This anonymous scientist is a Ph.D., Professor Engineering at a major European university and a prominent industrial researcher with many publications in physics journals, including more than a dozen on quantum computation. This is a fascinating account of how a teenage altered states experience influenced a life of hard science research.
From an Altered State of Consciousness to a Life-long Quest for a Model of Mind
Elsag spa, Genova Italy
15 May 58, In a cinema in Turin, Italy, while watching a Flamenco dance.
From an altered state of consciousness to a life-long quest for a model of mind
(i) States of consciousness (ASC) I experienced as a teenager;
(ii) A specific ASC concerning the nature of my own mind;
(iii) Discussion of the preceding account
(iv) How I tried to formalize these experiences. The current result is a theory of quantum problem solving and a possible model of some aspects of the mind.
(i) First account
At the age of 26 I wrote:
“I had such experiences in my teens. They were sudden intuitions, where a superior form of knowledge developed. Compared to them our normal life is but oblivion and sleep.
I was aware of having found an original world that we once knew but have forgotten. It always stands on our side, but we do not see it. But sometimes a glimmer opens, revealing a vision of unthinkable perfection and beauty, of superhuman harmony. The unfathomable mystery of life instantly reveals itself, of life we are the beneficiaries.
Such intuitions were first suggested by paintings, music, literature. Then they came unexpected and autonomous. Although untranslatable in normal language, sometimes I tried to fix some of their features in writing.”
(ii) Second account
The place was a cinema, it was evening, I was watching a flamenco dance (to me the most beautiful dance ever and a true representation of life). Since my ASCs were suggested by art, in my account “art” might stand for ASC. The account was written when I was 16 in the night after that ASC, in darkness. I found some pieces illegible (shown as “Š”). The account is naïve, repetitive and obscure:
“The spirit of continuation and renewal is art; in intuition the new faces what was developed. I see the fundamental becoming of our life from what was developed until the new develops. Self-intuition of past development and new: a short formula, the spirit of all life, the spirit of mankind, its morality, its end.
That melting pot where I saw in movement the life of my feelings until now, where I found the lost truth of my destiny Š . Freedom, I found the way to you, but I need a sharp sickle and let this be a sound philosophy and the mastering of formal logic to explain what I saw.
I have found myself after much suffering and oblivion. Now in a wonderful vision I have remembered everything of the ancient myself. I am reborn a child, the powerful spirit that animated my unaware youth, the spirit of life, art, feeling, morality I have met again full of emotion. Life is again that magic melting pot, the cradle of four feelings or a few more, but in what wonderful harmony dialoging between them, rejoicing for their return. They are untouchable, sacred; they are life, my life.
But, how long will it last? A shadow is over me in the hour of the sun. If I do not want to return to too deep a sleep, oblivion, suffering Š.
A phantasmagoria of thousand colors filled my eyes, sweet music bewildered my ears, and all so transported, enjoying that universal vision of beauty, suddenly a quick intuition, an instant of whirling feeling and I see the myself of art, reminding me of the dawning of life, an everlasting promise, since always vanished Š describing all history of mankind. Awakened from a long-lasting sleep, I have found life again, I enjoy it, am drunk with it. I am free since I joyfully identify myself with natural law.
Feeling gives meaning to everything, light and elusive it dances while its divine necessity Š. Feeling is the memory of our kind, its happiness and divinity is the happiness of mankind, universal and coming true in individual beings. What else can be asked to make light? All is said in one undefinable word: feeling.”
My ASCs were no longer understandable when I was out of them. However, some features of that ASC could be reported in ordinary language. I expand here my original account. I saw an evolutionary process, generated by the dialog between a limited number of “feelings.” This dialog generated my own life. Life described itself through the recapitulation of the process by which it was generated until the present moment. This recapitulation was a-temporal, instantaneous. Each of those dialoging feelings had all the attributes of perfection: absolute beauty, absolute freedom, absolute necessity.
Actually, such feelings were inseparably feeling and form. They had an immensely rich internal structure. Together, they were the fundament of everything; explained everything. Their dialogue started from an origin perceived as the source of all things. Each feeling, while keeping its identity, was becoming something new and richer in the dialogue. This latter was a continuous creation, and together a freedom and a necessity. In hindsight, this could mean freedom from determination by the past (from causality), and it could mean influence from the future. Evolutionary processes jointly influenced by past and future conditions appear in our approach to quantum problem solving (later).
Although feelings were inseparably form and feeling, I thought my experience could be formalized. After all, a “fundamental feeling” might be our way of perceiving what can be described as a fundamental form.
(iv) The quest
I became an expert in information technology architectures, compromising between practical needs and the wish to decipher that ASC. That “wish” originated a special course of action throughout my last 40 years, as follows.
For many years I tampered, mostly in my free time, with molecular biology, models of the neural network, and self-organizing systems, without much construct.
