My recent interest in the autism theories of Simon Baron-Cohen, Crespi and Badcock has given me a new way of describing what I call the Multisense Continuum. My interest in the autism work is not so much in the literal interpretation of these theories, but in the themes that the theories tie into. Whether or not autism is caused by high fetal testosterone or selection pressure for ‘maternal resources’ is not my interest personally, and my instinct is that these are ultimately regressive approaches that can be too easily politicized.
What I am interested in, however, is the continuum itself. The concept of autism, not as it really is; a complex set of possible traits related to social development, language, interests, etc, but as a stereotype. The themes of autism and the way those themes can be juxtaposed against the themes of psychosis diametrically are, in my view, the keys to understanding consciousness, and by extension, all of nature. This may sound like an idea which is both psychotic and autistic…and that would make perfect sense.
What I am saying is that the entire universe and the fabric of every part of the universe are fundamentally rooted in the same thematic spectrum as these theories. Physics is the autistic spectrum of the universe, and subjectivity is its psychotic spectrum.
Here are some other ways to look at it:
Unnatural > Natural < Supernatural
In this simple version, the left side would be the autistic side, called ‘unnatural’ to reflect the atomized, mechanical aesthetic of the cosmos. Repetition and isolation are highlighted. Each part a discrete object connected to other objects through highly systemized, literal links.
The right side (and I always put the subjective side on the right or “East” side as it is the “orienting” side) would be the psychotic side, called ‘supernatural’ to reflect the irrational, mystical, and divine connotations of delusional and psychedelic states. I think that people who have experienced bipolar shifts from mania to depression might agree that they correspond to a transition from personal identification with the divine to a divine disillusionment or abandonment. Psychedelic trips also famously follow this supernatural ‘Heaven and Hell’ amplification of what would ordinarily be the simple highs and lows of mood. Moods swing up and down, but they also swing left and right, from saturated, floridly supernatural hallucinations to flat, utilitarian execution on the left.
This is not to say that all supernatural experiences are ‘hallucinations’ or that all unnatural influences are devoid of empathy, only that this is what the universe is doing with itself…oscillating and tessellating through this spectrum, expanding it in ever more elaborate ways.
A semiotic way of expressing it might be:
Semaphoric > Morphic || Phoric < Metaphoric
On the left*, I am using a neologism “semaphoric” to make the connection with deflating the broad, poetic sensibility of loose metaphorical association to the precisely defined, mathematical sensibility of codes and logic. Semaphores are flags, like digits or cards** which are used for making compressing information and making it unambiguous. Semaphoric sensibility is bottom up, building complex communication from binary or quantized alphabets.
The center (Natural) section is bifurcated here into the Morphic and Phoric, referring to form and feeling respectively. Form could be geometric objects in space or functional steps in time while feeling would be the appreciation of and participation in sensory experience which may or may not be attached to logical objects/functions. The double pipe (“||”) emphasizes a fold in the continuum, since the inflection point at which the morphological counter-aesthetic of bodies in spacetime and the native, ‘phoric’ aesthetic of experiences-qualia within itself is one of diametric opposition. The flavor of apple pie is not only nothing like the structure of organic chemistry, it is the opposite ontological expression
On the right, ‘metaphoric’ refers to the sensibility which is anchored in the firmament of collective experience. Just as the semaphoric bumps up against a minimum limit of binary logic, the metaphoric branches out into a kind of unification of infinity…a maximum holism. Here, the logic of space and quantity breaks down entirely, as all of history is fused into pool of potential inspiration and meaning. Fantasy is intrinsic to all experience, including the fantasy of escaping fantasy entirely.
Autism > Systemizing || Empathizing < Psychosis
So yeah, this is the human personal version of the Multisense continuum in my view. The extremes of autism would map to my category of OMMM (Only Material Matters Matter) and ACME (Anything Can Mean Everything) would map to the Bipolar/Schizophrenia category. There are endless other ways of expressing this, and I did not even get into how the spectrum ‘wraps around’ so that left and right ends can be seen as the center, but that works also (instead of a diametric “||” there would be an evanescent …∞… linkage for the ‘Ouroboran’ wrap around).
My hunch is that this spectrum can be formalized for scientific purposes, and that the systemizing and empathizing functions can be understood in ontological terms. The pound sign # and the asterisk * can even be a clue, or perhaps # > :-) < *
* left is also Western-Occidental, counter to default orientation.
