The mathematician Eugene Wigner introduced the idea of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics which says mathematics can be effective at modelling things that should be difficult. For example, maths can be used for monitoring planetary movements and collisions billions of miles away or sub-atomic particle interactions. Wigner said that Newtonian physics was so mathematically simple yet it has proven to be a very accurate estimation of reality to the extent that only in recent times have physicists started to challenge it and introduce more complex models.
The New Scientist reports how mathematicians are now making progress in mapping that which has eluded many for centuries. For example, Johannes Kleiner's podcast explains his approach for attempting to map consciousness using mathematical models.
Philosophers have tried to describe consciousness for thousands of years but more recently biologists started getting involved as we were able to understand the brain better. The biologists discovered a correlation between signals in certain groups of brain cells and with our experiences. These are known as qualia. However, biologists haven't got any further than this and there is no explanation about how these experiences translated into consciousness.
Mathematicians at the University of Oxford have started mapping consciousness using Integrated Information Theory (IIT) which was a theory of consciousness described by Giulio Tonomi in 2004. The model explains how information moves between islands of neurons. In mathematical terms, these islands can be explained at subsystems.
The IIT model has a measure of Phi where High Phi should a high degree of interconnectedness and the model shows that this would the case in biological structures such as the cerebral cortex that. This, therefore, seems to hold up as damage to the cerebral cortex is going to damage our consciousness.
However, there are some really interesting repercussions of the mathematical models of IIT that have been created so far. One of the consequences is that inanimate objects may have a degree of consciousnesses. In fact, particles may have a very small amount of consciousnesses and the universe as a whole would too.
Philosophers call this viewpoint Panpsychism and it has been debated for years. This viewpoint does not mean particles have consciousness in a similar way to ourselves but it does mean that they would have some very minor form of it.
These mathematical models may challenge the beliefs of those who have metaphysical and theological viewpoints. So what do you think? Can we every describe consciousnesses in mathematical terms? Or is consciousness beyond the grasp of human understanding?