DOI: 10.14704/nq.2019.17.5.2359

Is Consciousness Computable?

Subhash Kak


This commentary reviews different scientific positions for and against consciousness being a computable property. The role that quantum mechanics may play in this question is also investigated. It is argued that the view which assigns consciousness a separate category is consistent with both quantum mechanics and certain results in cognitive science. It is further argued that computability of consciousness implies the solution to the halting problem which is computationally impossible.


cognition, machine consciousness, learning models, quantum Zeno effect

Full Text:



Baars B. A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Baars B. In the Theater of Consciousness, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Bohr N. Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge. Wiley, 1958.

Caplain G. Is consciousness a computational property? Informatica 1995; 19: 615-619.

Chella A, Frixione M, Gaglio S. A cognitive architecture for robot self-consciousness. Artificial Intelligence in Medicine 2008; 44: 147-154.

Davis M. Computability and Unsolvability. McGraw-Hill, 1958.

Freeman W. How Brains make up their Minds, London, UK: Phoenix, 1999.

Gamez D. Progress in machine consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition 2008; 17: 887–910.

Gautam A and Kak S. Symbols, meaning, and origins of mind. Biosemiotics 2013; 6: 301-309.

Haikonen P. Consciousness and Robot Sentience, Singapore: World Scientific, 2012.

Holland O and Goodman R. Robots with internal models. In O. Holland (ed.), Machine Consciousness. Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2003.

Kak A, Gautam A, Kak S. A three-layered model for consciousness states. NeuroQuantology 2016; 14: 166-174.

Kak S. Active agents, intelligence, and quantum computing. Information Sciences 2000; 128:1-17

Kak S. Information and learning in neural networks. NeuroQuantology 2011; 9: 393-401.

Kak S. Biological memories and agents as quantum collectives. NeuroQuantology 2013a; 11: 391-398.

Kak S. Probability constraints and the classical/quantum divide. NeuroQuantology 2013b; 11: 600-606.

Kak S. From the no-signaling theorem to veiled non-locality. NeuroQuantology 2014a; 12: 12-20.

Kak S. Observability and computability in physics. Quantum Matter 2014b; 3: 172-176.

Kak S. Measurement complexity and oracle quantum computing. NeuroQuantology 2014c; 12: 374-381.

Kak S. Veiled nonlocality and quantum Darwinism. NeuroQuantology 2015; 13: 10 – 19.

Kak S. Communication languages and agents in biological systems. In Biocommunication: Sign-Mediated Interactions between Cells and Organisms, R. Gordon and J. Seckbach (editors). World Scientific Publishing, London, 2016. pp. 203-226.

Kak S. The limits to machine consciousness 2017. arXiv:1707.06257

Kak S. Epistemic view of quantum communication. In Quantum Foundations, Probability and Information, A. Khrennikov and B. Toni (editors). Springer-Verlag International, 2018; pp. 119-128.

Koch C. The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach, Pasadena, CA: Roberts & Company Publishers, 2004.

Koch C. In consciousness universal? Scientific American, January 2014.

Misra B. and E.C.G. Sudarshan, The Zeno's paradox in quantum theory. Journal of Mathematical Physics 1977; 18: 756–763.

Penrose R. The Emperor’s New Mind. Penguin Books, 1989.

Penrose R. Shadows of the Mind. Oxford University Press, 1994.

Reason. Consciousness is not a physically provable property, Journal of Mind and Behavior 2016; 37: 31-46

Schrödinger, E. What is Life?and Mind and Matter. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1967

Shanahan M. A cognitive architecture that combines internal simulation with a global workspace. Consciousness and Cognition 2006; 15: 443–449.

Squire LR. The legacy of patient H.M. for neuroscience. Neuron 2009; 61: 6-9.

Tarlaci S. Why we need quantum physics for cognitive neuroscience. NeuroQuantology 2010; 8: 66-76

Tononi G. An information integration theory of consciousness. BMC Neurosci 2004; 5: 42.

Tononi G, Boly M, Massimini M, Koch C. Integrated information theory: from consciousness to its physical substrate. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2016; 17: 450–461.

von Neumann J. The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955.

Zeki S. The disunity of consciousness. Trends Cogn Sci 2003; 7: 214-218.

Zurek WH. Decoherence, einselection, and the quantum origins of the classical. Rev Mod Phys 2003; 75: 715-775.

Supporting Agencies

Federico and Elvia Faggin Foundation, San Francisco

| NeuroScience + QuantumPhysics> NeuroQuantology :: Copyright 2001-2019