**Descartes, interestingly, was so named because of ‘cartes’, or charts that he used to explain his theories, theories which ushered in the Enlightenment era of Cartesian coordinates, through which space and time were digitally quantified.
One of the greatest obstacles to understanding the hard problem of consciousness and the explanatory gap between function and qualia is that we are psychologically conditioned to overlook the destructive compression of reductionism.
Only a person who is familiar with the shape of the State of Texas can fully understand the connect the dots image shown above. I have included an intermediate image between ‘potential Texas’ and the Functional View to show how even a shift in perspective can make identification impossible. In the end, no identification at all is necessary fro a machine to logically connect one dot to the next in an n+1 sequence. No matter how many dots are connected, it is just the same mechanical action. No geometry or memory is required, just a machine that logically associate one point of data with the next.
When we build computations out of that, we can step back and look at all of the dots and say “yes, the computer is drawing Texas, therefore it might know what Texas is.” or “surely the more complex the arrangement of dots, the more likely it is that a computer could develop geometry and visual experiences of shape”, but there is no logical support for that. Each process of the machine can continue on as it has, completing one mindless task after another, including mindless meta-tasks of associating many groups of data points with many other.
When we reduce the reds, blues, and yellows of light to ‘simply’ electromagnetic wavelengths, we are suggesting that some agent is converting a set of colorless data points into a a color. This is the explanatory gap. A surprisingly high percentage of the population has no trouble with outright denying that there is a gap at all, and will insist that color simply “is” the brain’s reaction to processing data about light. They do not see that processing of data need only be an invisible, functional interpretation of logical points, compressible to any kind of labeling scheme we like.
A brain could easily use biochemical, epigenetic, or quantum computation to label its vast oceans of data at high speed without having to invent flavors, colors, or feelings. Colors are not even the best example because visual qualia maps relatively isomorphically to optical measurements. The same is not true for flavors and emotions, which bear almost no resemblance to physics. If we allowed the brain to produce a single dimension of sense, there is no plausible reason to have to produce a second, any more than there would be a reason for a car’s dashboard to make a musical playlist to accompany itself. If for some reason a computer needed to see its own data, and it could somehow magically conjure that into existence out of its ‘complexity’, seeing would be more than enough to fulfill all data compression needs forever.
An interesting explanation for the inability of so many people to recognize the gap between function and qualia may be hinted at in Simon Baron-Cohen’s Empathizing–Systemizing (E-S) theory of brain types, and Crespi and Badcock’s paper Psychosis and autism as diametrical disorders of the social brain. I have already caught shit for proposing this, as it may sound like I am saying that autism is bad, or that people who favor functionalism are autistic, but that is actually the almost the opposite of what I am saying. What I think the truth is, or might be, is that everyone carries these diametrical potentials (which map to my ACME-OMMM dichotomy, btw) to some extent, and they reflect the continuum of human consciousness, philosophy of mind, and nature itself. This article had this to say about it:
In their forthcoming article in the premier journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Crespi and Badcock present a very convincing case for paranoid schizophrenia as an extreme female brain. Now the whole picture appears to be complete. When your brain is “too male,” too systemizing, too mechanistic, you become autistic. When your brain is “too female,” too empathizing, too mentalistic, you become paranoid schizophrenic. If the extreme male brain of an autistic is “mindblind,” then you might suggest that the extreme female brain of a paranoid schizophrenia is “logicblind.”
Again, to be clear, I am not advocating a clinical reductionism in psychology. I’m not advocating the labeling of autism this or male-female that. This is not about neuroscience or biology for me*, it is about metaphysics and ontology. The difference between representation and presentation, and how they are flipped again and again within nature, and how they are both lenses which define each other.
Part II of this post here.
*I don’t blame people for having a negative reaction to this kind of science, as far as using terms like ‘extreme male brain’ in itself sounds like the product of ‘extreme male’ thinking. It seems crass and inaccurate to go down that road of categorizing people and pathologizing psychological differences as disorders, but I will take what I can get. I think that this research is on to something, regardless of how it may sound.
I thought this was solved long ago”
Here are a few reasons I can think of:
- Our imagination seems immaterial.
