If “the self” is the product of internal cognitive processes communicating with each other, then where do “attention” and “willpower” com…
If “the self” is the product of internal cognitive processes communicating with each other, then where do “attention” and “willpower” come from?
Who or what is deciding to focus on something, and who or what is asserting one internal view over another (“exerting willpower”)?
As a more general question, how are such purely internal, subjective, yet fully pervasive experiences such as attention as a resource that can be focused, and willpower as a resource that can be used and depleted, explained in terms of an emergent view of consciousness where the self is an illusion?
In my view, the emergent view of consciousness lacks the depth of understanding of subjectivity to be viable. At this time, emergence and the illusory self is seen as a scientific alternative to discredited spiritualist views. This would make sense if we have painted ourselves into a corner, rejecting immaterialism on one hand and embracing the lack of evidence of any ‘feelings of self’ produced in the brain.
There is another option which is not religious, and not based on a disembodied entity haunting the cells of your brain, and I think that is to understand experience itself as a concrete physical conjugate to all forms and functions. Physics becomes the ordering not just of forces and fields in spacetime, but of feelings and beings through experience or lifetime.
In this question for example, willpower could only be a mechanical condition of the brain. How much willpower you have would be a consequence of your genetic capacities and how your brain has developed. In our real world experience however, willpower has at least as much to do with the semantic content of our experience. The conventional wisdom has been, and not without merit, that we are responsible for participating in our own exercise of willpower. It would be argued that whatever we might do to build our focus and discipline would also improve whatever neurological functions are involved, but it seems more like it has to be a push-pull.
In the end, no emergent view of consciousness can plausibly justify the sensory experience of consciousness itself. The idea of the illusory self, while seemingly supported by a consensus of inanimate instruments, can only be accepted or rejected by the self itself. The existence of an epiphenomenal self-model which is experienced aesthetically rather than loops of anesthetic self-referential data processing is really a deal breaker. Regardless of whether our private expectation of the effectiveness of our will match the public effect of it, the fact that there is any such thing as an expectation of self in the first place cannot be explained mechanically. The only way we can even entertain this fallacy is to smuggle our own undeniably real self awareness into the argument without noticing and then using our own minds to consider the idea of their own absence by the very evidence that it is actively weighing. You can’t have it both ways. If you are real enough to do science, then you can’t be irrelevant enough to be illusory.
In my view, matter and energy are the publicly reflected tokens* of sense and motive respectively. As human experiences, we are a complicated thing to try to use as an example – like trying to learn arithmetic by starting with an enormous differential equation. When we look at a brain, we are using the eyes of a simian body. That’s what the experience of a person looks like when it is stepped all the way down from human experience, to animal experience, to cellular experience, to molecular experience, and all the way back up to the animal experience level. Plus we are seeing it from the wrong angle. If I’m right, experience is a measure of time, not space, so looking at the body associated with an experience that lasts 80 or 100 years from a sampling rate of a few milliseconds would be a radically truncated view, even if we were looking at it in its native, subjective form. Every moment we are alive, we are surfing on a wave that has been growing since our birth – growing not just in synch with clock time, but changing in response to the significance of the experiences in which we participate directly. This is what I mean by sense. A concretely real accumulation of experience, a single wave in constant modulation as the local surface of an arbitrarily deep ocean.
Information is not sense, and neither is it matter or energy. Information is the shadow of all of these, of their relation to each other, which is cast by sense. Information is like sense as far as it being neither substantial nor insubstantial, but it is the opposite of sense also. Matter, energy, and information are all opposite to each other and opposite to sense. They are the projections of sense. If you break down the word information into three bites, the “in” would be sensory input, the ‘form’ would be ‘matter-space’ and the ‘ation’ would be ‘energy-time’. When most people think about information though, they undersignify the input/output aspect, the “in”, – which is sense, and conflate consciousness with senseless formations. Formations with no participating perceiver are non-sense and no-thing.
