What's the Idea: Piero Scaruffi's Research Programme

Darwinian panpsychism

Originally 1996 - Revised in 2000 - Revised in 2007

Home | Annotated bibliography | Other essays | The Nature of Consciousness

My studies involve a novel (albeit very ancient) approach to the study of consciousness, that integrates Physics, Biology and even the Arts and Literature with Cognitive Science.

First of all, I operate within the realm of the "hard" sciences. My background is in Mathematics and theoretical Physics.

The main value of what I have done so far (and, most likely, of what I will be able to achieve in my lifetime) is: synthesis. All my books are and will be an attempt to create a great synthesis of what we know. I believe that the big picture of what the universe is, what life is and what consciousness is, can only come from a synthesis that unifies Physics and Biology (I consider Cognitive Science a branch of Biology).

My fundamental assumption (see A simple theory of consciousness) is that the mental is a general property of matter. The objective part of the mental (such as memory and language) is being explained by neuroscience. The subjective part of the mental (the feeling, the emotion, the thought) is, in my opinion, due to a "mental" property of matter, a property that every elementary particle has (which does not mean that all objects are conscious: all particles have a property called "electric charge", but most materials are not electric). Thus, in my opinion, the solution to the puzzle of consciousness lies in Physics, not Biology or Psychology; or, better, we need to unify Physics and the life sciences. To me, Cognitive Science is precisely the science that unifies Physics and the life sciences.

The stumbling block to this program is that Physics itself is divided: Quantum Theory and Relativity Theory contradict each other at a very basic level. I believe that this stumbling block is also part of the solution. Ultimately, I see the inconsistency between the two kinds of Physics as due to the role of the conscious observer. Therefore, I suspect that reconciling Quantum Theory and Relativity will also lead us to a better understanding of where consciousness comes from.

Of all the attempts at unifying Quantum Theory and Relativity Theory, the one that I find more intriguing for a while was Sakharov's and Puthoff's: explain Relativity as an emergent property of a universe ruled by the other three fundamental forces (the forces that are well explained by Quantum Theory). Except that I see it the other way around: I believe that Relativity tells us something about the ultimate nature of reality, whereas Quantum Theory is only the way that reality appears to us. In a nutshell, I believe that Quantum Theory is a view of the ripples created in spacetime by a conscious observer that is traveling throught it. (See On the relationship between Quantum Theory and Relativity Theory).

That is only half of my research programme.

The other half is about the human mind not at the physical level but at the behavioral level. In my opinion we cannot understand organisms (and even less Super-organisms) apart from the structures that their genetic program compels them to create. Hence we cannot understand what the human mind is if we don't understand what the human mind does (has done over the millennia). Ultimately, the human mind creates civilizations. Thus I am working on a History of Knowledge, from prehistory to our days, that will encompass everything from Science to Politics to Religion to Art to Literature to everyday's life. This is a parallel research programme, that no other cognitive scientist (to my knowledge) is exploring. This is unfortunate: there must be a reason if human minds create civilizations. Just like observing galaxies helps us figure out the fundamental forces of the Big Bang, I believe that observing civilizations should be the natural way of studying human consciousness. Ultimately, this is what consciousness does: create civilizations. The more I understand the history of human knowledge, the closer I get to a feeling of what consciousness is for.

This is an ambitious programme. No academic institution has been interested in even hearing about it. Most of my output has been and will be books that present my "syntheses". The latest is "The Nature of Consciousness" (2006). The next one, most likely, will be a "History of Knowledge".