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pleasures beyond imagination, or pain and horror exceeding
your worst fear.
Even stranger, the physical laws in this inner reality are up
to the scientist™s whims; gravity may cause objects to fall
upward, matches may burn before they are struck, and our
bodies might be able to move through solid objects. Even more
bizarre, this inner reality may be composed of a different
dimensional structure, say, four dimensions of distance, two
dimensions of time, and one dimension of phase-shift
(something that is completely alien and unknown to us). The
inner reality does not even need to be consistent; its
characteristics might abruptly change for no apparent reason.
Indeed, the nature of this inner reality could be virtually
anything.
Of course, this is the same scenario that troubled Descartes.
The difference is that we now have a detailed understanding of
how this strange situation could come about. Descartes™ vague
“evil genius” has been replaced by physical structures and well-
defined operations. This allows us to analyze the phenomenon
by using rigorous scientific methods. As mentioned in the
introduction, our concern here is physics, not philosophy or
psychology.
Chapter 6: Information-Limited Subrealities 89




FIGURE 6-2
The Brain in the Vat. The human brain can only interact with
the external world by means of neural inputs and outputs. If this
neural activity were provided by an advanced computer system,
a disembodied brain could experience any conceivable reality.

Since this is a book of science, our starting point must be
that the scientific view of our reality is correct. That is, there is
a physical universe that exists independently of our minds. It
consists of three dimensions of distance, one dimension of time,
and obeys consistent physical laws, such as described by
biology, chemistry and physics. Our minds arise from the
operation of this universe, not the other way around.
While it is possible that we are brains in a vat or victims of
Descartes™ evil genius, there is not the slightest reason for us to
The Inner Light Theory of Consciousness
90

believe that this is true. Indeed, giving credence to such ideas
is meaningless and counterproductive. For instance, imagine
hearing a strange sound as you lie in bed one night. What could
it possibly be? The list is endless! It could be a small asteroid
destroying the house next door, or a dinosaur eating your tulips.
It could be mole-men digging tunnels under your bedroom, or
an alien spaceship carrying away your home. Do you give any
of these scenarios a second thought? Certainly not; it would be
a waste of your time.
While every observer must acknowledge the possibility that
their reality is not genuine, they will reject this as a meaningless
thought. Our scientific observations tell us that our minds arise
from the activity of our brains, and that our brains are but a very
small piece of an immense universe. Lacking credible evidence
to the contrary, this is the only reasonable thing for us to
believe.
But now we want to turn our attention to something that
could exist in our universe, a brain in a vat. This is something
that humans or other intelligent creatures could conceivably
construct. It is a physical apparatus, and as such, it can be
analyzed in the finest detail, even down to the level of
individual atoms. The problem is, if we regard the world on the
outside of the vat as the true reality, how are we to understand
and classify the reality experienced by this disembodied brain?
First of all, the brain in the vat may or may not know of its
true condition. That is, the brain may know that its experiences
are being generated by a computer and that nothing in its
perceived reality is genuine. For instance, the sadistic scientist
may place a video camera over the vat and send the electronic
signal into the visual cortex of the captive brain. “See, you are
nothing but a disembodied brain in a vat, and I am your God!”
the scientist might taunt.
On the other hand, the scientist could completely withhold
all information about the outside world. Lacking any reason to
believe otherwise, the captive brain would believe that its
Chapter 6: Information-Limited Subrealities 91

experiences originate from the external physical universe that
it perceives. It would even call its reality the “true reality.”
While the brain must acknowledge the possibility that it is
nothing but a “brain in a vat,” it would have no reason to
suspect that this is true. In other words, the brain in the vat
would understand and perceive its reality in exactly the same
way that you and I perceive our reality. But, of course, we
would know that it is mistaken. We are in a privileged position
to know with certainty that the captive brain™s reality is an
illusion; it is not a true representation of the external physical
universe. This is the situation that we want to understand and
explore, and where we will focus our attention.

The Information-Limited Subreality
Using the “brain in the vat” as a guide, our task is to now
define the physical phenomenon called an Information-Limited
Subreality. Two observers, which we will call the outer
observer and the inner observer, exist in a physical universe.
The outer observer has the ability to perceive this universe
directly, without distortion or misrepresentation. This means
that the reality perceived by the outer observer is genuine; it
originates from and represents exactly what it seems to, an
external physical universe.
In comparison, the inner observer is in a much more
complex condition, being totally unable to observe the physical
universe. This handicap results from the information accessible
to the inner observer being systematically distorted by some
process. Moreover, this distortion is not random, but has two
key characteristics. First, it blocks all knowledge of the
physical universe to the inner observer. Second, the distorted
information is completely consistent with another physical
universe, one that could exist, but doesn™t. Of course, the inner
observer does not know that what he perceives is an illusion; it
is as real to him as real can be. It is the only reality that he
knows. But the outer observer can see this situation as it truly
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92

