Why do people believe in the mind body problem?

July 28, 2014 Leave a comment
“Why do people believe in the mind body problem?

I thought this was solved long ago”

My answer on Quora:

Here are a few reasons I can think of:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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: Asperger’s, Autism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness 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.
  9. 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.

Signs and Consciousness

July 25, 2014 Leave a comment

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

Asperger’s, Autism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness

July 22, 2014 1 comment

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.

Part II

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.

Gödel of the Gaps

July 15, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

IIT 3.0 Central Axioms

July 7, 2014 Leave a comment

From the Phenomenology to the Mechanisms of Consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0

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.

 

 

 

Speculating on Time as Nested Experience

June 27, 2014 Leave a comment

If we compare two sense modalities, such as seeing vs hearing, we can get a hint of what it might mean for spacetime to be orthogonal to experiential time. Think of the primordial nature of time not as a coherent parameter to be measured, but instead we can see the possibility of time as emerging from experience. A temporal sense which is driven by tempo. Fugues of dream-like, non-orientable perceptual gestalts, with sequential qualities emerging from semantic intensities. If this kind of time were a tent, the tent poles would be significant moments – aesthetically saturated occurrences which resonate into re-occurrence through their cosmological nobility.

For human beings, with a relatively huge psychological bandwidth, we we would experience this prototype to spatialized-time as chronologically ambiguous. Call it a mytho-poetic Dreamtime, collective unconscious, or primordial qualia; a condition where characters and their stories are fused together. The hero makes the journey, and the journey makes the hero. Splitting this atavistic tempo into space and time is the mirroring of unseen perspectives. The hero and journey are polarized into subjects and objects. I would imagine on a pre-biological level, this would be more like position and momentum – less metaphor and more semaphore.

Once the primitive experience takes on a divided perspective there would be opportunities for a sense of hierarchy. Simpler, semaphoric ‘times’ and more developed, metaphorical times are residuated within a densely realized middle ‘place’ as repeating cliches or themes. To broker between these experiential threads, an intermediary sense is used to define boundaries and relations in simple, literal terms. Spacetime, or spatialized time serves to reign in a worldly epoch, and segregate it from the quasi-timeless and quasi-spaceless epoch. The division of fact from fantasy recapitulates the division of space and time, object and subject, body and mind. The reality of space, body and mind is, in the absolute sense, the child of pansensitivity or transrealism. In the local sense, that relation is flipped, and the body is presented as the parent of the subjective mind.

With spacetime, the tent of pansensitive experience is normalized on one end, so that even though the ‘tent poles’ of significance and memory remain as defining the contours of the tent on top, all are now evened out on the bottom. The more primitive, ‘physical’ types of experience have lower amplitudes of significance compared to our experiences, so their variations are collapsed into mere statistical anomalies from our perspective. Our view of their physical time is a mechanical average, generic and lacking any tent-pole significance. Reducing experience to a single quantitative dimension of repetition and duration is the ultimate spatialization of time. With all privacy flattened to be available for public inspection, subjectivity is disenchanted and nomenalized. The figurative and the literal switch roles and the heroes journey is reduced to mere coordinates in a phase space.

The mistake we make is to import this bottom-level generic time into our own high-level proprietary frame. In the most ‘objective’, absolute sense, time radiates from experiential significance as memory and foreshadowing. Time circulates within experience like rhyme does through a poem. Substituting that raw animation for the expectation of rigorous clock-time is not a neutral act. It is an assumption about the universe which cascades through the psyche and civilization, improving and automating our exteriors while our interiority languishes in perpetual angst. Liberation from spacetime literalism might help us find a new way of tapping into larger, more intuitive senses of place and time.

How does our brain recognize the difference between real world and hyper realistic animation world? – Quora

June 12, 2014 Leave a comment

(my answer on Quora)

We may not know as much about perception as we think that we do. While  we have become comfortable with the scientific explanations of the  processing of sensory signals and how to simulate them, there may be  much more to it than that. Of course we understand that there is much  more to reality than we can perceive, and that our perception can be  more easily manipulated than we would have thought possible, but that  does not mean that there are not also other ways of knowing and seeing  which we are not consciously aware of.

The phenomenon of the Uncanny valley is the statistical ‘valley’ or region of

“negative emotional response towards robots that seem “almost human”.

There is a sense of creepiness which relates to the animation of inanimate bodies. The depiction of zombies or ventriloquist puppets that come to life are part of the horror genre because we have a deep revulsion to something which is not alive but is imbued with agency and the power to move by itself. The concept of the ‘undead’ is a supernatural theme, which is similar to, but not identical to the unnatural quality that we find in computer animation. Compare the following:


Impressive for its time, but to me, these characters look unnatural, eerie, fake, etc. It is an aesthetic shock, along the lines of unexpectedly realizing that someone has a prosthetic limb.

Looking at a claymation analog like Gumby, there is a similar doll-like emptiness, but it seems to be partially compensated by the honesty of the materials. There is concretely real stuff there, it’s not an abstract imitation of material bodies. The contrast of the odd, synthetic quality with the lo-fi childish content comes out quirky and somewhat charming.

Here it can be seen how adding dimension and realism can detract from the character rather than improve it. As a 2-D cartoon, Homer Simpson has no uncanny qualities – it is a direct expression of a genuine cartoon artist. In the 3-D version, there is some of that surprise of confronting an imposter or alien.

There may be no way, in fact, to simulate reality in such a way that all people will be fooled all of the time. I propose that this may not only be true because no simulation can be sophisticated enough, but also because reality may have within it a kind of breadcrumb trail which connects back to the total set of true and real conditions of the universe. We may only be aware of some of that breadcrumb trail at some times, and some people may be more or less tuned into that intuitive capacity than others, but if that is true, then there is no reason to presume that it is emergent from the function of the brain alone.

Just as we use eyeballs to condition our sensitivity to light, to focus and see outside of our brain and into the world, our entire body, may contribute to our consciousness in ways which we do not yet understand. It may go further than that, if we believe the accounts of people who claim to see auras…perhaps there is an electromagnetic or chemo-hormonal sensitivity which extends beyond the skin. The universality of idioms such as ‘gut feeling’, ‘feel it in my bones’, and ‘touched my heart’ may not be entirely fictional, particularly since the gut has a nervous system of its own, and the heart produces its own magnetic field.

Because a cartoon or photograph is only a visual experience, we already are very limited in how many sense modalities we can use to perceive it. While we might argue over whether an AI can pass a Turing Test on the basis of text interaction, few would argue that simulating the physical presence of a live human being in real time and real space, whom you could touch and look in the eyes is something that will be possible any time soon.

Authenticity may be more than the sum of its measurable parts. Authenticity may not be an emergent phenomenon which can be constructed through mass imitation on a sub-threshold level from the bottom up. Instead, authenticity may be a vital and intrinsic property of the whole, which can only be pointed to by a model. The entire assumption that reality can be substituted with total sensory satisfaction, even with perfect technology, may be false. The brain does not have to recognize the difference between the fake and the real, it just has to feel what all of the different senses it uses are feeling and compare them to its expectations, both local expectations, and perhaps non-local or absolute truths.

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