Strawson on the Primacy of Panpsychism

March 1, 2015 Leave a comment

My apologies to Galen Strawson for this article, which is based on my thoughts on his 2015 essay “Mind and being: the primacy of panpsychism“. I am not so much critiquing his position as using it to launch my own variations of its principles. I am getting into conjectures that are intended to pick up where Strawson leaves off in this paper. Having the utmost respect for Strawson and his pioneering contribution to modern panpsychism, I would encourage anyone who is serious about this subject to take the time to understand his views first and not to leapfrog from physicalism to the pansensitive view that I’m proposing. It is critical to have a solid understanding of exactly why panpsychism is an improvement on physicalism before entertaining the question of how panpsychism can be improved.

In the paper, Strawson lays out some propositions in support of panpsychism:

  1. Matter is force or energy
  2. Being is becoming
  3. Being is quality
  4. Being is mind

These four points are explained in the paper in detail, and I agree with them…in a sense. I agree with them as a better alternative to the physicalist model, which might go something like this:

  1. Matter is physics
  2. Being is merely the function of physics
  3. Physics is quantity
  4. Physics is structure

If we put these two together, and then add to that total set the inversion of their difference, I think we get closer to my view (Multisense Realism or Aesthetic Foundationalism) in which matter, energy, spacetime, being, becoming, are all defined qualitatively. Being is quality, but mind and structure are also quality.

Proposition 1: Stoff ist Kraft (matter is energy)

Strawson begins by writing that ‘Leibniz, too, declared: “quod non agit, non existit”’ […] What doesn’t act doesn’t exist.” He equates force (Kraft in German) with Aristotelian energeia or energy and Matter (Stoff) with spacetime. He says “substance is that which acts: ‘activity … is of the essence of substance“, and supports it with the footnote “See also, strikingly, Faraday 1844: 140ff, Bohm 1957: §1.6; and many others. I’m inclined to include Plato, who holds that ‘being is nothing other than dunamis’, i.e. potency, power, force.” He’s making a case for action being the fabric of reality. But can action exist in the absence of some perception of action? Can there be movement without some capacity to detect spatial relations? Can movement be separated from a narrative sense of where X was and where X went, and how those positional states S and S’ are related?

The concept of energy is poorly understood, even within physics. Gravity is typically referred to as a fundamental force but not as an energy. A planet orbiting a star in circular motion doesn’t expend energy to do it, yet orbiting can be considered an action or force. Planets fall rather then force their way around the sun. If energy is the capacity to do work, then work would imply the generation of one force against another, such as the force of lifting an object up off of the ground against gravity. There’s potential energy as well as kinetic, so a boulder on top of a cliff or a drum of oil can be said to have energy of a sort without acting. The term energy could instead be used in a more informal sense which combines force and energy as a general ‘immaterial agent of material transformation’.

That which doesn’t act publicly may still feel or sense privately.

That matter is actually caused by immaterial agents makes a lot of sense and is held as undeniable by many people who have done a lot of thinking about it – and it made sense to me also – except when we factor in consciousness. Is receptivity an action? Is it a force? It would seem to make more sense that receptivity is the capacity required prior to force being presented or defined.  If we look at our most naive evidence of immaterial agents, we have to admit that all immaterial phenomena are inferred directly as sensations of our own body or indirectly as the changes we can detect in other bodies . We don’t experience energy per se, we experience feelings like warmth or motion, or we see or hear effects which are associated with excitation and change. An explosion, for example, is an event in which some object is violently dispersed across space. We see debris scattering, brightening both the surrounding objects and our own field of vision. A flash, for example is either air molecules becoming ionized, as a flame or spark, or it is an interior event which reflects a sudden change in the brain (stroke), eye (pressing on the eyeball until you see stars), or the retina (the reflection of a distant illumination source fills our field of vision, like a flash bulb). Our conscious experience does not consider these sources to make a difference in one sense, but there are aesthetic cues which can be used to gain some epistemological traction.

I have developed some tinnitus in one ear in recent years, probably from spending too much time working in large data centers where the whir of thousands of server fans and souped up air conditioning is all but deafening. The noise is white noise in that it is constant and hypnotic, but there are multiple layers in which some tones or screeches can be heard to oscillate in a wandering, unpredictable way. Well, that’s what my ringing ear sounds like now when it’s quiet and I’m trying to sleep. The thing is, I can pick out at least two distinct types of ringing going on simultaneously. The ring that I have been describing which oscillates irregularly seems to be coming from an outside source. I had to get up out of bed on several occasions to satisfy myself that it was actually in my head rather than a ventilation fan in the attic. It *really* sounds like a ‘real’ thing in the world which I’m hearing. I can contrast that with the other type of ringing which is very high pitched and ‘close’ feeling. That high whine that you may be familiar with after attending a loud concert. Even though I understand that both sounds are not coming from the outside world, the second sound feels unmistakably closer to me than the first sound.

All of that was to make the point that reality is a continuum which includes both subjective-seeming perceptions and objective-seeming perceptions, but that does not mean that any of them are perceptions of something else, such as matter in the physicalist sense; some ‘thing’ out ‘there’ which simply exists independently of all aesthetic quality. The physicalist foundation is built on trust in the stuffness of stuff, whereas I am proposing that the only true and absolute stuff is the not like the physical stuff at all, but rather is like Wheeler’s participatory stuff – a capacity to directly experience and to embody an experience (indirectly).

