Roger Penrose delivers his talk "Consciousness and the Foundations of Physics" for the 2014-2015 Humane Philosophy Project/Ian Ramsey Centre seminar at the Mathematics Institute, University of Oxford.
The introduction of quantum mechanics in the early 20th Century led many physicists to question the “Newtonian” type of picture of an objective deterministic physical reality that had been previously regarded as an essential background to a fully scientific picture of the world. Quantum measurement, as described in standard theory however, requires a fundamental indeterminism, and issues such as Bell non-locality cause basic difficulties with a picture of objective reality that is consistent with the principles of relativity. Accordingly, many philosophers of science have felt driven to viewpoints according to which “reality” itself takes on subjective qualities, seemingly dependent upon the experiences of conscious beings.
My own position is an essentially opposite one, and I argue that conscious experience itself arises from a particular objective feature of physical law. This, however, must go beyond our current understanding of the laws of quantum processes and their relation to macroscopic phenomena. I argue that this objective feature has to do with implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity and, moreover, must lie beyond the scope of a fully computational universe.
SIR ROGER PENROSE OM FRS is a renowned mathematical physicist, mathematician and philosopher of science. He is the Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford, as well as an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College. He is known for his work in mathematical physics, especially his contributions to general relativity and cosmology. He has received numerous prizes and awards, including the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics, which he shared with Stephen Hawking for their contribution to our understanding of the Universe. In 1972 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1972. He was knighted for services to science in 1994 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 2000. He also holds honorary doctorate degrees from many distinguished universities including Warsaw, Leuven, York and Bath.