A Relativistic Theory of Consciousness

This arrived in my newsfeed this morning:

I haven’t actually read the full article yet. But it looks quite interesting and I know that some of you here are also interested in this sort of stuff.

Here’s a quote from the start of the paper:

There is an “explanatory gap” between our scientific knowledge of functional consciousness and its “subjective,” phenomenal aspects, referred to as the “hard problem” of consciousness. The phenomenal aspect of consciousness is the first-person answer to “what it’s like” question, and it has thus far proved recalcitrant to direct scientific investigation. Naturalistic dualists argue that it is composed of a primitive, private, non-reductive element of reality that is independent from the functional and physical aspects of consciousness. Illusionists, on the other hand, argue that it is merely a cognitive illusion, and that all that exists are ultimately physical, non-phenomenal properties. We contend that both the dualist and illusionist positions are flawed because they tacitly assume consciousness to be an absolute property that doesn’t depend on the observer. We develop a conceptual and a mathematical argument for a relativistic theory of consciousness in which a system either has or doesn’t have phenomenal consciousness with respect to some observer. Phenomenal consciousness is neither private nor delusional, just relativistic.


I made it as far as the math, sorry? But it seems interesting. The basic idea is that consciousness is like a frame of reference as per Einstein’s relativity theory.

The interesting outcome is that there is no theoretical obstacle to inverting perspectives and seeing from another framework (as we can do in relativity theory.) This implies that the assumed “privacy” of consciousness is a practical rather than theoretical limitation. In principle, it may be possible to directly experience another’s consciousness; this is basically an engineering problem. Or, speculatively, the same approach might help explain telepathy.


Just reading the start of the introduction (the only thing I have enough brain juice for after work), it seems modern philosophy could be helped by the five-khanda framework to make sense of what first-person experience consists of?

E.g., the experience of redness, it has a form (shape/appearance), it has a vedana (depending perhaps on whether it’s your favorite color or not), it is perceived (‘redness’ can be discriminated from other non-redness experiences) and there is also the aspect of just knowing (consciousness) that redness is being perceived.

What would be mental formation (sankhara) here? Perhaps deciding whether you like or dislike the experience? Remembering past experiences of redness? The concept or ‘idea of’ redness? Abstraction?

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Yet, despite critical development in our understanding of the functional side of consciousness, we still lack a fundamental theory regarding its phenomenal aspect.

Oh goodness. Just looking at this one sentence I am saying to myself, “remember, in the story of the carrot and the stick, you are the donkey.” Sorry, that is obscure. I am used to sitting around like a good little, well-trained girl, dredging up anything in response to a “thought problem.” As I always say to my daughter, return to your fundamentals, fall back on your fundamentals, that’s what they’re there for. So let me parse a couple of terms - “functional side” “phenomenal aspect” - of consciousness “with respect to some observer.” It seems to me that he’s saying consciousness without mental content (intentionality - what it’s like) is possible.
So, maybe drop this down to a single cell organism that is imbricated in an affective relation with its environment. There is definitely well developed theory in this area, you just have to read the particular philosopher’s nasty books. “We are” is what he calls it. He gives it content. And he defines “this consciousness” as feminine.

That’s one twig I can offer.

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I like to compare consciousness with a computer. Our consciousness is like RAM. While the subconsciousness is a hard drive. In mindfulness you need to load only the important things into your RAM to attain jhana. I recently also read the first book of Sherlock Holmes, A Study In Scarlet. Holmes explained that the consciousness is like an attic, its walls aren’t elastic so it has finite storage capacity. Just like the RAM, it’s considerably more expensive than a hard drive. While IQ is the processing power.