The distinctive feature of conscious systems in comparison to non-conscious systems is the capacity to access and modulate an inherently sentient background field. This means that the brain produces an individual stream of consciousness by periodically modifying an omnipresent field of consciousness.

Research Statement

The current research activities focus on the development of a conceptual framework for consciousness that lays the foundations for a fundamental theory of consciousness. A central characteristic of the framework is a deeper understanding of quantum systems. The framework opens up new perspectives for consciousness research and sheds new light on the functioning of the brain.

The approach rests on the hypothesis that phenomenal qualities as such are not produced by the brain, but are based on a ubiquitous background field that exhibits an extrinsic physical manifestation and an intrinsic phenomenal essence. From this perspective, individual consciousness results from the dynamic interaction between the brain and this field, or in other words, whenever the activity of the brain leaves a fingerprint in this field, a conscious state is generated. This is a very elegant approach. However, it raises three key questions:

Interestingly, stochastic electrodynamics (SED), a powerful theoretical framework that provides a deeper understanding of quantum physics, gives promising answers to these questions. SED furnishes the field as well as the appropriate interaction mechanism, and the neurophysiological body of evidence suggests that exactly this mechanism can be found in the brain.

1.    What kind of field is the carrier of consciousness?
2.    How does the interaction mechanism work in detail?
3.    Is there empirical evidence that conscious processes in the brain rely on such an interaction mechanism?

Publications

Cosmopsychism and Consciousness Research: A Fresh View on the Causal Mechanisms Underlying Phenomenal States

In collaboration with Itay Shani, Department of Philosophy, Sun Yat-Sen University, Zhuhai, China

Frontiers in Psychology 11:371. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00371 (March 2020)

The Common Basis of Memory and Consciousness: Understanding the Brain as a Write-Read Head Interacting with an Omnipresent Background Field

Frontiers in Psychology 10:2968. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02968 (January 2020)

Beyond Combination: How Cosmic Consciousness Grounds Ordinary Experience

In collaboration with Itay Shani, Department of Philosophy, Sun Yat-Sen University, Zhuhai, China
Journal of the American Philosophical Association 4, 390-410. doi: 10.1017/apa.2018.30 (December 2018)

The Role of the Brain in Conscious Processes: A New Way of Looking at the Neural Correlates of Consciousness

Frontiers in Psychology 9:1346. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01346 (August 2018)

Shedding Light on the Fundamental Mechanism Underlying Hypnotic Analgesia

Annals of Palliative Medicine 7, 170-176. doi: 10.21037/apm.2017.04.03 (January 2018)

On the Universal Mechanism Underlying Conscious Systems and the Foundations for a Theory of Consciousness

Open Journal of Philosophy 6, 346-367. doi: 10.4236/ojpp.2016.64034 (November 2016)

A New Perspective on the Functioning of the Brain and the Mechanisms behind Conscious Processes

Frontiers in Psychology 4:242. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00242 (April 2013)

Materie und Bewusstsein

Ein Blick hinter die Kulissen der Materie öffnet die Tür zu einer Theorie des Bewusstseins
Research paper in German (November 2012)

A Conceptual Framework for Consciousness Based on a Deep Understanding of Matter

Philosophy Study 2, 689-703. doi: 10.17265/2159-5313/2012.10.001 (October 2012)

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Conference Papers

Shedding Light on the Universal Mechanism Underlying Conscious Systems

Talk the TSC 2017 Conference in La Jolla, California, USA (June 2017)  


 

