Explore Federico Faggin’s New Book Irreducible: Consciousness, Life, Computers, and Human Nature

June 14, 2024
IONS Communications Team

Irreducible: Consciousness, Life, Computers, and Human Nature gives an extraordinary history of scientific and tech developments including the step by step development of computational technologies from Euclid to quantum computing, AI and other leading edge technologies. In the new book, Federico Faggin proposes new postulates on the nature of consciousness and free will, which he suggests are fundamental properties of existence.

A dedicated advocate for IONS, Federico Faggin is one of the greatest luminaries of high technology alive today. A physicist by education, he is the inventor of the microprocessor and the MOS silicon gate technology, both of which underlie the modern world’s entire information technology. With the knowledge and experience of a lifetime in cutting-edge fields, Federico now turns his attention to consciousness and the nature of reality, sharing with us his profound insights on the classical and quantum worlds, artificial intelligence, life and the human mind. In this book, he elaborates on an idealist model of reality, produced after years of careful thought and direct experience, according to which nature’s most fundamental level is that of consciousness as a quantum phenomenon, while the classical physical world consists merely of evocative symbols of a deeper reality.

Here is an excerpt from his book:

Key Questions

Live the questions now. Maybe in the future, gradually, without noticing, one day away, you will live the answers.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘Be Patient’

The encounter with my spiritual nature began a path of personal investigation into the nature of my consciousness, the only one I can experience and know. Driven by the desire to understand and reconcile the ineffable unitive experience of awakening with everyday reality, I worked intensely on myself for the following 20 years, during which I continued to carry out my professional activity, first as CEO and then as Chairman of Synaptics.

During that time I thoroughly explored my hitherto neglected inner reality, and tried to integrate it with the outer reality, living in and out of the world at the same time, so to speak: “in the world but not of the world.” I also understood that the experience of the outer world is based on the reproducibility of shared events, while that of the inner world is strictly private and can be known by others only to the extent that we communicate it.

This inner work was the source of many intuitions and spontaneous transformations of thoughts and attitudes which gradually led me to an integration and harmonization of the two worlds, changing me profoundly. The most evident aspect has been the almost complete disappearance of a type of restlessness and mental anxiety that had always been part of my inner landscape.

I then began to question the theory that describes us as biological machines similar to computers because, based on the known laws of physics, we should be completely unconscious, just like our computers are. In fact, the taste of wine, the scent of a rose, the color orange, and the love for a son should not exist, because no scientist can explain how electrical or biochemical signals can produce these qualia. The fact that each of us feels them, and “knows” because of them, is indisputable, and this falsifies the idea that current physical theories are complete, i.e., they describe all of reality.

We are repeatedly told that we are biological robots, while the intense personal investigation that occurred after my awakening revealed otherwise, through many other extraordinary and spontaneous experiences of consciousness.

I felt that, rather than a body, we are spiritual beings temporarily imprisoned in a physical structure similar to a highly sophisticated drone. But if we allow ourselves to be convinced by those who insist we are only our mortal body, we will end up thinking that everything that exists originates only in the physical world. In that case we will not even ask ourselves questions about the nature and purpose of our creative impulses and emotions. In so doing we will also avoid investigating the meaning of our life which, as I now understand, is the most important part of our human existence and experience.

In summary, if we believe that the inanimate matter can explain all of reality, we will support an assumption already falsified by the fact that we are conscious. As I progressed in my study, I gradually realized that, if we hypothesized that consciousness and free will are irreducible properties of nature, the scientific vision and narrative of reality would radically change and legitimize a profound spirituality, with unexpected consequences for both science and spirituality. But how could such a drastic change occur?

In my opinion, science should try to answer all our fundamental questions, not eliminate from reality what it cannot explain. I therefore decided to devote myself full-time to the scientific study of consciousness, and, in 2011, I created with my wife the Federico and Elvia Faggin Foundation to support basic research on consciousness starting from the premise that it is a fundamental and irreducible aspect of reality. The stakes are too high not to seriously consider the hypothesis that consciousness may exist before matter, or perhaps simultaneously with it.

The New Science of Consciousness

If we start from consciousness, free will, and creativity as irreducible properties of nature, the whole scientific conception of reality is overturned. In this new vision, the emotional and intuitive parts of life—ignored by materialism—return to play a central role. Aristotle said: “To educate the mind without educating the heart means not educating at all.” We cannot let physicalism and reductionism define human nature and leave consciousness out from the description of the universe.

The physicalist and reductionist premises are perfect for describing the mechanical and symbolic-informational aspects of reality, but they are inadequate to explain its semantic aspects. If we insist that these assumptions describe all of reality, we eliminate a priori what distinguishes us from our machines and we erase our consciousness, our freedom and, above all, our humanity from the face of the universe.

If, on the other hand, we take our inner world seriously and begin to investigate it with love and determination, we will discover a new Weltanschauung that promises a creative and cooperative future for humankind, full of profound satisfactions. Life cannot be defined only by mere biological aspects, but, above all, by the triumph of the spiritual nature of the universe which silently guides us.

Quantum physics is already telling us that the universe is holistic and creative, and the new developments in quantum information theory justify, as we will see later, a new and revolutionary theory of consciousness and free will.

From my perspective, the only possible way to explain how the universe can create life and consciousness is that the universe is itself alive and conscious from the outset. If you take this hypothesis seriously, the entire conception of reality is transformed, with enormous consequences that point to a brilliant and fulfilling future. Creativity, ethics, free will, and joyful love can only come from consciousness. The immense mechanical intelligence, beyond the reach of the human brain, that comes from the machines we have invented will then add tremendous strength to our wisdom. Otherwise our technology will be used against humankind by those who promote the materialistic vision of the survival of the self-proclaimed fittest.

– From Irreducible: Consciousness, Life, Computers, and Human Nature


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