Summary of the General Resonance Theory of consciousness
Any theory of consciousness worth it’s salt is going to have some degree of complexity; the General Resonance Theory of consciousness is complex in its details but I summarize the basic theory briefly in this article
What is consciousness? How do complex minds form? Why is the total greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to minds? What is the best approach for resolving the various “combination problems” of consciousness?
General Resonance Theory (GRT), developed primarily by myself and Prof. Jonathan Schooler at UCSB, attempts to answer all of these problems and more. We’ve fleshed out the theory in a number of peer-reviewed and popular articles over the last decade but popular and academic understanding of our theory remains poor.
GRT’s main theory article is our 2019 journal article “The easy part of the Hard Problem,” which has over 40,000 views as of mid-2022 and a growing number of academic citations.
We include a very short summary of the theory in our 2019 paper as follows:
(1) All things resonate in some manner;
(2) in many circumstances, things resonating in proximity will start resonating together at the same frequency, achieving a shared resonance;
(3) we take panpsychism, the notion that all matter is associated with at least some degree of mind/subjectivity/consciousness, as our metaphysical starting point and don’t dwell long on why we have arrived at this position since that debate is addressed elsewhere;
(4) achieving a shared resonance is what leads micro-conscious entities to combine into macro-conscious entities, often with a phase transition in the speed of information sharing resulting from that shared resonance.
The figure below illustrates why synchrony/resonance leads to faster information flows.
For a bit more detailed summary, what follows is from the appendix to our 2019 journal article, “The easy part of the Hard Problem”:
1. Resolving the “hard problem” and the “combination problem” should focus on energy/information flows and the causal structure that is part and parcel of such energy/information flows.
2. Energy/information flows are real physical structures that carry both causal impact and psyche/consciousness/mind.
3. Less complex processes have, by definition, less causal structure and thus less energy/information flows, and less consciousness.
4. Collections or aggregates of matter transcend the state of being “mere aggregates” (there is no combination of mind into a larger whole) when the constituents of such aggregates of matter enjoy a shared resonance of at least some energy/information flows.
5. All aggregates are interconnected in some manner with all other aggregates through normal physical forces, but it takes time for such connections to be made because of finite speeds for such causal connections to travel.
6. Constituents of aggregates that are in sufficient proximity for resonance-based energy/information flows to take place, within a certain timeframe, often combine and transcend the state of being “mere aggregates.”
7. The required timeframe for achieving shared resonance depends on the resonance frequency(ies) of the constituents and aggregates at issue.
8. Constituents that resonate at the same or similar frequencies in proximity will often combine into a larger consciousness (macro-consciousness) because their energy/information flows combine through coherence of their resonance frequencies, like lasers achieving coherence when photons resonate at the same frequency.
9. The velocity and frequencies of the particular resonance chains, in each case, determines the size and shape of the particular combination of resonating constituents in each moment.
10. Living organisms have, through long-term evolutionary processes, learned to take advantage of faster energy/information flows, such as electrochemical channels and electrical and magnetic fields (and possibly quantum field effects also), thus allowing physically larger resonating structures to occur.
11. As such, a living human body weighing about the same as a large boulder has far greater energy/information exchange among its constituents than does the boulder, which can rely only on thermodynamic and gravitational energy/information exchanges.
12. Accordingly, the sum of the human body’s combined consciousness is greater than its parts because of the much greater energy/information flows occurring throughout the human body, which constitute real physical structure; without these connections the human body would be a “mere aggregate” like the boulder. The sum total consciousness of the parts would be far lower without the extensive interconnections throughout the human body that are made possible by electrochemical and electromagnetic field energy/information flows.