to 1. Trying to pick a white marble among 99 or 999 black marbles (blindfolded), you might as well give up: yet, the odds against are still only 100 to 1, and 1,000 to 1, respectively. Notice that every time a single zero is added the odds get ten times worse.
A billion is a thousand millions (=109). You need about 5 large pools (40ft x 20ft x 6ft) to fit a billion 1 cm diameter marbles. Picking a white marble among a billion black marbles (blindfolded) is nothing short of a ‘miracle’; yet a billion has only 9 zeros (1,000,000,000 = 109). A trillion is a million millions = 1012 (i.e., 1 followed by 12 zeros), and a trillion trillions is 1024 (i.e., 1 followed by 24 zeros).
Universe’s Total Probabilistic Resources
Now, physics says we cannot keep halving time indefinitely: time is not a continuum; it’s like the atoms in matter—there comes a point where you cannot split it smaller any more. Reality is like ‘slides’ of an old movie, and things happen (change) only within these slides. The time between these slides is termed the Plank time, which is about 5.4×10-44 (i.e., 5.4 divided by 1044) of a second. This means we get about 1.9×1043 such slides in one second.
The age of the universe is about 13.8 billion years, which comes to about 4.4×1016 seconds.
The total number of elementary particles in the universe is estimated around 1080.
So the total number of opportunities (the total probabilistic resources) the universe had to produce life is equal to (its total number of particles) x (the total number of seconds it has existed) x (the number of Planck ‘slides’ per second) = (1080) x (4.4×1016) x (1.9×1043) = 8.4×10139 ~ 10140 (simply add the powers, i.e., the small superscripts: 80+16+43 = 139).
Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski then takes a safety margin of 10 billion (1010), so that if the odds against something existing spontaneously exceeds 10150 it is most probably ‘designed’ by an intelligent agent—like a written book, for example. Notice that this number only takes one and a half (1.5) lines of zeros if 100 zeros (with no commas in between) fit in a line.
Odds against Life’s Emergence
As mentioned above, through chemical analysis, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer calculates the odds against the simplest reproducing cell (a bacterial cell) arising spontaneously by chance alone to be 1041000 (i.e., 1 followed by 41,000 zeros) to 1.
If we divide this by the universe’s total probabilistic resources we get: 1041000 divided by 10150, which equals 1040850 (simply subtract powers, i.e., 41,000-150 = 40,850). This means that the odds against life happening in the fourteen-billion-odd years the universe has existed is 1040850 (1 followed by 40,850 zeros) to 1. So, far from everything can happen in fourteen-billion-odd years.
Recall that a billion has only 9 zeros; this number has 40,850 zeros—it’s humungous. Also remember that every time you increase just one zero, the odds worsen 10 times: so 10 zeros mean 10 billion. A number with 40,850 zeros is unimaginable to the human mind: the zeros would take more than 408 lines (i.e., more than 8 pages with 100 zeros per line, with no commas in between, and 50 lines per page) to write fully.
Odds against a Starry Universe
As if this were not bad enough, when it comes to the existence of our universe, the odds are even more mind-bogglingly in God’s favor.
As mentioned above, from chaos theory, it’s possible to calculate the odds against forming a universe containing stars (rather than only black holes) after the big bang. Chemical elements larger than hydrogen and helium such as carbon (the basis of life) and oxygen (which we breathe) are only formed in stars. So for any life form to spring to existence, stars are indispensable. According to theoretical physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies this turns out to be 101030 (i.e., 1 followed by a million trillion trillion zeros) to 1. Dividing this number by the universe’s total probability resources (i.e., 10150) doesn’t even budge this number (subtracting 150 zeros from a million trillion trillion zeros doesn’t change it by much). Such a number would take 200 trillion trillion (2×1026) pages consisting of 50 lines and every line containing 100 zeros (with no commas in between) to write fully. Not to mention that our universe is not only a starry universe, but a life-sustaining universe as well: many species live in it.
Finally, I think the reader will now realize how small the number of other alleged universes in the questionable multiverse (10500, i.e., 1 followed by 500 zeros) is compared to these astronomical odds: it only takes 5 lines of 100 zeros per line to write fully—compared to trillions upon trillions of pages.
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