If the universe has an aesthetic foundation rather than a ‘stuffy’ physical one, the idea that matter is energy is not necessarily true in the most important sense. The capacity to discern an aesthetic difference between material qualities and energetic qualities would be the more fundamental pillar upon which realism is built. The unity of matter and energy is never seen by us directly as an experienced reality, it can only ever be inferred intellectually as an equation. Even as an equation, E=mc² refers to the equivalence of mass and energy, not matter, with its three dimensional lattice structures and four dimensional algebraic functions. Mass is not a material, it is a measure of resistance to change. It’s worthwhile to note also that most of the energy released by nuclear reactions is not from particles turning into energy, but rather particles being rent from their nuclear configurations. Fusion is small numbers of particles moving in together, while fission is large collectives of particles breaking into smaller groups. The change is a chain reaction of particles which is energetic because it does material work on other particles, not because protons and nucleons are being annihilated into pure workfulness.

There is something called the Law of Conservation of Nucleon Number which says that “In a nuclear reaction total number of nucleons before and after the reaction remains the same, i.e. nucleons cannot be created nor destroyed during a nuclear reacton” (Introduction to Nuclear and Particle Physics Mittal V. K., verma R. C., gupta S. C., 4.4.4). This means that a proton might become a neutron, but it doesn’t become energy. There may be a better case to say that energy is what matter does in space than to say that matter is energy. If we interpret matter as energy, we can better explain some of our reality, but we are doing it by invoking a model of the universe which is in a sense unreal/anti-real and inconceivable aesthetically. A bowling ball is conceivable, a balling of bowl is not. What makes the universe real is not that matter is energy are united, but that matter and energy seem aesthetically opposite. Without that asymmetry, I can only imagine a universe of hallucination or abstract magic. To take that asymmetry one final step further, I propose that we should see the foundation of realism in the way that matter and energy seem opposite and in the way that both matter and energy together seem opposite to ‘seeming’ itself – to sense.

Matter, energy, and sense.

Sense or what I call pansensitivity is not a stuff but rather the inter-stuff within which all appearances of stuff should be thought of as occlusions or bubbles. To talk about matter being bubbles is not literal here, because the medium that these bubbles exist in is not spatially extended. The medium is ordinary experience, but without the assumption of a necessary thing-which-is-experienced.  Like the Aboriginal dreamtime, perhaps, I conceive of sense like a primordial dreaming through which all dimensions and descriptions are conceived, encountered, hidden and appreciated. Beneath force, action or energy there is sensitivity to what is going on, and sensitivity need not act or react publicly as far as I know. Sensitivity defines all: What action is, what it is that acts and what action does to the actor. Please do not mistake this to refer only to human sensation, or sense organs, or even living organisms. This notion is about the ontology of sense itself as a concept, as a legitimate and final context within which all of physics and psychology (human or otherwise) exists. As Strawson points out brilliantly, panpsychism should not be considered a Neutral Monism, but a doubly committed, ‘Experiential-Hylal’ monism. Awareness does not stand aloof from material and abstract reality, it is what is reflected and embodied by material and abstract reality.

Must we say that this E-H monism is action though? If we want to say that what doesn’t act doesn’t exist, that can still be true, if we take existence literally as an external or public presence rather than the universal notion of existence as that-which-is-not-nothing. With an aesthetic foundation, it is the interior sense of excitement which would logically be the more fundamental resource of existence, the insistence which arises privately as an intention to exist publicly in spacetime. Action occurs so that its accomplishment can be admired in some sense. We write because we read, not because there is writing. Action then is always a reaction to some deeper quality of expectation – an affect that insists on an effect. Sense is not only being and becoming, subject and object, space and time, but the sensory-motive significance of participation. Sense is the aesthetic totality through which the ‘versing’ of the Universe continues.

Proposition 2: Wesen ist Werden (being is becoming)

Strawson writes “All concrete being is essentially timebeing—whatever exactly time is. Being is being.” I would counter that by saying that being is not only be-ing, but been, has been, and may be. All of the past-tense and future-tense influences on the now should not be pushed out into another category. As unreal as past and future may seem in some sense, the influence of past and future makes up a tremendous portion of the present. We are permeated by our past, we embody it, and that embodiment often seems to foreshadow possible futures. Being should be understood to extend beyond time, beyond stasis and beyond change. Stasis and change are qualities of perception, and relativistic ones at that. The faster we are, the slower our world appears. Speeding up or slowing down our rate of awareness reveals new phenomena that extend our world. Instead of saying everything is process, we might say ‘everything is project’. Not merely a doing and going but of placing and replacing.

Under this heading Strawson also writes

“To say this is not to ‘desubstantialize’ matter in any way, and it is most emphatically not to suggest that matter is really only what we can possibly observe (as per the fatal modern tendency to epistemologize metaphysics). It’s simply to express in a certain way the point that the nature of concrete being is energy”

To this I agree that matter should not be desubstantialized in any way. Rocks are as real as anything ever could be. It is only that what is a rock to our body may be more like a sponge or even a cloud to something which is faster, smaller, or less solid that we are. I would agree also that matter is not only what we can possibly observe,  however I would disagree with any implication that this means that matter can be anything other than that which can be perceived. The nature of concrete being may not be energy, but the sense which preserves unity and differences across all qualities, including suites of qualities that we call energy.

