Thursday, 7 February 2008

Thoughts about stream of consciousness

A stream of consciousness rushed through me, almost out of nowhere and it kept me thinking. It struck me, as I pondered on thoughts unraveled a few hours ago. What impressed me most, it was how easy one thought followed another, effortlessly, without pause. A continuous unbiased flow following, I dare say, a predetermined path.

It brought into my mind, the first time I heard something profound about consciousness, that left me puzzled and astonished. It was at the time, I was pondering about a seat of consciousness and struggling to get in terms with the consciousness concept. A colleague of mine, being overtaken by the event he was describing, a person who he admired, and mentioned this individual's expressive power, designating it as "a stream of consciousness". The analogy struck me as alien. I was grappling and contemplating about the concept of consciousness from a different angle and his approach impressed me, though unfamiliar at the time, but I did not dismiss it. My own exposition the other night, reminded me of his remarks. I felt, I experienced what he described a stream of consciousness, as he described it.

What is the significance of this? How can it be explained? How can it become possible? Is it an illusion? A furtive sensation not worth to grapple upon? But its results stared back at me. A feeling of disbelief. Surely, there must be something here. Can it have a physical explanation? To that effect, I feel the answer might lie in Richard Feynman's retarded and advanced waves. What I came across, for the first time, in John Gribbin's book, "Q is for Quantum. Particle physics from A to Z".

Richard Feynman along with John Archibald Wheeler grappled with the idea of 'action at a distance', the idea that interactions between objects occur instantaneously, regardless of the distance involved. It is referred primarily to gravitational interaction such as between the sun and the earth and it operates without any intervening mechanism. They provided a version of the idea, which was used later on by John Cramer, to build the model of the transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics.

As John Gribbin states in his dictionary under Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory,

"When a charged particle jiggles, it radiates both into the past and into the future. This causes another charged particle to jiggle in the future. The jiggling of that particle sends another wave both into the future and into the past. The two sets of waves cancel out everywhere except in the region between the two charged particles. But because one wave goes forwards in time and the other travels backwards in time, the connection is made instantaneously."

The two sets of waves that a source simultaneously radiates, were called retarded and advanced waves. The retarded waves, sent to the future, are moving outwards from their source and forwards in time, and they arrive somewhere, their destination, at a later time than they set out on their journey. The advanced waves, sent to the past, are moving towards their source and backwards in time, so they arrive to their destination, their source, before they set out on their journey.

As is pointed out further, clarifying the notion stated before,

"The half retarded wave goes out from the first electron forwards in time, while the half advanced wave goes out backwards in time. When the second electron shakes in response, it produces another half retarded, which is exactly out of step with the first wave and so precisely cancels out the remaining half retarded wave for all later times; and a half advanced wave, which goes back down the track of the first wave to the original electron, in step with that wave, reinforcing the original half-wave to make a full wave, ...
This half advanced wave arrives at the first electron, of course, at the moment it started to shake, ... Then it continues back into the past, canceling out the original half advanced wave from the first electron. The result is that between the two electrons there is a single wave .., but everywhere else the wave cancels out, ...

In my mind the transactional interpretation John Cramer proposed, provides a way to explain the phenomenon of consciousness. Each transaction represent an instant of consciousness, and all the instants put together become a stream, a stream of consciousness.

The atemporal view might be used to explain the vastness of our consciousness as there are no limits either spatial or temporal for each transaction. The objects interacting in each instant of consciousness can be anywhere in space and time and their interaction takes place instantaneously thanks to the advanced waves that travel backwards in time. This could explain how our imagination can have no bounds as well as our consciousness being boundless.

Further, the acceptance that the retarded and advanced waves sent in each transaction travel at the speed of light, it likewise gives a measure of how long it takes for an instant of consciousness to take place as well as the collation of all the instants in a stream of consciousness and by that give a measure of the speed mental events can take place. This notion is inherent in each individual and can explain the impatience an individual expresses, when it complains about how slow computers can be, oblivious to the fact that the huge number of calculations a computer performs, are beyond the individual's conscious abilities.