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1/19/10

Ants, Epiphenomalism, & Collective Intelligence


Is human consciousness an epiphenomenon? That is, does it evolve out of the physical, of which matter is the primary phenomenon? If so, it is an emergent property. To be sure, the brain can cause ideas, but ideas cannot cause a brain. Belief in epiphenomenism leads to disbelief in free will, for ideas cannot affect matter. You and I, our thoughts, our beliefs, our volition, are caused by the physical. In other words, you ain't nothin' but a hunk of dust.

Here is a different approach to the same question:

"Put a hundred army ants on a flat surface and they will walk around in never decreasing circles until they die from exhaustion. But a colony of a million army ants is a sophisticated 'super-organism.' The colony carries out its legendary raids and can even keep nest temperatures constant to within a degree. An army ant colony seems endowed with an intelligence far beyond that of any individual ant. N.R.Franks speculates thus:

'It seems that intelligence, natural or artificial, is an emergent property of collective communication. Human consciousness itself may be an epiphenomenon of extraordinary processing power. Although experts prefer to avoid simplistic definitions of intelligence, it seems clear that all intelligence involves the rational manipulation of symbolic information. This is exactly what happens when army ants pass information from individual to individual through the 'writing' and 'reading' of symbols, often in the form of chemical messengers or trail pheromones, which act as stimuli for changing behavior patterns.' " More

On the other hand, Stuart Hameroff has an argument against consciousness as an epiphenomenon: “. . . evidence suggests backwards time effects occur in the brain. Quantum entanglement apparently depends on seemingly backward time effects which, as unconscious quantum information, can potentially rescue consciousness from the unfortunate position of illusory epiphenomenon.” (Found here.) For a quicker read of Hameroff and Roger Penrose, in which consciousness is not characterized "as epiphenomenon, but as [an] intrinsic component of the universe" click on this. Also find Hameroff in the left sidebar of Mind Shadows.

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