The passages below are from final chapters where Rovelli focuses on the nature of mind and consciousness in light of quantum physics.
Rovelli's take on this subject is very much in line with a post I wrote in 2018, "Awareness is a process, not a thing."
Consciousness isn't a thing. It is a process. Thinking of it as a thing makes us wonder what kind of a thing it is, whereas we should be asking, what sorts of processes and interactions give rise to consciousness?
Hope you enjoy these words from Rovelli as much as I do.
If the fine grain of the world is made of material particles that have just mass and motion, it seems difficult to reconstruct our perceiving and thinking complexity from this amorphous grain.
But if the fine grain of the world is better described in terms of relations, if nothing has intrinsic properties except in relation to other things, perhaps in this physics we can better find elements able to combine in a comprehensible way, to be the basis of those complex phenomena that we call our perceptions and our consciousness.
If the physical world is woven from the subtle interplay of images in mirrors reflected in other mirrors, without the metaphysical foundation of a material substance, perhaps it becomes easier to recognize ourselves as part of that whole.
...But there is no need to attribute photo-consciousness to elementary systems in order to get around a frozen "simple matter." It is enough to have observed how the world is better described by relative variables and their correlations.
This allows us to be released from the prison of a blunt opposition between the objectivity of matter and mental life. The rigid distinction between a mental world and a physical one fades. It is possible to think of both mental and physical phenomena as natural phenomena: both products of interactions between parts of the physical world.
...If the world consists of relations, then no description is from outside it. The descriptions of the world are, in the ultimate analysis, all from inside. They are all in the first person.
Our perspective on the world, our point of view, being situated inside the world (our "situated self," as Jenann Ismael beautifully puts it), is not special: it rests on the same logic on which quantum physics, hence all of physics, is based.
If we imagine the totality of things, we are imagining being outside the universe, looking at it from out there. But there is no "outside" to the totality of things. The external point of view is a point of view that does not exist. Every description of the world is from inside it.
The externally observed world does not exist; what exists are only internal perspectives on the world which are partial and reflect one another. This world is this reciprocal reflection of perspectives.
...I think that when we wonder about the relationship between the "I" and "matter," we are using two concepts that are both confused and misleading, and this is the origin of the confusion surrounding the questions about the nature of consciousness.
Who is the "I" that has the sensation of feeling, if not the integrated set of our mental processes? We have an intuition of unity when we think about ourselves, but this is justified by the integration of our body and by the ways our mental processes work, of which the part we call conscious does one thing at a time.
The first term of the problem, the "I," is the residue of a metaphysical error: the result of the common mistake of mistaking a process for an entity.
...To ask what consciousness is, after having unraveled the neural processes, is like asking what a storm is after having understood its physics: it is a question that makes no sense. To add in a "possessor" of sensations is like adding Jove to the phenomenon of the thunderstorm.
It is like saying, after having understood the physics of the storm, that there still remains, as Chalmers would put it, the "hard problem" of connecting it with the anger of Jove.
It is true that we have the "intuition"of an independent entity that is the "I." But we also had the "intuition" that behind a storm there was Jove. And that the Earth was flat. It is not through uncritical "intuitions" that we construct an effective comprehension of reality.
Introspection is the worst instrument of inquiry if we are interested in the nature of mind: it is tantamount to looking for our own prejudices and wallowing in them.
Even worse is the the second term of the question, "matter." It is, as well, the residue of an incorrect metaphysics based on too naive a conception of matter as a universal substance defined only by mass and motion. This is erroneous metaphysics because it is contradicted by quantum physics.
If we think in terms of processes, events, in terms of relative properties, of a world of relations, the hiatus between physical phenomena and mental phenomena is much less dramatic. It becomes possible to see both as natural phenomena generated by complex structures of interactions.
...The best description of reality that we have found is in terms of events that weave a web of interactions. "Entities" are nothing other than ephemeral nodes in this web. Their properties are not determined until the moment of these interactions; they exist only in relation to something else. Everything is what it is only with respect to something else.
Every vision is partial. There is no way of seeing reality that is not dependent on a perspective -- no point of view that is absolute and universal.
...Every time that something solid is put into doubt or dismantled, something else opens up and allows us to see further than we could before. Watching what appears to be as solid as rock melt into air makes lighter, it seems to me, the transitory and bittersweet flowing of our lives.
The interconnectedness of things, the reflection of one in another, shines with a clear light that the coldness of eighteenth-century mechanisms could not capture.
Even if it leaves us astonished. Even if it leaves us with a profound sense of mystery.