There is no imaginary stone, for example that is too heavy for us to lift. We can imagine ice cubes melting the sun or a new state of matter that is liquid gravity. Dreams are surreal, and provide evidence that fully realistic worlds can be rendered without there being the expected physics presented. If dreams were not realistic, it would be easier to swallow materialism. As it is, it is very tough to justify how it would be that brains would be able to instantly conjure up fantasy worlds without having access to the same creative resources that physics itself has.
- Mental representation is not physical.
Our thoughts do not appear to break down into chemical compounds which can be transferred from brain to brain in an eyedropper. Instead, they can be communicated through representational signs across many different material substrates. Right now my thoughts are becoming part of your thoughts by means of electronic devices, but it could instead be communicated by voice, gesture, pen and paper, etc. Physical substances and forces cannot be transmitted as signs. We cannot send a text to someone dying of thirst which they can drink.
- We cannot access the brain through introspection.
The greatest minds in history have never, through meditation alone discovered the details of neurology, biochemistry, etc. Common sense might suggest that since, for example, we can touch our body with our body, and see our eyes with our eyes, that we should be able to think of our brain with our brain, but that is not the case. It also goes the other way, where we can correlate data that we find in brain imaging to *known* ‘neural correlates’ like feelings or tasting flavors, but there is nothing in the brain images themselves which would or could ever suggest any such thing as a flavor or feeling.
- There is no logical connection between physical phenomena and subjective experience.
Physics involves measurable forms which can be described using geometry and whose functions can be described through logical, arithmetic steps. Physics is intended to be done without any subjective experience (other than a zero dimensional ‘observer’). Subjectivity is the opposite kind of phenomena on every count from physics. It involves immeasurable qualities of aesthetic appreciation and participation which do not owe their significance to complex universal processes. Instead, subjectivity is comprised of a personalized richness of presentation which eliminates the need for complexity. There is no logical way that a certain wavelength of light could become ‘blue’, and no mathematical transformation which would make it more logical, yet blue is a quality which we cannot deny exists in the universe.
- Life is weirder than it seems like it should be.
The fact that we have never come across any culture that does not have a concept of spirits and the afterlife does not have to mean that there are spirits and an afterlife, but it is certainly an odd thing to have as an anthropological universal if there were nothing funny going on between mind and body. Physics and mathematics in the 20th century only adds to the weirdness, since, after all, if there were nothing but bodies colliding into each other, then we would have no need for concepts like uncertainty, and if logic were nothing but objective facts, then we would have no need for the idea of incompleteness. Also there are so many fishy things that people report all of the time…Near Death Experiences, Out of Body Experiences, psychedelic revelations, paranormal capabilities, synchronicity, etc. If you think that these can be easily swept aside by insisting that they are just anomalies and fraud then you have not looked at the research fairly.
- It is the default/naive truth of human experience.
The sense of being ‘in’ our body, looking out of our eyes is something that we take for granted, but has no basis in physics. Your screen doesn’t have to feel like it is sitting in front of a computer to work, so the fact that there is any sense of being ‘inside’ of ‘our’ body is already a hint at our relation to space and time. Our body is more like a window or a filter than it is a robot. We can say that the Earth is not flat, but if that were literally and completely true, it would be hard to explain why carpenters use a level. Indeed, the roundness of the Earth is not especially useful most of the time for those of us who actually live on the surface of it and experience it as flat. Any description of the universe which fails to mention that planets seem flat when you walk on them and only seem round from a distance is not complete.
- Because they have considered the issue deeply.
While the last few centuries have seen the rise of scientific worldviews which describe our experience from the outside in, some people have noticed that there is a problem with this. Since subjective experience is private to begin with, there is no reason to expect that a worldview which is bound exclusively to public inspection would not be grossly misleading. In fact, the failure of behaviorism in psychology and artificial intelligence in computer science to demonstrate satisfying results should have steered us away from these kinds of approaches already. Fortunately some of the leading scientists and philosophers in the field of consciousness, like Tononi, Koch, and Chalmers have been pointing in a new direction, one which involves consciousness rather than matter as a fundamental property. There is a long tradition within philosophy, particularly in Eastern thought which holds that awareness is the fundamental reality and that matter, bodies, and brains are borrowed from a universal pool of ideas and experiences. The universe may be made of stories rather than things, and things are just part of the story.
