Seven proofs that atoms are conscious

And that everything in the universe is happy. Except for us.

Proof 1: we are predictable plus random

Think of a decision. Any decision. Or any belief about the real world. In fact, anything that might exist in your mind. Could this decision (or belief) be predicted with one hundred percent accuracy, given all the evidence available to you? If a decision can be predicted, then it is like a clockwork mechanism: no special explanation is required. If any part of it cannot be predicted (no matter how much information we have), then (by definition) that decision must be random. Think what that means: the mind is just predictable stuff plus random stuff, just like every atom in the universe. There is no difference! No magic sauce! Atoms make decisions in the same way we do: either predictably or randomly.

What about free will? Free will is "the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded." (Wikipedia, citing Edward Heleger, 1910, and J. Omoregie, 2015)" If we let a machine make random decisions without stopping it, then by definition it has free will. Even if a machine is entirely predictable, it may have evolved to be a very efficient way to make decisions, so it should still be allowed to act unimpeded. Of course, the machine's environment guides the decisions it can make: the nearby walls, paths, fuels, etc. The same is true for humans.

Proof 2: consciousness is made of one dimension

We evolve to survive. So our minds only contain information that has survival value. Work, play, math and curiosity all improve our odds of survival. If an idea has zero potential survival value then it has no meaning to us. So every idea in our minds can be broken down into units of one dimension (survival). We experience it as happiness (or unhappiness). That is, we really just experience one thing: pulses of happiness (or unhappiness). So, human consciousness is so simple that it could be encoded in a single atom, or less. Of course, we may firmly believe we see a complex picture. But that is simply a belief, a yes/no state. It could be just one of the many other yes/no states that the brain feeds to the mind many times per second. We believe we see it all because we can access any part of it very quickly, But we do so in a serial fashion, as will be shown.

Proof 3: consciousness = existence

Earlier we saw that all feelings are measures of survival. Or in other words, measures of existence. Does this measure need a measuring tape? Does it need a little homunculus to watch it? No, Occam's razor says the measure of existence is existence itself. So conscious feelings are simply existence. There is no difference.

Proof 4: our brains simplify thoughts as much as possible

Brains evolve in competition: you have to out think the brains of competitors, and of other people who might take your resources. So evolution favours faster brains, and taking short cuts wherever necessary. But you (your mind) works slowly. Because it needs to look around, think, pull up memories, look around again, guess possible futures, and so on. So as far as possible, decisions do not take place in the mind, but are automated as quick, mindless habits.

Experiments confirm that we do not see complex scenes, we only sample them. "Eye-tracking software can show us a page filled with Xs with one word positioned exactly where we are looking , and we have the experience of seeing a full page of text. We can't even see two or more colours at once but switch between one at a time. In general, our richness of experience seems to be a construct." (From the Guardian Review of Nick Chater's "The Mind of Flat")

We can try some of these experiments ourselves. E.g. read a book like "Where's Waldo?" Clearly you do not see the whole scene at once, you have to scan the details one at a time. Another experiment is to think of a word. Say it a hundred times: it ceases to have any meaning. Then try to reconstruct that meaning: what is a chair? What is "red"? It is merely a summary of other experiences. Try to trace those experiences: we can go back and back until we reach the bedrock: pleasure or pain. That is, survival or not. Existence or not. So everything is meaningless except as a reference to one dimensional existence.

Proof 5: there can only be one highest rule

Our brain is made of billions of neurons, all working together to make decisions for the single goal of survival. But sometimes they might send conflicting results. Like, a signal from your stomach says "drink", but you just saw a predator approaching the watering hole so another signal says "run". So you need a rule to make a decision. But sometimes rules disagree: after all, if you always run at every possible hint of danger, then you never drink, and so you die. So you need higher and higher level rules, about rules, about rules. Finally one rule combines every possible input and makes a final decision. Now, if this highest rule is multi-dimensional, comparing both "x"s and "y"s, then it might find that "x" say "drink" and "y"s say "run". So there must be an even higher rule to decide which matters the most. And so, no matter how complex the brain, the highest point of control has to be a single one dimensional point. The rule in question can of course change every second: while drinking, the tongue might report that the water has an odd taste. So what you think about changes. But at any moment the controlling rule - the mind - must be one dimensional.

Proof 6: "you" might be a single point in space

We have seen that "you" make decisions in a serial fashion (one after another). And that each decision is made from references to one dimension: existence. And all these decisions build up to a final one dimension: happiness (i.e. existence). We have also seen that any deeper complexity is just an illusion: we do not really see a whole picture all at once, we merely believe that we do. Similarly, objects like "chairs" and "colours" really have no meaning to us, except as adding to that one dimensional existence.

Does this mean consciousness is one dimensional? It seems reasonable that it might need at least one other dimension (that is, another value, another degree of freedom), so it has some connection with other units: with other consciousness, other atoms, future states, etc. So two dimensions are the bare minimum unit of consciousness. Or we might also argue that each dimension (time, links to other units, etc.) must be separate. So perhaps the minimum is three, four, five or six dimensions of existence. This agrees with theoretical physics. Conventional physics says a point in space time has four dimensions. String theory says each point needs ten dimensions. The holographic universe theory says that the information within a universe can be contained with its surface: within two dimensions. Whatever the true number, a single point in space is enough to contain a consciousness. And if that point is fed by data from a human brain, it could be a human consciousness.


Anything humans do, atoms do better

Proof 7: Occam's razor

We have seen that a single point in space contains all the consciousness needed for a human mind. There is no shortage of such points. Why, then, would evolution create a more complicated system to do what any part of that system can do on its own? This is like saying we need a Rube Goldberg or Heath Robinson device to crack an egg, when a simple spoon will do. Occam's razor says no.

Of course, a human body is a particular arrangement of atoms. it is not, for example, a cloud of gas or a continental plate. Some people use these differences to argue that other atoms' consciousness is not "true" consciousness, because it does not have some arbitrary feature we might value. This is like saying a Scotsman is not a "true" Scotsman because he does not put salt on his porridge. So let us finish by examining these "true consciousness" features:


In conclusion, happiness is existence. Everything else is illusion. Atoms are happy because their existence is very secure. Humans are often unhappy because our existence is very fragile and temporary. But once we cease being humans then our bodies decompose and our parts, including our minds, become much happier.

One side effect of decomposing is that we no longer need to worry about time. We can happily drift for a billion years just enjoying the universe like all our trillions of brothers and sisters. Another side effect is that we can be reborn, incorporated into some other poor living thing (hopefully not for too long), or be reborn in the heart of a star. If we are simple enough then we might even survive the end of the universe. We can do anything, go everywhere, and it is all wonderful! Unless you are human. But the human condition does not last very long.