Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Is panpsychism accurate? Modern physics delivers a reality check.

If philosophers don't try to mesh their long-held views with new scientific insights, then we have a problem.

SUSAN SCHNEIDER: Panpsychists claim that all of reality is infused with experience. And what they mean by that is very intriguing. They mean that the lowest level, the fundamental particles or the strings, whatever it is that's the fundamental ingredient of reality actually has the felt quality of experience in it. And the reason that we humans and other sophisticated biological systems are conscious is that we're configured in very sophisticated ways based on relations between these fundamental experiential ingredients. Now I'm critical of this. I'll tell you why. Some people would say that it's a funny view.

But I don't think it is a funny view that there's something intrinsically wrong with the position. After all, there have been religious traditions, like Buddhism, that have held this position for years. But my problem is how it meshes with today's work in fundamental physics. So right now, there is a terrible contradiction between relativity theory on the one hand and quantum mechanics on the other. There is an issue about, essentially, how to relate the big elements of reality to the fundamental small ingredients at the quantum level. And these solutions seem to preclude the idea that there would be anything like subjects of experience at the ground level. These ideas often claim that space and time are themselves emergent.

They come from relations between fundamentally non-spatial and non-temporal ingredients. But if reality's fundamental ingredients aren't spatial, I don't understand what the panpsychists mean when they claim that these little elements of reality are subjects of experience. And if time isn't fundamental, which some of these theories claim, then I certainly don't understand how there could be subjects at the fundamental level, because consciousness seems to be inherently a temporal phenomena. It causes events in the mind to happen for one thing. And when we introspect our own conscious activity, we're not static beings. We exist in time. So I think there's a fundamental mystery here.

And I think that there is a view that's like panpsychism, which would be much more friendly to that work on how to reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity theory. That work, by the way, is within an area known as quantum gravity. So I think the possible route to reconciliation here that is still friendly to what the panpsychists say is to think that there may be prototime at the fundamental level. So even if there's nothing like time, and even if there's nothing like space, it would seem friendly to the idea that there's protospace and prototime. And if that's the case, that is quite friendly to a view that's known as panprotopsychism, which is, by definition, a view that says that the fundamental ingredients as they combine give rise to conscious experience, and that those fundamental ingredients are quasimental.

So that might be one way that the panpsychist could modify her view that is more loyal to the actual work in physics right now on quantum gravity. That being said, there are a lot of different theories of quantum gravity. There's a lot of controversy in that domain. String theory, for example, is highly controversial. And string theory, of course, is not the only theory of quantum gravity. Some people claim that time is fundamental. But what I think is important is that philosophers who are making claims about panpsychism actually engage without work and think, "OK, if I'm making claims about what the fundamental ingredients of reality are, could those fundamental ingredients be anything like mental subjects? And could they be anything like experiences?"

Because that's what they're claiming. And if what they're claiming doesn't mesh with physics, that's a problem.

  • According to panpsychists, all of reality is infused with experience. In other words, the fundamental ingredient of reality, they believe, has the felt quality of experience in it.
  • In this view, the reason that we humans are conscious is that we're configured based on these fundamental experiential ingredients.
  • If philosophers don't try to mesh their long-held views with what we're discovering from good science, then we have a problem. For instance, panpsychism may be due for an update: panprotopsychism, a view that says as these fundamental ingredients combine, they give rise to conscious experience and that those fundamental ingredients are "quasimental."

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Keep reading Show less

Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

Keep reading Show less

How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

Keep reading Show less
Quantcast