Can A Quantum Field Theory Ontology Help Resolve the Problem of Consciousness?

  • Anand RangarajanEmail author


The hard problem of consciousness arises in most incarnations of present-day physicalism. Why should certain physical processes necessarily be accompanied by experience? We begin with the assumption that experience cannot exist without being accompanied by a subject of experience (SoE). Strawson has elaborately defended the notion of a thin subject—an SoE which exhibits a phenomenal unity with different types of content (sensations, thoughts, etc.) occurring during its temporal existence. Next, following Stoljar, we invoke our ignorance of the true physical as the reason for the explanatory gap between present-day physical processes (events, properties) and experience. We are therefore permitted to conceive of thin subjects as related to the physical via a new, yet to be elaborated, relation. While this is difficult to conceive under most varieties of classical physics, we argue that this may not be the case under certain quantum field theory ontologies. We suggest that the relation binding an SoE to the physical is akin to the relation between a particle and (quantum) field. In quantum field theory, a particle is conceived as a coherent excitation of a field. Under the right set of circumstances, a particle coalesces out of a field and dissipates. We suggest that an SoE can be conceived as akin to a particle which coalesces out of physical fields, persists for a brief period of time, and then dissipates in a manner similar to the phenomenology of a thin subject. While it is odd at first glance to conceive of subjects of experience as akin to particles, the spatial and temporal unity exhibited by the particle as opposed to fields and the expectation that selfons are new kinds of particles paves the way for cementing this notion.


Classical physics Quantum field theory Consciousness Physicalism Physical processes Subject of experience Thin subject Particle 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Computer and Information Science and EngineeringUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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