Consciousness - it is the force that makes us tick, the cogent drive that makes you "you." It is our state of consciousness that bestows us with awareness and sensitivity to our surroundings, the ability to think for the future and remember the past, the ability to acknowledge one another as intelligent individuals, and much more. But what exactly is consciousness? MIT Physicist Max Tegmark believes he has found the answer to this question.
Web published in the year 2014 in the Cornell University arXiv, Tegmark's paper titled "Consciousness as State of Matter" explores the possibility that consciousness is a form of matter, "perceptronium," that has unique information processing abilities. Just as ordinary matter requires specific conditions to assume each of its respective states, consciousness matter too would have its variety of forms that it can take, each of which resulting in a different state of consciousness. This is not to say that there is a small reservoir of solidifying, evaporating and liquifying fluid in your brain that is dictating your cognition, but rather, particular sets of conditions in the brain that combine to produce a given state of consciousness.
"A commonly held view is that consciousness is irrelevant to physics and should therefore not be discussed in physics papers," Tegmark states in his dissertation. "One oft-stated reason is a perceived lack of rigor in past attempts to link consciousness to physics. Another argument is that physics has been managed just fine for hundreds of years by avoiding this subject, and should therefore keep doing so. Yet the fact that most physics problems can be solved without reference to consciousness does not guarantee that this applies to all physics problems. Indeed, it is striking that many of the most hotly debated issues in physics today involve the notions of observations and observers, and we cannot dismiss the possibility that part of the reason why these issues have resisted resolution for so long is our reluctance as physicists to discuss consciousness and attempt to rigorously define what constitutes an observer."
In recent years, it has been believed that since a consciousness must be able to store, retrieve, and process information and exist as a unified whole, it cannot be broken down into smaller parts. This, however, is not the case, argues Tegmark. The individual traits of consciousness are calculable. The traits of perceptonium are comprised of the four basic principles deemed essential in waking consciousness: the information, integration, independence, and dynamics principles, for each of which he offers explicit detail in his paper. Tegmark believes that the activity levels of each of the traits can vary, each combination resulting in a unique state of consciousness.
Considering our state of existence is a product of the material universe, it is sound thinking that the source of our consciousness could in fact be a sophisticated form of matter. If Tegmark's theory proves to be correct, then this perceptronium holds the answer to the mystery of conscious perception. With an understanding of exactly how consciousness works, we may one day develop the ability to very precisely traverse the various altered states of consciousness at will.
Max Tegmark discussing his theory at the FQXi conference 2014 in Vieques:
Tegmark, Max. "Consciousness as a State of Matter." Dept. of Physics & MIT Kavli Institute 1.3 (2015): 32-33. ARXIV. Web.
"Physicists Say Consciousness Might Be a State of Matter." PBS.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2015.