Uncovering the universal mechanism underlying conscious systems poses one of the core challenges for consciousness research. One line of thought pursues the idea that the brain assembles higher states of consciousness from a great number of elementary building blocks of consciousness. This approach is grounded on the hypothesis that consciousness is fundamental, ubiquitous, and matter-inherent, which is compatible with the common definition of panpsychism as the view that the basic physical constituents of the universe have mental properties. The key issue of this approach, also known as the combination problem, is the identification of a plausible aggregation mechanism that is able to explain how our rich spectrum of unified macro experiences emerges from a limited spectrum of micro experiences. Regarding this problem, no tangible solution has been presented so far. In order to overcome the difficulties and conceptual shortcomings of common panpsychism, a new avenue to the scientific understanding of consciousness is explored. It accepts consciousness as a fundamental but not matter-inherent property of the universe and is based on the hypothesis that the whole range of phenomenal qualities is built into the frequency spectrum of a ubiquitous background field. According to this view, the brain employs a universal mechanism by means of which it extracts the variety of phenomenal nuances from an omnipresent phenomenal color palette that is standardized throughout the entire cosmos. It is of vital importance that modern physics can offer not only a promising candidate for the background field of consciousness, in concrete terms the zero-point field (ZPF), but also an appropriate extraction mechanism. This mechanism, which is characteristic of quantum systems, is based on the formation of dynamically coupled ZPF modes (ZPF information states). The neurophysiological body of evidence supports the view that conscious processes make use of exactly this mechanism. Correspondingly, the empirical findings can be interpreted in such a way that the brain produces an individual stream of phenomenal awareness by periodically generating ZPF information states and filtering phenomenal nuances out of the ZPF, leading to a consistent explanation of the dynamical properties of the neural correlates of consciousness. As a result, we obtain a clear distinguishing criterion between conscious and unconscious brain processes, according to which only those processes that are able to exert influence on the ZPF have the potential to exceed the threshold to conscious experience. These insights can be transferred to all types of dynamical systems, suggesting that the dividing line between conscious and non-conscious systems is identical to the demarcation line between quantum systems and classical systems. On this basis, it is straightforward to derive an indicator for the quantity of consciousness of a given system that measures the degree of order (information) in the ZPF compared to the completely disordered field. It is concluded that the conceptual framework thus defined constitutes a solid foundation for a theory of consciousness and opens up totally new perspectives for consciousness research.

The Agent behind the Scenes: Exposing the Universal Mechanism Underlying Conscious Systems 

Presentation at the 20th Annual Meeting of the ASSC, Buenos Aires, Argentina (June 2016)

 

The disclosure of the universal mechanism underlying conscious systems is one of the core issues in consciousness research. Most of the existing approaches build upon the notion that consciousness arises as an emergent property of a large collection of interacting neurons and their activity patterns. However, on closer inspection all these approaches leave one essential question unanswered: if qualia truly emerge from physical processes, this act of creation must be somehow explicable by means of a reasonable mechanism and intelligible laws of nature. In this respect, no tangible solution has been presented so far. Instead of regarding the brain as the generator of consciousness, it is more plausible to accept consciousness as a fundamental property of the universe and to think of the brain as a highly specialized filter of consciousness. According to this view, the brain employs a universal mechanism by means of which it extracts a limited spectrum of phenomenal nuances from a ubiquitous background field of consciousness that comprises the full phenomenal color palette. I set forth that in the form of the zero-point field (ZPF) physics can offer not only a promising candidate for the background field , but also an appropriate filtering mechanism that is based on the recurring formation and dissolution of patterns of phase-locked ZPF modes (ZPF information states). A major characteristic of the mechanism is the existence of transiently stable attractors. The presence of this mechanism in the brain is supported by the neurophysiological body of evidence. As a consequence, the empirical findings can be interpreted in such a way that the brain produces an individual stream of phenomenal awareness by periodically filtering phenomenal nuances out of the ZPF, leading to a consistent explanation of the dynamical properties of the neural correlates of consciousness. From this perspective, only those brain processes that are able to exert influence on the ZPF and generate ZPF information states have the potential to exceed the threshold to conscious experience. Building on the hypothesized mechanism underlying conscious systems, I derive a universal indicator for the quantity of consciousness that measures the degree of order in the ZPF compared to the completely disordered field. The conceptual framework thus defined constitutes a solid basis for a theory of consciousness, opens a door to the phenomenal classification of physical brain states, and results in testable predictions.