Proposition 3: Sein ist Sosein (being is quality)

Here I am in complete agreement with Strawson and Lewis, whom he quotes about concrete reality being ‘an arrangement of qualities. And that is all’. I would add that even arrangement is a quality. As he writes “In the case of any concrete entity, again, its Sosein (its being the way it is) is identical to its Sein (its being).” I am reminded of Kant’s understanding that Existence is an empty predicate. There is no quality of existing without some without some aesthetic qualities which can be appreciated through sensory-motive participation. In short, there is no input or output in the absence of some concrete experience. There is no such thing as ‘input’ in and of itself – no ‘sense data’ without sense itself.

This is of course a major complaint of mine against both eliminativism, and computational theory of mind/Strong AI – that the map is not only mistaken for the territory, but the territory…the concrete power of sensation is demoted to an emergent abstraction of epiphenomenal status. Because physics and computer science arise out of mathematical sensibilities that objectify and systemize, they are intrinsically biased against the opponent channels of awareness, namely empathy and intention. While there is great beauty in numbers in the Platonic-Pythagorean sense, the idea of a cosmos that is purely arithmetic and formal leaves us with a worldview of a computer which lacks a screen, keyboard, or user.

Proposition 4: Ansichsein ist Fürsichsein (being is mind)

In this passage, Strawson affirms the notion of Kant and William James that in order for something to exist, there must be ‘something it is like to be it, experientially’. I would challenge his assertion that ‘We can’t hope to prove that the notion of nonexperiential
(or inert) concrete being is incoherent’, by looking at the alternative. If there were a such thing as nonexperiential being, there would have to be some difference between it and nonexperiential nonbeing other than the empty predicate of being…so it’s a non sequitur. Even if it weren’t a logical impossibility, in practical terms a universe which is devoid of awareness or in which awareness is shared with non-awareness, the non-experiential has no capacity to define itself as existing. Indeed, the moment in which experience begins to exist is the only meaningful beginning of time. Whether there is timeless non-experience or not is only something which can be debated within experience.

Where I take issue is in presuming that experience is always an experience of being some thing. Just because human experience is dominated by that kind of individuality doesn’t necessarily mean that there are not more exotic kinds of mindless experience which is non-human, or even inorganic. If Strawson’s creed is an identity metaphysics, I might say that mine is a trans-identity meta-ontology. Even the most fundamental concepts of energy, process, quality, and mind are still concepts – still roots in the garden of sense. Sense should be understood to contain all of reality and sanity, but to extend far beyond both.

Moving on, I applaud his assertion against radical or brute emergence:

“it’s metaphysically far more extravagant and anti-naturalistic to reject the No Jumps thesis and postulate radical emergence of the experiential from the nonexperiential, than it is to postulate non-radical emergence of the human experiential from the non-human experiential—whatever difficulties the second idea may also seem to raise.”

My sentiments exactly. Applying emergence to consciousness is like applying the Pythagorean theorem to Pythagoras. Likewise I concur with his thoughts on naturalism and experience:

“experience is the most certainly known concretely existing general natural phenomenon, and is indeed the first thing any scientist encounters when they try to do science.”

He follows this by reclaiming, as I do, the sovereignty of materialism and naturalism from the forces of reduction to physical structure. Physics is silent on the non-structural, intrinsic nature of concrete reality, so it should not be allowed to frame the definition of nature and material in immaterial, structural terms.

After some discussion of the incoherence of Neutral Monism and the incompatibility of non-experience with experience, which I will leave to those who have not yet understood the superiority of ultra-strong panpsychism, I come to the section:

Experience entails an experiencer

He writes

“I’m aware that experience entails an experiencer so I’m going to have to allow that there are as many experiencers as there are genuinely ontologically distinct portions of experience—even though this may appear to make things more difficult for me as a fledgling panpsychist.”

That seems straightforward enough…but wait. Is being aware that experience entails an experiencer really a solid assumption. Sure, *our* experience entails an experiencer, but we are a very specific kind of thing – an evolved experience which encounters itself as a living body in a world of other bodies, living and otherwise. Our experience of being an experiencer may be local to zoology or biology – an artifact of being enveloped in skin yet able to move around using our intention. If we are serious about existence being aesthetic, then the unbounded aesthetic which transcends even ontology would dissolve even is-ness in a continuum of seems-ness. Seeming is not less than being, it is more. On the absolute level, fact is a type of fiction and fiction or pretending is the ultimate tendency.

This is a controversial concept to entertain, especially as it could be construed as an attack on theism. If we say that an experiencer is a kind of experience of experiences, and not ontologically primitive, then do we do away with God as a kind of giant experiencer in a realm where no experiencer logically needs to define itself that way.

On the other hand, tying our own subjectivity to the morphology of our body may be a Just-so story, and the dichotomy of experiencer and experience may simply be how it is. In that case, monotheism is a natural enough way to frame the totality of experiencers – as a super-experiencer.

A third option is what I call ambi-theism, or a superposition of the absolute, in which both experiencer and non-experiencer qualities are merely colors on the palette of sense. The grand movie contains dramas with characters and plots as well as austere documentaries with only the pristine admiration of nature for itself as an it.

Neurosupremacy

Next I find an issue where I do disagree:

“We know the experiential is real and we also know—about as well as we know anything in science—that it’s literally located in the brain: human experience is neural activity. This is by now far beyond reasonable doubt.

I’m a little surprised at this, given that Strawson is sincere about the primacy of consciousness. Maybe I’ve just been arguing with others about this issue for so long that I now assume that people who are focused on consciousness are aware that there are studies of NDE’s, embodied cognition, and many other exotic issues which do provide doubt of complete mind-brain identity. Whether that doubt is ‘reasonable’ is debatable to some, but given what we’ve already discussed about matter being energy and energy being mind, it seems regressive to me to then turn around and say that human experience *is* neural activity. No, human experience is irreducible, and neural activity is (an admittedly important and directly correlative) part of that experience.

