The parallels of Pandeism
|Johannes Scotus Eriugena was among the first to propose a form of Pandeism. Source: Wikipedia.|
I need to start with a disclaimer: this article does not necessarily capture any of my personal beliefs, philosophical or otherwise. It is simply an intellectual exercise in trying to relate radically distinct, but curiously complementary concepts, for the sole sake of intellectual exploration.
In discussions about strong Artificial Intelligence, a debate often emerges around the “hard problem of consciousness”. As I discuss in my upcoming book, with our scientific understanding of today we can tentatively explain physical phenomena in terms of structure and function. A model encompassing structure and function alone can be envisioned to eventually explain and simulate the full set of external behaviors manifested by a human being, without any need for conscious experience to be involved (the resulting simulation would be a so-called philosophical zombie). However, there is one property of the human mind that seems to escape reduction to structure and function: our ability to experience things in a subjective manner. As David Chalmers puts it: “What makes the hard problem hard? Here, the task is not to explain behavioral and cognitive functions: even once one has an explanation of all the relevant functions in the vicinity of consciousness — discrimination, integration, access, report, control — there may still remain a further question: why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience?” (David Chalmers, in “Consciousness and its Place in Nature”)
There are materialistic points of view that deny the existence of the “hard problem of consciousness” (see Dennett), or trivialize it, including a school of thought that contends consciousness is an emergent property of sufficiently-complex systems. Others seek a solution to the “hard problem” by associating consciousness to some intrinsic causal powers of specific substrates (see Searle). Penrose and Hameroff go a step further in theorizing about the specific origin of these causal powers, and proposing quantum effects as the basis of the manifestation consciousness.
Below, I draw some intriguing parallels between the debate around the “hard problem of consciousness” and the philosophy of Pandeism. The result is, by its very nature, utterly and hopelessly speculative. Still, it provides an intriguing, holistic view encompassing all sides of the debate.
Pandeism is a school of thought that holds that the universe is identical to God, but also that God was initially an omni-conscious and omni-sentient force or entity. However, upon creating the universe, God became unconscious and non-sentient by the very act of becoming the universe itself.
The central ideas behind Pandeism have been captured in a very accessible way by the most unlikely of authors: Dilbert’s creator Scott Adams. In his book “God’s Debris” (available for free download here), Adams surmises that an omnipotent God annihilated Itself in the Big Bang because It would already know everything possible except Its own lack of existence. To experience Its own non-existence would be God’s only conceivable action, and Its own obliteration the only avenue for its fulfillment. After essentially blowing Itself to bits with the Big Bang, God supposedly exists now as the smallest units of matter and an associated, intrinsic law of probability. Adams further surmises that God (i.e. the universe) is currently reassembling Itself though the continued formation of a collective consciousness/intelligence in the form of e.g. the human race (“we are God’s debris”). The innate drive for such cosmic reassembly would explain the natural human need for communication and sharing, as reflected in the development of technologies like the Internet, mobile communications, etc. Upon completion of this reassembly process, consciousness (God) would again be omnipresent, but now complete in the experience of its own non-existence.
The Pandeism ideas summarized by Adams have interesting parallels with the debate around the “hard problem” of consciousness:
- Consciousness is a property associated intrinsically to God. This is consistent with the thoughts of Theists like William Dembski, who denounce the materialistic view that consciousness can emerge simply from physical complexity.
- It follows from 1 that, because the universe consists essentially of the “debris” of God’s self-annihilation, the potential for consciousness should be intrinsic to the matter and energy in it. This is consistent with Searle’s views that consciousness is causally dependent on its physical substrate.
- The idea of a final cosmic re-assembly of God into an omni-conscious, sentient being is somewhat analogous to Kurzweil’s post-singularity vision that technology evolution will inexorably lead to a future where intelligence will permeate all matter in the universe.
- It follows from 2 and 3 that consciousness should somehow manifest itself on substrates that have reached an appropriately-high level of re-integration in the course of God’s on-going process of re-assembly. This is analogous to the need for sufficiently-high integration and complexity behind the idea of Emergence as an enabler of consciousness.
- The idea that the essence of God is intrinsic to the properties of the sub-atomic particles, and to an associated law of probabilities, relates directly to the non-deterministic properties of quantum mechanics that Penrose identifies as essential for consciousness.