- Because they have natural insight into the issue
A recent study suggest to me that not everyone has an equal chance at understanding the mind/body problem. For people whose minds are very logical, they may identify exclusively with the process of their own intellect rather than the qualities of experience from which the intellect arises. I wrote a post about this: For others, the fact of subjectivity is quite plain and ordinary. We move our hand by moving it directly out of our own intention. Whatever biochemical description accompanies that movement is not enough to even define why it is occurring in the first place.
- Because simulation theories and emergence are misguided.
Most theories which collapse subjectivity into physics rely on the kind of GUI model. We look at the computer screen and see pictures and words, and it is natural to think that this relationship would be part of a physical mechanism. A brain would simply produce computations that look like something or taste a certain way because looks and tastes are a way of labeling information and organizing it. What this view fails to recognize is that labeling information would only mean that it would be processed differently, not that those differences would suddenly become a flavor or a sound. Emergence is a way of chasing our tail and fooling ourselves that we have explained consciousness, but in reality, emergence itself cannot be explained without awareness. The parts of an airplane can be individually thrown in the air, so that even though to our understanding the property of a plane flying by itself seems new, it is not at all surprising to the universe. Consciousness is not like that, since there is no configuration of physical objects that would result in a subjective experience, even as an extension of some physical force or field to become self-sustaining or consolidated, etc. The raw ontology of privacy isn’t there to begin with in our model of physics or information.
Consciousness or awareness or sense is the concrete and direct aesthetic encounter which defines all possible phenomena. Data or information is an accumulation and communication of signs, which intellectually represent the facade of experiences that relate to the function of their significance to the experiencer
This test was also originally devised by Wellman and Estes, and involves asking the child what the brain is for. They found that normal 3-4 year olds already know that the brain has a set of mental functions, such as dreaming, wanting, thinking, keeping secrets, etc., Some also knew it had physical functions (such as making you move, or helping you stay alive, etc.). In contrast , children with autism (but who again had a mental age above a 4 year old level) appear to know about the physical functions, but typically fail to mention any mental function of the brain (Baron-Cohen, 1989a)
This paper on autism and theory of mind really shines a light on the most intractable problem within philosophy of mind. In particular
…children from about the age of 4 years old normally are able to distinguish between appearance and reality, that is, they can talk about objects which have misleading appearances. For example, they may say, when presented with a candle fashioned in the shape of an apple, that it looks like an apple but is really a candle. Children with autism, presented with the 5 same sorts of tests, tend to commit errors of realism, saying the object really is an apple, or really is a candle, but do not capture the object’s dual identity in their spontaneous descriptions (Baron-Cohen, 1989a).
This cartoon from a Psychology Today article illustrates the kinds of tests that show whether children have developed what is called a theory of mind; an understanding of the contents of other people’s experience:
“Children with autism are virtually at chance on this test, as likely to indicate one character as the other when asked “Which one knows what’s in the box?””
So often it becomes clear to me in debating the issues of consciousness that they are missing something which cannot be replaced by logic. The way that many people think, especially those who are very intelligent in math and physics, only includes a kind of toy model of experience – one which fails to fully realize the difference between the map and the territory. It makes a lot of sense to be that having a very low-res, two dimensional theory of mind would correlate with having a philosophy of mind which undersignifies privacy and oversignifies mechanistic influences. The low res theory of mind comes with a built in bias toward behaviorism, where all events are caused by public conditions rather than private feelings and experiences.
There are several other interesting findings in the (brief) paper. Autistic children find it difficult to tell the difference between what they meant to do and what they actually did, so that when they shoot at a target and miss, they don’t understand that they intended to hit it but ended up missing it and say that they meant to miss. Overall, the list of deficits in imagination, pragmatics, social mindreading, etc has been called mindblindness. This is not to say that everyone who doesn’t understand the hard problem has mindblindness, but I would say it is very likely that having mindreading-empathy deficits on the autistic spectrum would tend to result in a strong bias against idealism, panpsychism, free will, or the hard problem of consciousness.
When Kant wrote:
‘Being’ is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations, as existing in themselves.
he brings up a point of distinction which I think can be resolved when we consider consciousness to absolutely primitive in the universe. When we say that something exists or that it simply is, we are invoking an unacknowledged sense of omnipotence. When we say for example that a circle exists, we are really exporting our own experiences of seeing circular patterns, or of participating in circular motions, repeating processes, etc into a hypothetical experience which hypothetically does not belong to us.
