gas, liquid, and…perceptonium?: a new state of matter

Any slurpee of atoms can exist in the gas phase — provided that you have the thermal means to vaporize the bejeezus out of it.

If vaporizability can be generalized to all collections of atoms, then it is a mistake to say that “gas-ness” is a property of any single atom. Rather, the properties of gases such as compressability and expandability are constituted by an arrangement of atoms into a meaningful pattern. It is the pattern which carries the property of gases, and not the atoms.

This distinction is the sweet pea of cognitive science. As the physicist Max Tegmark argues in his TedTalk “Consciousness is a mathematical pattern,”

We are simply food. Rearranged.

Why is one arrangement conscious, and not the other?

And what is the meaningful pattern that gives rise to consciousness? Is consciousness a substrate-independent phenomena? Can it arise out of any material, provided that there is enough of it to assume the structure of consciousness?

The video of Tegmark’s TedTalk, which I’m posting below, answers none of these questions. But you can be assured the satisfaction of interesting questions, analogies, and a general sense of universal elegance.

Brain-cloud painting by John Baldessari. Photo retrieved from


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