A Novel Approach to the Scientific Understanding and Exploration of Consciousness 

Talk at the International Congress of Hypnosis 2015, Roots and Future of Consciousness, Paris, France (August 2015) 
 

An essential prerequisite for the development of a theory of consciousness is the clarification of the fundamental mechanisms and core principles underlying conscious processes. I present an approach that sheds new light on these mechanisms and opens up new perspectives for consciousness research. It is based on the notion that the universe is imbued with an all-pervasive substrate of consciousness and explains how the brain shapes this substrate in a causally closed functional chain. The approach builds on stochastic electrodynamics (SED), a theoretical framework that provides a deeper understanding of quantum systems and reveals the origin of quantum phenomena. The key insight from SED is that quantum systems have no intrinsic properties. Rather, they acquire their physical properties by means of an interaction process with an all-pervasive stochastic radiation field, called zero-point field (ZPF). This property acquisition process is based on a fundamental mechanism that acts like a filter on the ZPF and results in local modifications of the ZPF. The core characteristic of the mechanism is the formation of stable attractors (perfectly synchronized activity patterns). I give reasons why the ZPF is an eminently suitable candidate for the carrier of consciousness, implying that by virtue of the above mentioned mechanism a system acquires not only its physical properties but also its phenomenal qualities. In order to substantiate this assertion, I interpret the neurophysiological findings in the context of SED, leading to the conclusion that the brain has all the characteristics of a macroscopic quantum system and can be viewed as a stochastic oscillator that operates near the critical point of a phase transition. The default mode is the disordered phase. A suitable sensory input induces a transition to the ordered phase and prompts a cell assembly to fall into an attractor. In this way, the brain produces an individual stream of consciousness by periodically modifying the ZPF. In summary, the latest advances in physics and the neurophysiological body of evidence suggest that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, that the ZPF is the substrate of consciousness and that our individual consciousness is the result of a dynamic interaction process that causes local modifications of the ZPF. In my conclusion I outline the main implications of this new paradigm.

The Fundamental Mechanisms of Consciousness: Unveiling the True Relationship between Brain and Mind 

Presentation at the TSC 2014 Conference in Tucson, Arizona, USA (April 2014) 

An essential prerequisite for the development of a theory of consciousness is the clarification of the fundamental mechanisms underlying conscious processes. In my talk I present an approach that sheds new light on these mechanisms and opens up entirely new perspectives for consciousness research. Overview: The approach starts from the hypothesis that consciousness is not produced by the brain, but based on an all-pervasive substrate. From this perspective, the brain can be regarded as a complex system that makes use of a very specific interaction mechanism by means of which it filters the varied shades of sensations and emotions selectively out of the ubiquitous sea of consciousness. I demonstrate that the latest developments in physics not only support this line of thought, but also furnish the appropriate substrate as well as the interaction mechanism. Moreover, the neurophysiological body of evidence suggests that the functioning of the brain relies on exactly this mechanism. Details: The approach builds on stochastic electrodynamics (SED), a theoretical framework that provides a deeper understanding of quantum systems and reveals the origin of quantum phenomena. The key insight from SED is that quantum systems have no intrinsic properties. Rather, they acquire their physical properties by means of an interaction process with an all-pervasive stochastic radiation field, called zero-point field (ZPF). This property acquisition process is based on a fundamental mechanism that acts like a filter on the ZPF and results in local modifications of the ZPF (ZPF information states). The core characteristic of the mechanism is the formation of stable attractors. I give reasons why the ZPF is an eminently suitable candidate for the carrier of consciousness, implying that by virtue of the above mentioned mechanism a system acquires not only its physical properties but also its phenomenal qualities. In order to substantiate this assertion, I interpret the neurophysiological findings in the context of SED, leading to the conclusion that the brain has all the characteristics of a macroscopic quantum system and can be viewed as a stochastic oscillator that operates near the critical point of a phase transition. The default mode is the disordered phase. A suitable sensory input induces a transition to the ordered phase and prompts a cell assembly to fall into an attractor (a perfectly synchronized activity pattern). Whenever a stable attractor is reached, a ZPF information state is generated and a conscious experience arises. In this way, the brain produces an individual stream of consciousness by periodically modifying the ZPF and generating ZPF information states. In summary, the presented approach, which is fully consistent with the foundations of physics and the findings of neuroscience, suggests that the universe is imbued with an omnipresent substrate of consciousness and explains how the brain shapes this substrate in a causally closed functional chain. I conclude with an overview of the main implications of the approach and an outlook on systematic test scenarios.

