Embodied Cognition And Quantum Physics
“We don’t know” is a common response to so many questions in cosmology – the PHIL/MATH2042 course has made this unavoidably evident (which, by the way, I reckon is awesome – “yay!” to the focus of inspiring wonder and moving away from the belief in inaccuracy!).

Now as we move into astrobiology it seems we are faced with more unknowns – we don’t even know what life is, and it is likely that we are chauvinistic in our anthropic understanding of the world. Perhaps, as proponents of embodied cognition would have it, our ability to conceptualize, (maybe even our imagination?) is limited by our form – we comprehend according to our experience within a particular body structure. (apologies if I've slightly misinterpreted what embodied cognition proffers.)

Yet, as humans, we love to try to explain things. It appears to be built into our psychology that we feel safer when we can explain the cause of an event to each other, even if we can’t explain the cause of the cause – just as long as we are at least one step away from facing the abyss of the unknown.

We are driven to explain but our explanations may be limited by what we are.
So what types of questions do we ask that may be unanswerable to us humans? Can we validly ask about ourselves?

I think in negotiating this question we must grapple with the embedded nature of mind.

Explanations are always about something. We may explain a chair quite well – we can talk about its structure, function, colour, form and even debate whether it is a chair in comparison to the essence of “chair-iness”. We don’t need to be a chair to explain a chair. It would probably make chair-explaining very difficult if we were a chair, and it is unlikely that we could concurrently know what we know from a human perspective, while we were a chair.

Silly example? Well we certainly try to explain what consciousness is using consciousness- we use a few tools along they way, but essentially we attempt to understand our ability to understand, using understanding. As Albert Einstein reminds us, that the universe is comprehendible at all, is a very cool concept indeed – so it is certainly amazing that we can embark on an intellectual journey towards self-discovery!

Yet this seems a long way from philosophy of the cosmos. Or is it? Recently the notion of consciousness as a fundamental aspect of the universe, (which collapses quantum wave function), has been revived as a tenable theory by our very own (ANU) David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen.

If they are correct, perhaps the question of whether we can inspect what it is like to experience, is linked to whether we can inspect the quantum worlds appropriately. Can we hope to answer questions of consciousness and quantum theory if our understanding is embedded in these worlds? Might it be that studying quantum worlds is a kind of introspection upon the very substance we use to study it with. Can we hope to get worthwhile answers if we think about abouting?
I feel strongly that the journey, at least, is worthwhile. And I, for one, look forward to how this concept of mind by philosophers of physics might progress.

Senan