In his point about fungibility, “all physical stuff is fungible in the sense that any form of it can in principle be transformed into any other—so that if for example one broke hydrogen down into leptons and quarks one could reassemble it as gold” I would agree, however I would not agree that all experience is physical in that sense. We cannot reassemble World War II. Not only because of thermodynamic irreversibility/entropy/the arrow of time, but because consciousness is not an isolated ‘now’ but rather the view from within a bubble of eternity. The view cannot be copied or assembled from simpler forms, it has to be a unique and in some sense unrepeatable part of the totality. In my view, the fungibility of physics, or public-spatial physics is an inversion of the deeper anti-fungibility of awareness. That which is perceived to happen over and over, or to be put together from parts is witnessed by that which has never happened and will never happen again, and which is irreducible to parts.

I agree with his points about consciousness not being a mystery at all, but would add that because consciousness is absolute, it is at once the most mysterious and least mysterious phenomenon. If you don’t think that consciousness is mysterious at all, talk to some people who have ingested Ayahuasca. There is discussion of the combination problem, which is a serious issue for panpsychism, or it would seem to until you commit to absolute panpsychism or pansensitivity as I propose. After that, mereological worries of sums and parts disappear as the multiplicity of conscious states which define reality are nested in ways that we may not even be able to imagine. States of ‘mind’ in which all of history is a single moment, spatialized perhaps from a God’s eye view. The premise of multisense realism and aesthetic foundationalism opens the door to a whole other hemisphere, at least, of the universe.

Finally Strawson ties it all up in a world knot:

“The notion of being self-sprung is metaphorical. But I think that something about it smells right—the idea that the ‘self-sprungness’ or ‘self-intimation’ of experience is the fundamental form or self-sustaining structure of the energy which is concrete reality. Self-sprungness makes—constitutes—force, and Stoff ist Kraft. Matter—more generally, the physical, all concrete being—is force or activity or power or energy. Matter-force is essentially dynamic, being is essentially becoming: Wesen ist Werden. We travel smoothly down the chain of terms which—it now appears—forms a circle: a panpsychist circle.

I think he’s on the right track, and the metaphor of the circle and Schopenhauer’s world-knot (mind-body problem) that he mentions relate to a more literal twisting of the continuum of sense, which I have named ‘Ouroboran Monism’ after Ouroboros. Even as mind and body confront itself as opposite ends of the snake in one sense, like the inflection point of head eating tail, they are also mere points in a circuit which gradually evolves through mind-like and body-like coils, spiraling around and within itself. A non-orientable surface like a Klein bottle or Mobius strip is a good metaphor of how these aesthetic extremes can be reconciled, but of course, these are only metaphors. The continuum of sense is not a structure or manifold, but the phenomenon of feeling, of drama and coherence.

Orosnake

My reworking of the paper’s propositions then are:

  1. Mind is the sensible relation of aesthetic qualities.
  2. Sense is the intervention of becoming upon what has become.
  3. Sense is a continuum of ‘minding’ and relatively mindless perspectives.
  4. Sense precedes being, existence, or matter.

The Holo-solo-meta-sema-graphic Principle

February 21, 2015 Leave a comment

holographic

Think of the multisense continuum as a clarification of the holographic principle. What people often mean by holographic when ascribing it to the universe as a whole is something like ‘The Universe is not really real, but is a Matrix-like projection in which the totality is reflected in each part.’ If we ignore that theory for a moment and examine the linguistic origins of the word holographic instead, there are some worthwhile tie-ins to Multisense Realism. MSR is a way of stretching out this concept of holography, so that the extent to which it seems holographic is part of the hologram. Realism is not a fixed, absolute foundation, but an aesthetic quality of orientation. Realism is not a neutral designation of that which is factual versus that which is not, but also has a set of qualities, almost a personality which opposes the fantastic qualities of imagination, dreams, and psychosis. Where the aesthetics of fantasy are typically saturated, vivid, or florid, realism is relatively bland or rigid. Realism supports rigorous logic and causality. A graph can be thought of as the essence of realism in a way – not reality itself, but the mapping of the mappable aspects of reality…a realistic approach to realism.

Notice that holos and graph are polarized. They aren’t simple opposites where graph = parts and holos = whole, although graphing does break wholes into regular parts, but there is also a sense of a graph is of a static mental resource; an object or so called rigid body which we use to index information. A graph is a chart.* By contrast, holos is the uncharted and boundless context which does not respect strict divisions.

Holos means whole, but if you look up the etymology of hologram there is something interesting:

hologram (n.)1949, coined by Hungarian-born British scientist Dennis Gabor (Gábor Dénes), 1971 Nobel prize winner in physics for his work in holography; from Greek holos “whole” (in sense of three-dimensional; see safe (adj.)) + -gram.”

