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Origins

In this age of extraordinarily powerful computers, the human brain remains the most complex object on earth. What led to the evolution of this costly labyrinthine structure? Why is it capable of such wondrous ecstatic experience? Why has it evolved conflicting instincts, that can lead to unbearable anguish and pain? Why do spiritual and religious instincts have such enormous power and influence? What is their evolutionary function?

Two ideas at the core of this book provide a useful perspective on the most fundamental questions of human existence. The first is the simple, even trivial, observation that controlling ones actions and predicting their consequences have enormous survival value. This is why nervous systems and brains evolved. By connecting this observation to the mathematical limitations of prediction proved by Kurt Gödel, we gain insight into the history and future potential of biological evolution.

The abilities to control ones actions and predict their consequences have no intrinsic value or meaning. Ultimately, only conscious experience does. Complex brains seem to be essential for the richness of human experience. What is the relationship between conscious experience and the physical structure of the brain? The answer developed here is an old idea invigorated by contemporary science and mathematics. Conscious experience in some from is not unique to human or animal existence. It is universal in all that exists. It is only its form that changes between individuals, between species and between animate and inanimate matter.

This is a philosophical assumption that is ultimately beyond proof, but it is developed in the spirit of science, by seeking the simplest assumption consistent with what we know. The case is made empirically by considering research that connects the structure of the living brain with reports of internal conscious experience. The case is made theoretically by showing that all of science and mathematics is built from simple structures that, at least in mathematics, are reducible to the empty set or nothing at all. It is only conscious experience that gives substance to the abstract structure of our intellectual understanding.

The remainder of this chapter tells three stories to explain the origin and motivation for these ideas. The first focuses on the abstract nature of mathematics. Human thought is not abstract. We think in terms of images, sounds, internal experience etc. Even when we think in terms of symbols, like the words on this page, we hear, see or experience something concrete. I hear the words I read. Abstraction was essential to the progress of mathematics and science but it did not come quickly or easily.

The other two stories are personal. One is about important results in mathematics and computer science that converged in my undergraduate mind to create a way of looking at reality. The third story is about the evolution of those ideas over decades.



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