The difference between sense and information is that sense is anchored tangibly in the totality of events in all of history. It is the meta-firmament; the Absolute, and it potentially makes sense of itself in every sense modality. Information only makes sense from one particular angle or method of interpretation. It is a facade. As soon as information is removed from its context, its ungrounded, superficial nature is exposed. Information so removed does not react or adapt to make itself understood – it is sterile and evacuated of feeling or being. It is purely a feeling being’s idea of doing or knowing and does not exist independently of its ‘host’. Because of this it is tempting to conceptualize information as self-directing memes, but that would only be true figuratively. In an absolute sense, memes are a figure-ground inversion, i.e it puts the cart before the horse and sucks us into strong computationalism and the Pathetic fallacy. From what I can see, information has no autonomy, no motive. It is an inert recording of past motives and sensations.
Previously, I have written about computation, numbers, mathematics as being the flattest category of qualia. Flattest in the sense of being almost purely an tool for knowing or doing that has to borrow rely on being output in some aesthetic form to yield any feeling or ‘being’.
Computation can be represented publicly through material things like positions of beads on an abacus, the turns of mechanical gears, the magnetic dispositions of microelectronic switches, the opening and closing of valves in a plumbing system, the timing and placement of traffic signals on a street grid, etc. All of these bodies rely on the ability to detect or sense each others passive states and to respond to them in some motor effect. It makes no difference how it is represented, because the function will be the same. This is precisely the opposite of consciousness, in which rich aesthetic details provide the motivation and significance. Evolutionary functions are never nakedly revealed as a-signifying generic processes. For humans, food and sex are profoundly aesthetic, social engagements, not just automatic functions.
Computation can also be represented publicly through symbols. One step removed from literally embodied aesthetics, computation can be transferred figuratively between a person’s thoughts and written symbols through the sensory-motor medium of mathematical literacy. We can imagine that there is a similar ferrying of meaning between the mathematician’s thoughts and some non-local source of arithmetic truth. Arithmetic truth seems to us certain, rational, internally consistent, universal but it is also impersonal. Arithmetic laws cannot be made proprietary or changed. They are eternal and unchanging. We can only borrow local copies of numbers for temporary use, but they cannot be touched or controlled. They represent disembodied knowledge, but no doing, no being, and no feeling.
In the first sense, mathematics is represented by mechanical positions of public bodies, and therefore almost completely ‘flat’ qualitatively. Binary interactions of go/on-stop/off have no sense to them other than loops and recursive enumeration. In the second sense, a written mathematical language adds more qualia, clothing the naked digital states in conceptual symbols. The language of mathematics allows the thinker to bridge the gap between public doing of machines and private knowing of arithmetic truth.
Although strong computationalists will disagree, it seems to me that a deeper understanding reveals of computation reveals that arithmetic truth itself requires an even deeper set of axioms which are pre-arithmetic. The third sense of mathematics is the first sense we encounter. Before there is mathematical literacy, there is counting. Counting to three gives way to counting on fingers (digits), as we learn the essential skills of mental focus required. As we learn more about odd and even numbers, addition and subtraction, the aesthetics of symmetry and succession are not so much introduced into the psyche as foreign concepts, but are recovered by the psyche as natural, familiar expectations. Math, like music, is felt. Before we can use it to help us know essential truths or to cause existential effects, we have to be able to participate in counting and the solving of problems in our mind. When we do these kinds of problems, our awareness must be very focused. We are accessing an impersonal level of truth. Our human bodies and lives are distractions. Machines and computers have always been conspicuously lacking in what people refer to as ‘soul’, or ‘warmth’, feeling, empathy, personality, etc. This is consistent with the view of computation that I am trying to explain. Whatever warmth or personality it can carry must originate in a being – an experience which is anchored in the aesthetic presentation of sense rather than the infinite representation of information.
*or orthomodular inversions to be more precise
The use of fillers in language are not limited to spoken communication.
In American Sign Language, UM can be signed with open-8 held at chin, palm in, eyebrows down (similar to FAVORITE); or bilateral symmetric bent-V, palm out, repeated axial rotation of wrist (similar to QUOTE).