So holos doubles as a term that has something to do with feeling ‘safe’:

safe (adj.) c.1300, “unscathed, unhurt, uninjured; free from danger or molestation, in safety, secure; saved spiritually, redeemed, not damned;” from Old French sauf “protected, watched-over; assured of salvation,” from Latin salvus “uninjured, in good health, safe,” related to salus “good health,” saluber “healthful,” all from PIE *solwos from root *sol- “whole” (cognates: Latin solidus “solid,” Sanskrit sarvah “uninjured, intact, whole,” Avestan haurva- “uninjured, intact,” Old Persian haruva-, Greek holos “whole”). “

This root sense of wholeness as safety, solidity, health, healing, etc is the natural anchor of anchors…the foundational aesthetic (of the aesthetic foundation). All experiences in all possible universes must begin from this un-locused locus. Un-locused because it precedes its own definition or observation. The baby at the boob has no frame of reference, no learning process to understand the importance of nutrition or survival – there is only to appreciate the experience of being re-connected to the womb’s holos in a new and disorienting context…What is this context?

-graph modern word-forming element meaning “instrument for recording; that which marks or describes; something written,” from Greek -graphos “-writing, -writer” (as in autographos “written with one’s own hand”), from graphe “writing, the art of writing, a writing,” from graphein “to write, express by written characters,” earlier “to draw, represent by lines drawn” (see -graphy). Adopted widely (Dutch -graaf, German -graph, French -graphe, Spanish -grafo). Related: -grapher; -graphic; -graphical.”

Compared with holos, -graph is a very different kind of term. Where holos is a rich and profound metaphor, -graph is a relatively prosaic and literal term about something in the real world…writing or recording. Holos is an appreciation of primordial safety; an orientation to a frame of reference which is absolute and beyond thought. Once someone is born into a human life or an animal’s life, this holos is buried in a cocoon of defenses which face the anti-holos of spacetime and physics and the sense that was formerly whole is averaged out as

“sole (adj.) “single, alone, having no husband or wife; one and only, singular, unique,” late 14c., from Old French soul “only, alone, just,” from Latin solus “alone, only, single, sole; forsaken; extraordinary,” of unknown origin, perhaps related to se “oneself,” from PIE reflexive root *swo- (see so).”

As a sole individual in a physical world, we have developed ways to re-connect with each other. Some of them are ways of reconnecting to our shared history as mammals and primates, and some, like writing are more recent human inventions. The idea of writing is to inscribe a thin stream of thought into physics, into spacetime so that others can recreate it in their local experience. It’s a bridge, a trans-fer or meta-phor, which means carrying over of feeling or meanings. What is the carrier?

semaphore (n.)”apparatus for signaling,” 1816, probably via French sémaphore, literally “a bearer of signals,” ultimately from Greek sema “sign, signal” (see semantic) + phoros “bearer,” from pherein “to carry” (see infer). Related: Semaphoric (1808).”

The sema- or sign is a recontextualized piece of the world. We use it to passively bear our sharing of communication, as an insulator would bear a conducting wire, or a conducting wire would bear an electromagnetic flux. There are layers of nesting which span the continuum from holos to solus to meta to sema to graph.

Wholeness to self to likeness to sign to signed. The distance between our human self and the ‘signed’ or ‘graphed’ physical world is what gives that physical world its gravitas…its grave realism. Mortality adds a layer of biological gravity…the signs which threaten the self of the experience of life. The closer that a given phenomenon is to the whole, the more it is metaphorical and self-referential.

Once we grasp this continuum, we can see how subjective and objective phenomena are an elaboration of a theme of awareness and degrees of alienation from the whole. We can go into more advanced areas of understanding the continuum and see that while the graph end of sense reflects in micro the holos itself, it is only a reflection and has no generative power of its own. Even though we locally experience a tension between the holos and graph which seem equal, or even overpowered by physics, that is only because of how deeply our human experience is nested within billions of sensations, feelings, and thoughts since the beginning of spacetime.

In the absolute frame of reference, all is consumed by, with, and for holos. The graph appearance, and even the holographic principle is the local view of the self’s experience of being alienated. It’s a compromise between Descartes’ substance dualism and Eastern/perennial philosophy’s holism, but it is still fixed in the Cartesian graph of spacetime and Newton’s mechanics of mass and energy. We imagine that each physical particle is a packet containing a ghost of the whole, but I think that it now makes more sense to say that it is the particle itself which is, in the absolute frame or reference, more like the ghost. It’s relativistic, but all relation traces back to the orientation of the absolute. There is no orientation derived purely from disorientation, which is why we cannot build a sign or a self or a holos from a machine (graph).

*Descartes, whose family name means ‘of the charts’, and also can be associated with the French word charteus, meaning pertaining to papyrus/paper has an interesting connection to the role of Rene Descartes in developing the digital view of space in terms of Cartesian coordinates. Cards, charts and papers refer to objects which carry meaning – blank vehicles to be used either as a container for metaphor, or as the medium of choice for a stream of digital semaphores. The critical place that Descartes holds in the development of the Early Modern Period, cannot be overstated. In his 1641 Meditations, Descartes divided the cosmos, for better or worse, into mind and matter (res cogitans and res extensa), paving the way for Newton, Leibniz and others to see physics as an expression of precise mathematical truths. The Enlightenment Era marks the Western world’s separation from perennial, Eastern philosophy and the discovery of a new, Cartesian world of purely mechanical objects. The card, or graph aspect of the cosmos is seen as the new orientation, a counter-aesthetic to one which assumes theistic holos. The Western counter-aesthetic of modernism questions the beliefs of the past, asserting instead that the natural world is innocent of religious enchantment until proven otherwise.