I was 36 when I changed approach. This was likely influenced by my growing acquaintance with Plato’s theory of Forms (reminiscent of my ASCs) and, on the professional side, computation.
According to Plato, Forms (or Ideas, or Visions) are objective perfections that exist in themselves and for themselves, at the same time they are the cause of natural phenomena, they keep phenomena bound together and constitute their unity. Conics, examples of Forms, were formalized in geometry long before becoming the observed orbits of celestial bodies.
By analogy, I thought that Plato’s world could also host the Form of our mind; in other words, the form of our mind could answer some unitary, fundamental idea. That ASC could have been my grasping of it. This could be formalized without reference to neurophysiology (like conics before modern-times astronomy).
However, there was no point in trying to formalize an intuition I could only dimly remember. So I lowered my ambitions. I gave up self-organizing systems and started wondering how computation – a well defined Form — could be involved in the mind. According to my ASC, it had to be fundamental in character. I also thought that (tautologically) nature computes itself through fundamental physical laws. The mind might compute through such laws.
For example, the “fundamental” Newton equation F = M x A (force equals mass times acceleration) can be seen as a computation. We could utilize it for performing multiplication and division between two variables. This form of computation, directly rooted on fundamental (pre-dynamical) physical laws, not on the dynamical processes governed by them, was a completely new kind as far as I knew. However, no general-purpose computation could be found along this way. So I allowed myself to freely invent “fundamental physical laws”.
Solving a system of Boolean equations, or the corresponding Boolean network (something like solving a jigsaw puzzle), is a most general problem in the finite. I found a way of solving any network with a corresponding perfect hydraulic machine. By pushing an input piston, movement or no movement of the other pistons yielded a solution. Everything had to be perfect (perfectly incompressible fluid, perfect correlations between piston movements) as fundamental laws appear to be. Otherwise the machine jammed.
I thought I had something and went to a physicist friend of mine. He found the thing amusing, and unphysical. I also learned that fundamental laws ceased to belong to classical physics, having gone to quantum physics, a discipline I never studied before. Learning it on the side took time.
Eventually I found a way of representing the solutions of a system of Boolean equations with the formalism of quantum mechanics. My friend was interested this time. He encouraged me to publish. Although speculative, the thing was accepted. Being a professional well-known physicist, my friend also found out that a few physicists had been studying quantum computation for a few years. It was the end of the 80’s. We decided to join. We did so by organizing the first series of annual workshops on quantum information processing. I was the fund-raiser; we were sponsored by my company. It is recognized that those conferences significantly accelerated the development of the field.
However, I had a strictly personal reason to be unhappy with the approach followed by most of the community (which, by the way, was having a great scientific success: they were developing an entirely new branch of physics). It was dynamical-reversible quantum computation. A dynamical sequence of elementary computation actions transforms an input into the output of computation that contains the solution. The “action” is always on an infinitesimal segment of that sequence, and is totally blind about the purpose of performing that segment (to the end of solving the problem). This did not resemble ASC (or even insight, perhaps the closest thing to ASC in ordinary thinking) where “everything” must be simultaneously observable.
However, luckily enough, my speculative model attracted the attention of some outstanding physicists, who also consented to interact with an I.T. engineer (these interactions were on a technical-scientific level; my motivations were too personal and I kept them for myself).
This brings us to the present. The forms of problem-solving we are propounding share (in my view) some of the features of that ASC:
They are largely atemporal and based on pre-dynamical fundamental physical laws. This is similar to performing multiplication and division with Newton’s law, although the richer quantum domain offers general-purpose computation.
The result of the computation simultaneously represents the definition of the problem, the solution of the problem and, using an anthropomorphic language, why it is the solution. In a way, everything is simultaneously (instantly) observable.
The process bringing to the result is freed from being determined by the past alone and is somewhat driven by the future end. [This, we discovered, also applies to sequential quantum computation: any quantum experiment is jointly influenced by the initial preparation and the final measurement action]. This kind of freedom from the past, with necessity restored through a joint influence from past and future, besides being reminiscent of a feature of that ASC, gives a superior computational power. Quantum computing can solve in one second problems that classical computation could solve only in billions or trillions of years. Does this justify the fact that ASC is like our conscious mind accessed a transcendent form of knowledge?
This time, this approximated verbal account does not refer to a subjective state of consciousness, but to a well-defined, plausible model of quantum problem solving. Of course, this is my way of seeing the thing; it cannot be excluded that that ASC only created a very persistent motivation, with little or no relation to our current results.
Our computation model was cited in the work of two neurophysiologists as a possible way of working of a quantum brain. I got in touch with them, mentioning the ASC origin of my contribution to developing that model. A physical model resembling a mind experience could be an instance of the mind-body duality, of possible neurophysiological interest. One of them encouraged me to write this account.