This is interesting to me because it helps differentiate communication which is unfolding in time and communication which is spatially inscribed. When we speak informally, most people use a some filler words, sounds, and gestures. Some support for embodied cognition theories has come from studies which show that
“Gestural Conceptual Mapping (congruent gestures) promotes performance. Children who used discrete gestures to solve arithmetic problems, and continuous gestures to solve number estimation, performed better. Thus, action supports thinking if the action is congruent with the thinking.”
The effective gestures that they refer to aren’t exactly fillers, because they mimic or indicate conceptual experiences in a full-body experience. The body is used as a literal metaphor. Other gestures however, seem relatively meaningless, like filler. There seems to be levels of filler usage which range in frequency and intensity from the colorful to the neurotic in which generic signs are used as ornament/crutch, or like a carrier tone to signify when the speaker is done speaking, (know’am’sayin?’).
In written language, these fillers are generally only included ironically or to simulate conversational informality. Formal writing needs no filler because there is no relation in real time between participating subjects. The relation with written language was traditionally as an object. The book can’t control whether the reader continues to read or not, so there is no point in gesturing that way. With the advent of real time text communication, we have experimented with emoticons and abbreviations to animate the frozen medium of typed characters. In this article, John McWhorter points out that ‘LOL isn’t funny anymore’ – that it has entered sort of a quasi-filler state where it can mean many different things or not much of anything.
In terms of information entropy, fillers are maximally entropic. Their meaning is uncertain, elastic, irrelevant, but also, and this is cryptic but maybe significant…they point to the meta-conversational level. They refer back to the circumstance of the conversation rather than the conversation itself. As with the speech carrier tone fillers like um… or ehh…, or hand gestures, they refer obliquely to the speaker themselves, to their presence and intent. They are personal, like a signature. Have you ever noticed that when people you have known die that it is their laugh which is most immediately memorable? Or their quirky use of fillers. High information entropy ~ High personal input. Think of your signature compared to typing your name. Again, signatures are occurring in real time, they represent a moment of subjective will being expressed irrevocably. The collapse of information entropy which takes place in formal, traditional writing is a journey from the private perpetual here of subjectivity to the world of public objects. It is a passage* from the inner semantic physics, through initiative or will, striking a thermodynamically irreversible collision with the page. That event, I think, is the true physical nature of public time – instants where private affect is projected as public effect.
Speakers who are not very fluent in a language seem to employ a lot of fillers. For one thing they buy time to think of the right word, and they signal an appeal for patience, not just on a mechanical level (more data to come, please stand by), but on a personal level as well (forgive me, I don’t know how to say…). Is it my imagination or are Americans sort of an exception to the rule, preferring stereotypically to yell words slowly rather than using the ‘ehh’ filler. Maybe that’s not true, but the stereotype is instructive as it implies an association between being pushy and adopting the more impersonal, low-entropy communication style.
This has implications for AI as well. Computers can blink a cursor or rotate an hourglass icon at you, and that does convey some semblance of personhood to us, I think, but is it real? I say no. The computer doesn’t improve its performance by these gestures to you. What we might subtly read as interacting with the computer personally in those hourglass moments is a figment of the Pathetic fallacy rather than evidence of machine sentience. It has a high information entropy in the sense that we don’t know what the computer is doing exactly, if it’s going to lock up or what, but it has no experiential entropy. It is superficially animated and reflects no acknowledgement to the user. Like the book, it is thermodynamically irreversible as far as the user is concerned. We can only wait and hope that it stops hourglassing.
The meanings of filler words in different languages are interesting too. They say things like “you see/you know”, “it means”, “like”, “well”, and “so”. They talk about things being true or actual. “Right?” “OK?”. Acknowledgment of inter-subjective synch with the objective perception. Agreement. Positive feedback. “Do you copy?” relates to “like”…similarity or repetition. Symmetric continuity. Hmm.
*orthomodular transduction to be pretentiously precise