Shell Cosmogony

January 30, 2015 Leave a comment

How to Tell if Your p-Zombie has Blindsight, Falling in a Chinese Forest

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

In order to make the question of philosophical zombiehood more palatable, it is a good idea to first reduce the scope of the question from consciousness in general to a particular kind of awareness, such as visual awareness or sight.

consciousness (general awareness)     |    particular awareness (sight)

Building on this analogy, we can now say that an equivalent of a philosophical zombie (p-Zombie) as far as sight is concerned might be a person who is blind, but uses a seeing eye dog to ‘see’.

As with blindsight, there seeing eye dog provides a case where a person is informed about optical conditions in the world, but without the benefit of first person phenomenal experience of seeing. The blind person sees no visual qualia – no colors, no shapes, no brightness or contrast, yet from all appearances they may be indistinguishable from a sighted person who is walking their dog.

Staying with the analogy to consciousness in general:

(a p-Zombie) is to (a Blind person w/ guide dog)
as a
(Conscious subject) is to (a person walking dog)

Some might object to this analogy, saying that because a p-Zombie is defined as appearing and behaving in every way like a conscious subject, and a sighted person walking their dog might not always act the same as a blind person with a guide dog. It’s true, in the dark, the sighted person would be at a disadvantage avoiding obstacles in their path, while the blind person might not be affected.

This, however, is a red herring that arises from the hasty definition of philosophical zombie as one who appears identical in every way to a conscious subject, rather than one who can appear identical in many ways. Realistically, there may not even be a way to know whether there is any such thing as a set of ways that a conscious being behaves. A conscious being can pretend to be unconscious, so right away this is a problem that may not resolvable.

Each conscious being is different at different times, so that presuming that consciousness in general has a unique signature that can be verified is begging the question. Even if two simple things seemed to be identical for some period of time, there might be a chance that their behavior will diverge eventually, either by itself, or in response to some condition that brings out a latent difference.

So let’s forget about the strong formulation of p-Zombie and look instead at the more sensible weak formulation of w-Zombie as an unconscious object which can be reliably mistaken for a conscious subject under some set of conditions, for some audience, for some period of time.

By this w-Zombie standard, the guide dog’s owner makes a good example of how one system (blind person + sighted dog) can be functionally identical to another (sighted person + sighted dog), without any phenomenal property (blind person gaining sight) emerging. As with the Chinese Room, the resulting output of the room does not reflect an internal experience, and the separate functions which produce the output do not transfer their experience to the ‘system’ as a whole.

From the guide dog analogy, we can think about bringing the functionality of the dog ‘in house’. The dog can be a robot dog, which can then be miniaturized as a brain implant. In this way a blind person could have the functionality of a guide dog’s sight without seeing anything. It would be interesting to see how the recipient of such an implant’s brain would integrate the input from it. From neuroscientific studies that have been conducted so far, which shows that in blind people’s brains, tactile stimulation such as reading Braille, shows up in the visual cortex. I would expect that the on-board seeing-eye dog would similarly show up, at least in part, in the regions of the brain normally associated with vision, so that we have a proof of concept of a w-Zombie. If we had separate digitized animals to handle each of our senses, we could theoretically create an object which behaves enough like a human subject, even within the brain, that it would qualify as a weak p-Zombie.

As a final note, we can apply this understanding to the oft misquoted philosophical saw ‘If a tree falls in a forest…’. Instead of asking whether a sound exists without anyone to hear it, we can reverse it and ask whether someone who is awakened from a dream of a tree falling in the forest which nobody else heard, was there a sound?

The answer has to be yes. The subjective experience of a sound was still experienced even though there is no other evidence of it.  In the same way, we can dream of seeing sunlight without our eyes receiving photons from the sun. We can say that seeing light or hearing sound does not require a concurrent physical stimulation but we cannot say that physics requires any such qualia as seeing light or hearing sound. To the contrary, we have shown above that there is no empirical support for the idea that physical functions could or would automatically generate qualia.Thus, the case for materialism and functionalism is proved in the negative, and the fallacy of the systems reply to Searle is revealed.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon. – Pink Floyd

Envisioning the General and Local Aesthetic

January 24, 2015 4 comments

Aesthetics: late 18th century (in the sense ‘relating to perception by the senses’): from Greek aisthētikos, from aisthēta ‘perceptible things,’ from aisthesthai ‘perceive.’ The sense ‘concerned with beauty’ was coined in German in the mid 18th century and adopted into English in the early 19th century, but its use was controversial until late in the century. (Source: Google)

The term ‘aesthetic’ may put some people off. It’s a pretentious word, has a funny spelling, and contains vague meanings that range from what you might hear in a philosophy class to what someone on TV might say about a fashion designer’s garbage bag frock. My interest in the term comes from a different sensibility – the medical sensibility that defines agents which suspend consciousness as “general anesthetics” and substances which numb sensitivity as “local anesthetics”. This is closer to the original Greek sense of the word. By dropping the an- prefix, we can turn the meaning of the word around so that there is a concept of consciousness as “general aesthetic”, or perhaps even aesthesis, and individual sensations as “local aesthetics”.

The goal here is to make sense of all phenomena as part of a single continuum or spectrum, so that for example, the seer, the seeing, the seen, light, and sight can be understood in relation to each other and as aspects of one common thing. This is also reminiscent of the relation between General Relativity and Special Relativity, especially since the function of relation is arguably one which is synonymous with perception. In order for one thing to relate to another, there has to be a context in which that relation is presented or accessed. Rather than speculating on what such a metaphysical context would be, Einstein used terms such as ‘frame of reference’ and ‘observer’ to map the when and where relations of physical effects, without discussing the what and how of relation or measurement itself. As he labored to find a unified field theory, it probably never occurred to him that qualities such as significance and questions of who and why could enter into it. Even though relativity is conceptually inseparable from the subjective act of perception, the notion of perception itself as a physical phenomenon is neglected entirely, and relegated to a one dimensional concept of detection.

