I think the universe doesn't care about us, we are just the natural result of the fundamental interactions of matter, the same interactions that burn stars. We are complex automatons.
Tegmark's theory is an expanded version of Tononi's Integrated Information Theory, which has gotten a lot of interest in mainstream cognitive science. IIT also stays well within the laws of physics.
Non-materialist philosophers of mind tend to like these theories since they make consciousness correspond with fairly low-level processes, and that looks a lot more plausible than consciousness being something that only pops up in animal brains for some mystical reason. But neither IIT nor Tegmark's approach actually require any kind of escaping from the laws of physics. In fact Tononi sounds to me mostly like a materialist, although he's pretty slippery about it. Not as sure about Tegmark.
Also, important to note that almost no one believes in vitalism (the idea that life itself requires special extra-physical "secret sauce" to exist) anymore. It is only consciousness that is up for debate in mainstream philosophy.
Non-dualism doesn't make any sense to the rational mind, non-dual realization usually arises in someone that has explored the realm of their own personal consciousness very deeply (meditation, contemplation, psychedelics, hypnosis, lucid dreaming, etc).
Quote: "Because common sense tells us that there are physical bodies, and because there is intellectual pressure towards producing a unified view of the world, one could say that materialist monism is the ‘default option’."
Come to think of it, "does consciousness arise from matter, or does matter arise from consciousness" is a modern Koan par excellence. FWIW, the last time I grooved on that for a while while on a psychedelic, the answer I came up was...decidedly spiritual. Caveat lector ;)
Well, someone seeing consciousness arising from matter (materialist monism/non-dual) isn't impelled to say anything like that. I mean, I'd view the forms of consciousness the OP describes (acid, meditation, hypnosis) as a being experiences where immediate language-generating mediation is suspended, "direct experience" but one shouldn't confuse those sort of sensations with an experience being beyond relation analysis. There are lots experiences where you can't think about what you're doing at the point you are doing it but you can certainly think before and after.
Consciousness is the important thing, why it all matters, why bad things are really actually bad. Pain may be expressed, but as all other consciousness itself or qualia, the experience itself cannot be measured, but is very real.
sure, a wavelength of around 532nm coming into your eye causes it to happen, but thats just information. Then its processed in your brain and at some point recognized as green. Somewhere in this, you see green, but you seeing it cannot be measured. Maybe the activations of your neurons could be, and maybe that could even be fully reverse engineered to understand how the conclusion of seeing green is reached. And yet, the actual stuff in your conscious experience still isn't there, just a bunch of logic is.
Now maybe we could discover some dynamics of consciousness though. If we create conscious AI or some way to inject new logic into our brain that is directly witnessed, we could probe for what configurations produce what kind of consciousness. So at least we could understand the behavior of it. But the actual stuff of it is not measurable by anything but itself.
It can express this measurement in a representational form however, so we can study consciousness's behavior or the behavior of qualia.
I suspect that one is more likely to understand "green" by realizing that it is a word (originally, a sound) that you have come to associate with memories of visual experiences. To say something is green is to do a comparison between an aspect of the experience of it, and aspects of some of those memories of prior experiences.
I use color as an example because its very distant and theoretically could be many different ways (e.g. your experience of green may not be made of the same stuff my green is). However geometry seems far less arbitrary. Visualizing a square is more specific, the way the lines relate to space in the 2D plane if misrepresented will be wrong. I doubt we visualize such things with 100% accuracy, but we must visualize them to a certain common accuracy, and thats important, common. Basically, as far as experiencing the visual concept of a square, we all experience roughly the same object in our conscious experience. Thats where things can be studied a bit, because the behavior of consciousness given certain logic is likely absolute.
Yes, words are symbols. But when we're talking about consciousness, we're talking about the experience itself, not the association between the word and the experience. And we have no understanding of why or how the experience exists in us.
As for having an opinion, on the other hand, that usually depends on which remarkable circumstance one thinks is less implausible.
-- David Foster Wallace
For how a color looks to you, or just for the wavelength of light something emits?
-- Albion ( https://i.imgur.com/8GHPl6S.png )
> Among the many forms of alienation, the most frequent one is alienation in language. If I express a feeling with a word, let us say, if I say "I love you," the word is meant to be an indication of the reality which exists within myself, the power of my loving. The word "love" is meant to be a symbol of the fact love, but as soon as it is spoken it tends to assume a life of its own, it becomes a reality. I am under the illusion that the saying of the word is the equivalent of the experience, and soon I say the word and feel nothing, except the thought of love which the word expresses. The alienation of language shows the whole complexity of alienation. Language is one of the most precious human achievements; to avoid alienation by not speaking would be foolish -- yet one must be always aware of the danger of the spoken word, that it threatens to substitute itself for the living experience.
-- Erich Fromm ( https://www.marxists.org/archive/fromm/works/1961/man/ )
1. Someone figures out in a lab all possible causes of fear via the surveying method. Fear seems solved.
2. New people appear that claim to experience fear when someone taps their left feet.
3. You have to redo 1. Therefore fear wasn't solved in the first place.
Replace "tapping left feet" with something more obscure, or fear with pain, to continue.
Underlying problem: you cannot compute the "preimage" of fear.
In a material universe there is no objective good or bad.
I'm willing to bet that there's a sadist out there who, if they had you under their control, could eventually convince you there is definite objective bad.
It's also an abstraction, a way to understand complex arrangements of matter, in the same way that a table is an abstraction: the matter in a table isn't made of table molecules, it's just that the way in which those molecules are arranged and stuck together makes them a table.
I also agree that your second paragraph is the logical conclusion of a materialist starting point - that is, the physical universe is all there is. There is really no other conclusion from that starting point.
But that leaves us with no free will (automatons don't decide anything).