A Conclusive Conceptual Framework for Consciousness: Roadmap for the Development of a Fundamental Theory 

Talk at the TSC 2013 Conference in Agra, India (March 2013) 

The framework constitutes a novel synthesis of Western and Eastern insights with the goal to prepare a solid scientific grounding for a theory of consciousness. It is based on three essential cornerstones: physics, neurophysiology, and Eastern philosophy. The physics part builds on stochastic electrodynamics (SED), a theory that provides a deeper understanding of quantum systems and reveals the fundamental organizing principles behind matter. These principles are dominated by the existence of an all-pervasive stochastic radiation field, the zero-point field (ZPF). According to SED, the properties of quantum systems are emergent phenomena that result from the interaction between the system components and the ZPF. Whenever this interaction reaches a stable equilibrium (a stable attractor), a system-specific information state is generated in the ZPF. These fundamental principles run like a common thread through the conceptual framework. The neurophysiological body of evidence (long-range gamma synchrony, scale-free dynamics, stochastic resonance, abrupt phase transitions, adaptive attractor landscapes) clearly suggests that the brain is governed by a universal stochastic driving force and behaves like a macroscopic quantum system. Hence, the functionality of the brain rests upon the above-mentioned principles that are characteristic of every quantum system. A rigorous comparison of these principles with the wisdom of Eastern philosophy, whose insights emanate from a complementary knowledge acquisition process, sheds new light on the nature of consciousness, indicating that the phenomena of quantum physics and consciousness have a common basis and that matter and consciousness bear on one and the same fundamental substrate. This substrate is the ZPF whose unique properties make this field an eminently suitable carrier of primordial energy as well as primordial consciousness. According to the conceptual framework discussed here, our individual consciousness is the result of an interaction process involving the brain and the ZPF. Whenever the neural activity reaches a stable attractor, the brain modifies the ZPF and causes an information state in the ZPF that is associated with a conscious state. In other words, the external aspects of these ZPF information states are physical and manifest themselves as the neural correlates of consciousness (the stable attractors), while the internal aspects of the ZPF information states are phenomenal and are experienced as conscious moments.

Tackling the Hard Problem 

Talk at the TSC 2012 Conference in Tucson, Arizona, USA (April 2012)

One of the main challenges in consciousness research is widely known as the hard problem of consciousness. In my talk I argue that a theoretical approach called stochastic electrodynamics (SED), which aims at deriving quantum physics from first principles, clearly indicates that physics can be reconciled with consciousness. The key insight from SED is that the structuring principles in nature and the peculiar features of quantum systems can be traced back to energy flows between the system components and an all-pervasive, stochastic radiation field, called zero-point field. According to this approach, the properties of quantum systems are not intrinsic, but acquired by dynamic interaction with the zero-point field which in return picks up information about the system. In summary, a quantum system is a selective frequency filter (resonator) that is orchestrated by the zero-point field and generates information states in the zero-point field. I point out that these principles apply also to biological systems. From this perspective, phenomena such as neural gamma synchrony and long-range coherence can be interpreted in terms of resonance phenomena induced and stabilized by the zero-point field. These findings suggest that every coherent activity pattern in the brain is associated with an information state in the zero-point field, disclosing a deeper connection between neurophysiology and SED. In the last part of my talk, I build a bridge between SED and consciousness. I show that insight gained from SED perfectly agrees with the fundamental discoveries of Eastern philosophy. From a comparison between SED and Eastern philosophy I draw the conclusion that mind and matter must be based on the same substrate and that the zero-point field is an appropriate candidate for this substrate. This approach opens a door to a theory of consciousness.

© 2020 by Annika Keppler

and Joachim Keppler