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Is consciousness a collection of discrete states that we flip between?

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What is consciousness? This is the greatest remaining mystery of the human mind. No wonder it is known as “hard problem”. We can’t even agree on whether consciousness is one thing or a variety of different states. However, new ways of exploring this question have shed some interesting light on this most elusive of concepts.

Although we use language like “losing consciousness” to refer to unconsciousness or falling asleep, researchers have long understood that consciousness is more complex than simply turning a metaphorical switch from “on” to “off.” However, there is still considerable debate as to whether this is a single phenomenon with several continuous shades, which you can picture as a dim switch, or Discrete states, such as separate television channels.

Thinking about consciousness from a physicist’s perspective can help address the question. This is because the brain is constantly switching between states determined by patterns of electrical signals, and physicists have metrics to probe such busy, ever-changing systems. In 2014, Robin Carhart Harris At the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues hypothesized that entropy might be particularly useful..

Entropy Tells how bad a system is. A measure of entropy is how many different microscopic configurations (such as the arrangement of water molecules in glass) exist for a given macroscopic property (such as the volume of that glass). The researchers proposed that the brain has more entropy, as measured by…