“Science no longer confronts nature as an objective observer, but sees itself as an actor in this interplay between man and nature”. Werner Heisenberg (1966)
Phenoscience is a research program in agent-centric science and interlinks the fields of physics, biology, consciousness research, and metascience. Insight is sought into the universal principles that govern (i) the making of the scientific image of reality, and (ii) the success and the limits of the scientific method in the exploration of matter, life and consciousness. The mission of Phenoscience Laboratories is to study the possibility of a future „relational science“, i.e., an approach that could account for the phenomenal consciousness of the scientific agent as well as for the power of the scientific process itself. Central to this effort is the following question: Could a novel framework for science be envisioned that, while maintaining a self-consistent view of nature, could include the dimensions of matter, life, and consciousness, without reducing one to the other? In pursuit of this question, Phenoscience Laboratories was founded in 2010.
In pushing the limits of quantum physics in particular, towards answering the question of „What is matter?“, questions such as these arise: What are the limits of the scientific way of knowing? Could there be firm limits to the explanatory powers of physicalist science based on quantum particles and quantum fields? Will modern science encounter a final barrier, or will science, as is commonly believed, proceed without limit during the coming decades, centuries, and even millennia? What will be the future of scientific explanation? Is scientific metaphysics, e.g., the notions of causality, reality, and physical influence, obsolete in mathematical or informational accounts of the quantum world? Or will it prove possible to extend the ontological-causal approach to the microscopic quantum realm also, e.g., in the form of a new kind of quantum causality or of quasi-ontic informational elements? It is likely that without having a deep understanding of the nature of „substance“ itself, no physicalist explanation could ever be complete of the phenomena of matter, consciousness and life.
Modern biology, most recently in the form of quantum biology, positions itself in the middle ground between physics (matter) and consciousness (mind) studies. Some have argued that quantum coherence in biological resonances might play a fundamental role in living processes, potentially linking the apparent extremes of matter and mind. Biologists have had a difficult time, however, to bridge the mind-matter divide and to provide a satisfying answer to the question of „What is life?“ At the first level, biology covers the biochemical, molecular foundations of cellular life, such as in the form of DNA as well as the physical boundary that separates the inside of the cell from the outer environment. At the second level, biology includes also the essential functions of sensory perception, cellular signalling, and cognitive processing. Together they give rise to the the irreducible „life world“ of the organism, which includes the embodied passage of time from past to future – from birth to death. The inherent temporality of the life-world phenomenon – enabling targeted action based upon sensory perception – is the background that governs all types of interactions of the organism with the environment in order to propagate and maintain itself. Specifically in light of that second level of biology, how could the program of quantum physicalism, which outright denies the reality of time, ever provide a complete account of the living and cognitive dimensions, including of adaptive, evolutionary processes?
In seeking scientific answers to the question of „What is consciousness?“, scientists encounter the seemingly intractable problem of needing to explain “the very thing” which grants to them the power to explain in the first place, namely their own consciousness. This circular, or self-referential, relationality is an irreducible element as part of any consciousness studies that validate the reality of the subjective, phenomenal content of observer or agent consciousness. If phenomenal states of awareness, like the experience of forms, patterns, or colours, in nature, are not merely powerless illusions, then what are they? What phenomenological criteria constrain the scientific process in relation to consciousness research? What is the role of phenomenology in science? Critically, the exact relationship of (i) consciousness to life, (ii) of life to matter, and finally (iii) of matter to consciousness, remains unknown. This picture is even more complicated by the fact that in some prominent interpretations of quantum mechanics the conscious experimenter agent plays a significant role in selecting measurement settings, somehow linking qualitative, free-willed agent consciousness with the quantitative measurement outcomes of experimental physics.
Only living organisms inhabit an environment – „a life world“. Importantly, and this distinguishes living from non-living systems in nature, the living being manifests the capacity to shape its surroundings purposefully, i.e., towards an outcome or goal. For us human beings, that capacity has resulted in the emergence of technology, spirituality, art, and science. In the search for an answer to the question of „What is science?“, the metascientific approach promises to shed new light on long-standing problems in the philosophy of science. In the biggest of contexts, metascience explores how the now dominant techno-scientific paradigm is shaping our image of reality in the 21st century, including of matter, life, and mind. At the more practical level, in response to the replication crisis of science, metascience evaluates the reliability of the scientific method by using advanced research protocols, such as meta-experimental strategies. Finally, metascience seeks to advance new insight into the foundations of science, including the phenomenology of science and the scientific observer/agent.