is, a false reality that is generated by manipulating information.
For this reason, the outer observer would refer to the
experiences of the inner observer as an Information-Limited
Subreality. Since this is such a long name, we will call it an
inner reality for short. Likewise, we will refer to the reality
experienced by the outer observer as the outer reality. Of
course, the inner observer would not use any of these terms; to
him there is only reality.
This definition encompasses Descartes™ evil genius, the
brain in the vat, and a variety of other important situations.
Perhaps the most important way that this definition broadens
our understanding is that we are now using the term observer.
As discussed at the beginning of this chapter, referring to an
“observer” is a way of specifying a condition under which
observations are made. By definition, who or what is doing the
observing is irrelevant; only the nature of what is observed is
important. For instance, there is absolutely no requirement for
an observer to be conscious. As an example, imagine we built
a sophisticated robotic probe, designed to explore the surface of
a distant planet with minimal human guidance. We perform a
final test by stimulating its sensors with computer generated
signals designed to simulate what the probe will encounter on
its mission. For instance, the probe might observe that it is in
a methane atmosphere, with a temperature of 132 degrees, and
total darkness. Of course, this is an illusion; the probe is really
in our well-lit and comfortable laboratory. In short, we have
placed this nonconscious observer in an Information-Limited
Subreality, according to the definitions we have laid out.
Both the inner and outer observers will regard their reality
as genuine. While each knows that it is logically possible that
they exist in an Information-Limited Subreality, they have no
reason to believe this is true. Each will make the claim: “My
reality derives from an external physical universe.” For the
outer observer, this statement is true; for the inner observer, it
is false. But what is most important, the truth or falsity of this
Chapter 6: Information-Limited Subrealities 93

FIGURE 6-3
Kurt Godel (1906-1978). Godel
was an interesting man. He is often
regarded as the greatest logician
(one who studies logic) to have
ever lived. Godel spent time with
Albert Einstein and published work
on the mathematics of time and
time travel. He is also known for
his interest in psychic phenomena
and his effort to develop a logical
proof for the existence of God.
Godel starved himself to death at
age 72, believing that his doctors
were trying to poison him.

statement cannot be proven from within the reality that the
statement is made.
This touches on one of the most important mathematical
discoveries of the twentieth century. In 1931, the Austrian-
American mathematician Kurt Godel shook the foundations of
the mathematics world by proving what are now known as the
Godel Incompleteness Theorems. In nontechnical terms, Godel
(Fig. 6-3) showed that within any system of rules there are
statements that are true, but cannot be proven to be true within
the system of rules. This could not be more disturbing to
mathematicians, since mathematics itself is a system of rules. In
short, Godel showed that there are mathematical statements that
are true, but can never be proven to be true, regardless of how
clever mathematicians are or how long they work on them.
As a pertinent example, suppose our inner observer utters
the words, “I exist in an Information-Limited Subreality.” This
is a true statement, but the ability to prove that it is true does not
exist within the Information-Limited Subreality. Its truth can
only be proven by examining the situation from “outside of the
system of rules.” That is, by looking at things from the
perspective of the outer observer.
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94

The Information-Limited Subreality is a phenomenon that
could logically exist in the physical universe as we know it. As
such, it is something that we can examine, classify, and
determine the properties of. This brings us to The Inner Light,
a story that allows us to understand the most extraordinary
property of the Information-Limited Subreality, the property
that is the root of consciousness.

Episode 125: The Inner Light
The Star Trek movies and television episodes have become
an icon of popular culture. Their contribution has reached far
beyond mere entertainment, they have provided unique
commentary on social issues and helped to shape our vision of
the future. The Inner Light, Episode 125 of Star Trek: The Next
Generation, is one of the most highly acclaimed stories in these
collective works, and it holds a special place in our search for
the nature of consciousness.
The story begins with the starship Enterprise passing
through an unknown region of space. Its commander, Captain
Jean-Luc Picard, stands diligently on the bridge, surrounded by
his first officer and bridge crew. The ship™s sensors detect an
alien probe of unknown design, and they approach it with
caution. Without warning, the probe begins to emit a narrow
nucleonic beam (a 24th century term) which engulfs the Captain,
causing him to fall to the floor. His first officer kneels over
him to give care. As Picard looks up from the deck he sees his
world change; the face of his first officer fades away and is
replaced by that of a young woman, obviously relieved to see
him regaining awareness. Picard looks around and finds he is
no longer on the bridge of the Enterprise, but in the living area
of an unfamiliar residence, wearing unfamiliar clothing. As is
common in his century, Picard believes he has been abducted
from the Enterprise by a teleportation beam. “What is this
place?” Picard demands. The woman seems genuinely confused
by the question, as she tenderly responds, “This is your home,
Chapter 6: Information-Limited Subrealities 95

of course.” She pleads with him to remain calm, explaining that
he has been feverish for over a week. He ignores her advice,
and leaves the residence in search of answers.
Picard finds that he is in the small community of Ressic, on
the planet Kataan. The residents know him as their longtime
friend Kamin. The woman he awoke to is Eline, his wife of
three years. Those around him dismiss his claims of being a
starship captain as delusions of the fever, stealing the memories
of his true life. Over the next days, weeks, and years, Picard
struggles to find the reason he has been taken from the
Enterprise, and to find where in the universe he is being held.
But all is in vain; he can find no evidence to support his
memories. All that he encounters tells him that he is Kamin, an
ironweaver in the community of Ressic, husband to Eline.
Even after five years we find that Picard is still struggling
with the memories of his former life. But absent any evidence,
and in deference to the wife he has grown to love, Picard puts
these memories aside and accepts his new existence. He
becomes Kamin, and silences the inner voices that know him as
Jean-Luc. Over the next 30 years, Kamin lives a happy life with
Eline. He has children and grandchildren, becomes a member
of the community™s governing council, and spends his days in
scientific pursuits and exploring the countryside. He also
experiences the human tragedies of life, the death of friends and
family, unfulfilled dreams for those he cares about, and
struggling against hopeless situations.
In one particularly poignant scene, Kamin tells Eline how
realistic his memories still seem, even after many years. He
looks at her and the village around him, and softly utters, “It
was real“ it was as real as this is.” Now, the viewer knows
that this is a very strange statement, since Picard hasn™t gone
anywhere; he is still laying on the deck of the bridge of the
Enterprise. The nucleonic beam is controlling his brain, making
him perceive that he is a mere ironweaver from Ressic. Picard™s
mind is trapped in an Information-Limited Subreality. His
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