A quick survey of our own senses reveals that the fundamental mechanism seems not to report on actual or absolute properties of the outside world, but rather their relevance to each other, to us, and to our interest in them. We know of many examples in perception where colors or shades look different when they are seen adjacent to each other, or shapes flip depending on how we are relating them to foreground or background. We know that ordinary light looks too bright if we have been sitting in the dark, and that cool water feels warm when our hands are cold. Every sensory palette works this way as far as I know. We say that they are perceptual ‘illusions’ because they reveal that what we perceive is not what our mind expects, however we should understand that our minds too can only make a particular, mental kind of sense. Thought is unlike seeing, tasting, or hearing in that thinking is stripped of tangible aesthetics and reborn as abstract thoughts.

Thoughts have their own aesthetic, to be sure, and language plays both midwife and policeman to those semiotic qualities, but the killer app of thinking is of course, its transparency and reflectivity – the capacity to represent without getting in its own way. Thinking provides us with a way to re-experience our tangible sensations of X as intangible sensations of ‘thinking about X’. Thought is to representation as perceiving is to presence, and the brain is to the body. They are all the ‘same thing’, only nested onto different levels. Part of human cognition is the ability to compare representations and evaluate them. We can decide which thoughts are to be trusted or doubted, but even that thought process is subject to its own evaluations, doubts, and censoring.

We now know a lot about cognitive bias and how preconceptions shape what we believe. From logical fallacies to subliminal advertising, our minds are riddled with blind spots considered to be weaknesses or illusions of human psychology. The project of scientific literacy is to single out only those thoughts which have been tempered through experiment into reliability and offering us the least amount of illusion. By refining relationships of our shared subjective fictions we can infer or deduce another kind of story that we like to think of as ‘fact’ or ‘knowledge’. From this vantage point of distilled purity, the story that our naive sense tells us about the world can be replaced by one which is thought to be universal and reliable. Logical Positivism made a lot of sense. Maybe too much. By assuming a pristine epistemology or noumenal science, the utility of the phenomenal world became hard to justify at all. Existentialists and postmodern philosophers questioned how we could really know to what extent we are fooling ourselves about anything. The challenge of escaping the bias of unscientific beliefs could be seen as even extending to science, and to knowing, and to consciousness itself. The Cartesian Cogito of ‘I think therefore I am’ was seen to be reversible as ‘I may have no choice but to think that I am, but it may not be true’.

At the same time that 20th century philosophy, art, and politics were attacking our sense of reality – physics and mathematics were disproving the reality of the world. Einstein’s 1905 discovery of the special nature of light’s constant speed in defining mass and energy was followed in 1916 by the general theory of relativity that displaced classical, Newtonian models of the entire universe. We had moved from a common sense view of the world as a vast place filled with mechanical objects to an evolving, elastic world-ish-ness which changes with one’s perspective.

Heisenberg and Gödel followed in 1927 and 1931 respectively, introducing uncertainty into quantum physics and incompleteness into formal logic. 1931 was also the year that Salvador Dali painted The Persistence of Memory, and the world slid into the Great Depression. In a few short years, the Western world that had worshiped an aesthetic of certain realities became transfixed by uncertain surreality. Physics had become metaphysical.

Taking the next step in philosophy and science has become something of a problem. As the 20th century marked an explosive shift into a new world, the 21st century seems to be both frozen in a polarized deadlock, and splintering off into esoteric factions. We have become unable to generalize our specialties or specialize in generality, so that there is no longer a coherent aesthetic of progress. This may be an entirely appropriate state of affairs in the wake of so much radical transformation in the last century, but when and if we find our way out of the current confusion, I suggest that we seek to unite physical science with metaphysical philosophy in the same way that space-time and mass-energy were united. The 21st century’s Hard Problem of Consciousness is an invitation to develop a cartography of aesthetics to match our current model of physical reality.

To begin to develop such a mapping technique, we should become familiar with what has been called the Spectrum of Consciousness, which is reflected in many mystical traditions and psychological frameworks. It is not necessary to believe in this spectrum, only to understand that such a spectrum model can be constructed and that it is potentially useful. The theme of a hierarchy of conscious qualities and states is hard to avoid, and its similarity to the electromagnetic spectrum is hard to overlook as well. Both the EM spectrum and the spectrum of consciousness offer a smooth continuum which is vaguely divided into sections related to frequency, intensity and scale. In addition to what has already been covered here and elsewhere, I offer this way of conceptualizing how it is that something like seeing, light, and images can actually be different descriptions of the same thing.

hedrons2

In the diagram above, four figures are shown:

  1. Sight (Phenomenal Vision)
  2. Seen (Phenomenal Image)
  3. Visible (Phenomenal Light)
  4. Unseen (Optical Physics)

The use of these prism-like figures are to represent the facets of the total phenomenon, so that in the first, top right figure, sight or seeing is represented as one facet of a block. The other facets in this block would be the other sense modalities that we have (touch, smell, sound, etc), as well as the interior facing modalities of awareness (emotion, cognition, intuition, etc). The #1 block is the subjective view of subjectivity, known as phenomenal consciousness or what I would call general aesthetics (GA). In its largest sense, GA would be the container of all qualia and is reflexive, in the sense that as far as I can tell, consciousness it is a quale itself. ‘What it is like’ to be conscious (“I am, I feel”) is itself part of the total spectrum of ‘what experiences are like’. Consciousness is an experience.