It leaves us without love. (Real love is choosing to do what's best for the other person, and we can't choose. And even what we feel as love is just neurons and biochemicals doing canned mechanistic responses.)
It leaves is with no morals. (When a rock falls off a cliff, you don't say that it should have fallen differently, or not fallen at all. We don't think morals apply to mere material objects that are merely obeying the laws of physics, no matter how complex they are.)
It leaves us with no truth. (Our brains evolved to get a good enough answer fast enough, not to discover truth in any absolute, platonic sense. And when we "think", we're just letting those neurons do what they're wired to do, without knowing all the bugs in the hardware.)
But we also have years of experience of what it means to live as a human being. We experience choosing, loving, knowing that some things are right and others are wrong, and discovering truth. We know, via first-hand experience of living, that "complex automatons" does not adequately describe human life.
It's kind of like putting on a t-shirt backwards. It covers all the places that need covering, but it just doesn't fit. And no matter how you try to move it around and re-arrange it, it still doesn't fit. In the same way, the logical conclusions of the materialist starting point don't fit our experience of what it is to live as human beings.
This leaves us with two possible responses. The first is that, out of random chance, the universe has created complex automatons that have the experience of being (and the desire to be) more than automatons - to be genuinely personal, rather than just the impersonal plus complexity. Those perceptions are wrong, and those desires will forever be unfulfilled. It would be cruel, except that the universe doesn't have motivations, and to to call it cruel is a category error.
The second possibility is that the materialist starting point is mistaken - that there is more than merely matter and the laws of physics. This is what I believe. More strongly, I believe that our experience of living as humans is evidence that the materialist starting point is mistaken.
When the Bible says that God made man in His own image, it is saying something about this 21st-century argument. It is saying that there was a first there was personal, not impersonal, and that God (someone, not just something) created humans to also be someone, not just something. And therefore, our experience of being personal rather than impersonal is in line with what has always been.
There's indeed no free will (basic physics tells us that, can be also experienced directly via LSD or meditation), but to see if there's consciousness just inflict pain onto yourself.
All this being said it's pretty clear why would humans, or any other apes, or any other species, have morals - to reduce the pain/suffering that them and others receive.
Furthermore, if there is no free will there is no morality, since all things are determined and you cannot do otherwise than what you do. (There is no morality involved in the bouncing of a cue ball off of a pool table wall).
But that's the point of confusing free will with consciousness. You can experience something (that's the hot stove argument), and inference is perfectly possible for even today's computer algorithms to do (which are certainly not free). Even something as common as a virtual memory system deciding which pages to swap makes predictions/inference based on what it has seen in the past.
Morality is still a thing, much like there are worse and better paging algorithms. Think of it as mental models of how things work, much like the rest of science. In this view morality is a study of how things/consciousnesses feel.
Edit: another way to look at morality as a science is like this: assume most people genuinely don't want to cause suffering of others, and especially of themselves. But they can still cause harm by being simply wrong.
Arguably the b) version is not simple physics, but that's what I meant.
Aren't statements like this holding on to the idea of a higher power after the decline of religion? You're ascribing the capability of feeling to the universe.
Moreover, even if the universe could properly be said to have feelings, that doesn’t entail anything about the existence of a “higher power”. Humans feel things, but that by itself is not proof or disproof of the existence of a “higher power”
That got me thinking: if our brain constructs that portion of reality, perhaps it actually constructs the entire conscious experience of reality down to the minutest detail. So we're never "directly" experiencing reality but only our brain's constructed (and evolved) representation of it. Perhaps that is the explanation for why the universe appears to have four dimensions in our day to day experience: because that's the most advantageous representation of reality by some evolutionary metric. So the process of biological evolution has crafted the brain and the brain crafts the experience of reality which includes all the rules of logic, laws of physics, and perceived physical phenomena.
You could go out on a limb and perhaps even say that this explains how advances in pure mathematics often turn out to have some use in physics and vice versa; because mathematics (logic) and perceived physical processes are both rooted in the structure of the brain and are therefore rather intertwined even though the physical world appears to be separate from the mental world.
These ideas seem remotely similar on some level to what Dr. Tegmark is proposing: that the observer (or, the evolved observer as I'm saying) plays a much more significant role in the structure of the universe than anyone has admitted up to this point.
Current natural science is practiced abhorrently in that it ignores such philosophical understandings of human knowledge which is over two centuries old and presupposes the subject has a 1:1 correspondence with the object - this a century after the double slit experiment!
I’m a bit more downstream and conceive of conscious activity more mathematically formally as a power-limited digital filter of sensory motion, which includes the discrete-time sampling of its action (“motion”) upon the body. Consciousness then is the quantization of the motion perceived.
While science, in general, suffers from overblowing implications (as in promising that given research revolutionizes everything, etc - to get credit and the next grant), he is an ace of that.
To contrast it with "YOLOv3: An Incremental Improvement" https://arxiv.org/abs/1804.02767 in which the author goes to the other extreme, being bluntly honest.
I'm not sure how you could program this recursive nature unless you generalized what it means to be introspective. But by definition, introspection defines itself. The process of introspection has to also be aware of itself in order to "break out" to the higher level.
I don't see why one couldn't write program to do something - a subroutine that called-itself and analyzed some of the contents on up the stack in some vaguely useful way. One can pretty easily write a program that approximating satisfies most vague descriptions of consciousness. It doesn't "feel" like "real consciousness" but that brings up other questions.
IIT is basically just hypothesis that defines consciousness by identifying it with certain information processing abilities that have lots of integration and can't be 'divided'.
When Aaronson points out some peculiar things having these abilities (like error correcting codes) Tegmark doubles down and says they are conscious and human intuition is wrong.
IIT explains very little, it just defines consciousness to be something.