To say that the circle exists does not add anything to the description of a circle. We cannot imagine that there is a ‘circle which does not exist’ and expect it to be meaningful, since there is nothing that it means not to exist other than to be absent from consideration in the first place. It is upon this minor slip of epistemology into pseudo-ontology that the entire criticism of idealism hinges. George Berkeley’s phrase Esse est percipi (“To be is to be perceived”) encapsulates this recognition that the notion of being is a fallacy when it is separated from perception. Unfortunately, Berkeley was in my opinion too far ahead of his time to escape being misunderstood, and he himself had a conception of human psychology which was too simplistic to recover the principle without appeal to religion. He did not consider separating out perception from a perceiver or distinguishing human perception from non-human perception. The famous garbling of Berkeley’s ideas which we know as ‘If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody around to here it, does it make a sound?’.
This of course was not very close to the philosophy that Berkeley had in mind since it opens a huge loophole that we find to be silly on the face of it. Of course a tree falling in a forest makes a sound – animals hear it, the ground shakes, etc. To say that none of that exists just because no human being is around would be insane. When we consider, however, that the nature of hearing is such that the event of the tree falling is part of a chain reaction that includes compression waves in the air, and our ears, and isomorphic waves of biochemical activity in the nervous system and brain, it is difficult to say what it is that is a ‘sound’ and how much a sound can really be separated from the experience of hearing.
Even if we can’t hear, the vibration of a tree falling is something that we can feel throughout our body. Informally we might say that we felt the vibration, or that we could feel the that the tree fell, but ultimately it is our own feeling of our body which is vibrating. We feel the world through our body, but the body, world, feeling, and vibration are different levels of description of the same thing. There is no vibration, tree, or body which exists independently of a sensory experience in which those things are presented. It is my suspicion that our conception of electromagnetism as a sort of vibration in a vacuum is mistaken because of the failure to consider the kinds of ideas that Kant and Berkeley were talking about.
In part I, I made the connection between poor theory of mind skills and the denial of the hard problem of consciousness. The cartoon about Ann and Sally can give some important insight as to fundamental differences in how people understand perception and reality. In the autism cases, children tend not to be able to understand that Sally will not know that Ann has put the ball in the box since they, the reader of the cartoon, knows that Ann put it there. This ‘mindblindness’ is exactly what Berkeley and Kant were each trying to overcome in their own way. Kant pointed out that the concept of existence or being without perceptual essences is purely conceptual, while Berkeley saw that perceptual essences are in fact identical with being. Our seeing Ann put the ball in the box does not give Sally access to that experience. Writing a program which displays the cartoon does not give the computer an experience of seeing it.
The interesting thing about awareness is that it is a real predicate. Unlike the idea of ‘being’ or existence, awareness isn’t merely the idea that X is a “thing” but that X is a concrete perceptual encounter. It has aesthetic qualities like hot or cold, loud or quiet, etc. Even the feeling of being a perceiver of X can be understood as a kind of feeling, so that we need not think of the entire universe as miniature souls as Leibniz thought (monads), but a vast exchange and development of perceptions. Beginning from there, we can see how quantitative structures could emerge from variations in aesthetic qualities and how those structures could be used as mechanical shortcuts for prediction and control, yet without ever developing additional qualities of experience on the machine level.
Searle’s Chinese Room and the other Symbol Grounding arguments are attempts to bring Kant and Berkeley’s insights into artificial intelligence. They show how a computer can function on a syntactic level, passing recorded relations of data back and forth, without having any higher level understanding. There doesn’t appear to be any special level of sophistication at which a machine that is built to imitate functions of the mind becomes a genuine experience of its own. As long as we look for a magic formula to create a ‘being’, we are making the mistake of confusing a ‘dozen’ with a thing that can be built out of eggs.
So much of our attention in logic and math is focused on using processes to turn specific inputs into even more specific binary outputs. Very little attention is paid to what inputs and outputs are or to the understanding of what truth is in theoretical terms. The possibility of inputs is assumed from the start, since no program can exist without being ‘input’ into some kind of material substrate which has been selected or engineered for that purpose. You can’t program a device to be programmable if it isn’t already. Overlooking this is part of the gap between mathematics and reality which is overlooked by all forms of simulation theory and emergentism. Without some initial connection between sensitive agents which are concretely real and non-theoretical, there can be no storage or processing of information. Before we can input any definitions of logical functions, we have to find something which behaves logically and responds reliably to our manipulations of it.
