In the search of a definition for that nagging entity inside our heads, it's comforting to know that the problem can be attacked by an old veteran in the difficult problem trade - Physics. Is your ability to think some sort of magical ability or a physical process? Well, I think it can be shown that your reaction to stimulus and the storage of memory is pretty well documented as a biological process. But what of our ability to realize our existence, and our perception of our reality? Some theories attribute this to a biological form of Bose-Einstein condensation. Walker uses a nice proof to tackle the question of the physical nature of our consciousness.

(1) The science of physics defines for us what is meant by the term physical reality.

(2) Physics is based on data from physical measurements.

(3) Anything that cannot be physically measured is treated in physics as not having physical reality. Note in this regard that the major advances of 20th century physics -relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics, and quantum thermodynamics, have all come from recognizing this subtle limitation that exists on the nature of physical measurement and physical reality.

(4) Therefore, if it is not possible to physically measure something, then it either does not exist, or we must treat it as being nonphysical.

(5) There exists something that, under certain circumstances, we experience and call pain (quite apart from any theory of consciousness, this is our basic datum).

(6) It is impossible to carry out any physical measurement to determine the answer to the meaningful (albeit facetious) question: Does an ice cube feel pain when it melts? (i.e., does any given physical system have an associated conscious experience when that system undergoes any specified physical process?)

(7) Therefore, since the conscious experience of feeling pain exists (quite apart from any ability on our part to account for its nature), but cannot be physically measured (although so-called correlates of it can be measured), the consciousness of things like pain must lie outside the domain of physically reality.

As a result of this we can assert the following postulate:

Consciousness is real but nonphysical.

- EVAN HARRIS WALKER (Noetic Journal, 1, 100-107, 1998)

There's another problem with consciousness that I find even more puzzling. Not only do we realize our existence and perceive reality, but also we change (or at least we think we do) the physical world through our decision making. Surely the vast majority of us assume that the actions of our bodies result from our nonphysical consciousness rather than inflexible physical laws. While most of us never question this assumption, it seems to me that an assumption without evidence or counterevidence inherently has only a 50% chance of being accurate. It is quite possible that there is no such thing as free will, and no experiment has suggested that there is.

Perhaps what physicists must do is design an experiment that tests whether unexpected phenomena occur in the neurons of conscious organisms. If neurons behave precisely in accordance with the quantum mechanical laws of physics, do we have free will? It is also interesting to ponder whether consciousness is implicitly indicated when we discuss the "measurement" of a system collapsing it into eigenstates.

At any rate, I think the writeup above is too pessimistic. I believe that consciousness can be studied scientifically. Certainly the ties between consciousness and quantum mechanics are suggestive. For now, I feel that consciousness is far and away life's greatest mystery.

I apologize for the lack of facts. I feel that consciousness should be a new area of fact-finding research. Some neurological work has been done in this area, but I am unaware of fundamental science experiments on consciousness.

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