It doesn’t seem to work as well the other way, since if we have a container of consciousness which has no quality at all, then we fall into an explanatory gap. If consciousness can exist in the absence of all qualities, then what would qualities add to consciousness? For example, while it is clear that seeing is a container of sight that cannot be seen itself, it is not as clear that just because we personally define ourselves as ‘ourselves’ doesn’t mean that consciousness in general would have any good reason to define itself that way. We feel like we are a seer who is seeing images, but this may be due to the fact that we are a different type of sensation than what we are seeing or seeing itself. It may be all one continuum of ‘phoria’ which waxes and wanes in its subjectivity. Applying this principle to this example above, we have a natural metaphor in light for how the receiver of awareness, the object of awareness, and awareness itself can all ultimately be the same thing, and be accessible within itself as a reflection of that thing.

In the top left figure, the #2 block is flipped horizontally to imply that the #1 view of subjectivity is not available here in this second context. When we look out at the world, even at the reflection of the pupil of our own eye, we do not see our own seeing. The entire world of phenomenal consciousness is hidden and inverted by a kind of theater of appearances. What is seen is still phenomenal because we are seeing images (real or imagined) within a subjective medium of two dimensional shapes. Image is what allows the local aesthetic (LA) of sight to relate to the GA (consciousness) through the mask of physics.

The bottom left figure which is labeled “3. Visible” corresponds not to the experience of being a seer, or the experience of seeing an image, but of the experience of seeing light’s specific qualities. Like a director making a cameo in their own movie, light presents itself not only as the fact of seeing what is visible, but as the presence of the source of visibility as a visible experience. Phenomenal light exists both within the image that we and transcends it, addressing the seer directly. We can take a picture of a sunset and see that it looks like light radiating from the Sun onto the Earth, but we understand that the picture cannot produce light itself.

This is an astonishing feature, really. Light has a look of its own, and its look explains, in visual terms exactly what visual terms are made of. Strange loop. Blown mind. Move on. Suffice it to say that what light looks like is spectacular. It is practically synonymous with grabbing our attention. Glowing, flashing, lighting up a room, putting a spotlight on something. Within our visual field, light shows us what there is to see, and then shows us what to look at in particular. The dynamics of color harmonizing and clashing, the rotational symmetry of the color wheel, etc, are all part of light’s story about itself. The visible qualia of visibility meeting the physical mechanisms of optics.

With these three contexts, we have still not even touched the physics of light. Seeing light can be used like a trail of breadcrumbs to find Classical optics, but to understand the physics of light we must depart from the world of seeing altogether. There’s a couple of equations there in the fourth block representing how to calculate the energy of a photon and spectral radiance. With a nod to Gödel, the fourth block depicts the final category, where the unseen circumscribes the incompleteness of the seen, and wraps around from the LA of the seen to the GA of sight.

Russellian Monism

January 18, 2015 Leave a comment

We shall seek to construct a metaphysics of matter which shall make the gulf between physics and perception as small, and the inferences involved in the causal theory of perception as little dubious, as possible. We do not want the percept to appear mysteriously at the end of a causal chain composed of events of a totally different nature; if we can construct a theory of the physical world which makes its events continuous with perception, we have improved the metaphysical status of physics, even if we cannot prove more than that our theory is possible. (Russell 1927a, 275)

Sun, Earth, and Understanding Idealism

January 16, 2015 Leave a comment

No description of the relation between the Sun and Earth is complete without including the geocentric view as well as the heliocentric view. This is not to suggest that the archaic views of astronomy should be considered the equal of the modern view, but that there was ever an alternative to the modern view in the first place makes the universe impossible to describe accurately by leaving it out.

Even without suggesting that we might someday find a third alternative to both geocentric and heliocentric astronomy which we can scarcely imagine now, we can still appreciate that the fact that it took thousands of years for heliocentricism to be widely accepted is a testament to how relative relativity really is. Physics makes us feel brilliant for understanding that the relation between Sun and Earth is conserved regardless of which way we choose to interpret it locally, but that brilliant feeling distracts us from the mystery of why there could be or should be any interpretation at all. What is a frame of reference, and what is doing the framing?

Another thought experiment to consider, in the vein of ‘What is it like to be a bat?’…what is it like to be the Sun? The world from a star’s point of view would be one in which everything that could be detected would already be illuminated – but without any apparent connection that you are the source of the illumination. So it is with consciousness. Everything that we see is reflecting the capacity that we have to see. It cannot be seen on its own, or else we would not need eyes (holes in our head would suffice).

The novice philosopher will say that it is a case of “If a tree falls in a forest…does it make a sound?”, but this is not about epistemology, it’s about ontology. The epistemological realm is concerned with verification. “Does it make a sound or not?”. The ontological question is much deeper…it asks, what is a sound and is it even true to assume that a tree falling ‘makes’ one.

In light of the many clues that we have, from Heisenberg’s uncertainty, to relativity, to incompleteness, we can begin to see how perception is not only a passive receiving of objective truth, but a participation across multiple frames of perceptual reference. In an ironic twist, the scientific project that has brought us to a weltanschauung which values only objective facts has found only facts with no objects and objects with no facts. Meanwhile, the one incontestable fact, our own perception, has been overlooked completely, like the Sun losing touch with it’s light completely and accepting that it is part of the empty space and surrounded by planets that must light themselves.

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