The implications of binary logic, of making distinctions between true/go and false/stop are more far reaching than we might assume. I suggest that if a machine’s operations can be boiled down to true and false bits, then it can have no capacity to exercise intentionality. It has no freedom of action because freedom is a creative act, and creativity in turn entails questioning what is true and what is not. The creative impulse can drive us to attack the truth until it cracks and reveals how it is also false. Creativity also entails redeeming what has been seen as false so that it reveals a new truth. These capabilities and appreciation of them are well beyond the functional description of what a machine would do. Machine logic is, by contrast, the death of choice. To compute is to automate and reduce sense into an abstract sense-of-motion. Leibniz called his early computer a “Stepped Reckoner”, and that it very apt. The word reckon derives from etymological roots that are shared with ‘reg’, as in regal, ruler, and moving straight ahead. It is a straightener or comb of physically embodied rules. A computer functionalizes and conditions reality into rules, step by step, in a mindless imitation of mind. A program or a script is a frozen record of sense-making in retrospect. It is built of propositions defined in isolation rather than sensations which share the common history of all sensation.
The computing machine itself does not exist in the natural world, but rather is distilled from the world’s most mechanistic tendencies. All that does not fit into true or false is discarded. Although Gödel is famous for discovering the incompleteness of formal systems, that discovery itself exists within a formal context. The ideal machine, for example, which cannot prove anything that is false, subscribes to the view that truth and falsehood are categories which are true rather than truth and falsehood being possible qualities within a continuum of sense making. There is a Platonic metaphysics at work here, which conjures a block universe of forms which are eternally true and good. In fact, a casual inspection of our own experience reveals no such clear-cut categories, and the goodness and truth of the situations we encounter are often inseparable from their opposite. We seek sensory experiences for the sake of appreciating them directly, rather than only for their truth or functional benefits. Truth is only one of the qualities of sense which matters.
The way that a computer processes information is fundamentally different than the way that conscious thought works. Where a consistent machine cannot give a formal proof of its own consistency, a person can be certain of their own certainty without proof. That doesn’t always mean that the person’s feeling turns out to match what they or others will understand to be true later on, but unlike a computer, we have available to us an experience of a sense of certainty (especially a ‘common sense’) that is an informal feeling rather than a formal logical proof. A computer has neither certainty nor uncertainty, so it makes no difference to it whether a proof exists or not. The calculation procedure is run and the output is generated. It can be compared against the results of other calculators or to employ more calculations itself to assess a probability, but it has no sense of whether the results are certain or not. Our common sense is a feeling which can be proved wrong, but can also be proved right informally by other people. We can come to a consensus beyond rationality with trust and intuition, which is grounded the possibility of the real rather than the realization of the hypothetical. When we use computation and logic, we are extending our sense of certainty by consulting a neutral third party, but what Gödel shows is that there is a problem with measurement itself. It is not just the ruler that is incomplete, or the book of rules, but the expectation of regularity which is intrinsically unexpected.
One of the trickiest problems with the gap between the theoretical and the concrete us that the gap itself is real rather than theoretical. There can be no theory of why reality is not just information, since theory itself cannot access reality directly. Reality is not only formal. Formality is not real. There is a bias within formal logic which favors certainty. This is at the heart of the utility of logic. In mathematician Bruno Marchal’s book “The Amoeba’s Secret”, his view on dreams hints at what is beneath the surface of the psychology of mathematics. He writes
“What struck me was the asymmetry existing between the states of dreaming and of being awake: when you are awake, you can never be truly sure that you are. By contrast, when dreaming, you can sometimes perceive it as such.”
Surely most of us have no meaningful doubt that we are awake when we are awake. The addition of the qualification of being “truly sure” that we are awake seems to assume that there is a deeper epistemology which is possible – as if being awake required a true certainty on top of the mere fact of being awake. To set the feeling of certainty above the content of experience itself is an inversion; a mistake of privileging the expectations of the intellect over the very ground of being from which those expectations arise.
