Phi – Tononi

Phi: A voyage from the brain to the soul
Giulio Tononi


Ultimately, it's a good read, despite being a little long and flourished with over-extravagant language.

Big Takeaway

The big takeaway that I got from reading this is around the meaning of life.

Tonini says that since:

  • That conscious experience is the only thing that is really real.
  • All concepts live as unique qualia shapes of consciousness.
  • Life itself is nothing, consciousness is everything.
  • Life is just the universes way of randomly evolving towards higher and higher levels of consciousness.
  • Consciousness is the universe experiencing itself.
  • Life itself is meaningless, consciousness is meaning.
  • What separates levels of consciousness is the range of qualia shapes (concepts) that they can experience and integrate.
  • Hence, the purpose of consciousness is to integrate more and more concepts.
  • In IIT world, a God would be a conscious being that has integrated maximum concepts and hence, is all-knowing.
  • Hence the goal of consciousness is to integrate as many concepts under one consciousness to "shine a light of meaning" on the dark meaningless universe.

Other Ideas

  • Paradoxically, there is no "reality" outside of consciousness, yet consciousness is built on reality.
  • Through interacting with friends, they shape our potential qualia shapes, meaning they are always with us in a loose way.
  • When we die, consciousness ends, period.
  • However, we can influence the greater goal (growing consciousness) by contributing to the knowledge, science, and art of the world. As this will enable the next generation to build upon these concepts and grow consciousness.


  • Information is the reduction of uncertainty.
  • IIt posits that since consciousness is the only thing that is “really real”, the only thing that doesn’t need an observer, it is us, then the purpose of life is to expand consciousness to integrate as many concepts under a single dome. The purpose of life is learning, discovery, and imagination (the two ways to create new qualia shapes).
  • What separates a child grown up in poor Vietnam compared to a rich USA? Put into the same circumstances the white boy will be able to perform better, make better decisions. Why, because he has had a better education.
  • Education is about giving us the maximum amount of integrated concepts that we interpret the world through.
  • The more concepts we have integrated the more “freedom” we have when inputs come in, since the brain has more tools to understand, compare, and ultimately decide from.
  • Hence maximising the number of integrated concepts, maximises our freedom, maximises our ability to live an optimal experience (happiness).
  • The more concepts that we integrate into consciousness, the richer our understanding of all other concepts become. If we only understand the concept of Apple and Pencil, we can only experience the world as either Apple or Pencil. But as we understand (integrate) more concepts into consciousness then our understanding of the world becomes more fine-grained, becomes richer.
  • As we integrate more concepts into a single consciousness, we bring more of the dust that exists out there in the physical world under a single qualia shape, one that we see and understand.


  • "Midway upon the journey of his dream, he found himself adrift inside the dark, not knowing whence or wherefore he was there."
  • "A small crack in the body’s frame will shake the soul’s backbone, a trumpet blaring what we stand to lose."
  • "That’s what information is, gentlemen, reduction of uncertainty."
  • "Murky thoughts, like murky waters, can serve two purposes only: to hide what lies beneath, which is our ignorance, or to make the shallow seem deep."
  • "If it were not for you, the observer, would it still be a single entity?"
  • "I am just the most conscious of my many me, but those diminished selves would be right in claiming their own rights, except that I don’t hear them, but they are along for the ride."
  • "Think not of monsters but of raindrops. Inside a drop of rain, molecules interact more strongly than with the air outside, and so a surface forms. The drop is a single entity and is contained within a border. When two droplets meet, either they bounce and remain separate, or they fuse and become a single, larger drop. There are no overlaps, nor drops within other drops. So it may be with consciousness: consciousness lives within a system where integrated information reaches a maximum, inside its own drop."
  • "“But you, renowned colleague,” continued the German, “when you see ‘light,’ you are wondrously specific, whether you know it or not: you have exquisite mechanisms in your mill, your moulin merveilleux, mechanisms specifying at once that things are this way and not another (light as opposed to dark), that what you are distinguishing is not colored (of any particular color), does not have a shape (any particular one), is visual as opposed to auditory or olfactory, sensory as opposed to thoughtlike, and so on. Each mechanism is a concept, Herr Galileo. Meaning from mechanism,” exclaimed the Baron: “That’s where the meaning of light and dark comes from!”"
  • "Whether or not our spark is more divine, said Galileo, respect does not arise in things themselves, but in the thinking burden of our responsibility."
  • "being conscious is, well…, a truer form of being, perhaps the only form that matters, a being that shines of its own light, for there is no other light than consciousness. Which leads to this: the more we learn, the more we bring under the light of consciousness, the more the dark, scattered dust that is the world outside is tied together into a single shape, one that we see and understand."
  • "Did evolution really exist, before it was invented? Molecules did exist, there were countless extinctions, new species were born, and progenies of progenies. Things happened, on a corner of a rock the destiny of a continent was decided. All followed a trinitarian principle: variation in what was, selection by what it encountered, expansion of what did survive. But this just happened, dust following dust, over generations of dust, events never connected in anybody’s mind, not meaningful in themselves, minimally aware that anything was the case. It’s only when, within a single conscious mind, the past is integrated with the present, the haphazard mechanisms, large and small, that take hold at distant places and times, at scales as small as molecules or wider than civilizations, when they are seen together, understood together, inside a single shining quale, only then do they come together truly, into something that exists as such."
  • "A question I am asked every time, for paradox is the answer. Listen to this, said the mannequin, the more your choices are determined, the more you are free and responsible for them. “That makes no sense at all,” said Frick at once. I’ll give you a hint, said the mannequin, still in a neutral tone. The more the factors that will, can, or should affect a choice are seen within the light of consciousness, thus seen together, the more choice is transparent to what determines it: so reason can deliberate, informed of all its motives, all bearing on the outcome, not as an aggregate but as one rich context. But do remember: your consciousness is what you are and cannot be reduced to anything less. The more you are conscious of your choice, the more it is determined, and the more it’s yours. So as consciousness grows, with education and knowledge of yourself, responsibility can only grow. Let the whole choose, and not the parts, and let the whole be wise."
  • "we should strive to acquire new concepts, and integrate them within a single entity. To say that we should strive to grow consciousness itself—to generate bigger, brighter lights in an otherwise dark universe."
  • "free will, stating that the more an entity is internally determined (the more it is conscious), the more it is free."
  • "The more I share with other living beings, the less I die."
  • "So he had lost restraint at last, become soft-brained in his old age, found solace in illusions and meaning out of fear. The mannequin laughed and handed him his mask, then went and turned off the light."
  • "First, we are not alone. There is a social aspect to consciousness that develops it, expands it, and gives it value and fulfillment. Second, we are all humans, and we are all life. One can and should identify with other living beings, it’s just a matter of degree, and in that sense one’s consciousness is immortal. Third, nonetheless, everyone is special and therefore precious. Yes, the shape of one’s qualia can be stretched into that of another man or woman, but in the end, a pyramid is not a sphere, and there is a unique kind of beauty in pyramids, that is not in spheres."
  • "Galileo sees through the mannequin’s bargain and realizes that if it became possible to make a thousand or a million copies of himself, while he would become virtually immortal, he would also become fungible: Galileo would be a commodity, like chicken breast."
  • "“Questions are the duty of life, and answers the privilege of Heaven,”"
  • "information and causation are one and the same thing, and that is all there is: what exists must be a difference that makes a difference, a choice that’s causal."
  • "That all is paradox: the brain, a small knot in the fabric of the world, is the sole source of the world itself. But then the world is the sole source of our brain."


Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on

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