Likewise, to say that we can sometimes perceive our dreaming in a lucid dream is to hold the dream state to a different epistemological standard than we do of being awake. If we could be awake and not really be sure that we are, then certainly we could think that we are having a lucid dream, but could be similarly misinformed. We could be dead and living in an afterlife from which we will never return or some such goofy possibility. Mathematical views of reality seem to welcome a kind of escapist sophism which gives too much credence to rabbit holes and not enough to the whole rabbit.
That we sometimes tell when we are dreaming means only that we are more awake within our dream than usual – not that our usual awareness is any more true or sure than it ever is. If we are uncertain in waking life and certain in dreams, it is because our capacity to tell the difference is real and not a dream or theory. There is no way to prove that we are awake, but neither is there any need to prove it since it is self-evident. Any proof that we could have could theoretically be duplicated in a dream also, but that does not mean that there is no difference between dream and reality. The difference is more than can be learned by ‘proof’ alone.
The recent publication of new details for Tononi & Koch’s Integrated Information Theory includes the following central axioms, which are “taken to be immediately evident,”:
- Existence: Consciousness exists – it is an undeniable aspect of reality. Paraphrasing Descartes, “I experience therefore I am”.
- Composition: Consciousness is compositional (structured): each experience consists of multiple aspects in various combinations. Within the same experience, one can see, for example, left and right, red and blue, a triangle and a square, a red triangle on the left, a blue square on the right, and so on.
- Information: Consciousness is informative: each experience differs in its particular way from other possible experiences. Thus, an experience of pure darkness is what it is by differing, in its particular way, from an immense number of other possible experiences. A small subset of these possible experiences includes, for example, all the frames of all possible movies.
- Integration: Consciousness is integrated: each experience is (strongly) irreducible to non-interdependent components. Thus, experiencing the word “SONO” written in the middle of a blank page is irreducible to an experience of the word “SO” at the right border of a half-page, plus an experience of the word “NO” on the left border of another half page – the experience is whole. Similarly, seeing a red triangle is irreducible to seeing a triangle but no red color, plus a red patch but no triangle.
- Exclusion: Consciousness is exclusive: each experience excludes all others – at any given time there is only one experience having its full content, rather than a superposition of multiple partial experiences; each experience has definite borders – certain things can be experienced and others cannot; each experience has a particular spatial and temporal grain – it flows at a particular speed, and it has a certain resolution such that some distinctions are possible and finer or coarser distinctions are not.
In looking at each of them, I can’t help but want to point out that the opposite of each axiom is also true in a sense. Consider:
Existence: Consciousness is a spectrum of qualities which appear to come in and out of existence. Some qualities of consciousness are ‘barely there’ or arguably resist being defined as existing. We can, for example, dream of a book in which there are sentences which appear to be made out of words and letters, but cannot be read. We might remember someone’s face in a way that seems specific, but when we reach for concrete details, we find that they do not ‘exist’.
Composition: Here too, if we look at other kinds of conscious experience, such as the flavor of a wine, it is not clear that there is an objective structure. We will not necessarily agree that there are earthy notes followed by floral notes, etc. The wine can be experienced as a gestalt which, while containing the potential for nuanced composition to be drawn out, does not necessitate any such formal realization in structure. We need not presume only a combination of discrete units, but we can also model a diffraction from top level simplicities downward.
Information: Conscious contents range from being highly informative to highly repetitious without materially altering their significance. Many addictive behaviors rely on the pure pleasure of the experience without any analytical dimension of uniqueness or learning behind them. Information may only pertain to communication and representation of conscious experience, not to the experience itself.
Integration: I agree fundamentally that in one sense, each experience stands on its own, however, in another sense, every experience is associated with ranges of other experiences to different degrees. If anything, it the modulation between qualities of being integrated, informing, composed, etc and their opposite qualities of disintegration, ignorance, decomposition, etc which are implicated in consciousness.
Exclusion: Here I fundamentally disagree. While any given experience can be isolated intellectually, that partitioning appears to me to be superficial. Experience builds on itself, and every waking moment implicitly contains the presence of all past experiences and hints at future possibilities. Experience can be read on many different levels, so that even though exclusion is a large part of the function of the intellect, that aspect of experience itself is floating on a sea of metaphorical, intuitive, and universal influences. Exclusion is easy to assume in a figurative sense, as far as our typical human attention seems to find a quality of focus whenever it focuses on itself, but I think that in a literal sense, exclusion is impossible.